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Microsoft: Security Essentials is designed to be bottom of the antivirus rankings

security

By Nicole Kobie

Posted on 25 Sep 2013 at 09:04

Microsoft has admitted Windows users should install antivirus above and beyond its own Security Essentials, describing its protection as merely a "baseline" that will "always be on the bottom" of antivirus software rankings.

Microsoft launched Security Essentials in 2009, raising complaints from antivirus rivals that such software shouldn't be bundled with Windows for competition reasons.

However, the most frequent complaint about Security Essentials is that it's not good enough: it flunked a pair of tests earlier this year - including one from Dennis Technology Labs, a testing firm affiliated with PC Pro's publisher.

Now, Microsoft has said it sees Security Essentials as merely the first layer of protection, advising customers to use additional, third-party antivirus - although the company stressed that wasn't because the product wasn't good enough to stand on its own.

Holly Stewart, senior program manager of the Microsoft Malware Protection Center, told Dennis Technology Labs that Microsoft made a decision to switch to what it calls a "baseline strategy".

"We had an epiphany a few years ago, back in 2011, where we realised we had a greater calling and that was to protect all Microsoft customers," she said. "But you can’t do that with a monoculture and you can’t do that with a malware-catching ecosystem that is not robust and diverse."

Rather than focus on making its own antivirus the best in the business, Stewart said Microsoft was "doing everything we can to protect against real threats" and passing data on those threats to antivirus makers, so multiple parties can target the problems.

"It’s not as efficient to have one kind of weapon," she said. "Like anything you must have that diversity. It’s a weakness to just have one."

Previously, Microsoft would spend resources trying to improve Security Essentials' performance in tests. "We used to have part of our team directed towards predicting test results and figuring out what might be in someone’s test. There’s always a cost to that," she said. "If they are doing that work they are not looking at those threats that are affecting our customers. We always felt that was wrong. There’s something not right about that – we’re not doing the best job for our customers."

The company decided to stop that practice and put its effort elsewhere.
"We put half of those people on focusing on what we call prevalent threats. We developed this new telemetry to look for emerging threats - sort of an early notification system that new threats were emerging. We had this group of folks start focusing on those threats and we saw that it increased our protection service level for our customers."

In practice, it means Microsoft is focusing on tracking emerging threats and sharing that data within the security industry, saying that's a more meaningful way to protect customers.

Natural progression

However, Stewart said offering antivirus firms that data, and no longer focusing on how well Security Essentials does in tests, will likely leave Microsoft's antivirus at the bottom of the charts.

"We’re providing all of that data and information to our partners so they can do at least as well as we are," she said. "The natural progression is that we will always be on the bottom of these tests. And honestly, if we are doing our job correctly, that’s what will happen."

She added that Microsoft wants "everyone to do better than us because we know that makes it harder for the bad guys".

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"The more we can help them [antivirus firms] differentiate themselves and give customers a good reason to pay for their products we know that that diversity is going to make it harder for the people who are our real competitors – the bad guys who are out there," she said.

Baseline's not bad

She said that shouldn't be seen as Microsoft leaving customers unprotected, claiming the company is merely focusing on the most serious threats.

"Baseline does not equal bad," she said. "We provide a high-quality, high-performing service to our customers and if they choose not to buy [antivirus] on Windows 8... we want to get those people protected."

Stewart stressed the change in approach had nothing to do with anti-trust concerns surrounding bundling its own antivirus with Windows.

Update - 12 October Microsoft has issued the following statement in response to the publication of this article:

"We are committed to protecting our customers, and our Microsoft antimalware solutions provide strong, comprehensive defence against malicious code and attacks. We believe in these products and are proud of the protection capabilities we provide to well over 150 million computers worldwide."

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User comments

Endpoint protection

Sooo does that mean we should stop looking at using Endpoint protection in enterprise then seeing as it's the same engine and updates? seems a bit of a strange statement for them to make.

By bibble on 25 Sep 2013

Mmm, and what about SCEP

As Bibble said, what about System Center Endpoint Protection? I would assume (maybe incorrectly) that it is the same engine and definition files. The value add of SCEP is the centralised management so there is still plenty of value add to stop enterprises just installing the free security essentials if it provides the same level of protection.

By Jules75 on 25 Sep 2013

"We had an epiphany.. we realised we had a greater calling..."

OFFS.

By Cantabrian on 25 Sep 2013

Antivirus is the MS paint of antivirus world. Typical for Microsoft.

Do not expect better from Microsoft. You buy a 200$ Windows 8 and you will get MS paint, MS notepad, MS Write, Sound recorder, Media Player, CD writer, zip utility that are all bundled with the operating system. All have in common that they all loser applications. So it is no different for antivirus. It is located on the same spot where MS paint sits with respect to other paint software etc.

