Desktop Security Service – Windows OneCare

In the spring of 2005, OneCare was released with much fanfare.  It’s Microsoft’s venture into the world of desktop security.  But it comes with a twist.  Microsoft’s solution is a software-as-a-service offering.  This means that you will probably pay a monthly fee for the rights to run the combined anti-virus, backup, cleanup, and update services.  I say probably because OneCare is still in Beta.

The Windows OneCare Beta release can be downloaded from here.  But before you jump into the fire, make sure your system is able to run the product.  System requirements include:

  • Windows XP, Service Pack 2
  • Internet Explorer 6 or above
  • No other anti-virus products can be installed

To clarify, Firefox is not supported.  And yes, you’ll have to uninstall Symantec, McAfee, and any other security product currently running on your system.  The developers made an interesting comment about it being an industry best practice to only run one security product at a time on a system.  I’m not sure what industry they were talking about.

OneCare is not designed for the Enterprise.  From its interface to its transparent functionality, it’s designed for consumers who just want to run a secure machine without having to care about how it gets that way.  From my brief look at the product, I’d say Microsoft did a reasonably decent job.

Figure 1 is a screen shot of the OneCare interface.

Oncare Screen Shot

Figure 1 (Click to Enlarge)

This window presents information about the general health of the system.  And OneCare is definitely busy keeping things safe and optimized by performing the following tasks:

  • Continuous virus protection
  • Continuous two-way firewall protection
  • Automatic PC tune-ups
    • disk defragmentation
    • file repair
    • disk cleanup
  • Automatic software updates
  • Backup files
    • by category
    • to external drives, including CD and DVD

In addition to these automated processes, OneCare also provides the following on-demand features:

  • Virus scan and cleaning
  • Scan for open network ports
  • Tune-up scan
  • Backup and restore files

Noticeably missing from the list is spyware protection.  Microsoft announced that anti-spyware functionality is coming soon.  Although this release targets consumers, an Enterprise release is expected within the next several months.  The main difference will be the addition of a central management application.

Overall, Onecare has been well received.  But there have been some bumps.

  1. It can be difficult to uninstall.  Instructions for uninstalling the Beta product are virtually non-existent.  The most effective way to remove it is via registry hacks.  I know that’s always my first software removal choice.
  2. The two-way firewall is designed to allow applications using the Java Virtual Machine total access to the Internet.  Applications with a digital signature have the same privileges.  I guess criminals are too dumb to figure out how to exploit this hole…
  3. There have been reports of performance problems, especially after the update to deal with the recent discovery of the WMF vulnerability.

But after all, this is still in Beta.  Most if not all discovered issues should be addressed prior to the final release.

Non-technical consumers will likely embrace this product.  But what about medium to large businesses?  Will the Enterprise solution be deployed widely enough to be successful in that market?  Neil McDonald has doubts. 

In the Gartner Research Article “Microsoft’s Entry will Bring Big Changes to Desktop Security,” McDonald lists the following potential barriers to Enterprise acceptance:

  • Microsoft needs to deliver a unique solution rather than taking a “me too” approach to desktop security.
  • Microsoft shouldn’t expect to be taken seriously as a security vendor if it only supports Microsoft products.  They should partner with other providers to provide support for non-Microsoft platforms.

In addition to these issues, Microsoft may face the same challenge as McAfee when it attempted marketing a software service solution in 2001.  Enterprise security managers are not typically willing to allow outsiders to manage desktop protection.  This may be especially true in Microsoft’s case.  There’s a chance Microsoft’s intent to charge for protecting Windows will be viewed as an attempt to capitalize on vulnerabilities they introduced in the first place.

However this turns out, Microsoft has started down a path that can only help make the Internet a safer place.  I’m a big advocate of the belief that cleaning up consumer workstations is crucial to protecting the Internet overall.  Let’s hope Microsoft gets this right. 

Author:  Tom Olzak

Sources:

Microsoft’s Entry Will Bring Big Changes to Desktop Security (Gartner G00132868)

Microsoft’s OneCare firewall draws fire

Will Enterprises Care About Windows OneCare?

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