Symantec calls antivirus 'doomed' as security giants fight for survival

Symantec calls antivirus 'doomed' as security giants fight for survival

Summary: The traditional antivirus is "dead" and "doomed to failure," Symantec's information security chief declares. Quelle surprise, considering Norton is fading into oblivion. But what next?

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(Image: CNET/CBS Interactive)

Antivirus products are "doomed to failure," according to Brian Dye, senior vice president for information security at Symantec, a security firm and maker of antivirus products.

From The Wall Street Journal on Sunday, the antivirus giant said that end-point security technology isn't a "moneymaker" in any way, and highlighted that the company needs to adjust and adapt.

Which isn't a surprise for Symantec, whose Norton antivirus products have barely made any new dents in the security market in years — despite it being bundled with almost every new Windows computer as premium bloatware.

But what Dye was saying is that the malware market is dwindling and hackers are instead increasingly focusing on cyberattacks, like denial-of-service assaults, spearphishing, and network intrusion, rather than mass-emailing a crafted executable file randomly to millions — including to a burgeoining base of Mac users that are immune to such attacks.

Antivirus products are catching less than half of all cyberattacks, Dye said, which puts his company between a rock and a hard place. Not least because antivirus products still make up about 40 percent of the company's revenue as of its fiscal third quarter earnings. And its cybersecurity systems it sells to big businesses and enterprises makes up half of that revenue, but comes with narrower profit margins.

Symantec began to mix things up and push beyond the traditional end-point security model back when it had the chance. 

But so have others.

In recent months, in partnership with Symantec, IBM announced a new cybersecurity offering to protect networks and critical data from zero-day attacks, by detecting irregular patterns in network traffic.

"If customers are shifting from protect to detect and respond, the growth is going to come from detect and respond." — Brian Dye

Meanwhile, Juniper announced earlier this year its expansion of its Firefly suite of products, which aims to bulk up business firewalls and the wider network perimeters. The company is also gunning to put "fake" data within internal networks in efforts to distract hackers from the real corporate goods.

Cisco is also pushing harder on its enterprise solutions in order to prove that the outer edges of the network is just as important as the desktop end-point services. 

It's clear that the traditional desktop-running antivirus market isn't floating anybody's boat anymore. It's not the be-all and end-all, but it's hard to see any major antivirus company ditching its end-user services any time soon.

Though the company won't retire its Norton suite in favor of larger projects, it's looking ahead to other areas in order to find its place in the ever-evolving security market.

The Journal's report points to Symantec joining the data breach aftermath party later this week by creating its own response team to hacked businesses. After its initial launch, the company aims to help plug the holes in enterprise systems by selling intelligence reports in order to educate businesses on how and why they are suffering breaches.

It's a hole in the market that some firms are hiring and acquiring in order to fill — the niche sector of the market that goes after the attackers rather than just protecting against intrusions and breaches in the first place.

Other companies are also fighting to remain relevant to big businesses, where profits are higher and contracts can be lucrative.

FireEye, for instance, bought Mandiant for $1 billion in January in efforts to bolster its response efforts. The company's chief executive David DeWalt said one of the reasons behind snapping up the firm was to receive the first call companies make after an attack.

The company came to prominence after it emerged it alerted Target to suspicious activity, something the company decided to ignore.

"If customers are shifting from protect to detect and respond, the growth is going to come from detect and respond," Dye told the Journal.

Antivirus products might be doomed, but if it can maintain that edge over its counterparts and rivals, it might just have that 60 percent revenue slice nailed down in a year or two.

Topics: Security, Android, Networking, Privacy

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145 comments
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  • Makes sense

    Endpoint (think individual PC) antivirus is rapidly going to either a free or subscription model, if it doesn't come with the OS already. And noticing that even the subscription services (think like Trend Micros, etc.) including Norton are seeing the per-subscription rate drop. Add that on top of the corporate systems supported from the network and the number of people dumping the PC anyway and the assessment is dead on.

    Now if one of those companies can get enough AI to prevent user stupidity they may have a marketable product again.
    jwspicer
    • Microsoft Security Essentials

      Free from Microsoft. Problem solved.
      sduraybito
      • MSSE...don't do it!

        If you think that MS Security Essentials is a valid endpoint protection, then think again.
        Low detection and mitigation results. Heavy load on computer, its not our advised solution, and its detection and prevention of Adware/spyware is just atrocious. For free, go with Avast, or AVG...
        mpaint@...
        • Plain bullcrap

          No bases, or valid arguments for that affirmation, and i can assure it as a software and cloud developer, MSE it's actually a light product, Avast and AVG? really?

          You are just another internet troll / hater
          DannyGM
          • Actually

            I am the owner of a small but succesful computer repair/consultancy.
            Have you looked at av-comparatives-org....
            mpaint@...
          • Yes, I looked..

            and what I see is a group of invasive solutions which arbitrarily block all kinds of common tasks and programs while still letting in bad stuff, cost $$ per year, and are difficult when trying to let through benign stuff that they have decided to block.

            I fail to see the point in getting customers to subscribe to the above when most malware is invited in by the user via downloads of varying quality that they simply must have.

            MSE may not stop the all of 'specimen' virus' thrown at the solutions in these tests, but I have yet to see a computer that was compromised because MSE wasn't doing it's job, and MSE doesn't block benign stuff either..
            Mike_says
          • I think you're both missing the main point...

