Security

Symantec: Who's afraid of Microsoft?

CEO John Thompson says the company will rely on the strength of its products to fend off Microsoft's entry into the security fray.

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By Dawn Kawamoto
Staff Writer, CNET News.com

SAN FRANCISCO—Symantec outlined plans on Tuesday to defend its large consumer security business, as Microsoft detailed its push to enter the anti-spyware and antivirus market.

Company CEO John Thompson, speaking at a keynote speech and roundtable at RSA Conference 2005 here, said that Symantec would rely on the capabilities of its products to fend off the challenge. He said he would not rely on antitrust regulators, who keep an eye on Microsoft and the products it bundles in with its operating system. "I don't plan to go to the Justice Department and whine about Microsoft's monopoly," Thompson said. "I'd rather fight Microsoft in the marketplace, because I'm sure we'll whip them."

Symantec's ability to defend its consumer business is critical to the company, given that half its revenue and its rapid growth have come from selling antivirus and other security software to home PC owners and small businesses.

On Tuesday, also at the RSA security show, Microsoft said it will offer spyware protection for free to licensed users of Windows. The software giant also plans to beef up browser-based spyware protections with Internet Explorer 7.0, which will be available for public testing by the summer.

Microsoft's anti-spyware technology was picked up in its acquisition of Giant Software, part of a security spending spree that has sent shudders through the security industry. The Redmond, Wash., software company announced last week that it plans to buy enterprise security developer Sybari Software.

Symantec plans to charge consumers for its own anti-spyware application, which is expected to be released during the first quarter. It has yet to announce a price for its spyware protection product for home and small business PCs.

Symantec holds the view that customers will be willing to pay for anti-spyware that not only detects threats but also removes them.

Although Thompson said he is confident Symantec can weather a Microsoft challenge, he noted he does not yet know the details of what his company is up against.

"When Microsoft shows up with a real product, then we'll see what it can really do," Thompson said.

At the RSA conference, Thompson also discussed the current shift in the security industry, where vendors are expanding beyond just offering technology to ward off worms, viruses and other threats. Security companies are also looking to develop products that offer corporate customers ways to store information and recover it easily after an attack.

"We are at the cusp of an enormous opportunity," Thompson said. "Where we once patrolled the borders, spotted the risks and raised the red flag, it's now about disaster recovery, systems availability and proactive protection of the network."

When the Slammer worm hit the Internet with a vengeance, it became evident that security companies needed to provide customers with the ability to bring back their data, Thompson said.

"We learned we had too narrow a view on what role we should play in protecting customers' assets," Thompson said. "We need to make information always secure and available. It's not enough just to make it just secure. That would be like putting all your information into a safe and forgetting the combination."

That realization, Thompson said, is what prompted his company to seek its merger with Veritas Software, a large systems and storage management company, part of a wave of consolidation in the security market that is prompted by customers' demand for the new approach to data protection, he said.

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