Microsoft enhances anti-spyware tools

Protection against rootkits has been introduced as Microsoft makes progress in its battle to develop effective and easy-to-use anti-spyware tools

Microsoft has released an enhanced version of its anti-spyware product as it continues to work on version two of the application, which is due in beta form later this year.

The company is continuing to work with numerous groups to find ways to improve Micrsoft AntiSpyware, which was released in beta in January, and now has ways of "guarding over 50 ways that spyware can enter" a PC. According to reports in the security community, these latest updates focus on ways to combat "rootkits".

Rootkits have been around for years and are tools that allow a hacker to capture passwords and message traffic to and from a computer. They can be used in combination with other malware to disrupt systems. Microsoft is concerned about this type of threat being used on the back of annoying — but often more benign — problems like spyware.

The issue is a difficult one for Microsoft which has to balance informing the user of potential threats while being careful not to scare the user with too much information. "Our philosophy around both security and privacy is to put users in control of their information," Peter Cullen, Microsoft’s chief privacy strategist, told ZDNet UK in an interview earlier this month.

"A common way in which spyware is put onto people's PCs is through something called 'drive-by downloads'. It comes bundled in with something that the user may have decided to download. What the download blocker (in XP Service Pack 2) does is alert the user that there is something that someone is attempting to download, gives them very clear information about who it is that is attempting to do this and allows the user to make the choice," Cullen said.

Spyware causes more than a few problems for Microsoft. While it is keen to advise users to remove products it considers dangerous, it has to be careful about advising people to remove products from potential competitors.