Whither anti-virus software?

Summary:In the security industry it's not hard to run into someone predicting the demise of the anti-virus industry. But the end game will take forever to play out.

In the security industry it's not hard to run into someone predicting the demise of the anti-virus industry. But the end game will take forever to play out.

The common argument: Anti-virus software can never keep up, is outdated and outgunned against rapidly evolving threats. Websense CEO Gene Hodges recently said as much: "Modern attackware is much better crafted and stealthy than viruses so developing an antivirus signature out of sample doesn't work."

His advice was to scrimp on anti-virus software and invest your budget money elsewhere.

The latest entry in this debate is the fact that venture capital is flowing into anti-bot software companies. Ryan Naraine argues that if you follow the money it's clear that the anti-virus industry has issues.

Ryan notes that the investment into anti-bot startups "is an indictment of the anti-virus industry." Andrew Jaquith, an analyst with the Yankee Group, backs up Ryan's assertion. Just like anti-spyware companies emerged so will the anti-bot folks.

Here's where the argument falls apart--or at least becomes more nuanced. The traditional anti-virus companies were among the first and used their advantage to build suites. While anti-virus software isn't perfect, folks still need it. The big question is whether customers will pay for anti-virus protection. The short answer is no. But to the security giants like Symantec this point doesn't matter. The game to Symantec and McAfee is to sell you a security suite--the components are irrelevant.

Bottom line: These anti-bot companies--Damballa, FireEye, Sana Security and NovaShield--will develop and then be quickly bought out by the traditional anti-virus giants. Anti-virus software may wither on the vine, but that traditional sell-people-a-suite model and the licensing revenue that goes with it is alive and well.

Topics: Software, Security

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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