Who’s Who in Antivirus Software?

As the Black Hat conference descends upon Las Vegas this week, internetnews.com presents a series of articles addressing security issues past and present.

If ever there were a growth industry in technology, it’s the antivirus/anti-spyware market.

Market research firm Gartner Group said the industry grew 13.6 percent in 2005, with revenue totaling $4 billion, with the top three firms holding 87 percent of the market.

Symantec is far and away the leader of the market, with nearly 54 percent market share, up from 42 percent in 2004. Its next closest competitors are McAfee with 19 percent of the market and Trend Micro with 14 percent of the market.

Below them are nearly two dozen vendors –- Kaspersky, Sophos, Panda, AntiVir, F-Secure, Eset, and more –- all struggling with single-digit shares of the market.

In the area of fighting spyware , Webroot’s Spy Sweeper is the market leader in its class with 27.7 percent of the anti-spyware market, according to a January 2006 release by The NPD Group.

Symantec was second with 21.5 percent. In addition, The Radicati Group rated Webroot as the top anti-spyware vendor in terms of revenue and installed base.

And then there’s the 800-pound gorilla.

Microsoft has a pair of malware removal utilities, Windows Defender and the Malicious Software Removal Tool, but it does not as yet have a full-blown antivirus product.

However, that will change, and Microsoft’s entry into any market is about as subtle as a cannonball dive in a bathtub.

Its Live OneCare offers a far better firewall than the one in Windows XP 2, antivirus and backup software.

The company will sell OneCare as a service, with annual subscriptions for three PCs instead of the usual single PC license (a first for Microsoft consumer products) for $49.95. Users can update regularly online.

This year has seen a trend toward consolidation of antivirus and anti-spyware into a single application. For a while, you needed several applications to cover the spectrum of malware .

But people grew tired of running an antivirus program, then SpyBot, then Ad-Aware, then Webroot.

“People don’t want another scanner,” Gartner analyst Peter Fristbrook told internetnews.com earlier this year.

“You want one engine, one distribution mechanism, one update engine, one management console.”

The result has been a trend toward multi-faceted applications that cover the gamut. Microsoft has it with OneCare, and its competitors have also gone that route.

Symantec’s Norton 360 and McAfee’s Total Protection are all-in-one solutions to cover all of the aspects of computer protection.

This year has seen some nasty new trends in viruses, such as the one that held computers hostage unless the victim ponied up $300.

The Windows platform remains far and away the largest target for such attacks, with more than 20,000 viruses discovered in 2005.

Apple has been skewering the PC for this vulnerability mercilessly in television ads. Macintosh attacks are growing as the platform gains new life.

Linux isn’t immune, either, although the frequency of Linux attacks remains miniscule, as Linux is primarily a server-side operating system, not a client for the masses.

Spyware, Trojans, backdoors and keyloggers are all familiar to the security-conscious, but 2005 introduced a new word to our vocabulary: the rootkit .

Rootkits hide deep within the internals of the operating system and are often difficult to find. They don’t do any damage in and of themselves, but they do open the system to attack by another piece of software.

They unlock the door to let thieves in, so to speak.

The problem has become so bad that the multiple competitors in the antivirus market have teamed up to fight spyware, while still competing.

Despite all of the products on the market, security applications are only as good as the people who use them. One antivirus company discovered that an awful lot of users weren’t bothering to keep their software up-to-date. At some point, responsibility does fall to the user.

In the end, will all this be moot? Will all this stuff become obsolete?

Microsoft, and CEO Steve Ballmer in particular, have promised that Windows Vista, the long-delayed replacement operating system for Windows XP, will put an end to viruses, spyware and malware.

The User Access Control, or UAC, in Vista will provide a layer of security to stop unknown applications from writing to the disk.

Beta testers found it annoying and obnoxious and ended up disabling it, thereby rendering it pointless.

So it remains to be seen if Vista will be the solution, however temporary, to our spyware and virus problems.

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