Security vendors lagging on support for Vista

Vista changes are likely to inhibit or cripple security software

Windows Vista's revamped security features are posing difficulties for some IT security vendors looking to make their software work on the new operating system.

Although leading security vendors such as Symantec, McAfee and Trend Micro have released updates or patches to make some or all of their products Vista-compatible, many others remain deeply entrenched in testing Vista versions of their tools.

Despite numerous complaints from gamers about poor performance on Vista, most applications written for Windows XP run on the new client OS out of the box, with only a few major exceptions, according to Brett Waldman, an analyst at IDC.

But not so for security software. Many of the biggest changes made by Microsoft as part of Vista are in areas such as installation and security, including the operating system's user account control, resource protection and protected-mode features. Those changes are more likely to inhibit or cripple security software brought over to Vista than other types of applications.

"It's like they've changed all of the plumbing to make Vista more secure," said Scott Matsumoto, principal architect at software consultancy Cigital.

Moreover, Microsoft acknowledges that available workarounds -- such as Vista's compatibility mode, which emulates XP and other older versions of Windows so users can run non-Vista-ready applications -- don't work well with software that interacts deeply with the operating system, as antivirus tools and other security programs do.

Further complicating the situation was a tussle last fall over a new security management console for Vista that security vendors complained would affect the performance of their products. Microsoft eventually agreed to release application programming interfaces that enable other vendors to disable the built-in console.

In addition, security vendors say that porting their products to a new operating system is inherently more time-consuming than moving over other applications is.

"You have to be more careful than with a productivity app," said John Dasher, director of product management at encryption tools vendor PGP Corp. "If something goes awry, people can lose data."

PGP is blocking its users from even installing non-Vista-ready versions of its software on the new OS. The company released a Vista-compatible beta of its PGP Desktop 9.6 software two weeks ago, but Dasher declined to predict when the final version would be ready.

All of the factors facing security vendors are adding up to more development work for companies such as Check Point Software Technologies, maker of the popular ZoneAlarm firewall.

"Because Vista is such a major overhaul to the Windows operating system, Check Point is busy in development efforts to ensure that new Vista-compatible versions of ZoneAlarm will live up to high standards of protection," said a spokeswoman for the company, which is based in Ramat Gan, Israel, and has its U.S. headquarters in California.

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Eric Lai

Computerworld

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