As of June 1st, 2015, Microsoft's malware detection software, used in the likes of Microsoft Security Essentials, will now detect "search protection code", and mark it as malware. Browser protection code and search protection code are used by some programs, especially some search toolbars, to make it difficult to change or remove the changes in default search programs or browser functions. The Ask.com toolbar has been notorious for this kind of behavior, making it difficult to remove once it was installed (even though a user may not have wanted it in the first place, having come bundled with some other desired functionality).
Recognizing this, Microsoft has now officially classed older versions of the Ask toolbar, for example, as malware, meaning that the likes of Microsoft Security Essentials will now detect the program as a threat, and attempt to remove it, as well as warning of its danger. The page appears to have been recently changed, and has removed the malware classification for the latest version of the Ask toolbar:
The latest version of this application is not detected by our objective criteria, and is not considered unwanted software
Update: We reached out to Ask.com for clarification on Microsoft's apparent change of heart in detecting the Ask.com toolbar as malware, here's their response:
- The current version of the Ask Toolbar is not considered malware by Microsoft and will not be banned. The cited reference in Microsoft's Malware Protection Center is specific to an outdated version of the Ask toolbar that impacts less than 1 percent of toolbar users
- Microsoft has updated its post accordingly "The latest version of this application is not detected by our objective criteria, and is not considered unwanted software.”
- The tiny fraction of outdated toolbars flagged were due to the search protection feature, which became against Microsoft policy as of June 1. To clarify, this feature does not block users from updating their own settings. It only triggers a screen to confirm a settings change when initiated by a third party.
- The current Ask toolbar does not include search protection and is compliant with Microsoft’s recently updated policies.
Ask.com went on to tell us "we updated the actively distributed product months ago in preparation for the new Microsoft policies that went live June 1. This is not reactive".
As we noted, Microsoft has amended their page on the Ask.com toolbar to indicate that only earlier versions of the toolbar would be flagged.
Is this welcome news? Let us know what you think in the comments below.