Windows anti-spyware to come free of charge

Bill Gates says Microsoft won't charge customers for its spyware and pop-up killer.

SAN FRANCISCO--Ending speculation about whether it was shifting to a paid model, Microsoft said on Tuesday that it will provide customers with its new anti-spyware software for free.

The pledge, made by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates during his keynote speech kicking off the RSA Conference 2005 here, comes after the company had been testing its AntiSpyware application--technology it acquired with its purchase of security software maker Giant Software.

"Just as spyware is something that we have to nip down today, we have decided that all licensed Windows users should have that protection at no charge," Gates said.

The initiative is part of Microsoft's efforts to strengthen security for home and business users of its Windows desktop software. Consumers are not always aware of the dangers of such threats as spyware, viruses and "phishing." A study published last October found that more than 80 percent of consumers had been infected by spyware.

While Microsoft turned its attention to general software security three years ago with its , the spotlight on consumers began a year and a half ago, after the MSBlast worm infected millions of home PCs. The worm taunted Microsoft's founder with the message, "billy gates why do you make this possible? Stop making money and fix your software!"

Microsoft introduced the beta, or test version, of its Windows AntiSpyware application last month. The program is designed to protect Windows PCs from spyware--software installed on computers without their owners' knowledge. Typically, spyware generates pop-up ads or keeps track of people's Web surfing.

Windows AntiSpyware is Microsoft's answer to a threat that came essentially as a surprise to the software giant. Gates acknowledged that the threat appeared on the company's radar over the last year and said the company had to do better this year.

"We need significant advances to make sure this (threat) does not spread like it did this year," he said.

The company also gained a valuable spyware-reporting network, dubbed SpyNet, in the Giant acquisition, Gates said. The tool identifies potential spyware on PCs connected to the network. It then asks customers if they want to clean the software and reports back to Microsoft what code has been removed.

"We can see what (malicious software) is being downloaded and make sure the signatures are kept very up-to-date," Gates said, adding that the company gets about a half million reports a day of spyware through SpyNet. Nearly 3 million users participate in the SpyNet program, he said.

One security company welcomed the Microsoft announcement but struck a note of caution about the company's expansion

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