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
“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.”