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CeBIT: Symantec slams Microsoft's security strategy

Vista & security present 'huge conflict of interest'

It's a "huge conflict of interest" for one company to provide both an operating platform and a security platform, Symantec CEO John Thompson said during a keynote speech at the CeBIT trade show in Hanover, Germany.

Although Thompson didn't mention Microsoft by name, that company's introduction of consumer and enterprise security products to complement its operating systems could hurt Symantec, which currently tops the security software industry by market share.

Microsoft has shored up the defenses in its new OS, Vista (click here for our review of Windows Vista), which so far as seen few successful hacker attacks, but people "shouldn't assume that a less vulnerable operating platform delivers security against tomorrow's threats", Thompson said.

Thompson took a few minutes to speak with IDG after his keynote to expand on his thoughts about Microsoft's security software, and to talk about Symantec's integration of storage vendor Veritas.

IDG: Security companies have been warning that Windows Vista will be attacked more by hackers as it's more widely adopted. What do you expect on the horizon as far as the malicious software environment around Vista?

Thompson: That's a hard one to answer... Over the past four or five years, about every 18 months the threat landscape has changed. Eighteen months ago, the topical issue in the threat landscape was viruses and worms, self-propagating Trojans. Today, those are rarely talked about, but what people are spending more time talking about is online fraud and identity theft - a very, very different form of security risk.

So now if you ask me to project forward another 18 months, I suspect the one thing that will be true is it will be a different problem that we will be tackling. We'll probably be using different techniques and different technologies to do just that. I don't think the kind of threats we are seeing today have anything to do with the underlying platform. Someone is susceptible to online fraud whether they're on Windows, Windows Vista, Windows XP or an Apple Mac. So identity theft and online fraud is more about the interactions with the user than interaction with the system. And if those forms of threats continue, the question of Vista being a more secure platform becomes somewhat irrelevant.

IDG: How about the controversy over Microsoft's Patch Guard technology, which security companies said decreases the effectiveness of their software?

Thompson: We are satisfied with what resolution we've reached and the industry has reached with Microsoft around Patch Guard and around the Windows Security Center. They've made statements about what they are going to do and delivered on many of the promises they've made and if they continue to deliver in that vein, then we think we can create an environment for open competition and open innovation. That's all we've wanted all along.

IDG: Symantec has been diversifying by expanding its offerings to corporate customers. Can you shed light on how Symantec views the consumer side versus the corporate side?

Thompson: Our strategy has been to create a more diversified overall business. If you look at IT spending in general, two thirds to three quarters of all money that's spent on information technology is spent by corporate users. At one point in time, two-thirds of our revenue came from the consumer segment of the marketplace. All we are trying to do is rebalance our revenue such that it looks like the overall IT spending market. We are about there.

Today, 30 percent of our revenue comes from consumers, 70 percent comes from medium to large corporate and government users. I think that's the right mix for us. The consumer business is awfully important because it is the gateway for many of the world's consumers into corporate infrastructure. We think we'll learn a lot more from our consumer franchise about how to protect them as they come into large corporate networks, and that's an important linkage that I think we cannot miss.

IDG: Can you give us an update on how the integration of Veritas Software, which Symantec bought for $13.5bn in 2005, is going? Some analysts have written that the transition has been rough.

Thompson: It has been the most challenging thing I've done in the 37 years I've been in this industry. But I'm convinced that strategically we are on the right path. There's more to do to prove that to people, and operationally the heavy, heavy lifting items associated with the integration are behind us. So now it's about execution. It's about our team around the world demonstrating that we can deliver more capability to customers than we ever could before. It's reflected in what customers want to spend with us, and that's reflected in our bottom line.


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