Microsoft Announces Changes for Third Party Antivirus Products on Windows 10

Over the last couple of months Kaspersky, an antivirus and security software company, has been very vocal about their concerns with Microsoft's Windows 10 and how third party security software is handled by the operating system.

Chief among their complaints was the fact that software from companies like themselves did not get the same level of exposure relating to their operation, use, and status on the OS.

As a result, Kaspersky labeled the practices as unfair and asked Microsoft for a more equal balance between their product and Microsoft's Windows Defender which is provided with every Windows 10 installation. At that time, Microsoft stated that they had offered to meet with officials from Kaspersky but that offer had not been accepted up until that point.

Well it now appears the two companies have come together to resolve their differences and the result will benefit both companies and most especially customers.

According to Rob Lefferts, Microsoft's Partner Director for Windows Enterprise and Security, the companies had the opportunity to hash out their differences during Microsoft's Virus Initiative forum meetings that were held last month. 

The changes Microsoft agreed to will result in the following approach to third party security products on Windows 10 starting with the Fall Creators Update. This update is expected to arrive in the September/October timeframe.

Here is a list of those changes:

  • We will work more closely with AV vendors to help them with compatibility reviews in advance of each feature update becoming available to customers. This means customers can expect we will have worked through compatibility issues with AV providers before offering the update to customers running that AV.

  • We will give AV partners better visibility and certainty around release schedules for feature updates. This includes increasing the amount of time AV partners will have to review final builds before the next Windows 10 feature update is rolled out to customers.

  • We will enable AV providers to use their own alerts and notifications to renew antivirus products before and after they have expired.

  • We have modified how Windows will inform users when their antivirus application has expired and is no longer protecting them. Instead of providing an initial toast notification that users could ignore, the new notification will persist on the screen until the user either elects to renew the existing solution or chooses to rely on Windows Defender or another solution provider.

All good moves it would seem although I am a little concerned about allowing the third party software to push their own notifications relating to the expiration of their software on an end users system. I think there will be no major issues if that third party software is not excessive with the pop-ups however, that is also an attack vector that was exploited constantly on previous versions of Windows so users have to be savvy about what they interact with in these situations.

The requirement to interact with an alert about the expiration of a third party security software product and choose Windows Defender as an alternate is straight forward and leaves choice in the hands of the user. Choice is always good and being up front about it is the best approach.

As for compatibility reviews, this being one of the big reasons updates were either not offered or ended up with the third party software quietly deactivated (which Microsoft did admit to doing) to prevent compatibility issues with the update, it is nice to see Microsoft offering more time for these reviews.

Honestly though, couldn't third party companies have already been members of the Windows Insider Program themselves and be testing the latest publicly available builds during development and reporting any compatibility concerns back to Microsoft?

Update: Microsoft reached out to me after seeing this article to remind me that third party AV partners do have early access to feature update builds for testing against their own software for compatibility through their Microsoft Virus Initiative (MVI) program. The vehicle for those builds is the Windows Insider Program and other testing environments. 

This concession is a little flaky to me because of that very reason - why aren't third party software companies already testing - why do they have to wait for the final code? That now introduces a possible outside influence and delay to the release timeline for the final version of Microsoft's semi-annual feature updates to Windows 10.

Of course, you know who will get the heat for these delays, right? I guess we will see over the next several weeks leading up to the release of the Fall Creators Update.

From Kaspersky's perspective they are thrilled with the changes Microsoft is making and they have dropped all of their antitrust cases against the company. Since Microsoft addressed 100% of their concerns I guess that is good reason to be pleased. Over on the Kaspersky Lab Daily blog, they said as much:

"We are absolutely satisfied with the changes that will be implemented in the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, and we will be taking all necessary steps to withdraw our claims and inform all regulatory bodies that we no longer have any matters for Microsoft to address.

We have a long history of cooperation with Microsoft, and we sincerely believe that these changes will make the cybersecurity market healthier, resulting in better protection for all users. Protecting information and the data that matters most to our users remains our primary goal."

Many will say that the threat of legal action brought Microsoft to the table with a willingness to make changes. That may be the case but Microsoft is also operating from a different perspective these days. Maybe they are simply not willing to spend months, years, and lots of money in litigation when they can just make a few changes to their OS that give consumers clear choice.

They did this in the Creators Update back in April with their privacy approach and that has resulted in 70% of users allowing the collection of Full diagnostics data on the operating system as their default.

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