Cyber Defense

Microsoft Security Essentials

Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) is a free anti-malware scanner for Windows XP, Vista, 7 and later (see the reviews by Paul Thurrott and Ed Bott). The rumor is that Microsoft will release the final version in the same timeframe as Windows 7 (Oct'09) or perhaps even sooner. MSE will not be bundled with Windows 7. MSE uses the same AV engine as the Forefront Client and replaces Windows Defender.

Use MSE To Get A Better Deal From Your AV Vendor Now

The other AV vendors will tear apart MSE and publicize it's weaknesses in the coming months, but MSE is nonetheless good news even if you plan to keep your current AV vendor:

  • MSE should put downward pressure on the prices of other AV products. When you next negotiate an enterprise license with your current AV vendor, tell them you're thinking of swtiching to MSE and see if you can't get a better deal.
  • You more-or-less must run AV on Windows machines, so, assuming that MSE turns out to be better than the other free AV products (like AVG) and is in the same effectiveness ballpark as the popular commercial AV products (like McAfee), MSE effectively lowers the purchase price of Windows 7. These savings can be invested in other security measures instead (or training users on Ubuntu, but that's another story). This is especially important in developing countries where the price of Windows is considered high and AV software is often not installed at all; these countries are breeding grounds for malware and spambots, which affects the rest of the planet. The rumor is that Microsoft will require genuine Windows validation before installation of MSE, but hopefully they will change this policy after Windows 7 has been on retail shelves for a year (hmmm, maybe we should start petitioning Microsoft now to release it unconditionally).
  • MSE will help to pressure the other commercial AV vendors into following AVG's lead, namely, of providing a basic AV product for free and then trying to upsell to their more capable products. If AVG, McAfee, Symantec, Microsoft and the others all have free basic offerings, then this will pressure the commercial vendors (and Microsoft) to improve the more advanced features of their non-free products, e.g., behavior monitoring, better heuristics, IDS features, firewall integration, program whitelisting, centralized alerting and management, better browser integration, etc.
  • MSE will eventually run on hundreds of millions of computers, with most of these machines reporting malware statistics back to Microsoft (just like the malicious software removal tool in Windows Update for the SIR report). This will create one of the largest malware sensor networks in the world to help track and fight pandemics, which helps everyone, even if you don't like MSE or Microsoft.

It will be interesting to see if MSE sparks anti-trust lawsuits against Microsoft, especially in Europe, but that's probably why MSE will not be bundled into Windows 7 by default, not even in the Home Edition versions you buy off the shelf at Best Buy (all in the name, I suppose, of protecting Mom & Pop consumers...). In any case, MSE will be good for consumers and the budgets of IT departments, even if they don't use MSE.

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