I think people should think about that a typical installation of linux comes with GIMP, LibreOffice, etc all in common that they are high (albeit not top) quality.

By HopeLESS on 25 Sep 2013

@HopeLESS

There's a good reason for that. If Linux bundles good software with its OS it doesn't get hauled to the courts for anti-competitive practices.

Personally, this news story isn't a surprise - for exactly the reason I just gave Microsoft can't afford to give a good quality AV product away for free.

By DArtiss on 25 Sep 2013

Typical MS bashing in the comments...

...from people that have missed the point?

MS have focused their energies on real-world threats, having shifted resources from pointless (for the end user) guessing of what's going to be in a non-real world test. They have data showing that this shift of resources has already benefited users.

They are also sharing this information with other antivirus companies and it is this sharing of information that should make you use other products in preference - they should catch everything that MS's products catch, plus the things their own research has found.

Other anti-virus companies are 'gaming' the tests, and so these do not give a reflection of real-world performance i.e. the artificial tests give misleading results.

Oh, and @Cantabrian, my thoughts exactly :-)

By Mark_Thompson on 25 Sep 2013

What about their customers?

Oh for goodness sake! I bought W8 and, rightly or wrongly, decided on the basis of MS's pitch that Defender would provide sufficient protection and hence that W8 was saving me the cost and more significantly the hassle of separate AV software. Hurray, I thought. And I recall the MS response to the poor test results earlier this year, which rather implied that the MS view remained that their AV software is adequate. If this announcement changes that (I don't know, is Security Essentials different from Defender?), then please could MS be so kind as to inform me, as their loyal customer. And I mean individually (my installation is verified so they must know of me). I do appreciate this is not the best way to address MS, but that rather makes the point that this article has been my only source of communication from MS (thanks to PC Pro for that).

By Merry_Man on 25 Sep 2013

How is this news

MS stated from the get go that customers should get a thrid part internet security/anti-virus software and not solely rely on Security Essentials.

That message has never changed. Also few people in the comments are complaining about how the basic software that comes with windows is "looser" software.

Unfortunately MS is taken to court for including a decent anything in their OS.

It's not MS fault that people are not willing to listen to sound advice (they are probably the same people who will install viruses and blame on MS as well or their AV software).

Lastly Security Essentials should never be compared to and internet Security or Anti-Virus software as it gives the wrong impression.

Stop being cheap. Put £20 get a third party AV.

By firstsin on 25 Sep 2013

@Firstin

You'll point me to the section on this page advertising Microsoft Defender/Security Essentials, where it tells people to buy third-party AV: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/securit
y-essentials-download

Barry Collins
Editor

By Barry_Collins on 25 Sep 2013

You cannot win...

A whole heap of people complain about Windows not being secure and rate the benefits of Linux...

...While running windows with FULL administrative access.

D'oh.

By rhythm on 25 Sep 2013

@Barry Collins

Unfortunately I cannot. I will concede since I have nothing to show for it.

By firstsin on 25 Sep 2013

@Barry

I'm positive that Amy Barzdukas said it wasn't designed to compete with other A/V products but instead provide basic protection for those unable/unwilling to pay for it. This was back in 2009... just search for the press release from MS.

By JmLing on 25 Sep 2013

So, as a Windows 8 user, what is a good AV suite to go for? I don't need a lot as I'm pretty careful where I go online but it's always nice to have that extra piece of mind

By EddyOS_2K9 on 25 Sep 2013

@EddyOS_2K9

Well, I use MS Security Essentials on three Win 7 machines, and Defender on the Win 8 machine. Have done so for about 5 years. Never had a problem. Periodically I scan with Malware Bytes just to double check.
Maybe I just got lucky, I mean with all 4 machines...
At the root of this article is the simple point that, if MS give away all their AV research to third parties, then the third parties ought to be at least as good as MS. How does that make MS any worse than good enough?

By martindaler on 25 Sep 2013

@martindaler

I've been the same, I'm just wondering if I actually need any protection? I'm quite happy with MSE/Defender and if I can continue with that I will. Just wondering if there was anything else I could look at as an alternative

By EddyOS_2K9 on 25 Sep 2013

Not designed to be the worst

Designed to be bottom of rankings does not equal, designed to be the worst.

Microsoft has simply decided not to game the tests. 3D video card test have had a similar problem for years.

In addition, Microsoft has a history of providing performance enhancements with vendors, now they are providing their definitions as well. This means every AV should match Microsoft's protection, and increase it with their own additions (or test gaming).

