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Anti-virus software built in to Windows 8 – yay or nay?

Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 operating system will come built in with beefier anti-virus security software than its predecessors. Is this move anti-competitive, or simply good news for PC users?

Microsoft is reportedly adding to its Defender tool, already built in to Windows, and adding some of the best bits of Microsoft Security Essentials.

Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) is Microsoft’s anti-virus and anti-malware product. It’s already available free of charge and has performed well in our previous anti-virus tests, so why wouldn’t you want this to be built in to Windows 8? I have my reasons.

Sarah Kidner doesn’t want integrated anti-virus

I remember a time when Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) browser wasn’t part of the operating system. You were free to choose any browser you’d like.

Microsoft’s decision to bundle the OS and browser together wasn’t without controversy. The European Commission investigated Microsoft for anti-competitive practices, which resulted a choice of web browser being required when you install Windows.

This has enabled fair competition and has driven Microsoft’s browser rivals to innovate. In turn this has seen IE toppled as the default browser of choice.

If Microsoft is to build anti-virus security into Windows 8, I’d like to see a similar approach – users should be able to choose from a range of both free and paid-for software during the installation process.

Personally, I’d probably still plump for MSE as it performs well in our tests and doesn’t lock you into an annual subscription fee; but that isn’t the point. Giving us a choice will spur the creators of paid-for anti-virus software to up their game and innovate.

There’s nothing like a little healthy competition to keep a company on its toes, otherwise we’re simply handing Microsoft the security software market on a plate.

Andy Vandervell is up for built-in anti-virus

Competition is an emotive thing. In the free market it’s considered essential (‘monopolies are bad’ is an almost universally agreed fact) whereas in public services it sparks serious, often polarising debate. But, in this case, what’s good for competition isn’t necessarily good for the consumer.

The EU’s argument with Microsoft and its bundling of IE in Windows is a case in point. It might have been tough for competitors, but how could Microsoft not bundle IE in with Windows? How, in a sane world, could a ‘state-of-the-art’ operating system not have a pre-installed web browser? It’s the most used program on almost every PC in the world.

And now Microsoft has decided to integrate anti-virus at the core of Windows 8, the same question arises – how have we lived so long without this? For years we’ve battled with generating awareness about computer security – always install anti-virus, we said. Wouldn’t life have been so much easier if Windows had it out-of-the-box already?

The reason it didn’t, of course, was Microsoft feared being dragged through the courts. In other words, consumers were denied a better, more secure product because Microsoft feared legal reprisals.

Belated as it is then, Microsoft’s move has to be a good thing. And given free anti-virus has been available for several years now and the industry hasn’t imploded, I think we can safely say it can cope with a little ‘free’ competition.

Do you agree with Sarah or Andy? Will having anti-virus software built in to Windows 8 be good news for your PC’s security, or will it stifle competition and lock us into Microsoft’s software?

Should Microsoft's own anti-virus software be built in to Windows 8?

Yes - Windows should be secure out-of-the-box (61%, 624 Votes)

No - you should have a choice of anti-virus (28%, 288 Votes)

I don't mind either way (11%, 110 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,021

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Comments
Member

The real answer to this issue, of course, is for Microsoft to produce an operating system that doesn’t need AV but if forced to choose between Sarah and Andy then I have to agree with Sarah. Back in the day when it wasn’t the norm for browsers to be free, Microsoft killed off a better product (Netscape Navigator) by giving away IE for free. When there is such a dominant player as Microsoft in the marketplace, one needs all the competition one can get. Would the cost of MS Office have become affordable for all without the competition of, say, OpenOffice?

Member

It would be nice if Microsoft could produce an operating system that does not need anti-virus software, but that seems unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future. I hope I am wrong, but a lot of effort is put into producing malware.

It was sad to see the demise of Nescape but the continuing loss of market share of IE is very encouraging. 🙂

Member

With current technology and the stage of development of software engineering, a completely virus free Operating System is not possible. However, to some extent the problem was caused by Microsoft in the first place because DOS and early versions of Windows that ran on top of DOS had no security whatsoever. (I don’t mean virus scanners, I mean file protection and user permissions to stop third-parties installing malware without the user’s knowledge.)

