Microsoft: Vista antipiracy policy won't mean more spyware

But nonvalidated users only get Windows Defender protection from 'severe' threats

Microsoft Corp. yesterday defended itself against accusations that its new antipiracy plan in Windows Vista will create more spyware.

The company said last week that it will limit or disable access to several key features in Vista for users who fail to prove to Microsoft that they are running genuine copies of the operating system.

One of those features is Windows Defender, Microsoft's new antispyware technology, which will be bundled into Vista.

In a research note on Friday, Richi Jennings, an analyst at San Francisco-based Ferris Research, wrote that Microsoft's plan to "disable" Windows Defender for nonvalidated users "partially squanders the opportunity to drastically reduce the amount of spam and viruses spewed by malware-infected PCs next year."

"We think that Vista's Windows Defender will be a valuable service -- it should substantially reduce infections in new consumer PCs in 2007," Jennings wrote. "But why choose to disable Defender on a pirated Vista install? After all, Microsoft promises to continue providing 'critical' security updates to such PCs, so this policy is at best inconsistent, certainly a missed opportunity, and arguably downright dangerous."

In an e-mail response, a Microsoft spokeswoman said that Defender will continue to clean up spyware rated as "severe" on all Vista systems whether or not they have been validated with Microsoft. That, she said, "is consistent with our approach to offering critical security updates to all PCs."

Microsoft also defended itself against comments from enterprise users to Computerworld that Microsoft's new Software Protection Plan puts their PCs running Vista under volume licenses at risk for accidental shutdown.

Microsoft's antipiracy technology for Windows XP, Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA), has been criticized by users for falsely fingering genuine copies of XP as pirated.

While most complaints have come from consumer or small-business users of XP, Microsoft acknowledged that early last week volume-licensed customers were also having their instances of the operating system fail to be validated by Microsoft "due to an issue on the Microsoft server side."

According to postings last week by a Microsoft engineer on a WGA message forum, problems began on Oct. 2, and a work-around was provided two days later.

"While there have been a limited number of false positives with Windows XP validations, the total number remains low, and Microsoft continues to reduce the number of incidences with each release of the validation tool," the Microsoft spokeswoman said. "The technology used to validate Windows Vista is different and better than that used for Windows XP, and we expect any false positives to be a small number. We will, of course, provide assistance for any false positives that do occur."

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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