The problem with MSE and Defender protection is that it becomes the baseline. If you want to infect a Windows 8 computer, getting past it is the price of admission. Having a diverse ecosystem of supplemental protection is better for consumers, and Microsoft realizes this. All the while making it much tougher for the bad guys (which is their end game).

By Blair on 25 Sep 2013

Bottom or worst? What about the user's ability?

If I have to set up a computer for a very new and not very savvy user, I install and set up MSE or Defender for them. Why, because it is extremely easy to use and understand. As they get more savvy they can change to other free or paid for programs.

By wired_retired on 25 Sep 2013

No Surprise

Privacy and security have always been a cursory consideration for MS in the chase for big $$$.

By rhobstein3 on 25 Sep 2013

I don't believe it!

I've been using Security Essesntials and now Defender now for years on multiple machines and I've never had a problem. In-law family & friends have had problems using 3rd party AV software. I've cleaned these machines and replaced their AV's with Security Essentials and they have been fine ever since.

I'm not surprised that MS have said to install 3rd party though, to keep the dumb courts happy.

I have no intention of installing 3rd party AV on my machines or recommending anything other that Security Essentials/Defender.

By stephen_d_morris on 26 Sep 2013

More than one AV?

"advising customers to use additional, third-party antivirus" I have long been under the impression that you can't run more than one AV Suite. Is that no longer true ?

By ctrog1 on 26 Sep 2013

PR Bomb

Sec Essentials is just meant for the type of user that would never put any protection on their machine from year dot.

It does an adequate job for nothing.

You need to be a special kind of creature not to be aware that free protection will have its limitations.

Microsoft are not at fault here, except in the curiously clumsy way they handle this kind of PR. But that's nothing new, they have always struggled with PR and Spin.

Perhaps during the re-shuffle on Balmer's exit they might finally hire someone capable of marketing to Microsoft's strengths, as despite the endless chuntering they are very good at quite a large range of products.

By Gindylow on 26 Sep 2013

My left foot

Did the MS interview come via the Onion by any chance? On 1st of April, it would work like a charm.

By arichter on 26 Sep 2013

Defender nor norton did not worked for me

Funny enough I got searchgol on my machine, showing its head in google but not in ie10.
Although always on, defender did not pick that up.I ran a manual check and picked up the toolbar which is associated with searchgol I deleted it and ran Norton which also did not find it.
deleted it manually,,, I think

By churchfarm on 28 Sep 2013

What about Win 8 and Windows Defender?

The irony is that in Windows 8 Microsoft set up Windows Defender to run alone or not at all.

By romath on 28 Sep 2013

MSE

Seems odd that MS should recommend installing a second AV, since usually results in niether AV functioning correctly, even if the second installation is not blocked due to haveing an existing AV

By palcouk on 4 Oct 2013

The usual misinterpetation of reporters

I suggest you read the following blog post from MS where is stands behind its AV software:

http://blogs.technet.com/b/mmpc/archive/2013/10/09
/our-commitment-to-microsoft-antimalware.aspx

By user123 on 9 Oct 2013

for gods sake

Windows Defender is spyware only, you need Microsoft Security Essentials to protect you against spyware AND viruses. If you are too lazy/stupid to even find that out, what are your comments worth as to what your expert opinion on the pros and cons of MS security software is? My opinion on MS security essentials is that it is good enough. I do not see the value of having programs "protect" me while wreaking other havoc on my system and its performance. It's a bit like having radio therapy in order to prevent cancer when you don't have it to start with. If you weren't sick/dead before then you soon will be.

By ozdude on 9 Nov 2013

for gods sake

Windows Defender is spyware only, you need Microsoft Security Essentials to protect you against spyware AND viruses. If you are too lazy/stupid to even find that out, what are your comments worth as to what your expert opinion on the pros and cons of MS security software is? My opinion on MS security essentials is that it is good enough. I do not see the value of having programs "protect" me while wreaking other havoc on my system and its performance. It's a bit like having radio therapy in order to prevent cancer when you don't have it to start with. If you weren't sick/dead before then you soon will be.

By ozdude on 9 Nov 2013

for gods sake

Windows Defender is spyware only, you need Microsoft Security Essentials to protect you against spyware AND viruses. If you are too lazy/stupid to even find that out, what are your comments worth as to what your expert opinion on the pros and cons of MS security software is? My opinion on MS security essentials is that it is good enough. I do not see the value of having programs "protect" me while wreaking other havoc on my system and its performance. It's a bit like having radio therapy in order to prevent cancer when you don't have it to start with. If you weren't sick/dead before then you soon will be.

By ozdude on 9 Nov 2013

?

That triple post wasn't me, I only posted once.

By ozdude on 9 Nov 2013

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