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Microsoft hopes free security means less malware
Robert Lemos, SecurityFocus 2008-11-20

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However, Microsoft's free service, Morro, will aim to secure the computers of users that might not otherwise install security software, Barzdukas said. The company is aiming for the majority of users that do not use anti-malware software or do not have an active subscription.

Microsoft's Security Intelligence Report for the first half of 2008, the most recent data available, found that the Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT) ran on nearly 3 billion Windows PCs and cleaned malicious software from almost 24 million systems. And, while their contribution to the whole is small, developing countries such as Afghanistan, Bahrain and Morocco topped the list of nations with the highest rate of infections, with 76, 29 and 28 computers cleaned per 1,000 executions, respectively.

Users in such developing nations are part of the worldwide security problem and a target for the coming tool.

"These consumers aren't being swayed by the number of features in this suite or that suite, as they either can't or won't pay for security protection," Barzdukas said. "Microsoft's shift in strategy is being driven by the need to help these consumers have a more secure computing experience on Windows PCs."

Microsoft's competitors warn no security can be better than a free product, if the free software does not incorporate strong protections.

"I think that a false sense of security is very dangerous," said Rowan Trollope, senior vice president for consumer product for Symantec, the owner of SecurityFocus. "The vast majority of attacks coming onto the system today are through social engineering."

For now, too little is known to guess how Microsoft's Morro will impact worldwide security.

Yet, Microsoft has generated significant interest for its business security solutions and that could help improve the free product, said Gartner's Hallawell. Among medium-sized companies, its Forefront client-side security solution -- and its low cost -- has gained some adherents. The team of malware analysts and programmers for the Forefront product will also support Morro, Microsoft has said.

"A lot of it is going to depend on how consumers keep their systems up-to-date and whether they actually download it," Hallawell said. "But having a free solution from a trusted provider like Microsoft is not a negative thing from a consumer perspective.

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