As Microsoft today releases its free anti-malware suite, Microsoft Security Essentials, the for-pay vendors of competing products are moving the goalposts and repositioning to fight on different turf.
A replacement for Windows Live OneCare, the for-a-fee security suite that was retired at the end of June 2009, Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) includes anti-malware and anti-rootkit protection. It does not come with a firewall, but Microsoft provides a free firewall with Windows.
Microsoft is positioning MSE as a capable, lightweight anti-virus, anti-spyware program, pointing out that it consumes fewer resources than for-pay anti-malware suites from the likes of McAfee, Symantec and Trend Micro. Microsoft also has positioned MSE as a worthy rival to any of the free anti-malware offerings on the market.
As eWeek notes, the product will be available in eight languages and 19 countries.
Mary-Jo Foley of ZDNet’s All About Microsoft points out that Microsoft is aiming MSE at the consumer market, where many customers are unwilling or unable to pay for security software. She explains that Microsoft representatives believed it was worth offering customers a free product to help thwart security breaches on unprotected Windows PCs that could be used as bots to infect other users’ systems.
The free suite is a client-only offering, with no centralized server capabilities. It does not include the enterprise-class business features associated with Microsoft’s for-pay Forefront security products, which provide not only anti-malware protection but also real-time reputation services, archiving, encryption, disaster recovery, and policy enforcement. Then again, not many consumers require those features.
Predictably, the for-pay anti-malware vendors are attempting to change the rules of engagement. Recognizing that Microsoft is a threat to vaporize revenues they derive from for-pay consumer anti-virus products, these vendors are trying to play on consumers’ fears and on Microsoft’s status as a relative newcomer to the anti-malware space.
Said Con Mallon, EMEA Consumer product marketing director at Symantec:
“The security industry has moved on from the product Microsoft is launching. Unique malware and social engineering fly under the radar of the traditional signature based technology employed by free security tools such as Microsoft’s. . . . “
“We believe the false sense of security provided by this tool is almost as dangerous as having no security at all. The latest generation of internet security is real-time and reputation-based, operating in real-time and not relying on a signature being produced and downloaded before the computer is protected.”
You can almost see the smoke billowing from his ears. Considering some recent anti-malware test results, Symantec might want to hold its fire.
Microsoft’s MSE received plaudits recently from independent testing firm AV-Test GmbH, which evaluated its performance in combating nearly 3,2000 common viruses, bot Trojans, and worms.
Said AV-Test’s Andreas Marx of MSE:
“All files were properly detected and treated by the product. That’s good, as several other [antivirus] scanners are still not able to detect and kill all of these critters yet.”
What’s more, Symantec’s Endpoint Protection failed a recent Virus Bulletin anti-malware test that Microsoft passed using the same AV engine built into MSE.
The fact is, for many consumers, especially in developing markets, what Microsoft is offering with MSE will be sufficient, particularly considering the price. The for-pay vendors of consumer anti-malware suites will lose market share and revenue to Microsoft. It’s not a question of whether they will lose business, but of how much.
Microsoft will continue to charge for its Forefront offerings for enterprise security, and that’s where Symantec, McAfee, and Trend Micro should look to make their stands. In enterprise markets, they will have a better chance to successfully exploit Microsoft’s relative inexperience as a security player.