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Symantec plans security subscription service

The end of antivirus products as we know them?

Symantec expects to begin offering a consumer security service similar to Microsoft's Windows OneCare Live by September of this year, a company executive said yesterday. Code-named 'Genesis', the service will integrate components of Symantec's security, PC tuning and backup software into a single service that is accessible over the internet.

"It's a new product that we've got coming out in the fall of 2006, and it's essentially destined to be an all-in-one security solution for consumers delivered as a service," said Tom Powledge, director of product management with Symantec. "We're taking components of the technologies from our other products and wrapping them up under a much more integrated interface."

Genesis will include antivirus and antispyware capabilities taken from the Norton Internet Security suite, system tools from the company's SystemWorks line, and antiphishing technology based on technology it acquired in its September 2005 purchase of WholeSecurity, Powledge said.

The company is also developing backup and recovery software for the service along with a better, more integrated technique for users to access Symantec support services. "It's a much more managed experience," he said. "The product is able to send data about its status."

The first version of the product will not include antispam capability, but that is planned for a future update, Powledge said.

Though Symantec has no plans to phase out its standalone security products, the Cupertino, California, software vendor sees service products such as Genesis as the future, Powledge said. "We think this is the direction that most consumers want to go."

Microsoft introduced OneCare Live last year, touting it as a way to simplify a variety of products that have grown too complex for most consumer users. Like Genesis, OneCare Live includes virus and spyware protection, as well as backup and system tools.

Symantec and Microsoft are not the only companies looking at offering these kinds of security services. Trend Micro plans to offer a similar product, said David Perry, global director of education with the Tokyo-based company. "This looks like the direction in which the market is flowing," he said.

Symantec and Trend Micro's products have traditionally protected PCs by comparing the software running on the system to a large database of electronic 'signatures', data files that are used to identify known malware. But as hacking techniques have grown more sophisticated and these signature databases have grown larger, the whole process has become unwieldy, said Andrew Jaquith, senior analyst with Yankee Group.

"At the rate we're going, there are already more signatures in most AV products than there are files in a typical computer," Jaquith said. "So I think we're getting close to the end of the life of the antivirus products as we know them," he said.

Although customers may have been agitating for a more efficient approach to computer security, Microsoft's introduction of OneCare Live, still in beta release, also helped move the industry in this direction, according to Jaquith. "You have to give some credit to Microsoft," he said. "It took the efforts of a large company to really legitimatise these services."

Pricing for Genesis has not been determined, Symantec's Powledge said.


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