Recently, the Russian antivirus company, Kaspersky, announced that it filed a complaint with the European Commission that Microsoft was abusing its dominance in the PC market to hurt antivirus companies (such as itself). Microsoft indirectly responded in a blog post talking about its partnerships with antivirus companies in general.
Kaspersky’s main argument against Microsoft is that the company is using Windows to promote its own operating system over other antivirus solutions, often with "underhanded tactics."
Before Windows 8, Microsoft used to develop the Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) antivirus, which was a third-party program, just like any other antivirus solution. However, starting with Windows 8, Microsoft integrated its own antivirus into the operating system by upgrading its older “Windows Defender” anti-spyware solution with MSE's antivirus capabilities.
As the MSE seemed good enough to stop the majority of viruses, while silently doing its work behind the scenes, many people seemed content with it and stopped using other antivirus software. This scenario was unfavorable to Kaspersky and other antivirus companies. However, third-party antivirus companies could still claim a significantly higher rate of catching viruses in the wild.
According to Kaspersky, the real problems began when Microsoft started using questionable tactics such as:
- Uninstalling existing antivirus programs when there was a new Windows update
- Reducing the time it took to allow the developers to make their antiviruses compatible with the latest update
- Changing notifications in a way that hurt third-party antivirus’ companies subscription numbers
- Not allowing users to permanently deactivate Windows Defender anymore, thus potentially creating conflicts with other antivirus software
In a previous post, Kaspersky also mentioned that Microsoft was using questionable user interface tactics to make it look as if your PC was not secure just because Windows Defender wasn’t enabled, even if some other security solution was. However, Kaspersky said that Microsoft fixed this after it issued a complaint with the Russian Federal Antimonopoly Services.
Microsoft didn’t directly call out Kaspersky in its recent blog post, but the article seems to have been targeting Kaspersky’s complaints. Microsoft started by reminding us about the WannaCry ransomware attack and others like it that put all Windows PCs at risk. As such, the company said that it’s focusing on securing Windows from top-to-bottom on its own, while also allowing third-party security solution providers to further enhance that protection.
Microsoft added that its goal with Windows Defender has been to ensure that all Windows customers have antivirus protection at all times, whether they’ve purchased or downloaded another security solution or not.
In its recent blog post, the company stated the following:
Microsoft supports a rich ecosystem of security partners, each attacking malware and ransomware with diverse perspectives, and continues to work with security partners to support that. As the security landscape, PC industry, and customer needs continue to evolve, Microsoft will continue to work with security partners to ensure that the broad security industry does everything possible to keep customers safe.
Microsoft also said that it’s been working closely with third-party software providers to ensure that their programs are compatible with the latest Windows updates months ahead of time. This statement seems to directly contradict Kaspersky’s claim that sometimes they are given early access to the new updates only two weeks before the Windows update is released.
Perhaps the issue here is that they’re talking about different types of updates. Microsoft may be talking about major upgrades, such as the recent Creator’s Update, whereas Kaspersky may be talking about monthly patch bundles. Security patches can also cause other software, including antivirus programs, to stop working properly due to changes in how certain code behaves.
Microsoft also mentioned that its antivirus security is disabled when a third-party antivirus is running. However, Windows Defender will be re-enabled when the subscription for the third-party solution expires, to continue to protect users.
Avoiding Antitrust Investigations
As long as Microsoft doesn’t use underhanded tactics to eliminate the antivirus competition faster than it would have otherwise by simply continuing to make Windows more secure through various solutions, it should be able to stay clear from new antitrust investigations.
Microsoft got in trouble before for the Internet Explorer integration, and the European Union's solution was to force it to show users other browser options upon Windows installation. If Microsoft doesn’t stray too far away from a similar solution for the antivirus software, then it may not get in trouble again over antitrust issues. However, if some of Kaspersky’s accusations end up being true, then the European Commission could still open a new antitrust investigation against Microsoft.