The virus hunter

If you run a corporate network then you’ll know the market is not exactly short of companies proclaiming to offer scalable antivirus software solutions that will keep your business safe. Network Middle East recently got the chance to sit down with the brains behind one of those companies — Eugene Kaspersky, CEO and co-founder of Kaspersky Lab — to find out where the Moscow-based vendor sees the market heading.

Tags: AntiVirusIntel CorporationKaspersky LabMcAfee Incorporation
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The virus hunter Eugene Kaspersky, CEO and co-founder of Kaspersky Lab.
By  Andrew Seymour Published  December 12, 2010

Kaspersky is primarily seen as a consumer and SMB company. Is that still the case today or are you moving up the chain towards the enterprise?

Our plans are to grow from the bottom segment — from consumers — to the top segment and we have software for that. We are now improving our services, technical support and other systems to be more focused on enterprise-level customers. We actually have corporate customers in many countries. Our biggest customer in terms of endpoints protected is 400,000 with the Ministry of Education in Malaysia.

Is there a limit to the size of end-user you would work with?

No. We have engineers, we have technologists to develop the enterprise-level products and it is just a question of time to make them switch, and I think that after the Intel-McAfee deal it will be easier!

Does the push towards the enterprise business require much of a cultural change within Kaspersky?

Yes, of course. The difference is that for consumers there is no need for a big investment in pre-sales and technical support, especially VIP or SLA technical support. The corporate sales are actually more expensive for us. We have to allocate more resources and to simply develop such a system takes time. We do have experience of how to deal with enterprises already because we started in Russia, which is why we have about 50% of the Russian market for both consumer and enterprise.

Kaspersky has been in the antivirus business for a long time. What are your thoughts on the evolution of malware?

The evolution of malware takes place in decades. The first virus was written in 1982, I think, and after that there was 10 years of virus research, so teenagers and students developed computer viruses just as a concept of self-replicating software. That wasn’t serious. The next decade, between 1990 and 2000, was the decade of cyber hooligans; students developing thousands of viruses for fun just to prove themselves. After that came the decade of cybercrime and now I am afraid we are moving into the decade of cyber wars and cyber weapons. Stuxnet is the first known example of cyber warfare. Our civilisation is vulnerable because there are so many IT systems and we depend on them, and they are not designed in a secure way.

What is the biggest threat that network managers should be aware of as we move into 2011? How do they need to manage their businesses?

Businesses must analyse their business procedures and carry out an audit of their business procedures — not IT, but business. [They need to know] how much their business depends on IT and where the critical points are, and then design the network in such a way that the most critical elements of it are secure. For example, I know companies which have internal networks disconnected from the internet, but that doesn’t guarantee 100% security because you still have USBs and insider attacks.

What do you think of antivirus software that is made available for free by some vendors?

It is very limited because they don’t guarantee real-time updates. There is just one time each day when they might upload the update. The development and distribution of updates costs a lot of money, so free antivirus systems simply don’t have resources for that and don’t guarantee the protection. 15 years back many people thought that they could survive without antivirus, now many people think they can survive with a free antivirus, but it is not like that. I don’t really believe in a free antivirus because the threats are getting more complicated. There is more and more malware out there and it is getting more and more expensive to develop antivirus products.

Some of your competitors, particularly Symantec, have spoken a lot lately about security as a cloud service. Does Kaspersky have interests in that environment?

Yes, we have two things. The first is a new service called hosted security, where we clean traffic for SMBs. Many SMBs don’t have engineers or system security engineers, so we offer this cloud protection for their networks. And the second thing we have is cloud technologies, such as reporting services for URLs and executable files. We also have a whitelist system, which is hosted in the cloud.

Given the recent Intel-McAfee deal, what is your view of the competitive landscape now?

The industry giants want to be in security. Microsoft tried to get into the security market with Microsoft Antivirus, Intel acquired McAfee and I think other companies will pay more attention to security as well, because they want to be in a market that grows very quickly. But I don’t really believe in success for security software in the hands of hardware companies. I think the future of McAfee is that Intel will develop hardware-based security solutions based on the McAfee experience. And I think that McAfee will lose focus on software security, which will create many opportunities for other antivirus companies, so I am happy!

Speaking of M&A behaviour, where does Kaspersky fit into the bigger picture? Are you going to be an acquirer or do yourself being acquired?

I am still the major shareholder of the company and it is my favourite toy, and if I sell the company I don’t really know what I am going to do! At the same time, we are very conservative about acquisitions. We acquired Spamtest Project five years back and my experience is that even when you acquire a company it takes years to adapt technologies and adapt employees. In our case, it took three or four years to convert those technologies to our standards and to get people behaving like a part of the company. If you started the project from scratch, found the experts and did exactly the same then I think that within three or four years you could have the same technologies!

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