RealTime IT News

Windows Defender For All?

TORONTO -- Microsoft is well known for its efforts in fighting software piracy. Yet countless millions of PCs worldwide run Microsoft software that isn't genuine and is in fact pirated.

Should those users get the same protections that genuine Microsoft users get, for the better good of the Internet ecosystem as a whole? If one Microsoft executive gets her way that may well happen.

Rebecca Norlander, general manager of the Security Technology Unit at Microsoft, told attendees of the Infosecurity Canada conference here that Windows Defender, Microsoft's anti-spyware product, is one of the most popular downloads in Microsoft's history at more than 28 million.

That number, however, is eclipsed by the 3.2 billion user executions of the Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool over the last seven months, which have resulted in 18.2 million virus disinfections.

Though Windows Defender has been quite successful so far, the number of its potential users could increase if Microsoft lets all Windows users actually download and use it.

Windows Defender is only available to Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA)-validated users who prove their copies of Windows are the real thing.

A member of the audience said that pirated versions of Windows can still openly get security updates from Microsoft, so why not let pirate Windows users get Defender as well.

Norlander noted that there is a pretty big divide among people in the company on the issue.

"I will tell you my opinion which is that at some level we have a responsibility to protect the ecosystem," Norlander said. "For me that means making sure that I provide as much security technology as possible to all people running copies of Windows."

That said, Norlander admitted that there is a line, and a company can't be expected to give away all of its protection services for free.

"We'll go through some growing pains as we try to figure out where the line is," Norlander said. "Sometimes I will get the things that I want to have happen and sometimes I'll just have to fight that fight another day."

In terms of Windows Defender, that's a line that may well be redrawn at some point.

"Currently with Defender we do actually gate on being genuine; maybe that will be something that we keep over time," Norlander mused.

Norlander noted that originally spyware was considered to just be irritating and not necessarily harmful, but that has changed over time.

"We've seen a shift in the landscape away from spyware to malware where a lot of those things that used to just irritate you can actually download additional software onto your PC," Norlander said.

"I've taken a different look and I've tried to convince others to take a different look at making Defender available to all people and not just genuine users."

"But I think it's something that, like everything else with security, we're going to have to figure out where the line is," Norlander added. "I think we'll see some shift over that, and my goal is to try and make sure that people across the ecosystem are as protected as possible.

"To me that means giving protection to even pirated versions."