Microsoft launches free Security Essentials package

The software replaces the paid-for OneCare product, and offers protection against viruses, Trojans, spyware and rootkits
Written by David Meyer, Contributor and  Tom Espiner, Contributor

Microsoft on Tuesday introduced its long-awaited consumer security suite Microsoft Security Essentials, a free download that replaces the paid-for OneCare product.

Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE), which was previously code-named Morro, provides antivirus, anti-spyware, rootkit protection and other tools to protect systems again malicious attacks. It uses the same technology as Microsoft's Forefront Client Security business product, and runs on Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7 machines.

The software is available as a free download, with no registration or trial period. However, the software will run Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage tool before installing, to check the user's copy of Windows is not counterfeit.

"By making Microsoft Security Essentials easy to get and easy to use, Microsoft hopes to encourage broader adoption of antivirus protection across the consumer audience, which in turn will help increase security across the entire Windows ecosystem," the company said in a statement.

Microsoft will not bundle MSE with Windows, Julia Owen, Microsoft UK's consumer product manager, told ZDNet UK.

"It's a standalone product," she said. "Obviously we work very closely with OEMs [PC manufacturers], and [bundling] could be a possibility, but at the moment we have nothing to announce around that."

Owen added that it was up to PC manufacturers whether they wanted to install MSE on their machines.

Cliff Evans, Microsoft UK's security chief, said MSE uses the same engine as OneCare, but added that the new product was "better, in the sense that it's a later iteration of that engine". The new software does not include the non-security features, such as automated PC tuneups, provided by its subscription-based predecessor.

MSE uses a higher amount of heuristic detection techniques than OneCare, Evans said. The software studies the behaviour of suspicious applications, then reports back to a central server to check the behaviour against that of known malware.

The Dynamic Signature Service technology uses the most recent virus definitions to check applications for risks, rather than relying on the last batch of definitions downloaded, Microsoft said.

The suite also emulates programs before they complete their execution, and looks for behaviour such as carrying out operations without user permission, Owen said. If a program is behaving suspiciously, MSE will ping the Dynamic Signature Service to see whether the program should be submitted for analysis or terminated.

In addition, Owen said that MSE offers a performance boost over OneCare because it is not a "big suite" like its predecessor.

MSE will be launched in eight languages and in 19 countries — the UK, Ireland, the US, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand and Singapore.

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