Microsoft buys antispyware company

Microsoft Corp. has purchased Giant Company Software Inc. of New York, which makes software to detect a common form of malicious software programs known as “spyware,” Microsoft said Thursday.

The Redmond, Washington, software company would not say how much it paid for the 10-person company, but said it plans to use Giant’s technology to give Windows customers a new tool to detect spyware running on Windows systems, according to Gordon Mangione, corporate vice president of security products.

Microsoft plans to release a free evaluation version of the software within a month that will run on Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 systems, Mangione said. The company will use that beta software release to collect and evaluate customer feedback on the product, and make decisions about how it wants to distribute Giant AntiSpyware in the future, he said.

Giant’s product uses a combination of approaches to detect spyware. Like other antispyware tools, the product uses “signatures” to identify spyware programs on Windows systems. Giant’s technology also has preventative features that lock down parts of the Windows operating system that are commonly exploited when spyware programs are installed, Mangione said.

Microsoft will take over support of Giant’s AntiSpyware and Giant’s other products, including Spam Inspector and Popup Inspector, according to a statement on the Giant Web site.

The company has not decided how much, or even if, it will charge for Giant AntiSpyware, or whether the software will be bundled with future versions of Windows, Mangione said.

“We’re still figuring out what to do and how to make the technology available to customers. There are lots of options,” he said.

Microsoft chose Giant because its technology and staff were the best fit with Microsoft’s plans in the antispyware space, Mangione said.

“We wanted to give users control of their software and give them choice to decide what is running on their machine. They are a great fit with how we wanted to help customers protect their machines,” Mangione said.

The purchase marks Microsoft’s entry into the antispyware market, following a year that saw an explosion in online threats and scams involving spyware.

In April, Internet service provider EarthLink Inc. and Webroot Software Inc. released the results of a survey of over one million Internet-connected computers that found an average of almost 28 spyware programs running on each computer. More serious, Trojan horse or system monitoring programs were found on more than 30 per cent of all systems scanned, raising fears of identity theft, according to the companies.

Many antivirus products offer some kind of antispyware protection, but the growth of the spyware problem and its overlap with legitimate tracking programs, sometimes referred to as “adware,” has prompted calls from customers for more sophisticated detection technology.

In August, Computer Associates International Inc. (CA) became one of the first major security vendors to acquire an antispyware technology company, buying PestPatrol Inc. and integrating its products into CA’s eTrust product line.

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