Symantec: Vista UAC Is Still Too Chatty

The anti-virus leader believes Microsoft's security tool is still too sensitive and complex for users, and is touting its ability to provide additional management functions on top of Vista's account control feature.

In positioning itself to provide aftermarket applications for Microsofts Vista operating system, anti-virus market leader Symantec is highlighting some shortcomings it believes to exist in the new platforms own security tools.

Among the conclusions of a presentation delivered to the media during the week of Jan. 8 by Symantec Vice President of Engineering Rowan Trollope is the software makers finding that the UAC (User Account Control) feature of Vista, a security innovation highly touted by Microsoft, remains unwieldy and confusing to users.

UAC is designed to help Vista limit malwares ability to escalate an individual PCs user privileges, a common technique used by code writers to spread their viruses from one machine to another.

Integrated with Vistas other onboard security technologies, the system is set to prompt users whenever a program attempts to change its status on their machines, thereby lowering the chances of hidden threats to operate on PCs running the OS.

Symantec, based in Cupertino, Calif., contends that UAC is too disruptive and hard for common users to understand, as well as a potential new headache for corporate IT administrators. This echoes criticism leveled at the feature when Vista was still in the beta development phase during early 2006.

Trollope said that the problems that remain with UAC—namely that it produces too many pop-up security warnings that use overly complex technical language—will give Symantec an opportunity to build products that help manage the system for Vista users.

"What weve heard from our customers is that UAC is pretty noisy, that it comes up with a lot of messages for end users," said Trollope. "People generally dont have a lot of experience with it yet, but when we talk to anyone using the [Vista] betas, they tend to think its somewhat onerous."

Beyond hassling people too frequently, and potentially creating new help desk requests in the corporate setting, Trollope said UAC might be so difficult that it defeats its very purpose in protecting end users.

"The danger with this is that if you are asking people these questions too often, and doing so in terms they may not understand, they tend to tune the feature out and turn it off," Trollope said.

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"We know people are doing this, and it presents a concern because you dont want a door lock thats left open because its too hard to unlock."

Unlike the controversy that raged between Symantec, rival McAfee and Microsoft over the level of kernel access the OS maker would grant its security partners in Vista 64-bit, the UAC issues are being positioned by Symantec as a business opportunity versus a fundamental flaw in the product.

Symantec is pitching its ability to add an "extra layer of intelligence" to UAC in yet-to-be-developed security applications that it said will be developed in cooperation with Microsoft.

Next Page: Microsoft stays friendly.