Is Microsoft's 'Morro' Malware in Disguise?

Goodbye Windows Defender, hello Windows Security Essentials. The new antivirus and antimalware package that Microsoft's been working on for the past year is ready for its semi-official unveiling today. Eager malware-thwarters from the United States, Brazil, and Israel will get first dibs on the public beta of the free software, available for both 32- and 64-bit installations of Windows XP, Vista, and 7. So what exactly is Windows Security Essentials? And why would it be malware?

I'll go last-to-first. Previous claims have implicated that Windows Security Essentials will route "all of a user's traffic to a Microsoft datacenter." While that would certainly be a noble gesture on Microsoft's part, that's the same kind of behavior that a powerful virus or spyware application would commit as well. Would you really want all of your protected Internet traffic being analyzed somewhere up in Redmond?

Thankfully, the reports were wrong. I don't believe that Microsoft has plans to do anything of the sort. Neither do those in the general tech industry, nor was I able to gleam any inkling of that being the case based on any first-hand Windows Security Essentials reports. While the program does compare suspicious activities against a database created by millions of user reports and situations, that's quite a ways off from Microsoft acting as a proxy for all of your Internet traffic. I mean, come on now.

As for the software itself, Paul Thurrott has written up a tome of information about the new security application, so if you have a little free time on your hands, it's worth checking out his comprehensive, hands-on guide with the application.

Here's the short version: Windows Security Essentials is like Windows Defender, but kicked up a notch. The free application--and I can't stress that enough, it's free--will give you nearly real-time protection for your system against malware and viruses. Ta-da.

Why is that important? Because you could be one of the many users that has let some cracks slip into the wall that separates your PC from disaster and harm. Microsoft's identified wide swaths of users and scenarios that fit this model: Including those who just don't pay for security software, those who have let the yearly registrations on their software expire sans renewal, and those who never actually turned the software on in the first place.

With Windows Security Essentials, user simplicity is Microsoft's secret formula. But that's not to say that the program is any less potent under the hood. Windows Security Essentials combines a user mode service alongside a kernel driver to scan your system and request verification for potential threat from a huge database of online, updated resources. If the software suspects foul play, it isolates the malware in a sandbox to keep it from wrecking havoc on your system. A community of than 450 million users contributes data and information to Microsoft's online services. In turn, Windows Security Essentials freshens up with new signature updates three times a day, not to mention larger program updates on a monthly basis.

Most importantly, Microsoft has seemingly tried to reduce as much of a footprint as it can in this software's general operations. According to Thurrott, the small installer gives way to a program that only scans your PC when your CPU sits idle. Even then, the application can only ratchet itself up to 50 percent of your CPU's total processing power. That's not bad, especially considering that Windows Security Essentials swaps out the memory it's used when its no longer needed. A convenient little tray icon gives you a quick check for your system's status: If you see yellow or red, you might want to open the window and see what's going on.

Other than that, expect Windows Security Essentials to operate in the same vein as Windows Defender, including the ability to schedule and customize scans and exclude particular files, file locations, or processes. It remains to be seen whether this aspiring application will proove to deliver more of a punch to common viruses and malware than off-the-shelf solutions. Nevertheless, it's hard to argue against free, especially a scanner that bundles well with the operating system and uses as few resources as possible.

So what do you think? Are you going to be grabbing the beta application today? Let us know your thoughts @Geektech, or you can try sending viruses over to this article's author, @Acererak, and I'll let you know how Windows Security Essentials stacks up...

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