Microsoft has purchased Giant Company Software, which makes software to detect malicious software programs known as "spyware".
Microsoft plans to use Giant's technology to give Windows customers a tool to detect spyware running on Windows systems, according to Gordon Mangione, corporate vice-president of security products.
Microsoft plans to release a free evaluation version of the software within a month, which will run on Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 systems, Mangione said.
The company will use that beta software release to collect and evaluate customer feedback on the product, and make decisions about how it wants to distribute Giant AntiSpyware in the future.
Like other antispyware tools, Giant'sproduct uses "signatures" to identify spyware programs on Windows systems. It also has preventive features that lock down parts of the Windows operating system which are commonly exploited when spyware programs are installed.
Microsoft will take over support of all Giant's other products, including Spam Inspector and Popup Inspector.
Microsoft chose Giant because its technology and staff were the best fit with Microsoft's plans in the antispyware space, Mangione said.
"We wanted to give users control of their software and give them choice to decide what is running on their machine. They are a great fit with how we wanted to help customers protect their machines," Mangione said.
The purchase marks Microsoft's entry into the anti-spyware market, following a year that saw an explosion in online threats and scams involving spyware.
In a survey of over 1 million Internet-connected computers earlier this year found an average of almost 28 spyware programs running on each computer.
More seriously, Trojan horse or system monitoring programs were found on more than 30% of all systems scanned.
Many anti-virus products offer some kind of antispyware protection, but the growth of the spyware problem and its overlap with legitimate tracking programs, sometimes referred to as "adware," has prompted calls from customers for more sophisticated detection technology.
Paul Roberts writes for IDG News Service