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Microsoft releases improved malware scanner

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December 20, 2010

Microsoft said earlier this morning that it has released a new version of its free security scanner tool, following the completion of a five-month beta testing initiative.

MSE (Microsoft Security Essentials) version 2.0 features a revamped heuristic (automatic malware detection) engine as well as the addition of network intrusion detection technology.

Less significantly though, the slightly redesigned dashboard allows users to manage Microsoft's firewall from inside MSE. MSE 2.0 also features tighter integration with Internet Explorer as a mechanism for protecting against Internet-based threats.

The software comes at no extra charge to users of Windows XP SP2 and higher, Windows Vista, and Windows 7 the software giant has said. Small businesses with up to ten PCs can also use the software as a defense against spyware, viruses, worms and trojans.

Computer users are required to pass a Windows validation test before the software will install, however. Broadly speaking, the software competes against other free scanners from the likes of Avira, Avast and AVG in the consumer market.

That software comes with a charge for small business users whereas MSE is available free of charge to small offices, a factor that irritated established security software suppliers, including Trend Micro and Panda Security.

A small footprint meant that Microsoft Security Essentials earned largely favourable reviews right out of the gate, a behaviour that Redmond managed to retain with its MSE 2.0 beta.

The security software is about comparable with other basic security scanner packages but has managed to minimise the number of false positives, especially on Microsoft software components and libraries, for example.

In other Microsoft news, a virus update in early December from AVG that went haywire made 64 bit Windows 7 computers and workstations extremely unstable and sent them in an endless "rebooting loop" mode after it was applied.

The affected machines became totally useless afterwards.

AVG has since confirmed that it has pulled the problem update No. 3292 off and published an advisory apologizing for the buggy security patch and provided various instructions on how to get affected systems back up and running again.

Recovering a 'Blue Screened PC' is more involved than simply rebooting in safe mode, as the security vendor explained. Both server and desktop versions of 64 bit Windows 7 are affected by the security hole.

It's still unclear whether or not other versions of Windows are vulnerable after applying the AVG updates, however.

Making matters even worse, both paid-for and free versions of the AVG software is affected by the bug.

Since last night, AVG users have furiously vented their frustration through AVG's online forum. It's perfectly understandable that those users were angry, after at least two of them have lost part of the word processor and spreadsheet files they were working on.

So far, AVG hasn't explained what caused the security issue, but normally such auto-immune problems occur when security software packages identify a vital Windows component as potentially malign. Such problems are far from unknown in the anti-virus industry and have affected multiple vendors in the past, including McAfee and Symantec.

Overall, specific testing procedures have been improved across the security industry, but not fast enough to deal with the increasingly growing volume of security updates AV vendors need to publish in response to increased virus and worm attacks coming from just anywhere.

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Source: Microsoft Corp.

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