Anti-Virus, Is It Working?
Competitive rivalry in the antivirus industry got a little bit nasty recently with public squabbling between rival companies. This may indicate tougher, more competitive times ahead -- or simply that conventional antivirus technology is becoming a thing of the past.
The boom years for the security industry seem set to continue, but not necessarily for PC-based antivirus packages. To see this, we need look no farther than the news this week that Spain’s Panda Security will shed 35 percent of its workforce in a second round of job cuts.
Panda is a global provider of security solutions and is not just dependent on the badly hit Spanish economy. Just a few years ago, Panda was hopeful of filing for an IPO, but sales failed to live up to earlier optimism. The “refocusing of business strategy” was blamed in part on “the widespread offer of free antivirus” software.
Panda’s latest layoffs are proof indeed of fierce competition in the free antivirus market and a pertinent warning to others of the need to evolve continually to meet the demands of the current climate. Failure to do so may result in an open challenge by up-and-coming Internet security rivals.
Take, for example, M86 CEO John Vigouroux and his claim that current solutions -- i.e., URL filtering, antivirus, firewalls, and other reputational and database solutions -- block less than 40 percent of malware. His attacks are aimed specifically at the security giants Symantec and McAfee.
More fuel was added to the fire when Nir Zuk, founder of Palo Alto Networks, timely news, openly admitted by Symantec, that 72 percent of email-borne malware could be described as generic polymorphic malware (able to mutate by changing the encryption key and thus bypass traditional signature-based antivirus detection systems, including its own). Free PC antivirus software, such as AVG and Avast, now has malware detection rates comparable to the big antivirus operators.
Zuk’s remarks appeared to be justified by the timely news, openly admitted by Symantec, that 72 percent of email-borne malware could be described as generic polymorphic malware (able to mutate by changing the encryption key and thus bypass traditional signature-based antivirus detection systems, including its own). Free PC antivirus software, such as AVG and Avast, now has malware detection rates comparable to the big antivirus operators.
So perhaps Zuk has a point, especially since email, the prime target of the established antivirus vendors, is on the outs.
The way users communicate is in a state of flux, as borne out by figures from this year from comScore Inc. Web-based email declined 6 percent last year, with the 12-17 age group showing the sharpest decline in usage.
Meanwhile, in November 2010, ComScore noted a rise of 36 percent in email usage on mobile devices and smartphones in just one year. That figure is sure to have jumped since then.
And the criticism of traditional antivirus solutions continues. The Aussie blogger Patrick Gray accused Symantec’s consumer division Norton of misleading the public for fun and for profit. He analyzed in detail Norton’s headline-grabbing claim that the value of cybercrime ($411 billion) is “approaching the value of all global drug trafficking.” Gray concluded that Norton’s inclusion of estimated costs attributed to indirect losses to cybercrime could not, in all fairness, be compared to actual drug costs ($402 billion). He blamed the news media in part for running the story without questioning the numbers.
So where does all this leave the antivirus industry? Perhaps a peek at a future market can be seen with emerging Android smartphone apps. Although McAfee and Kaspersky offer apps for $19/year and $29.95/year, respectively, it is the newcomers Lookout and AVG Mobilation, with their free versions or low-priced professional ones, that are becoming big winners.
There may be a downside for Android apps, too. They are currently “self-signed” in terms of security certification. Given that the hundreds of millions of Android users are increasingly the targets for the bad guys, that situation doesn’t bode well.