Asian security firms face blocks in global market

Asian antivirus firms gain success with freeware, but products lack comprehensive coverage and support to compete with established players, says analyst.

Asia's antivirus and security companies face an uphill task entering a market dominated by established global players that include Symantec, McAfee and Microsoft, says an industry analyst.

Companies such as China's Qihoo and Vietnam's Bach Khoa AntiVirus (BKAV), may have competent antivirus software and have gained traction in local markets due to their freeware offerings. But, Judy Wu, research manager of security research at IDC Asia-Pacific, noted that security these days is no longer just limited to antivirus.

"There are more advanced technologies and solutions that smaller vendors cannot possibly offer," she said in an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia.

Companies such as Symantec and McAfee, on the other hand, approach security "from a more holistic view", she noted. The analyst added that these big vendors can help their customers, mostly sizable enterprises, address most security issues within an IT infrastructure, from front-end Web applications to back-end databases.

According to David Freer, vice president of consumer business at Symantec Asia-Pacific and Japan, the vendor's competitive differentiator is indeed its collective range of products. He described freeware products offered by Asian antivirus companies as "point solutions". For the average enterprise users who are unable to put together their own security suite, these point products will "provide patchy protection against outdated viruses", Freer said in an e-mail interview.

Furthermore, implementing these freeware products does not offer complete protection for businesses against the "rapidly increasing volume and proliferation of new malicious code threats", he added.

According to Freer, Symantec identified and protected its customers against 1 million new virus threats in 2008. The vendor is expecting to identify close to 2.5 million new threats this year, and as many as 3 million in 2010.

Microsoft, which recently launched its free Microsoft Security Essentials suite, sees the emergence of these Asian antivirus freeware companies as "no surprise".

"Quality antivirus software has value to consumers, so it is not really a surprise that more companies are looking at using it as a way to drive a variety of business results," a Microsoft spokesperson told ZDNet Asia.

However, maintaining high quality antivirus protection takes a significant amount of ongoing investment to research and respond to the constantly evolving threat landscape. This, he said, would "limit the number of companies willing to enter the market".

Still room for growth
Despite the challenges, Wu said there is still room for growth for these antivirus freeware providers and security companies in Asia.

The IDC analyst noted that threats and viruses have become more "localized", where there are increasingly more attacks targeting non-English speaking countries. This provides a good market opportunity for security vendors in the region, she said.

"Local vendors have the advantage to develop [software such as] scan engines that addresses local threats," she suggested.

Countries such as China, Korea, India and Japan are also favorably inclined toward local vendors, she said. "[So, security companies with] good technology and strong products are getting market share and awareness, sometimes more easily than big international vendors," said Wu.

She added that, in general, Asian consumers were much more "price sensitive" than those in the U.S. and Europe. This trait makes free software that offers good technology more attractive and helps companies such as Qihoo and BKAV, gain good adoption rates, she said.

In fact, many of these Asian companies are already facing "a saturated mature market at home", she noted, adding that this is forcing these players to look at other markets such as the United States. "These local vendors are also getting funding to support their overseas sales, marketing activities, and so on," she said.

But, the "free of charge" product model these companies adopt will have to evolve over time so that these vendors can start tapping other revenue streams, noted Wu. Otherwise, they would eventually migrate to a paid subscription model that is similar to most other players.

She cited Qihoo as an example, where the company made the necessary adjustment and extended its product offerings to include other Internet services such as Web search, to support its business revenue.