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Microsoft Adds Spyware Weapon to Arsenal

By Susan B. Shor
Dec 17, 2004 10:15 AM PT

Microsoft beefed up its security offerings, buying the anti-spyware company Giant and announcing it would make available for free a beta version of the software for Windows 2000 and later. The test version will be available within a month, Microsoft said.

Microsoft Adds Spyware Weapon to Arsenal

Microsoft will use Giant's intellectual property and technology to develop its anti-spyware product. It will also retain some of the company's 12 employees.

"Obviously, it was a company that was readily available on the market because it was fairly small, but it's also a solid anti-spyware tool," David Friedlander, senior analyst, Forrester Research, told TechNewsWorld.

Future Pricing Unknown

It is unclear whether Microsoft will begin charging for the product after beta testing is complete. The company has not ruled out the option. While many companies -- including security firms Computer Associates, McAfee and Symantec -- are getting into the anti-spyware business, the usefulness of such software is still limited.

"Better than nothing is usually the case with these programs," Friedlander said. "The big problem with anti-spyware products is they don't have an enterprise management console. Enterprise customers need to block spyware and have an administrative console."

Anti-spyware works by scanning a system for what it defines as spyware and then guiding the user through the process of uninstalling. It does not prevent the spyware from being installed in the first place.

Spyware Updates

Friedlander classified Giant AntiSpyware as "more a general purpose tool" that Microsoft could add to its arsenal. He said he believed Microsoft would develop it into something like Windows Update where customers would be alerted to updated spyware definitions and be able to set them to automatically download. Giant also makes Spam Inspector and Popup Inspector.

With the purchase of Giant, Microsoft also bought itself a relationship with Sunbelt Software, a provider of infrastructure and security tools, including enterprise anti-spyware program CounterSpy.

Alex Eckelberry, Sunbelt's president, told TechNewsWorld it had a "very close relationship with Giant."

The contract between the two maps out co-ownership of the anti-spyware definitions and the code up through September 20, with Sunbelt having exclusive rights to the standalone definition database and software developer's kits (SDKs) for Giant AntiSpyware technology.

"By no means is this antagonistic, Eckelberry said. "Microsoft has been extremely friendly to deal with."

Spyware slows down computers, often by displaying pop-up after pop-up and can track user's activities on the Web and report them back to the spyware companies.

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