The use of free antivirus software is on the rise and eating away at the market share of traditional paid security vendors. Industry watchers advise that in order to keep their customers, they will need to cultivate brand loyalty by marketing themselves better.
Freeware antivirus vendors such as Avast and AVG have attracted a huge following and their reported user numbers have outstripped many of their subscription-based competitors, Andrew Kellett, IT solution senior analyst at Ovum noted.
Esha Kashyap, marketing manager of TechSci Research, also agreed that antivirus software vendors were "catching up these days". He cited a study by Opswat that free antivirus vendors held 43 percent of market share as of December 2011, compared to previous years at 37 percent. There had also been an increasing trend toward downloading free antivirus software
This has forced the major paid antivirus vendors to start looking to diversify, he noted, citing that Symantec bought storage vendor Veritas and desktop management vendor Altiris, Trend Micro implemented a cloud-based model, McAfee moved into compliance and Kaspersky Labs is now looking at mobile security and encryption.
"No not really. It's not like I have a ton of sensitive materials on my personal laptop." - Kyle Lee
"Saving money means everything to me. Also, cybercrime is sensationalized and I'm not sure if a paid antivirus is worth the investment." - Jasper Tan
"For my office laptop, I would get a better antivirus vendor because I know free ones aren't that good." - Lim Yu He
Free antivirus not enough
Kashyap noted that many people's demands today usually cannot be adequately met by free antivirus software, because they now spend a longer time on the Internet across more websites and programs. There is now a heightened risk of users downloading viruses, and visiting Web sites infected by malware.
Furthermore, with the BYOD trend setting in, devices that consumers are working on may require antivirus and firewall protection from a traditional mainstream vendor, Kellett added.
The quality of free antivirus software is not as good as what a paid antivirus software has to offer, he noted. Kellett cited that a free antivirus did not have a comprehensive firewall, Web site health checks, automatic updates, and customer support whereas a paid antivirus "keeps getting better" because of continuous improvements and updates.
Changing perceptions and marketing quality
Kashyap added that paid antivirus vendors should remove the false perception created by free antivirus vendors that their free software is enough to protect their computing devices from today's increasing threats.
He advised mainstream vendors to increase their marketing budget to understand changing consumer buying patterns and educate consumers about the benefits of paid antivirus over free ones.
Ovum's Kellet noted that it was important for paid antivirus vendors to highlight the key differentiator between them and free software vendors--the level of protection. "If users are unsatisfied with the level of protection offered by free antivirus, they can easily opt to extend and pay for additional options", he noted.
Commercial antivirus providers should hence work on extending their range of coverage and services to include Web browsing, identity protection, firewall, backup, and tune up facilities to provide useful protection and management services within a single package or service, Kellett advised.
A paid antivirus provider, BitDefender also told ZDNet Asia that it encourages end-users to subscribe to its paid solutions through its offering of a good product, user experience and security expertise at the same time.
"With a paid security product, consumers get rid of the annoying hassle from a free solution, which means no more aggressive notifications and advertisements for upgrading to paid version, but better speed, higher detection and dedicated customer support," Ligia Adam, security evangelist at BitDefender said.