Symantec Offers Free Anti-Spyware Beta - InformationWeek

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4/18/2005
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Symantec Offers Free Anti-Spyware Beta

Symantec releases a free beta of its integrated security suite that for the first time includes a full-featured anti-spyware component.

Symantec on Monday released a free beta of its integrated security suite that for the first time includes a full-featured anti-spyware component, a move by the Cupertino, Calif.-based company to fend off both its long-time rivals in the security space as well as smaller firms that specialize in spyware defenses.

Norton Internet Security 2005 Anti-Spyware Edition is, as the name implies, a version of Symantec's all-in-one consumer and small business security suite.

"Customers want an all-in-one solution," said Kraig Lane, the group product manager for the suite line. "Internet Security already covers the bases of anti-virus, firewall, spam, and parental controls. We had the option of shipping anti-spyware separately to monetize our work, but customers were telling us that they expected spyware defenses as part of a complete package."

He used an analogy of defending a home against thieves. "I don't want to have to buy one lock to keep out burglars, and another to keep out robbers. I know there's a difference between the two, but I'm not a law-enforcement professional, so they're all the same to me," he said.

Spyware and viruses, he went on, may not be identical, but to most users they're in the same category of unwanted threats that come via the Internet. The anti-spyware technology included in Norton Internet Security (NIS) uses Symantec's already-announced Risk Impact Model, a system the company will use to analyze adware and spyware, score it against a set of predefined criteria, then toss it in a "delete" bin or ask the user what he/she wants to do with it.

The new model, which Symantec has said moves away from the black-and-white malicious code approach of detecting and deleting viruses and worms to a more flexible technique that lets users make some decisions about what to keep and what to throw away, is also a way to fend off spyware and adware makers' threats.

Some companies have bowed to pressure from spyware and/or adware distributors, who often claim that their products are legitimate marketing tools. Computer Associates, for instance, recently de-listed Gator, a popular ad server bundled with Kazaa -- from its Pest Patrol database for about a week, while in late February, Microsoft apologized and paid restitution to a Dutch Web site that said it had been mistakenly labeled as a supplier of malicious code.

Symantec faces considerable competition in the anti-spyware space, with firms such as Microsoft, Webroot, and Computer Associates offering stand-alone scanners, not to mention for-free editions of the popular Ad-Aware and Spybot-S&D.

Lane thinks that his company has the edge. "We're offering the only real real-time protection against spyware," he claimed. Other companies, he alleged, simply run a quick scan for spyware at intervals, then pretend it's a real-time scan by suddenly popping up an alert. "We're the only one that stops the threat at the front door," he said, continuing his house analogy. "It's the difference between a security guard at the door, and one who walks around inside the house every so often looking for robbers."

Other advantages of Symantec's anti-spyware addition to NIS, said Lane, is that it uses the same scanning engine as Norton Anti-Virus, which is also part of the suite's bundle. "Users don't want double the memory taken up by two separate [scanning] processes," he said.

Lane also dismissed claims by specialized anti-spyware vendors that they have a considerable head start in defining spyware and creating the complicated removal signatures necessary to delete it. "We believe we have one of the larger adware/spyware collections, because we've been collecting examples of spyware since 2002."

In any case, the "my-database-is-bigger-than-yours" attitude is the wrong approach, Lane argued. "I think they're on the wrong track. We have to share that information, just as anti-virus companies share information about worms and viruses now, or the bad guys will always have the edge."

The beta of NIS 2005 Anti-Spyware Edition can be downloaded from the Symantec Web site, works with Windows 2000 and XP, and will run until June 1. By mid-May, the final will be available for $79.95 in some retail outlets and direct from Symantec.

For the 2006 update to the NIS line, said Lane, the anti-spyware component will be folded into all versions of the product.

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