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Windows AntiSpyware becomes 'Defender'

Microsoft changes name of spyware protection and adds defense against rootkits and keystroke loggers.

Microsoft is giving Windows AntiSpyware a makeover.

The tool, designed to protect PCs against hidden software, has been renamed "Windows Defender" and is getting a new look as well as capabilities to detect rootkits, keystroke loggers and other threats. The news of the revamp came Friday in a posting to a new Microsoft corporate blog dealing with malicious software.

The updated application will be part of Vista, the successor to the Windows XP operating system that is expected to launch by the end of next year.

Microsoft will also release Windows Defender for XP users. It will be released as an update to the current edition of Windows AntiSpyware, which has been available in a beta version since January.

The changes were expected. In October, Microsoft said that the tool would undergo significant changes before Windows Vista ships. The expanded detection and removal capabilities were also in the cards.

The program is designed to protect PCs against spyware, which is software that is installed on a system to watch the user's activity without his or her knowledge. The addition of rootkit protection means Windows Defender can detect and remove rootkits, hacker tools designed to go undetected by security software. Rootkits are used by hackers to lock down control of a computer after an initial attack.

Microsoft has changed how it delivers signature updates for the anti-spyware application. The signatures, used to pinpoint which software is malicious, are now distributed through Windows Update, instead through of a separate tool particular to the program.

Microsoft said Windows Defender isn't a finished product. Vista testers are likely to be the first to get their hands on the updated tool, a company spokesperson said Monday. "We expect Windows Defender to appear in the next Windows Vista Community Technology Preview release," expected by year's end, the representative said.

It is unclear when Windows Defender will be available to Windows XP users. Microsoft had planned to deliver a Beta 2 version of Windows AntiSpyware by the end of the year. That release is expected to be the debut of Windows Defender for Windows XP, but the delivery date might change, the Microsoft spokesperson said.

"The timing for Beta 2 has not been determined. The internal goal for us is Dec. 31, but that is flexible," the representative said.