Microsoft releases new beta of Security Essentials

Latest version of free software adds network inspection, more protection against malware

Microsoft has announced the latest beta of its free antivirus software, Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE).

The release is called a "beta" yet again, even though it was a beta back on June 23, 2009 and Sept. 29, 2009. The security software only works on "genuine" Windows systems and can be downloaded at the Microsoft Connect portal here (it requires a password sign-up).

The MSE beta has a new feature that sweeps the network called the "network inspection system," according to Microsoft's announcement. It also includes firewall integration and enhanced protection against Internet-borne exploits. The enhanced protection feature supports newer versions of Internet Explorer, providing additional protection from Web attacks. With the firewall integration, users now have the option to turn Windows firewall on or off.

"This is good news for consumers; bad news for McAfee and Symantec," said Phil Lieberman, president of Lieberman Software. "Since most consumers do not buy antivirus and antimalware software, this is a great example of Microsoft stepping up as a responsible corporate citizen by providing some basic free protection for those consumers that simply can't or won't buy protection. Layering this technology over Windows 7 creates a much more secure Internet for everyone."

The beta comes with one catch. Windows XP users won't be able to take advantage of the network inspection system feature. Microsoft explains that this "feature will not be enabled on Windows XP because the network inspection system requires the Windows Filtering Platform in order to run." The Windows Filtering Platform is only available in Windows Vista and Windows 7.

Time will tell whether improvements in MSE will lead to computer makers preloading the software on PCs instead of commercial antimalware products. For now, MSE is still a consumer product in its nascent stages. It's not designed for enterprise use since it lacks management capabilities.

"I for one have always had a problem with the concept that consumers must pay to protect themselves and their systems when doing ordinary activities on the Internet," Lieberman said. "I agree with many who say that the operating system and applications must be smart enough to protect consumers from common threats. The release of an updated version of Security Essentials is a great step forward."

According to Microsoft's requirements page, MSE can run on the following operating systems: Windows XP Service Pack 2 or SP3; Windows Vista Gold, SP1, or SP2; and Windows 7. While some people still may be using Windows XP SP2, this operating system no longer gets security updates from Microsoft as of July 13.

About the Author

Jabulani Leffall is a journalist whose work has appeared in the Financial Times of London, Investor's Business Daily, The Economist and CFO Magazine, among others.


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