RealTime IT News

Microsoft Takes Giant Step Against Spyware

Seven months ago, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates vowed to "help users be in control" over the rampant spyware infesting Windows systems. Today, Redmond followed through on its pledge by acquiring anti-spyware firm Giant Company Software.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Microsoft said it plans to launch a beta version of Giant's anti-spyware product within a month.

"Through this acquisition we're excited to be able to provide near-term relief to Windows customers by offering new technology to help keep spyware and other deceptive software off their PCs," Mike Nash, corporate vice president of the Security Business and Technology Unit at Microsoft, said in a statement.

According to Microsoft, the new beta will scan a customer's PC to seek out spyware and allow users to remove the threat. Once installed, the beta can be configured to block known spyware from being downloaded. The tool will be available for users of Windows 2000 and later.

Amy Carroll, director of product management for Microsoft's security, business and technical unit, told internetnews.com the beta version will be free, but other details, such as future pricing and delivery dates, have not been determined.

"The Giant solution uses extensive spyware-signature databases, real-time security agents and an innovative 'neighborhood watch' for spyware to protect customers from the threat of spyware and other deceptive software," Giant co-founder Ron Franczyk said in the Microsoft statement.

Speaking at MSN's Strategic Account Summit in March, Gates said, "So-called spyware is turning the Internet into a billboard. We are going to help users be in control and know what [spyware] is on their system, and if they don't want it they can get it off their system."

A November 2004 IDC study estimated that 67 percent of consumer PCs are infected with some form of spyware, which can range from unwanted pop-up ads, keystroke logging and secret tracking of a user's Web travels.

Spyware generally refers to software programs that collect data about computer users and send that information to a third party without a user's knowledge or consent. That definition, however, gets confusing when it comes to determining exactly what constitutes adequate disclosure of data-gathering and transmission practices.

In some cases, the software developer clearly has malicious intent, but, in others, such functions merely serve to collect data that enables better targeting of ads, or tracks whether ads have been viewed.

Congress considered several anti-spyware measures this year but ultimately heeded the Federal Trade Commission's recommendation that the problem can best be solved by industry solutions and public education campaigns.