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The decision to release the Microsoft antivirus software Defender for Android and iOS may have struck some as puzzling, but industry observers said the move accounts for the changing nature of modern security threats.
Microsoft announced it would be releasing its antivirus software for the mobile OSes earlier this month, prompting some to question why it was doing so, given the native options provided by Google and Apple.
Analysts, though, said it did not make sense to think of security threats as existing in a vacuum.
A holistic view
Forrester analyst Andrew Hewitt said Microsoft is responding to a trend that has seen employees look beyond the traditional PC to do their jobs.
"Microsoft realizes that employees are using more than one device for work. In fact, according to one of our reports, 20% of employees use three or more devices for work every week," he said. "Extending Defender to cover mobile devices reflects Microsoft's commitment to help companies achieve zero trust across all of their devices -- not just PCs."
Liz Miller, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, said Microsoft recognizes that IT administrators have to secure a complex environment. With employees increasingly using mobile devices -- and taking those devices to places other than the office -- the attack surface of business networks has expanded.
"Mobile can often be an afterthought endpoint, yet [it] is often the first attack surface," she said, adding that such devices can be "rife with vulnerabilities."
Mark Bowker, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, said bringing the software to mobile OSes could provide IT professionals already familiar with Defender a more robust means of managing devices.
"Enterprise organizations that are hooked into Defender have the potential to see great value in the addition of iOS and Android support," he said. "IT pros will be able to snap iOS and Android devices into Defender [software] that is already protecting the Windows device perimeter."
Over and above native solutions
Miller said that although Google and Apple include antivirus software within Android and iOS, Microsoft could still be filling a need with Defender.
"Some default Google and Apple software options … can have a narrow application that depends on the user enabling functionality or, if browser-specific, may not proactively scan but merely serve as a block to real-time inbound threats," she said.
Indeed, she said, the choice between the default option and Microsoft Defender is something of a false dichotomy.
"This should not be seen as a 'this or that' conversation," she said. "Users should be deploying the native default security measures in Google and Apple but need to be adding layer upon … layer to more fully expand and enhance a security posture."
Liz MillerVice president, principal analyst, Constellation Research
"With security, it will take a village to defend, protect and react," she added.
While adding the Microsoft antivirus software may be a more comprehensive way to address security, Hewitt said, it's difficult to say whether businesses would adopt the software en masse.
"Dedicated mobile malware solutions have their place in the enterprise, but they're not always adopted as much as PC versions," he said.
Bowker said this move may build on Microsoft's decision to launch its new Chromium-based Edge browser earlier this year, providing an expansive and secure mobile browsing experience.
"If Defender can provide the optimal level of security on iOS and Android devices that are running the Edge browser, they may have a winner here," he said.