Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Another salvo in the antivirus war

I recently wrote a post in my Empoprise-IE Inland Empire blog about how Wal Mart's low prescription pricing is being beaten by local grocery outlet Stater Brothers, which is offering selected antibiotics for free. Well, Stater Brothers doesn't sell antivirus software, but Microsoft does. Actually, Microsoft doesn't sell it. Security Industry News links to

Microsoft Security Essentials provides real-time protection for your home PC that guards against viruses, spyware, and other malicious software.

Microsoft Security Essentials is a free* download...

Uh, wait a minute. There's a footnote there. What's the catch?

*Your PC must run genuine Windows to install Microsoft Security Essentials.

I can live with that. But can the security industry?

When Microsoft first introduced the beta version of Security Essentials, analysts said the move would cause sleepless nights for competitors McAfee and Symantec, who would be worried about users switching from paid-for to free software....

But Microsoft said Security Essentials was not developed to wipe out the use of other security software. "Free anti-malware is not new," said spokesperson Mac Brown. "Many other vendors provide antivirus solutions at no cost. By adding our free, slimmed-down core anti-malware solution, we believe that we can help address those consumers who want and know they need core anti-malware protection but either cannot afford a full security suite or don't have access to payment instruments like credit cards required for online subscriptions."

Of course, the other vendors had things to say. TechWorld recorded comments from Trend Micro and Symantec. The tones of the two companies' statements differed somewhat.

"I think it's a good thing that they're in the market," said Carol Carpenter, the general manager of Trend Micro's consumer division. "We look forward to the competition ... and I think Microsoft's targeting of developing countries and the unprotected is a good approach."...

"Security Essentials won't change anything," said Jens Meggers, Symantec's vice president of engineering. "Microsoft has a really bad track record in security," he added, ticking off several ventures into consumer security that the giant has tried, including Windows Defender, an anti-spyware tool bundled with Windows Vista and Windows 7; the released-monthly Malicious Software Removal Tool; and OneCare.

"Like OneCare, Security Essentials is a poor product," said Meggers. "It has very average detection rates. And now they've decided to go for the free market, but that's a very crowded market. There's not much room to grow there."

In a company blog, another Symantec employee called Security Essentials a "rerun" of OneCare , and said: "At the end of the day, Microsoft Security Essentials is a rerun no one should watch."

Meggers actually could have made some excellent points, but he chose the wrong tone of voice to do it. Take this statement:

Meggers' take today was even more bearish. "We don't like the notion of 'basic,'" he said. "That makes me very worried, because the risk on the Web today is far too high for 'basic.' Tossing a bunch of little basic tools into the computing environment doesn't make it safe."

Of course, this plays into Symantec's basic FUDdy theme, which is that Microsoft puts out an unsafe operating system, and you need a professional like Symantec to protect you from Microsoft. If you can successfully characterize Microsoft's fix as something as unsafe as the OS itself, you've hit a home run.

However, Paul Smith has some uncertainty and doubt over Symantec's earlier (June) claims of Microsoft's poor performance:

I'm not sure what reviews Symantec are talking about, but I haven't read any data on MSE's performance yet, nor should we expect any for weeks, if not months as that's how long it takes to actual do proper scientific tests. It does however use the same core engine and definitions as OneCare and Forefront, so the logical thing to do would be to use data evaluating OneCare's performance.

The latest tests by AV-Comparatives, rank OneCare second in detection of new malware, but also importantly it scores the lowest false positives by far, meaning it won't detect genuine files as being malicious. Which is what led AV Comparatives to award it the highest ranking. Here's the data for new malware detection rates. Where's Symantec, oh right down the bottom with a dismal 35%.

Commenter Mark Sowul stated:

Maybe if Norton hadn't turned into such a pile of rubbish people would use it.

So what does Norton say about competitive comparisons on its website? At the moment, not much:

We will update this space shortly with Norton 2010 product results from Passmark. Here are quick facts on Norton’s speed and protection from last year:

75% Faster Installation:
Norton Internet Security 2009 typically installs in under one minute – far faster than the competition.*

80% Faster Scan Speed:
Virus and spyware scan time for Norton Internet Security is 80% faster than the industry average and over twice as fast the closest competitor.*

29% Faster Boot Time:
Total time to start PC with Norton Internet Security 2009 installed is 29% faster than the industry average.*

6 Times More Frequent Updates:
Norton streams updates to your desktop – providing protection from the latest threats every 5 to 15 minutes – or nearly 6 times more often than the industry average.**

I find it interesting that this page focuses on things such as scan time and number of updates and not about...oh...actual protection from viruses or anything like that.

Over the years I've used computers that have had Symantec, Trend Micro, and Microsoft products. In my experience, they've worked (I did have to change an Adobe software setting to prevent Norton from hogging my CPU, but that was easily fixed). And as I'm considering the purchase of a netbook as a second home computer, the avaialbility of free anti-virus software makes the purchase that much more attractive. Of course, I'll probably have to uninstall Norton or Trend Micro or whatever first. And that may be fun:

I had so many problems getting rid of Norton AntiVirus, I had to Format my entire hard drive which meant that I had to wipe out all the programs, files and documents that was installed on my computer for the past 3 years.

To make it even worse I then had to re-install everything from scratch, which felt like a great pain in the butt if you know what I mean. So you can imagine how much I was annoyed and upset with what I had to go through....

I decided to buy a new computer as my old computer was getting kind of slow and out of date.

Packaged with my new computer was a (2 months Free Trial) of good old Norton AntiVirus.

You can imagine how thrilled I was by that news, but I thought to myself that surely by now Norton would have fixed their issues with uninstalling their software and it should be a piece of cake to remove this sucker from my brand new machine.

What do you think happened next?

You guessed right...Norton files were still inside the computer no matter how many times I tried to uninstall the Free Version.

Of course, that particular page is chock-full of links to the "perfect uninstaller," but the publisher of said uninstaller isn't revealed. It's funny when Symantec, a major FUD purveyor, is itself targeted with FUD.

Welcome to the merry-go-round of the security industry. Now stop going to those warez sites, d00d, and maybe your computer will be safer.

Picture source, license
blog comments powered by Disqus