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Windows gets tough on spam, viruses

In the second year of Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing initiative, the company details a future version of its OS that will make it easier to detect viruses and prevent spam.

Microsoft on Monday will detail a future version of Windows that will make it easier to detect and isolate viruses.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant will also show off new features in Microsoft Word 2003 and Exchange 2003 for fingering viruses and spam during this week's RSA Conference 2003 in San Francisco.

The Windows Filter Manager Architecture is a set of application protocol interfaces (APIs) and code that will be added to Windows to handle some of the basic operational tasks of antivirus applications, such as how the application sets up an ordinary hard drive scan, according to Jonathan Perera, senior director of Microsoft's security business unit. In a sense, Filter Manager is analogous to printer drivers, he said. In the past, printer makers did their own drivers. Now, they write to a common set of APIs.

"It handles a lot of the hardware touching," he said. "This will make it easier for (antivirus) developers to get their products to market faster."

Filter Manager will also let a PC load and run two different antivirus applications, Perera said. Currently, it's difficult to install, and subsequently run, two separate antivirus applications on a single PC; people get the best results when they eliminate one. By being able to run two different applications, security depth will be improved.

Microsoft recently issued a software package called PC Satisfaction to developers, which contains improved Windows antivirus protection, a desktop firewall and another application that lets a PC automatically record desktop data onto CDs.

Microsoft did not comment on PC Satisfaction.

For more than a year, security has been the chief obsession at Microsoft. The company routinely issues patches for newly discovered bugs in its software and has reorganized its business groups to ensure that security functions are incorporated into every product, a key element in its so-called Trustworthy Computing initiative.

"There are more than 70,000 known viruses, and there are literally hundreds of new viruses discovered every month," Perera said.

Microsoft also is working with Intel, IBM and others to improve hardware and software security.

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Filter Manager remains in the experimental and developmental stage, and there is no timetable for its release. The technology, which grew out of Windows XP and is not an offshoot of the upcoming security system formerly known as Palladium, will come out as part of a service pack or new version of Windows.

How Filter Manager will be received by the public remains to be seen. Critics often label new software changes coming out of Redmond as an attempt to take over new markets. Security, however, has become a top concern for individuals and businesses alike. Some of the major antivirus developers are pledging their support for the technology.

"Microsoft's close involvement in the creation of new APIs at the operating system level will help us continue building more comprehensive antivirus solutions that ensure greater protection for customers, both now and in the future," said Ryan McGee, director of product marketing for McAfee Security.

The new security features for Word and Exchange will come out toward the middle of this year. The new version of Word will essentially place a flag in the header of any documents containing XML (Extensible Markup Language) code. By flagging the documents, it will make it easier for antivirus applications to identify any potentially troublesome spots.

Exchange, meanwhile, will come with tools to better identify and eradicate spam and infected e-mail. The tools examine the content of e-mail messages to determine whether they are problematic and then rates them according to their risk. An e-mail message in capital letters from foreign military officials, for example, might get flagged, a Microsoft representative said.