Malware, Network Security

Following anti-trust complaints, Microsoft defended its proprietary AV software

Microsoft is making its case against anti-trust complaints that it uses its dominant position in the marketplace to unfairly promote its proprietary anti-virus software at the expense of offerings from third-party competitors.

Kaspersky Lab recently filed complaints in Russia, Germany and with the European Commission alleging that the Redmond giant squeezes out options from the competition. While Kaspersky admitted that Microsoft has made some concessions as a result of its filing with Russia's Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS), other practices have not been addressed, the charges claim.

In particular, the protest takes aim at a preponderance of pop-up dialogue boxes asking, "Do you want to run this program?," at every step when Windows 10 users attempt to run anti-virus software from a third party. Also offensive to Kaspersky was the warning that pops up: "You should only run programs that come from publishers you trust."

The complaints also protest the "disappearance of security software when Windows 10 is upgraded," as well as a response from a Microsoft tech-support representative that "Windows 10 is incompatible with third-party anti-virus," according to a post from Kaspersky Lab. Indeed, Kaspersky claimed that tech support advised users to delete any independent anti-virus solutions.

But, Rob Lefferts, partner director of the Windows & Devices Group, Security & Enterprise for Microsoft, writing on a blog post on June 20, defended the company's practices as taking "a principled approach to protecting our customers against malware and ransomware in partnership with security experts both in and outside of Microsoft."

Lefferts asserted that Microsoft's Windows Defender Antivirus, its proprietary software built in to Windows 10, delivers next-generation anti-virus protection that leverages "the cloud, machine learning, behavior analysis and vast optics from the Microsoft Intelligent Security Graph to provide faster, smarter malware defenses in real time."

He defended the company's practices, claiming that Microsoft does partner with third-party vendors through the Microsoft Virus Initiative (MVI) program to allow third-party software to work on the Windows OS. Eighty vendors are enrolled in the program.

"Our close collaboration with these partners enables us to ensure our customer promise of 'always on' malware protection no matter which solution they choose," Lefferts wrote. "We think this provides customers an easy way to choose the software vendors, features and price points that work for them without worrying if their device will ever be unprotected."

Of course, continual updating is necessary to fend off threats. Lefferts explained how Windows 10 keeps current with regular updates and new security enhancements and offers "much greater transparency and insight into the Windows development process than ever before."

But, Kaspersky's allegations also contend that Microsoft delays updates for its competitors attempting to run within the Windows 10 ecosystem. In fact, versions of its software mysteriously disappear when users upgrade to Windows 10, Eugene Kaspersky, the company's CEO, wrote: "In many cases, while the update is still ongoing...Windows decides that your existing security solution is, after all, incompatible with Windows 10, deletes its drivers (leaving a bunch of useless files (the solution won't work without the drivers)), and in its place switches on its own solution."

This is done without explicit consent from users, Kaspersky added, with only a warning that appears on screens for a few seconds.

Lefferts answered the charge by stating that Windows 10 prompts users to install new versions of third-party AV apps following updates. "Once a customer has installed an active and up-to-date anti-virus program, it will run without notifications or interference from Windows," Lefferts wrote.

As far as Kaspersky's charge that tech support personnel advised customers to be wary of options from the competition, Lefferts wrote that the company's support teams "work closely with them to honor the AV choices they've made." In some cases, he added, uninstalling and then reinstalling the software – including third-party AV solutions – is necessary to resolve a customer issue.

"We remain ever vigilant in our conviction to make Windows 10 the safest and most secure OS platform ever and earn our customers' trust every day," Lefferts wrote. "To do that we will support a vibrant ecosystem of security solutions. Wherever possible, Windows will help customers make informed choices and respect user choice for security protection."

It's now up to the courts to decide.

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