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Microsoft tinkers with anti-spyware tools

Company refreshes its anti-spyware software as it works on a new beta due out later this year.

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.
Microsoft has released an enhanced version of its anti-spyware product as it continues to work on an update of the application, which is due out in beta later this year.

The company is working with numerous groups to find ways to improve Microsoft AntiSpyware, which was released in beta in January, and said it has strategies for guarding against the "over 50 ways" that spyware can enter a PC.

The latest beta refresh is a minor update. It includes changes to how Windows AntiSpyware provides information about processes running on a PC, solves an issue some people had with the delivery of anti-spyware signatures, and provides signature updates to help protect against recently identified spyware, according to Microsoft's Web site.

"Rootkit detection is not a part of the refresh," a Microsoft representative said, adding that "it's a challenging area and a problem (the company) is always looking at."

Rootkits have been around for years and are tools that let a hacker capture passwords and the message traffic to and from a computer. Rootkits can be used in combination with other malicious software to disrupt systems. Microsoft is concerned about this threat being used in conjunction with annoying--but often more benign--problems like spyware.

The issue is a difficult one for Microsoft, which has to balance informing people of potential threats while being careful not to scare them with too much information.

"Our philosophy around both security and privacy is to put users in control of their information," Peter Cullen, Microsoft's chief privacy strategist, told ZDNet UK in an interview earlier this month.

He noted that spyware often lands on people's PCs because of "drive-by downloads."

The spyware "comes bundled in with something that the user may have decided to download," Cullen said. "What the download blocker (in XP Service Pack 2) does is alert the user that there is something that someone is attempting to download, gives them very clear information about who it is that is attempting to do this, and allows the user to make the choice."

Spyware causes more than a few problems for Microsoft. While the company is keen to advise people to remove products it considers dangerous, it has to be careful about directing people to remove products from potential competitors.

This is the third refresh of the Windows AntiSpyware beta since its initial release. While the official second beta version is due out by year's end, Microsoft has not set a date for final release of the product.


Correction: This story incorrectly stated Microsoft's approach to rootkits in the update of its anti-spyware product. Microsoft is looking at rootkit detection, but has not publicly committed to including it in Windows AntiSpyware.