MICROSOFT  STEPS  IN  TO  COMBAT  SPYWARE

MANILA, January 14, 2005 (STAR) By Alma Buelva  -  The spyware numbers are staggering: 17.4 million installations of adware, 65 million adware cookies, 515,175 Trojan horses, and 487,687 secret system monitors.

These figures, based on the results of Earthlink Spy Audit’s fourth survey released last quarter, covered 3.2 million scans of PCs that found 83.4 million instances of spyware – an average of 26 spyware programs per computer.

These worrisome figures show how big a computing menace spyware – software that threatens the security and privacy of PC users – has become, with every computer user on the planet a sure target.

No wonder the biggest computer company in the world, Microsoft Corp., has joined the battle against spyware by releasing last week in the US and this week in the Philippines a beta version of a program that will detect spyware, remove it when found and prevent it from plaguing computer systems.

Users are encouraged to download for free the Windows AntiSpyware Beta 1 at http://www.microsoft.com/spyware, the first technology solution to come out of Microsoft’s acquisition last month of a tiny New York operation of 12 employees called Giant Company Software Inc.

The acquisition is seen as Microsoft’s more proactive stance to address head-on the mounting incidences of security attacks on the Windows operating system, Internet Explorer and other key products. More than a third of the application crashes reported to Microsoft are caused by spyware and other unwanted software.

Giant is Microsoft’s second acquisition of a start-up security company with niche offerings. The first was GeCAD Software Srl, a Romanian antivirus-software maker acquired in 2003.

Aside from just buying expertise to augment its own, Microsoft’s move is also regarded as a sign that it’s finally rolling up its sleeves to grab a lion’s share of the computer network and security market now valued at $13 billion.

Separate studies by market researcher IDC and the National Cyber Security Alliance last year revealed that spyware and other unwanted software are found on anywhere from 67 to 80 percent of consumers’ computers. Because firewall systems alone can’t stop Internet-borne attacks, IDC expects more people and companies to arm their systems with anti-spyware. This will spur anti-spyware software revenues from both home and corporate customers to rise from $12 million in 2003 to $305 million in 2008.

A new breed

Spyware is a breed of deceptive software that threatens the security and privacy of PC users. It uses deceit and trickery to get installed on a PC without a person’s knowledge or consent. The nefarious spyware usually comes bundled with freeware or shareware, through e-mail or instant message, or by someone with access to a user’s computers. It can slow PC performance, change a computer’s configuration, and steal passwords and personal information.

Adware is spyware that displays unwanted pop-up advertising messages that are triggered by "cookies" – or pieces of code that secretly keep track of your online activities. Many websites leave these cookies on users’ computers without their knowledge or consent.

System monitors are spyware that stealthily capture what a user does on his computer, especially when he is online. It makes an encrypted log of the information – including PINs and passwords – it gathers, which can later be used to violate the user’s privacy and security.

Trojan horses are made for the sheer purpose of destroying systems. They can give attackers full access to your compu-ter when it’s online to wreak havoc.

Most pornographic sites are home to spyware and Trojans, according to a recent study by Eblocs.com, which also lists sites for music-sharing, weather, video, song lyrics and screen savers as breeding ground for spyware.

Windows anti-spyware

Though its name is far from original, Microsoft Windows AntiSpyware promises to do a good job of detecting, removing and even preventing the installation of known spyware to improve Internet browsing safety.

Jojo Ayson, platform security lead for Microsoft Philippines, said users can download the program for free until July 31 when the beta expires.

"Whether there will be Beta 2 we don’t know yet. Microsoft has no definitive plans of how it will be distributed (after July)... But since many antispyware (programs) are free, ours will likely take the same route," Ayson said.

The beta release of Windows AntiSpyware is available for Microsoft Windows 2000 and later versions.

In addition, Microsoft released a tool for removing malicious software or malware, under the generic name of "Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool." Based on technologies picked from GeCAD Software, the program complements traditional anti-virus technologies by removing prevalent viruses and worms from a PC. Like Windows AntiSpyware, this malware removal program will also work with Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) to provide a higher level of security.

In January 2004, Microsoft released a series of removal tools, each of which targeted a single virus or worm and some of its variants. Collectively, these tools augmented existing antivirus protections by scanning more than 55 million PCs worldwide for viruses such as Blaster, MyDoom and Download.Ject.

The new Microsoft Windows malicious software removal tool consolidates these existing removal tools into a single solution. Ayson said the tool will be updated on the second Tuesday of each month as part of Microsoft’s monthly software security update process to respond to new viruses, worms and variants.

Based on a recent study commissioned by Microsoft, 63 percent of home users do not have an antivirus solution installed or do not keep their antivirus solution up to date. To change this situation, the company offers its malicious software removal tool free of charge and distributes copies of the program as a high-priority update for the more than 112 million Windows XP-based PCs configured to receive priority updates automatically. Update and Auto Update support for Windows 2000, Windows Server 2003 will be added later this year.

The initial release of the malware removal tool is targeted at consumers. Enterprises will be able to deploy the tool using Microsoft Systems Management Server. Support for deploying the tool through Software Update Services, downloads through the Windows Update Catalog and for MBSA will be added later this year.

Ayson pointed out that unlike antivirus software, malicious software removal tools do not prevent computers from being infected. To find out what the Microsoft malware remover can tackle, visit
http://www.microsoft.com/malwa-reremove.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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