Spy vs Spy

Category : Geeking Out
Date : December 28, 2004

A couple of weeks ago Microsoft acquired GIANT Company.  That’s very very cool. 

As a geek and especially as a Microsoft employee I’ve been called upon quite a few times to help friends and family to clear up problems with their machines.  I can almost always point to spyware as the culprit when I get the call.  The two most recent times, two different neighbours were completely baffled as to why their machines had suddenly slowed down to a crawl and why they were getting pop-ups left and right.  My answer was to immediately download and run a deep scan of the system using anti-spyware software from Lavasoft called Ad-Aware.  This was easy and perfectly legal as Lavasoft has a Personal Edition which they offer free for non commercial use.  I’ve also heard good things about Spybot Search & Destroy.  In fact, some people even run both Ad-Aware and Spybot to completely eliminate spyware but I’ve never had to go that far.

Last week, Microsoft released GIANT AntiSpyware for use internally by Microsoft employees.  We’ve promised that we’ll make this available to all our Windows customers (Windows 2000 or later) very soon.  When we announced the acquisition of GIANT we said we’d release the beta within a month so expect that sometime in January.  That should make for a Happy New Year, indeed.

Having run this for the past few days I can definitely say that it rocks.  The UI is very simple and easy to learn and it does everything I need it to do.  Naturally, it’ll run spyware scans of your system.  It’ll do both full system scans and intelligent quick scans and will automatically scan your system on a regular schedule.  It also has real-time protection so that instead of scanning your system regularly, you can stop the spyware from getting onto your system in the first place.  As a nice bonus for the geeks, it has some advanced system tools like browser hijack restore and system explorers.  The system explorers are kinda neat in that they allow you a chance to peak at the stuff going on under the covers of your system like what applications are currently connected to the Internet, what programs your system runs at startup, your IE settings or what’s in your Hosts file.  Also included is a privacy tool called Tracks Eraser which removes IE history logs, temp files etc.

A few people have been asking why we acquired GIANT and I wish I could answer that but I’m not on that team and don’t really know the thinking behind the move or why we specifically chose GIANT.  On the other hand, soon after the acquisition we published a white paper that detailed what our strategy is in this space.

Microsoft’s long-term goal is that spyware and other unwanted software will cease to be a major issue for customers. Microsoft understands the concerns of the right for privacy and fully supports a person’s right to be left alone. Customers should be free to access to any of their personal information and control over how it is used. They must be able to trust that their personal information is being used appropriately. Microsoft regards the protection of customer information as a vital element of trust, and it regards customer trust as vital to the success of its business.

That quote from the white-paper pretty much says it all.  Most people have no idea why their systems are misbehaving and the name they point to is often Microsoft because we’re the name they know.  The Linux zealots have done a pretty good job of painting us as a bad guy and some of the press has not been good about telling the entire story.  It’s true that we waited too long to address the security issues in Windows but damn we’ve done a ton of good work over the past couple of years and Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP SP2 are locked down good and tight.  Sure there will still be some exploits found but I think that it’s gotten very hard for the ne’er-do-wells to hack Windows.  Spyware has now become the primary way to attack Windows machines.  So to me the GIANT acquisition is just another part of our push to make the systems that our Windows customers use more secure. 

In general, I’m very very pleased with this.  It’ll definitely be the first tool I pull out of my toolkit when I get called to fix the next computer.  From now on I’ll be saying, “Run AntiSpyware and call me in the morning.”

Update: Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite for Windows has done an extensive review of GIANT AntiSpyware.  He’s using a version that predates the Microsoft acquisition but it does show a pretty good overview of the product.  He also includes some information from an interview with a co-founder of GIANT but again that predates the acquisition.  I suspect that both the product and the strategy are likely to change.

Update: Microsoft has made this publicly available at: http://www.microsoft.com/athome/security/spyware/software/default.mspx