13 January 2005

Microsoft's Free AntiSpyware Beta ( via the LangaList Newsletter) 

A while back, Microsoft bought out the oddly-named "Giant" software company, Microsoft-ized Giant's shipping product--- an antispyware tool--- and re-released it as a beta (not quite finished) version of "Microsoft AntiSpyware," which is now available for free download. It runs on XP, Win2K, and Server2003, and actually seems pretty good.

The beta expires in July, and there's no word yet on whether or not MS will then start charging for the software. I suspect not: Even now, when you install the beta, a sniffer app checks to see if you have a legit copy of your OS, and refuses to install on pirated copies. My guess is that the Antispyware software will be offered as a "carrot" to entice users of pirated copies into getting a legit version of their OS; and secondarily as a reward to those who have legit copies.

Most of us in the LangaList community are using legit software anyway, so for us, at least for now, we simply get a shot at a pretty good antispyware package, for free.

It's impressively comprehensive. For example, the free Microsoft AntiSpyware does a lot of what the paid version of Ad-Aware-does, including continuous auto-protection and self-updating. It also does most of what SpyBot does, including blocking of some potentially dangerous Registry changes. And it does most of what several other tools do, including scheduling automatic scans of your entire system for malware, blocking scripts, flagging attempts to diddle with your Trusted Zone and other security settings, and more. As I said: pretty good!

It also lets you optionally participate in "the voluntary, worldwide SpyNet community." This is an optional component that reports back to a central server when you override AntiSpyware's reaction to a given piece of software; such as when you correct a false positive. The intent is benign: If enough users reject AntiSpyware's response to a given program, the Antispyware developers can then adjust their software to permanently eliminate that false positive reading.

I've tried Antispyware on several systems and like it enough to leave it installed and running. In each case so far, it's found a few pieces of potential malware that other tools hadn't. But conversely, other antispyware utilities also found a few things that the MS tool missed.

My guess is that, when it's done, MS Antispyware will end up being worth using; but, just as with the current crop of good antispyware software, probably will work best when used in conjunction with other tools, so each can catch what the others may miss.

But even as a beta, MS Antispyware coupled with Spybot ( Home - The home of Spybot-S&D! ), SpywareBlaster ( SpywareBlaster ) and maybe the free Ad-Aware will leave you very well protected indeed against spyware. (Of course, you still need a firewall and an antivirus tool: These are complementary technologies, and do not duplicate each other's functions.)

In sum, MS Antispyware appears to be a very promising tool, especially if Microsoft does distribute it for free. But it is a beta (albeit a very stable-seeming one), so use caution: Make a backup or image of your system before trying this or any beta.

Microsoft Windows AntiSpyware (Beta) Home

(P.S. Many thanks to the dozen or so readers who gave me a heads-up on the beta!)

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