As long as computers were fairly isolated, this wasn’t really too much of a problem; provided that users didn’t bandy too many floppies around it was reasonably easy to stay clean. However, once the Internet came along it was open season. Microsoft’s bundling of IE and Outlook express didn’t help either because they used very low level calls to the Operating System kernel and provided virus writers with a monoculture that gave them easy access to install their nasties.

More modern versions of Windows do have better security models, but legacy apps often don’t work properly unless the user runs as Administrator, so the malware authors still have an attack vector. In addition, the security is bolted on to generate nag boxes every time the user is required to install something. It’s not long before most users simply press the OK without reading the message. Neither MacOS or Linux (which are both Unix-like) have anything like the same problems with viruses because these operating systems were designed from the bottom up with security in mind.

So in a long-winded way, the real answer is not to use Windows at all and the likelihood of getting a virus in the first place will become much lower.

Member

My own experience certainly backs up what you say, Terry.

Since 1992 I have used Macs and in all that time I have seen only one virus (Melissa) and that was a Microsoft Word macro virus rather than a Mac-specific problem.

I used to be responsible for some PCs at work and until 10 years ago they frequently had to receive attention despite having up-to-date anti-virus software. After that, there were few problems, and I am hearing of fewer problems from home PC users. I used to warn people against using Outlook Express because of well known problems, but these seem to have been largely resolved.

Resolving the malware problem would probably be the biggest step forward for Windows users.

Member

As if to underline the opening paragraph in my post above comes the news that Macs are not invulnerable: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17623422. As I said, the technology isn’t there yet and I run an anti-virus program on my Linux machines as well as all the Windows boxes in the house.

However, this botnet that has attacked the Mac seems to rely on fooling the mark into installing the malware willingly; it masquerades as a Flash Player update. Until the technology is mature enough to warn users that software that they are trying to run is not what it says it is, these attacks will continue to be successful, whatever the platform.

I’m not sure about what other defences Macs have, because I haven’t used one for about 20 years, but the Linux computer that I am running has a tool called AppArmor that trys to stop malware from doing any damage. The tool is aware of the apps the machine has, who can run them and what they are supposed to do, so any virus trying to hijack the installed software is more likley to be denied access. I’m not sure if this tool would help in situations like the Flash Player botnet on the Mac, but it would catch a lot of the sneakier stuff where the user isn’t even aware that the software is being installed.

In the end the main defence is to not visit dubious web sites and don’t download anything unless you are absolutely sure it is coming from where you think it is. Unfortunately, the latter advice is quite hard to follow for the ‘ordinary’ computer users, so the technolgy has a long way to go yet.

Member

It is wise to use anti-virus software on a Mac. There may not be much risk compared with PCs, but there is no need to be complacent, whatever operating system you use.

Member

This sounds like another reason to avoid Windows 8 on a desktop or laptop. As it is I do not like the idea of having to search the screen until the required icon appears under the cursor. MS should use their effort to produce a user friendly system instead of adding AV to system that looks as if it is designed for tablets or smartphones with their minimal screens.

Member
bob says:
5 April 2012

This is a simple argument since I am at the sharp end of having to fix virus infections for my customers. The number of calls I get for virus repairs is increasing and the simple use of antivirus would alleviate most of these infections. The benefits of preinstalled antivirus are clear – reduced repair costs and less inconvenience for computer users.

I also believe it is the responsibility of suppliers to ensure that consumers have the most appropriate protection preinstalled on their computers including antivirus, firewall, web browser and backup. Microsoft’s plans will provide most of this protection and it is already available at no cost; also its current quality is amongst the best in class.

The most important advice I offer my customers – use Microsoft Security Essentials, use Internet Explorer 9, do not think about backups – just do it or better still automate your backups into the “cloud”.

Finally, keep your computers protected with the latest updates from Microsoft and other suppliers – this is more important than many people realise since these updates frequently include fixes for newly discovered vulnerabilities.