another stab at fending off Windows security breaches
Alan Zisman (c) 2009 First published in Business
October 27- Nov 2, 2009 issue #1044
High Tech Office column
I'm writing this a week or so prior to the October 22nd release of
Microsoft's Windows 7, so I can't say whether that product will be a
big hit, jump-starting slow computer hardware sales or whether most
users (and most companies) will shrug and continue to use their
existing hardware running Windows XP (first released way back in 2001).
Pre-release beta testers and reviewers have generally been positive,
but in retrospect, the same people had generally positive things to say
about 2006's Windows Vista – which failed to catch on in any big way.
In issue 1036, I suggested that Vista users should find Windows 7 a
worthy upgrade, but that XP users will find it too difficult to upgrade
their current systems. For those users: wait until it's time to buy a
A few weeks prior to the Windows 7 release, however, Microsoft quietly
released software that may be more worthwhile for many XP users – as
well as many running Vista and even the new Windows 7 – to consider.
Microsoft Security Essentials is free for home – and (a nice touch):
home business – use, promising 'real-time' protection from virus,
spyware, rootkits, and other assorted malware. While installing it
validates your Windows version, no registration or renewal is required.
It's not a trial version and unlike some other free security products
there are no attempts to move users on to a paid version with more
Most Windows computers sold to the consumer market include a trial
version of antivirus or other security software; often, however, users
let the trial period run out without purchasing the full version. The
result: millions of vulnerable and unprotected PCs. While some users
have opted for one of several free antivirus programs, but often these
– unlike Microsoft's new release - offer no protection from spyware and
other sorts of infestations, and in some cases lack real-time
protection, only checking for infection during scheduled scans.
Microsoft estimates that between 50-60% of Windows users are running
without up to date security protection – these are the users Microsoft
hopes will move to Security Essentials.
Security Essentials is built on the same technology as Microsoft's
business-focussed Forefront Client Security, minus that product's
network management and reporting features. It does a good job of
running quietly behind the scenes, with a minimum of unnecessary
pop-ups and nagging. For example, the program keeps itself updated
without any fuss, without notifying the user unless a problem arises.
Another plus: it uses a relatively low amount of system resources,
resulting in minimal impact on computer performance.
For a free product, Security Essentials does a fairly good job of
detection and removal of malware. Microsoft has been releasing new
definitions as often as several times a day. Security Essentials uses
the company's new Dynamic Signature Services (DSS) feature, which will
be included in the next release of its business-level Forefront
security product. DSS responds to suspicious behaviours such as
unexpected network connections or changes to core system settings and
files to deal with malware that is not included in the
currently-installed virus definitions.
My biggest concern: At one time, the company offered an antivirus
program as part of MS-DOS; it quickly lost interest, leaving
users who thought they were protected while their security software was
no longer being updated. More recently, Microsoft offered and then
dropped a free OneCare security product. Hopefully the company will
remain interested in Security Essentials for the long term.
If you're among the 50% without an up to date license for a paid
security suite you should probably check out Microsoft Security
Essentials. It can be downloaded from microsoft.com/security_essentials
Note the separate downloads for 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Vista or
Windows 7 and for Windows XP.