Redmond, Washington -- Software monopolist Microsoft without fanfare over the weekend has sneaked out the latest version of its Microsoft Security Essentials 2 (MSE) antivirus software.
The latest release sports a new malware detection engine and is closely equipped with firewall integration, a better heuristic antivirus scanner, and network traffic inspection added to Microsoft Security Essentials 2.0., with the Vole also touting performance improvements. The software is now available as a free download from the company's website for individuals and small businesses with up to 10 PCs.
Microsoft has launched the latest version of its free Security Essentials. (Credit: Microsoft)
The software has been sneaked out without any press notification or announcement on the Microsoft Security blog, despite containing a series of new features and improvements.
The Redmond Vole said the updated anti-malware engine makes the software faster and smarter at detecting security hazards. The software also now ties in with Windows Firewall, giving you the option of turning the firewall on or off. Although users would be hard pressed to notice any visible changes, there has been notable work taking place under the hood.
This new release also includes a network inspection system, which is effective in monitoring traffic to check any signs of suspected behavior. Security Essentials 2.0 automatically integrates itself with Internet Explorer to detect threats and can watch out for malware coming in through a network, though only for those running Windows Vista or Windows 7.
Security Essentials 2 perfectly works with machines running Windows XP Service Pack 2, Windows Vista and Windows 7, though not all features are enabled on Windows XP. In fairness to Microsoft, the omission of the network inspection system is not a cheap trick enticing users to upgrade, but rather a requirement of the Windows Filtering Platform, a piece of software that is only available for Windows Vista and Windows 7.
Microsoft is pitching Security Essentials 2 at consumers and small businesses with up to 10 machines. This latest version of the software, which recently went through a four-month beta program, the Vole has taken advantage from the same upgrade administered into Microsoft's paid-for Forefront Client Security suite for larger outfits, which includes real-time server monitoring.
The new engine offers "effective threat detection against the latest malware and rootkits" and "protection against 'unknown' or 'zero day' threats through behavior monitoring and emulation", something not included in the previous version, according to Microsoft.
On Thursday, Microsoft also announced that the non-gratis Forefront Endpoint Protection 2010 -- aimed at larger corporate users -- would be available from January 1, 2011. Forefront offers similar functionality to MSE, as well as centralized administration.
The substitute to Live OneCare, Security Essentials 1.0 debuted in September 2009 and garnered positive reviews and user feedback. At first,Security Essentials was legally available only for individual home users, but in October Microsoft eased the rules so that businesses with up to 10 users can install the product as well.
Microsoft has recently come under fire from some antivirus firms for apparently muscling onto their turf. In a similar vein, rival security firms Panda and Trend Micro recently complained about Microsoft's "anti-competitive" behavior with Security Essentials, after the software was included in Microsoft Update. Panda called for a Windows security ballot, similar to the one offered for internet browsers.
Surprisingly, Microsoft's release of MSE 2 comes on the heels of a new study from German AV vendor Avira, which found widespread dissatisfaction with antivirus. According to the survey of more than 9,000 Avira users, 25% of antivirus users admit to pulling the plug on their antivirus software -- at least temporarily--because it appeared to be slowing their computer. Furthermore, nearly two-thirds of respondents have tried multiple security products on their PC in the past year.
Microsoft Security Essentials 2.0 is available for download here. However, it is not currently being offered via the software's own upgrade mechanism.