Anti-Spyware Rival Slams Microsoft's Windows Defender, Vista - InformationWeek

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1/25/2007
02:41 PM
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Anti-Spyware Rival Slams Microsoft's Windows Defender, Vista

Webroot says Windows Defender fails to block many of the security threats that are roaming around the Internet.

A Microsoft security rival on Thursday blasted the anti-spyware technology that the Redmond, Wash., developer will include with Windows Vista as "ineffective," "slow," and "weak."

"We applaud Microsoft for the substantive improvements in Vista," says Gerhard Eschelbeck, the CTO of Webroot Software. "However, we want to make sure that users understand the Vista operating system's limitations, and caution them that Microsoft's default malware blocking application and antivirus programs may not fully protect them."

Eschelbeck's employer is best known for its Spy Sweeper anti-spyware line, which late last year was updated with antivirus scanning capabilities. Spy Sweeper competes with the for-free Windows Defender, Microsoft's anti-spyware add-on to Windows XP that is also integrated with Windows Vista, the next-generation operating system that debuts in retail next Tuesday, Jan. 30.

"If you look at the [Defender] data points, they speak for themselves," says Eschelbeck. "Defender didn't block 84% of the tested malware. That's not the kind of performance users are hoping for." Eschelbeck says that his firm's research team tested Defender against a suite of Trojan horses, adware, key loggers, system monitors, and other unwanted programs, all of which were gathered from in-the-wild threats. Webroot's own Spy Sweeper blocked 100% of the threats.

Eschelbeck also slammed Windows Defender, and by connection, Vista's security, for infrequent updates. Microsoft currently issues spyware definition updates every seven to 10 days, he says. Webroot, meanwhile, identifies approximately 3,000 new traces of spyware every month. "Users can't wait for a week or so to have their anti-spyware signatures updated," says Eschelbeck.

Windows Vista also lacks built-in antivirus protection, Eschelbeck continued. Windows Live OneCare, Microsoft's suite of security services that adds antivirus scanning, backup, and tune-up tools, retails for $49.95 for a one-year, three-PC subscription. Webroot added antivirus scanning to Spy Sweeper in late October, 2006, after licensing technology from Spanish security vendor Sophos. Spy Sweeper with AntiVirus costs $39.95 for a one-year license for one PC, $49.95 for three machines.

Although some may question the reliability of data from a company with a vested interest in seeing Windows Defender fail, Eschelbeck counters with: "Anyone else could verify these numbers. We're not boasting about our product, but just want to present the factual data. People have to make their own choices on security software.

"We're not necessarily saying that Defender is unusable, but that it's not up to par with the security industry," Eschelbeck says.

Microsoft's only direct response was to say that "we are confident in [Defender's] ability to make the user's computing experience a safer one."

Various analysts have pegged standalone anti-spyware software as a dead end because of Microsoft's free Windows Defender and its inclusion in Windows Vista, and because comprehensive suites from the likes of Symantec and McAfee have added spyware detection to their armories.

Eschelbeck rejects that line of reasoning as well. "We have significantly expanded beyond anti-spyware, particularly last year with antivirus. Webroot had its largest quarter in the company's history in the fourth quarter [of 2006]," he says. Webroot is privately held and has not released revenue or income figures to back up that claim.

Windows Defender is also available for Windows XP users, who can download the free application from the Microsoft Web site.

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