Within the last two weeks or so,
a dozen new viruses and worms have appeared on the Net: MyDoom.f
, five variations of Bagle (c through g)
, and Netsky.d
. All received a rating of 6 on the CNET/ZDNet Virus Meter, meaning we consider them all moderate threats.
Everyone should be protected by now
I wonder why, in 2004, we are still fighting mass-mailing viruses and worms such as these. Given that viruses have been around for more than 20 years and that antivirus companies have made tremendous progress in stopping this sort of threat, we should all be protected from new outbreaks. But millions of PCs worldwide still do not have basic antivirus protection and thus are susceptible to infection.
One reason I think so many PCs are undefended is because antivirus apps keep getting more expensive. That's why I offer a challenge to the major antivirus companies: I'd like to see one of you offer a free version of your best-selling antivirus product for desktop PCs. You'll still make a profit, and your user base will certainly increase. But the bottom line is this: Whichever one of you does so can claim you're truly making the Internet safer for everyone--and that's priceless.
One reason I think so many PCs are undefended is because antivirus apps keep getting more expensive.
You'll notice that I'm challenging one of the major
antivirus companies. There are currently hundreds of antivirus products, developed by small companies, that you can download for free. But you get what you pay for. These free antivirus products not only consistently fail to impress independent testing organizations such as Virus Bulletin
, users don't like them either. I've received many letters from readers who've downloaded a free app only to find it didn't protect them from the latest virus or worm.
Then there's the issue of trust. Would you trust a no-name company to protect your PC? Probably not. But if it were in the same league as Trend Micro, McAfee, or Norton, you probably would. The big guys are also quicker to provide signature-file updates for the latest worms to all of their customers (including you), since they have corporate clients to satisfy. F-Secure, for example, employs the same antivirus engine in both its corporate and consumer products.
Trouble is the big security companies make a lot of money on antivirus software. And they've gotten greedy. While signature-file updates for your antivirus programs used to be free, for example, they now cost extra.
Symantec goes even further. On top of paying $20 per year for a signature-file subscription, the company requires home users to pay an additional $30 every two to three years to upgrade to the latest version of its Norton AntiVirus app
. Imagine if, every two or three years, Windows stopped working and Microsoft required you to upgrade to the latest version of its operating system. No one would stand for that. I can think of no software subindustry other than antivirus that forces its users to consistently pay for the continued use of its products. No wonder millions of desktops remain unprotected from viruses and worms.
Providing free virus protection doesn't mean a company couldn't still make some money on consumer sales.
Since antivirus apps are essentially useless without signature updates and unless you're using the latest version, I say, let antivirus companies' corporate clients pay for the software and the annual signature-file subscriptions, and let home users download both for free.
Now here's the kicker: providing free virus protection doesn't mean a company couldn't still make some money on consumer sales. It could follow the Zone Labs
model: Offer a free version of the premium software for 15 days, then sell it to the customer at a reasonable price. If the customer decides not to buy, he can continue to use a stripped-down but still functional version of the program.
If the product is of high enough quality, I'd bet lots of customers would pony up to pay for the premium version. Plus, the company would increase its user base and exposure, as well as its general goodwill in the online world, which could be invaluable. And I haven't even mentioned all the free advertising the company would get from the media for proving such an essential technology to the masses.
I should note that both McAfee and Symantec currently offer online virus scanners for free, but those require you to go to their Web sites to see if your system is infected. I'm talking about a download that resides on your PC and automatically gets updated with the latest signature files.
Microsoft to the rescue?
Microsoft may well make this a moot point in a few years. At this year's RSA Conference in San Francisco, Bill Gates previewed the new Microsoft Security Center available in the Windows XP Service Pack 2 edition, which will be released later this year. Service Pack 2 turns on the Windows XP firewall by default, and the Security Center tells you if your third-party antivirus software is up-to-date. In the future, expect Microsoft to roll out its own antivirus software based on technology developed by GeCad, a Romanian company the software giant bought last year.
Building a basic antivirus app and firewall into the Windows operating system would be a big boon for end users, who would also have the choice to buy a third-party product for added protection. But until that happens, which big-name antivirus company will step up and accept my challenge?
What do you think is the solution to stopping viruses? Would you still pay for antivirus software if a reliable, free option were available? Tell me about it--TalkBack to me!