Whither anti-virus software?

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The common argument: Anti-virus software can never keep up, is outdated and outgunned against rapidly evolving threats.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.

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