The single biggest problem Microsoft faces is not Google, Linux or Firefox. It is security. Security problems with Windows and Internet Explorer destroys user confidence in Microsoft, and pushes users to switch to open source alternatives, all of which make them more likely to be Google fans as well. Security threats bolster Microsoft’s competitors like no amount of advertising could ever accomplish.
To combat this, Microsoft released (just a few hours ago) Microsoft AntiSpyware, the first MS branded version of its aquisition from GIANT Company last month. AntiSpyware is designed to block programs that maliciously and secretly install themselves on your computer, either crippling it, serving unwanted advertising, sending personal data to parties unknown, or opening your computer to outside attacks.
Two problems exist: First, too many users don’t protect themselves. Microsoft bought an antivirus firm a year ago because it couldn’t rely on users to arm themselves in this battle (or at least to pay for it), so Microsoft realized it had to supply its own solution, since it was getting blamed for problems that, while its fault, were still preventable by vigilant users. For the same reason, Microsoft picked up GIANT last month.
Second, both Adaware and Spybot are effective, but not effective enough. Most smart users install both, because neither is really that good at catching spyware, and a combination of both is needed to accomplish anything. Microsoft hopes to be better so users only need its program.
*note: you can click on thumbnails to get higher quality screenshots*
Does Microsoft AntiSpyware work better? Well, its user interface is more friendly than Spybot’s stark, confusing, overburdened interface, and it has far better access to options than Adaware’s does. In one funky design decision, it seems to use the same color coded threat warning system as the Department of Homeland Security, telling you your malware infection is “elevated” or “guarded”.
Once you start using the program, your main start page is the system summary page, which provides quick links to all the functions of the program. It lets you know when your last scan was, how many threats have been found and protected against, and when your spyware definitions file was updated. Interestingly, there is also a nice little message that informs me that the product expires in 206 days, on July 31, 2005. This may or may not confirm that you will need to pay for AntiSpyware eventually.
The real-time protection is far more advanced than Spybots (Adaware doesn’t even have the feature in its free version). There are three portions to real-time. 9 internet agents protect you against attacks over the net, from attacks over dialup, wi-fi, Winsock LSPs, Windows Messenger Service, changes to your safe sites list, internet proxy server, name protection server, or TCPIP parameters, as well as attempts to send spam from your system.
25 system agents protect you from changes to your HOST file (KaZaA is nutorious for this), Windows services, right-click context menus, Windows shell execute hooks and shell extensions, open commands, system.ini, control.ini and win.ini files, as well as .ini file mapping, Windows extensions, user shell folders, your winlogon shell, winlogon usernit and logon policies, AppInit DLLs, Windows Update settings, Windows protocols, Restrict Anonymous settings, programs adding themselves as startup or bootup items, attacks from Explorer trojans and directory trojans, and most importantly, changing your passwords.
25 application agents protect you from threats executing and running processes or scripts, adding themselves as startup items (in folders or the registry), installing ActiveX, Browser Helper, IE toolbars, extensions, URLs, plugins, or Explorer bars, changing IE security settings or security zones, adding third party cookies or trusted sites, modifying IE’s shell or WebBrowser, changing URL hooks or menu extensions, disabling RegEdit, resetting your web settings, and adding to your installed components list. Also, there are two agents that prevent additions to Internet Explorer and application restrictions.
The scanning itself seems quite effective. It found two spyware products, one of which received a level 3 “elevated” warning, that neither Spybot or Adaware had noticed. It also identified thatthe Yahoo toolbar was attempting to change my personalized search settings and remove the Google toolbar, and let me block that (Spybot also saw that). Scanning was fast, on par with its major competitors.
Problem is, the program is buggy, very buggy. When it works, it works well, but when it doesn’t, forget about it. I had to reboot halfway through writing this review since I couldn’t get it to open anymore. There are some GUI bugs that need to be fixed, including how Windows sometimes forgets about it, and random crashes when clicking on buttons. The GUI is also slow to draw on the screen, which can be annoying.
Still, the most important thing is that it protects your computer. I feel pretty secure with it (as long as it runs), but then again, that proves nothing. My suggestion / plan? Stop using any other antispyware programs for two weeks, making sure Microsoft AntiSpyware is active the whole time. Then, run your regular programs. If they find anything MS-AS missed, keep ‘em. Otherwise, we’ve got a new front-runner on our hands. One thing you can rely on: The internet hates Microsoft when it comes to security, so if there is a major threat that Microsoft AntiSpyware doesn’t detect, it’ll be on Slashdot within 20 minutes.