            Norton is notorious for being almost impossible to uninstall.. it requires it's own "uninstallation" programs in many cases, or leaves annoying pieces behind to block any other program that replaces it. The problem is a showy, flashy program that won't go away, at a nasty yearly subscription rate. If all you "experts" spent as much time trying to actually invent programs and hardware that actually worked, instead of insulting each other, you would make a nice profit. Instead, you blame the consumer for being smart enough to know junk when they pay for it...
            robertcape@...
          • robertcape, You are correct!

            I purchase Norton a few years back for around $50, somehow the activated the auto renewal. The following year I get a $95 charge on my credit card from them for something I could purchase on the web for $45. I removed the auto renewal, my credit card number, and Norton antivirus. Never again to use them or recommend their products.
            markrorytx
          • IMPOSSIBLE TO UNINSTALL?

            these programs don't have to go away, neither do they have to be easily uninstallable. DO YOU GUYS FORGET WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT? proprietary software...SOFTWARE THAT YOU DO NOT OWN...BUT ONLY HAVE USERS RIGHTS. . THE PROGRAM DOESN'T BELONG TO YOU. SO WHAT RIGHT DO YOU THE END USER HAVE TO UNINSTALL A PROGRAM THAT IS NOT YOURS? LOOK, YOU CHOOSE TO USE AN OPERATING SYSTEM THAT IS NOT YOURS, AND PROPRIETARY SOFTWARE THAT YOU ONLY BUY LICENSES FOR USER RIGHTS, AND BITCH BECAUSE YOU CAN'T DO WHAT YOU WANT WITH THEM....HOW RIDICULOUS DOES THAT SOUND? YES! READ YOUR END USERS LICENSE AGREEMENT AND YOU WILL FIND THAT BILL GATES TALKED YOU INTO BUYING A LICENSE TO USE HIS OPERATING SYSTEM...AND ALSO PROGRAMS THAT ALSO DO NOT BELONG TO YOU. IN FACT, NOTHING ON YOUR COMPUTER BELONGS TO YOU. YOU USE IT AT THE MERCY OF MICROSOFT'S DISCRETION.DUDES, I FIND IT FUNNY TO SEE PEOPLE ARGUING OVER SOMETHING THAT ISNT EVEN THEIRS. LOL . AND YOU PROFESSIONALS WHO SELL THIS CRAP: I KNOW WHAT YOUR DOING. YOU MAKE IT LOOK SWEET ON THE OUTSIDE...BECAUSE CONSUMERS THINK- IF IT LOOKS GOOD, IT MUST BE GOOD.....HOWS THAT WORKIN FOR YA? LOL
            muzikjock
          • CONTINUED

            WHEN I DID USE WINDOWS, I TOO GOT CAUGHT UP IN THE NORTON BLOATWARE. ALL I FOUND IS IT TOOK UP ALOT OF RESOURCES BUT DID ACTUALLY NOTHING. NOT A DAMN THING. BUT THE GUI SURE LOOKED GOOD...IT LOOKED LIKE IT WAS DOING SOMETHING. LOL. KIND OF LIKE THOSE WEBSITES THAT HAVE THE THEME: LOOKS LEGIT. LOL
            muzikjock
          • All caps?

            Grandpa, is that you?
            gtvr
          • Loony

            I think you may have missed a couple of doses of your medication.
            GrumpyOldMan
          • Look on your keyboard

            There's a key on the left side called a CAPS LOCK key. When you press it everything comes out with all capitals. It's very annoying. Please turn it off.
            larsonjs
          • @muzikjock

            maybe you had a point, maybe it was valid. I'll never know because I refuse to read crap in all CAPS.
            grayknight
          • dumazz

            may you someday miss the answer to life because you refuse to read caps.
            illicitgains
          • DUMMY

            Hey, if I pay for it it its MINE forever!

            I still download music I bought in the 70s from pirate sites because I have already paid for it
            jimbritttn
          • Yep, Norton sucks.

            I recently uninstalled it and it broke my registry on the way out. Windows thought it was no longer a licensed copy and Microsoft Office didn't either. Took me hours to figure out how to fix it. I will never install a piece of software from that company again.
            GrumpyOldMan
          • Norton 360 experience and price

            It is rather odd that Norton/Symantec will not meet or beat the purchase web prices in their autorenew plan.

            Still, I've been have excellent results at a good price by buying new each time. At $50 or so for 3 machines, the package works well for me.
            w_c_mead
          • Back when I used Norton,

            that was my strategy. A brand new copy of their program, WITH new lists of viruses, AND the extra smarts (I hoped) to use the new lists more effectively, cost not much more than resubscribing to updates for another year while keeping the same old program with possibly unfixed bugs.

            But I had other issues: when I upgraded from Windows 95 to Windows 98, Norton just failed and took the OS down with it. Sure, it was COMPATIBLE with both, but the fine print that wasn't there said to REMOVE it, THEN upgrade Windows, THEN reinstall it; the install program detects which OS you have, and installs programs that only work on that version. Upgrade without doing a reinstall, and the old programs don't work (OLD wine in NEW wineskins isn't so great EITHER!).

            But if you want to replace it with something OTHER than its own upgrade, even its own PROPRIETARY uninstaller leaves chunks behind. Then you look on their web site and find out that you ALSO have to run their proprietary CLEANUP program to get them out. If you aren't savvy enough to avoid talking to a tech, and find this in the knowledge base for yourself, you pay a good chunk of ransom -- I mean, tech support fee -- to get rid of it.

            What AOL used to do on the phone when you tried to cancel, Norton did via code; whether just buggy or deliberate malware is hard to tell for sure.
            jallan32
          • mmm

            Its all deliberate. PERIOD!
            illicitgains