The consumer and small business security market is a real battlefield these days. The well-known players such as Symantec and McAfee are under attack by upstarts such as Trend Micro and Panda Software that are intent on carving out market share. And meanwhile, Microsoft has entered the fray with its trademark flourish slashed prices and a broad PR campaign.
"Microsoft's impact is something akin to dropping a two-ton boulder into a small pond," says Jonathan Ayal Singer, an analyst at Yankee Group Research Inc. of Boston. "Instead of ripples, we are talking about big waves affecting everything." The tidal wave unleashed is having vast repercussions on consumer and SMB security.
Let's take a look at what this is going to mean in terms of new products.
Microsoft Corp. of Redmond, Washington, is the company accused of causing all the fuss. It recently released Microsoft Live OneCare (http://www.windowsonecare.com/purchase/trial.aspx?sc_cid=mscom_ads) which includes anti-virus (AV) anti-spyware (AS) and a personal firewall (PF), as well as some PC tune-up features and software to help backup data to a local drive or CD. On top of a ninety-day free trial, the company is offering all this for $50 per year for up to three machines.
"This is the end of expensive anti-virus," says Natalie Lambert, an analyst with Forrester Research. "Microsoft is making rapid inroads in the consumer and SMB market."
But Microsoft isn't finished there. It will continue to add functions to its security suite and has a lot more on the launch pad. It is beefing up security on Internet Explorer 7 to include capabilities that warn you if you're misdirected to a suspicious Web site, as well as additional protection against Internet-borne threats.
The upcoming operating system release known as Windows Vista has much better security features such as data encryption and Windows Defender (for spyware and popup protection). Meanwhile, a beta version of Windows Defender is available currently for free. And the company has a business version of Live OneCare ready to launch in the first half of 2007.
"Microsoft lacks a complete integrated solution that includes features beyond anti-virus and anti-spyware," says Lambert. "It is at least 18 months away from releasing a client security suite that is comparable with those offered by traditional security vendors."
This sudden and intense competition from Microsoft obviously forces other security vendors to innovate rapidly. And that's exactly what they're doing. Front and center stands Symantec Corp. It has unveiled ambitious plans for two new services aimed at the consumer, home office and the lower end of the SMB space. Norton 360, due next year, will be a security service that includes online identity theft protection, backup and PC tune-up capabilities.
"We're committed to staying ahead of online threats," said Enrique Salem, Symantec's senior vice president of consumer products and solutions. "Today's consumers want a simple solution that keeps them safe online, without having to decipher technical jargon or keep track of back-ups. They just want assurance that their information and activities are safe. That's what Norton 360 will do."
Norton 360 will integrate Symantec PC security and tune-up tools with backup and other technologies. It will be delivered as an all-in-one service with automatically installed updates. The service will provide data protection through automated online back up and online transaction security. This will safeguard against spam, phishing scams, malicious Web site spotting and other criminal activities. Individuals can sign up for a free pre-release version.
This is all part of Symantec's Security 2.0 vision which is aimed at end-to-end desktop/ laptop protection and establishing trust and confidence online. Although no pricing details have been announced, expect it to be around the same price as Microsoft OneCare.
For those small business owners who may need something more robust that they can manage centrally, Symantec has enhancements in the pipeline to its Symantec Client Security suite that are due at the start of next year. The company acquired Sygate and WholeSecurity in the past year or so, and these tools form the core of upcoming changes. In addition, the Symantec desktop suite will include support for rootkits a newer type of menace that hides viruses and prevents them being detected or eradicated.
"We are integrating the Sygate desktop firewall and management functions with existing Symantec AV/anti-spyware tools," says CJ Desai, Symantec's director of product management/endpoint security. "We're also adding WholeSecurity Confidence Online to our core AV engine."
Further, Symantec is standing by with Microsoft Vista versions of all its security products in case that new operating system is released this year. Look also for packaging of Symantec security and Veritas backup tools in the near future. Desai reports that a combined version is in the works that offers a common install and unified management.
"The endpoint security market is heading toward suites and subscription services like OneCare and Norton 360," says Charles Kolodgy, IDC.
While Microsoft and Symantec have been gaining lots of attention for their new visions, McAfee Corp. may have the right to feel a bit miffed, as it has been offering security as a service for some time. However, in response to recent market waves, it is releasing the Falcon platform to upgrade its online security products. It has four security service suites in the offing to keep people safe online and virus-free.
"Different people have different security needs," says Marc Solomon, McAfee's director of product management. "Rather than try to force a one-size-fits-all service, we have tailored service packages to different profiles."
Essentially, these are repackages of existing suites such as McAfee Total Protection, Internet Security, PC Protection Plus and VirusScan Plus. But some new bells and whistles include wireless network protection, support for instant messaging and online fraud safeguards. All updates download automatically so you don't need to keep track. While everything is done for you, experienced customers can reconfigure it to show them more details, alerts and status updates so they know what is going on. In addition, new threat watch technologies and the latest in AV/AS will be added, with everything accessible from a single screen.
What this means is no more buying a license and then paying for an upgrade. With this new model being adopted broadly by Symantec, Microsoft and McAfee, customers will have to get used to paying every year for the service.
According to Solomon, the Falcon products are due later this year. "Falcon comes with 1 GB of online storage and rates the safety levels of Web sites," he says. "That's on top of security, backup, anti-spam, anti-phishing and various PC utilities."
The good news for McAfee is that analysts believe it has a considerable lead on Microsoft. "Microsoft won't do well with more tech-saavy people who want to configure the product," says Lambert. "It is two or three years behind McAfee in terms of functionality."
Cheap or Free?
Clearly, a price war is about to ensue on the anti-virus and security suite front and the products and services are getting ever-cheaper.
"Security is certainly becoming more affordable for the consumer," says Yankee Group's Singer. "Just look at Panda Software's newest release. Its prices are certainly cheaper now than they were before Microsoft entered the market."
While this is good news for SMBs, even better news is that some businesses may actually be able to gain adequate protection for free courtesy of Internet Service Providers (ISPs). This is certainly workable for a business with a handful of PCs, as well as for remote users.
Security vendors are forming relationships with ISPs who then give free security applications to their customers. Almost all ISPs now offer anti-virus or anti-spyware software or both. EarthLink, for example, offers free Symantec anti-virus, SBC Yahoo Online Protection (that's what I currently use) covers AV, AS, pop-up blocker and e-mail protection. McAfee and Symantec have literally dozens of such partnerships.
But the battle for market share may not get too bloody. Kolodgy of IDC notes that up to 70 percent of consumers and SMBs don't have up-to-date security. Many buy PCs and laptops with a 90-day free AV license and never renew it.
"As opposed to going head-to-head with Symantec and McAfee, Microsoft is looking for green fields," he says. "There is still a huge amount of potential available in this market."
Drew Robb is a Los Angeles-based freelancer specializing in technology and engineering. Originally from Scotland, he graduated with a degree in geology from Glasgow's Strathclyde University. In recent years he has authored hundreds of articles as well as the book, Server Disk Management by CRC Press.
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