Microsoft Security – Essential?

People keep asking me about Microsoft’s newly released Security Essentials free anti-malware (formerly known as Morro). Randy and I both blogged about it at some length back in June – see http://www.eset.com/threat-center/blog/category/microsoft-security-essentials and http://www.eset.com/threat-center/blog/2009/08/03/more-free-lunches, for instance – but there’s still a lot of interest in the impact that the product is likely to have on ESET and other mainstream antimalware vendors, so I thought I’d re-summarize.

As Seth Rosenblatt pointed out in a CNET article at http://download.cnet.com/8301-2007_4-10362227-12.html, "Rather than taking aim at full-featured security suites made by Symantec or Eset, the features available in Security Essentials indicate that Microsoft is aiming to compete with basic-but-free security apps." There’s also a lively discussion in the comments to that article about what additional features an end user is likely to get in full-blown commercial software rather than for-free,

Free protection is in some senses better than no protection, as long as people don’t expect more from it than it can actually offer. So, if more people who aren’t prepared  to spend money on security software choose to install MSE, it will have some impact on the malware problem without impacting on those of us who don’t market a fully free version, and we’re very much in favour of that.

There is a long history of products (often well-intended) that towards the end of their lives have done more harm than good because people didn’t realize they weren’t up to the job. And there have certainly been products that were certainly free, but were of no value whatsoever. However, MSE is certainly not in either of those categories.

Of course,there are already lots of free products, and they don’t impact on our market particularly: in fact, MSE is more likely to affect companies who do offer a an unlimited-life free product as a taster, rather than a fixed-period evaluation copy, because if fewer people install light-but-free versions, there’ll be fewer people upgrading to the commercial product.

ESET do, in fact, make available a free (no strings) web scanner that does detect the same range of threats as our for-fee products: obviously, it doesn’t have the same range of functionality. If people want to experience the difference between a full-featured product and a “lite” product, they can download an evaluation copy of our products.

Clearly, Microsoft’s product doesn’t offer full functionality either: if it did, it would eat into the profit potential of their corporate security services, which are far from free. They’ve simply written off the consumer sector as a profit centre, as other vendors also do, in one way or another. For example, by setting a base price so high that home users are unlikely to make that investment. Support of consumer products is a major cost centre for anti-malware companies, and while I don’t know exactly what level of support MS are offering it’s unlikely to match a comprehensive support package like ESET’s.

MSE certainly offers reasonable detection, but our user-base tends to be looking for higher performance and low impact on the desktop, integration with other types of functionality rather than baseline AV and spyware detection, plus more sophisticated and more flexible detection. Corporate buyers will generally be looking for even more than that, but that’s really a topic for another blog.

David Harley BA CISSP FBCS CITP
Director of Malware Intelligence

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Author David Harley, ESET

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