Vendors left in the cold as users do it for themselves...A new end user virus forum was unveiled yesterday at Virus Bulletin 2001 in Prague, which claims it can give users a vital three-hour headstart when dealing with outbreaks. Called the Anti-Virus Information Exchange Network, (Avien), it was first set up by security executives from large corporations as a result of discussions at last year's Virus Bulletin conference. Anti-virus software vendors are specifically excluded from the forum. "Whilst we've been doing this for about a year now, this is really our 'coming out' in front of the industry," said David Phillips, anti-virus expert at the Open University, and one of the group's founder members. John Morris, security chief at Nortel Networks said Avien's early warning system enabled his company to limit damage after the outbreak of the recent Nimda virus. "We got forum users saying 'hey - we've got a problem here' a long way before the vendors knew anything about it." "We didn't get a fix immediately, but everyone contributed and summarised and worked together - it was actually beautiful to watch." The forum, at www.avien.org, has members including Boeing, Compaq, Ford, KPMG and Nortel responsible for the security on three million desktops. It has two main services - an early warning system for virus alerts to which anyone can sign up, and a wider forum for ways to improve the industry - from which anti-virus vendors are barred. David Phillip said he wanted the service to be a "voice from the trenches", able to spur change in the anti-virus industry. However, the launch of the new service was not without controversy. Some vendors questioned its usefulness, particularly asking how it could hope to change the industry if the vendors were not allowed to see the comments of users. Jan Hruska, CEO of anti-virus firm Sophos, said: "We are all in favour as long as there is a way to transmit the ideas t the vendor companies. Otherwise we can't hope to make things better."