Symantec's Brian Dye Claims Antivirus Is A 'Dead' Technology
May 7, 2014

Symantec’s Brian Dye Claims Antivirus Is A ‘Dead’ Technology

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

The antivirus concept that was developed by Symantec more than 25 years ago as a way to protect systems from hackers is now a “dead” technology, according to the Brian Dye, Symantec’s senior vice president for information security.

Dye told the Wall Street Journal in an interview that the business of protecting computers from hackers is doomed to failure and that the focus should now be on finding ways to minimize the damage once a cyber intrusion is discovered.

"We don't think of antivirus as a moneymaker in any way," said Dye. Antivirus products were developed to keep hackers out, but in today’s world, Symantec only keeps about 45 percent of attempted breaches from ever making it inside. With that in mind, Dye is leading efforts at Symantec to reinvent the failing $70 billion a year cybersecurity industry.

Other companies, such as Juniper Networks and FireEye Inc., have already jumped into the fray.

Juniper Networks, which makes networking equipment, wants its customers to place fake data inside their firewalls as a distraction to hackers.

Shape Security assumes that cyber-thieves will steal passwords and credit card numbers so it seeks to make it difficult for them to use such information.

FireEye, a global network security company, has created a technology that scans networks for malicious computer code that makes it through the first line of defense. FireEye recently acquired Mandiant, a cyber-security firm that actively hunts down sources of threats once a breach is made.

According to WSJ, Symantec is creating a response team to help business that have been hacked. The company says it will be selling intelligence briefings within six months that will delve into specific threats, giving clients information on how and why their systems are under attack. Symantec is also developing technology to hunt down more-malicious software that may already be hiding out in networks that mimic offerings from rival networks.

Dye expressed that the company needs to turn a corner to profitability as revenue fell in each of the past two quarters; profits did rise during this time, but only because of cost cuts the company was forced to make. In the upcoming earnings report, due Thursday, Symantec forecast a revenue drop of five percent for the quarter from last year.

Dye, who has been heading information security at Symantec for more than a decade, said it was difficult to see other security companies making progress.

"It's one thing to sit there and get frustrated," he told WSJ’s Danny Yadron. "It's another thing to act on it, go get your act together and go play the game you should have been playing in the first place."

Symantec has long been at the forefront of cyber-security, keeping hackers from gaining entry into its customers systems. But hackers have learned to develop novel bugs that are increasingly difficult to detect. Dye said that antivirus software now misses more than half of all cyber-attacks.

This is a tough position for Symantec as the company still draws about 40 percent of its revenue from antivirus and other security products that run on individual devices. Specialized cybersecurity services for businesses only account for less than a fifth of revenue and generate smaller profit margins, reports WSJ. Such systems would be impractical to sell to individual customers.

In today’s world, antivirus software is “necessary but insufficient,” said Ted Schlein, co-creator of Symantec’s first antivirus product. Schlein is now a partner with venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which invests in cybersecurity companies that compete with Symantec.

In keeping with “necessary,” Dye said Symantec has no plans to ditch its flagship Norton security suite, which has evolved beyond antivirus software. In a move to fix “insufficient,” the company has developed efforts to track down suspicious activities that come from previously unseen viruses. Norton also now includes a password manager, a spam blocker and a tool that scans the user’s Facebook feed to guard against dangerous links.

Other antivirus makers, such as McAfee, are also moving in the same direction.

Michael Fey, McAfee’s chief technology officer, told WSJ that there is a two- to three-year lag in developing the technology that Symantec seeks to develop.

"They haven't been part of the thought-leader group for some time," Fey told WSJ.

But Symantec may be able to capitalize in an area that no other security firm has yet been able to defeat: the ambitious hacking efforts from China, Iran and Russia. Iranian hackers last year breached energy company networks and one of the US’s five biggest banks but were caught before getting too deep into the systems. The incidents were notable because the two industries were known to have the most secure cyber-defense systems.

A big problem, however, is discerning the seriousness of threats. Before retail-giant Target was breached last year, FireEye alerted the company of suspicious activity. But Target officials decided the threat wasn't serious enough to follow up on. Former employees of Target said the team lacked the resources to pursue all threats.

"What do we do with all the things that we're 60 percent sure are a problem?" Dye asked.

Analysts have said that Symantec’s software system is so vast that it may be able to provide more guidance on which hackers can be ignored and which are a serious threat.