Microsoft admits Microsoft Security Essentials is designed to be worse than other anti-virus

Microsoft_Security_Essentials_by_lucasgomesdesouza

If, for a moment, you thought Microsoft Security Essentials was a capable antivirus system for Windows, then please think again. The software giant has admitted that its Security Essentials software is designed to be provide just baseline and will always perform less in comparison with premium antivirus systems.

Holly Stewart, senior program manager of the Microsoft Malware Protection Center, told the following to Dennis Technology Labs:

“We had an epiphany a few years ago, back in 2011, where we realized we had a greater calling and that was to protect all Microsoft customers. 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.”

Did Microsoft just also admit Security Essentials wasn’t sound from the beginning? Sort of, yeah.

Stewart went on to say Microsoft used to have a team focused on ensuring Security Essentials did well in test results but decided to stop that practice because Microsoft felt “that was wrong” and doing that meant “we’re not doing the best job for our customers”. So Microsoft took those employees that worked on improving benchmark performance and put them to work finding and protecting against new threats, which “increased our protection service level for our customers”.

Stewart went on to say that Microsoft now focuses on providing data to its anti-virus partners to help them improve their products, and that Microsoft wants “everyone to do better than us because we know that makes it harder for the bad guys”. However, sharing data with others means Security Essentials “will always be on the bottom of these tests. And honestly, if we are doing our job correctly, that’s what will happen.”

Stewart also gave some word of advice to customers: ensure you download other anti-virus on top of Security Essentials.

This is whole development is a disappointment because it is a clear sign that Microsoft has bowed to the complaints of antivirus companies, companies that hate the idea of Microsoft bundling a security software with Windows 8 and/or a free, capable anti-virus downloadable on Windows — despite Stewart claiming otherwise. We feel this is ridiculous because Microsoft has seemingly put corporate interests ahead of the interests of its users, and not for the first time.

Of course some may argue that Microsoft providing data to other companies to help them improve their security products is a good thing, and it is good; after all, the more data is shared the more protected everyone will be overall (assuming accurate data is shared). But why offer a security product that you know doesn’t perform as well as others? A disservice, if you ask us. At least warn people, if you are going to do that. How many people rely solely on Security Essentials, thinking it provides them with the only protection they need? Many, our guess is.

Microsoft first launched Security Essentials back in 2009 and antivirus companies complained in fear of competition. Since its launch, Microsoft Security Essentials has received mixed reviews, some proclaiming it as the best free anti-virus around and some saying the software is not good enough to protect user systems. For several years, Security Essentials passed from security tests by third-party testing companies but failed to pass others, which made many people question the trustworthiness of the program. Now we know, right?

[via PC Pro, image via Lucas Gomez]

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15 comments

  1. normofthenorth

    Ashraf, I assume the lab tests have been redone recently. Can somebody post a link so I can decide how vulnerable I am, sticking with MSE?

    BTW, if somebody found a MS memo where they announced that they would NOT be sharing detailed data on new malware threats with their competitors — i.e., doing exactly what the OTHER anti-malware CORPORATIONS are doing — I think all the MS-bashers above would be bashing MS for THAT decision, and blaming it on self-interest and the evils of capitalism. And with much more justification than in this case.

    Also BTW, I run periodic scans with MSE and a few other products, but I’ve turned off real-time file scanning because (a) I don’t like the slight delay when I download or open files and (b) nothing’s actually found anything scary ever — or at least since ~5 years ago when I got infected with the Nimda worm by connecting to the infected network at my sister’s place. Otherwise, between a NAT router and a software firewall and Anvir Task Manager and Zemana Anti-Logger, I’m hoping it’s enough.

  2. BearPup

    I’m constantly amazed at how many users who visit Microsoft Tech Support have only MSSE as their sole protection from everything online and off. And getting them to change that practice meets with incredible resistance, even when I’ve just helped them recover from a major virus attack that rendered their computer unusable! “But its from Microsoft; they wouldn’t sabotage their own operating system.” Sigh!

  3. Seamus McSeamus

    I never trusted MSE, sticking instead with avast! free. I’m glad I took that route. Nice way to tell people who buy you OS that you really don’t care that much about their online security.

  4. thegreenwizard

    Yeap… and what next?
    Before today I always heard only good think about MSSE. The tests I saw were good enough to be in the top free antivirus. Then now is almost near nothing, what let me ask another question:
    Which one is to install : free and good. This a question for Ashraf….
    And a more general question: what software is MS doing that is good?

  5. Ashraf
    Mr. Boss

    [@normofthenorth] I disagree with you.

    When MSE first came out, Microsoft pushed it as a free alternative to commercial anti-virus, a viable program people can rely on. Then half way through the game they decided they couldn’t compete and decided to go another route… without bothering to tell anyone. To this day, many people are under the impression that all they need is MSE when, as the nice Microsoft lady just revealed, this is not the case.

    You will notice MSE was praised as an excellent product in its early years but that changed a few years down the road, right around the 2011 quoted by Stewart, when Microsoft changed gears.

    Also, this is a clear example of putting corporate needs before that of users. They are sharing data, yes, but at the sacrifice of their users — whereas they could have turned MSE into a leading AV program (which I assume was their original desire), they decided otherwise. Sure, Microsoft is helping improve other products, but that directly helps corporate interests as opposed to providing a free AV for all users which would have been directly beneficial to users. Don’t drink Microsoft’s kool-aid; this is a clear example of corporate interests before users’. Sure the end-user benefits from data sharing, but does it need to come at a price of a subpar MSE? No, Microsoft could still be sharing data while producing a viable MSE.

    I’m not saying Microsoft has to product a free AV. However, they decided to do it then decided to more or less cripple it compared to other products, without warning users of the folly.

    If they can’t produce a good AV, then don’t. They are obliged to. But why release, and continue to push, something they know isn’t as good as competing products?

    The following paragraph from the above article sums up my issue with how Microsoft is treating:

    >>Of course some may argue that Microsoft providing data to other companies to help them improve their security products is a good thing, and it is good; after all, the more data is shared the more protected everyone will be overall (assuming accurate data is shared). But why offer a security product that you know doesn’t perform as well as others? A disservice, if you ask us. At least warn people, if you are going to do that. How many people rely solely on Security Essentials, thinking it provides them with the only protection they need? Many, our guess is.

  6. normofthenorth

    So MS offers MSE basic antimalware free to billions of Windows customers, competing with others. Then it shares info on malware with its competitors, who also serve Windows customers, and who don’t share back. And you say “Microsoft has seemingly put corporate interests ahead of the interests of its users, and not for the first time.”?!?
    I say Bravo, MS!!