Opinion by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Microsoft, please stop doing things for our own good

Kaspersky claimed Microsoft has been disabling its antivirus software in Windows 10. Microsoft replied it was its duty to make sure antivirus protection was ‘always on.’

Opinion by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

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For over 20 years, Microsoft stomped on its competitors and then defended itself against the resulting antitrust lawsuits. But with desktop Windows waning in importance and its desktop software rivals largely gone, Microsoft seemed to have turned a new leaf. Or had it?

In the one software sphere left where it still has rivals — antivirus and security software — Microsoft is up to its old anti-competitive tricks. Late last year, Eugene Kaspersky, founder of the eponymous antivirus company, said, “When you upgrade to Windows 10, Microsoft automatically and without any warning deactivates all ‘incompatible’ security software and in its place installs… you guessed it — its own Defender antivirus. But what did it expect when independent developers were given all of one week before the release of the new version of the OS to make their software compatible?”

Kaspersky did more than just blog about it. First, he complained to the Russian Federal Antimonopoly Service, which opened a case against Microsoft for “abusing dominance.” His company, Kaspersky Lab, followed up this June by filing more antitrust complaints against Microsoft, with the European Commission and the German Federal Cartel Office.

Kaspersky claimed in his blog, “Microsoft uses its dominant position in the computer operating system (OS) market to fiercely promote its own — inferior — security software (Windows Defender) at the expense of users’ previously self-chosen security solution. Such promotion is conducted using questionable methods, and we want to bring these methods to the attention of the anti-competition authorities.”

That sounds like business as usual for the Evil Empire.

Microsoft replied with garden-variety public relations pabulum: “Microsoft’s primary objective is to keep customers protected and we are confident that the security features of Windows 10 comply with competition laws.”

But now Microsoft has taken a new tack. It admitted that it turned off rivals’ antivirus software. Rob Lefferts, Microsoft’s partner director of the Windows & Devices Group, Security & Enterprise, said, yes, Windows 10 Creators Update disabled third-party antivirus products — but only in a few circumstances, and for a short time.

Specifically, since “AV software can be deeply entwined within the operating system, we doubled down on our efforts to help AV vendors be compatible with the latest updates. … For the small number of applications that still needed updating, we built a feature just for AV apps that would prompt the customer to install a new version of their AV app right after the update completed. To do this, we first temporarily disabled some parts of the AV software when the update began. We did this work in partnership with the AV partner to specify which versions of their software are compatible and where to direct customers after updating.”

Somehow, I don’t think Kaspersky, who hasn’t replied yet to Microsoft’s latest move, agrees that Microsoft is working as a partner with antivirus providers. I’m sure he sees this as proof of his assertions that Microsoft’s “Daddy knows best” attitude is meant only to promote Microsoft Defender over all other antivirus programs.

Microsoft’s justification? It must act to protect users from the recent plague of WannaCry ransomware and similar fast-moving malware attacks.

To me, this is proof that the old Microsoft, which wanted absolute control, and thus profit, is still alive and well in the Windows division.

If you’re OK with Microsoft calling all the shots, that’s fine. I will remind you, though, that WannaCry wouldn’t have existed in the first place if Microsoft had properly secured its Server Message Block network protocol.

I’ve always thought that competition leads to better, more secure software. That’s one reason to hope Kaspersky continues to hold Microsoft’s feet to the fire for this latest attempt to create a monopoly.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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