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21 September 2006

Free security downloads - should we use them?

There is a growing trend for smaller companies to now offer to keep our PCs secure for free.  Their programs can now be downloaded completely free of charge and are considered worthy alternatives to the bigger players such as Symantec, McAfee and Sophos.

In most cases, the free programs try to convince users to upgrade to more comprehensive versions whereupon payment is required.  However, smaller companies such as Zone Labs argue that by offering free downloads they are able to reach a far bigger market.  This, they believe, increases their knowledge of dangerous security threats, using the experiences of the ‘free' subscribers to provide a “more secure proposition” to those that pay.

The big guns disagree

Unsurprisingly, the firms who sell security products believe that free downloads are providing hackers with the means to infiltrate systems.  Greg Day of McAfee explains that his company has examples of attacks which were found to be embedded in free security tools - these free downloads were attacking the very system which they had been downloaded to protect.  To conclude, Greg advises to be careful of free downloads - you may get more than you bargained for.

Windows Vista to hit shelves next year

The new Windows operating system, Windows Vista will give security vendors something to think about since it will change the way in which data is controlled within the operating system.  Programs (which also includes Microsoft programs) will not be able to write data to anywhere they choose on the PC which means that they cannot overwrite Windows.

This is causing a headache for security vendors who will have to hack into Windows in order to be able to protect it.  While most are confident that their anti-virus skills are more than up to the challenge may be we should be questioning the motives of Microsoft.

As Microsoft attempts to control security user interface functions and argues that it is merely protecting the system from external access, the concern is whether the alienation of security vendors will do more harm than good.  It is also no coincidence that Microsoft has its own security product, OneCare whose aim will be to protect both your PC and data in one, all-encompassing program.  Now the question we all have to ask ourselves is - will it work?

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