Security vendors are charging that Microsoft's pending antivirus product and upgrades to its next-generation operating system, Windows Vista, won't be enough to guard against rising threats from viruses and criminal malware.
In June, Microsoft is set to release Windows OneCare Live, a product that combines antivirus, antispyware, PC tuning and backup capabilities. It will retail for US$49.95 per year, a price that puts the product squarely in competition with a range of antivirus software products.
Additionally, Microsoft says it has bolstered the security of its Windows Vista operating system, due for release later this year. Microsoft said the OS will have a two-way firewall, the ability to take away administrator control from users and Windows Defender, a free antispyware product.
But antivirus vendors interviewed at the Cebit conference are looking with a cynical eye towards both Vista and OneCare, perhaps because the software giant's efforts in the latter area is encroaching on crowded territory.
Windows Vista will be more secure than Windows XP and XP Service Pack 2, said Eugene Kaspersky, head of antivirus research for Kaspersky Lab Ltd. But it could have problems, he said. "Still, it is possible to develop different types of malicious code for Vista," Kaspersky said.
Kaspersky said he welcomed Microsoft to the antivirus world but felt the company's entry would not hurt Kasperksy's strong enterprise customer base. Microsoft will be competing with companies such as Kaspersky, which has grown a very focused business on virus detection and fast reaction times to emerging threats, said Natalya Kaspersky, chief executive officer of Kaspersky.
"This gives us an advantage which I don't believe such a big company like Microsoft could set up in a short period of time," she said. "I think after Microsoft appears on the market....they (malware writers) will switch their attention to specifically break Microsoft's security."
Risto Siilasmaa, the chief executive officer of F-Secure, a security company based in Helsinki, Finland, said he also welcomed Microsoft to the security field. Microsoft's strength, he said, is the ability to embed security into its products. But Siilasmaa said there is no guarantee if other security vendors disappear how Microsoft may change its pricing for security products. "Let the best product win," Siilasmaa said.
Since Windows OneCare Live is geared toward consumers, the vendor that could face the most serious impact from is Symantec, which holds a large share of that market. But challenges are not only coming from viruses and worms, which OneCare deals with, but also advanced phishing and crimeware schemes, said Rowan Trollope, Symantec's vice president of consumer products and solutions.
"There is absolutely nothing new or revolutionary in Vista or OneCare from a security perspective," Trollope said. "They've certainly made improvements in terms of catching up to where the market was but at the end of the day it's protection against last year's threats."
By the third quarter, Symantec is planning to release a product called Genesis that would combine several security elements together with minimal effects on the performance of a computer, Trollope said. Genesis will have antivirus, antispyware and antiphishing technology built into one product, he said. The price of Genesis hasn't been released, he said.
Microsoft has worked hard to ensure that its code is free from potential vulnerabilities such as buffer overflows, said Ash Pal, Microsoft's general manager for platform strategy for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Security has been a significant anchor for Microsoft, Pal said, as exhibited with the ongoing security initiative, Trustworthy Computing, a pet project of Bill Gates to restore consumer confidence in Microsoft products.
"We are never going to say you can write totally secure code because there are always going to be new ways people use things and new ways to integrate them," Pal said. "But we are putting in place the best processes we can."