AOL is releasing free software to automatically check whether you have the latest security protection on your Windows computer.

The Active Security Monitor software is part of AOL's expansion into security services. The company is expected to soon announce its own for-pay security suite, competing with the products from Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), Symantec Corp. (SYMC), McAfee Inc. (MFE) and others.

The monitor, launching Thursday, checks for the presence of firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware programs. It makes sure you have the latest security updates for those programs and for the Windows operating system. The monitor also tells you if your Internet Explorer browser isn't properly configured.

"Most people don't have all of the core security protections they need and, worse, don't realize how vulnerable they are," John McKinley, president of AOL's Digital Services division, said in a statement.

The AOL tool goes beyond Microsoft's Windows Security Center in several ways, including checking home-network settings, looking for potentially threatening file-sharing software and generating an overall safety score.

The program will identify individual areas needing attention but won't automatically update the security programs for you.

AOL, the Internet unit of Time Warner Inc. (TWX), also is working on a set of internally developed and third-party security tools for Internet users, similar to the free products it now offers paid subscribers. AOL won't provide pricing and other details before an official announcement of a "beta" test in a few weeks.