Posts Tagged ‘Antivirus’

Symantec Fires CEO Bennett as PC Slump Erodes Antivirus Sales

March 21st, 2014

Symantec Corp. (SYMC:US) fired President and Chief Executive Officer Steve Bennett after less than two years on the job, as the biggest maker of security software for personal computers struggles with a shift to mobile devices.

Director Michael Brown was named interim CEO while the Mountain View, California-based company seeks Bennett’s replacement. A special committee of the board will begin looking for a permanent CEO with an executive search firm, Symantec said in a statement yesterday.

Bennett, who took over as CEO after Enrique Salem’s ouster in July 2012, has presided over slowing sales growth as a record PC slump curbs spending on Symantec’s antivirus software, which is often bundled with new computers. The stock has tumbled 15 percent in the past year. Bennett blamed lower revenue (SYMC:US) in recent quarters on a sales-force restructuring that was meant to help restart growth and instead disrupted customer relationships.

“It’s jaw-dropping,” said Daniel Ives, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets & Co. in New York who has the equivalent of a hold rating on the stock. “Bennett is the face of the turnaround at Symantec. Investors bought into him leading this turnaround, so the fact that now he gets fired at this critical juncture, I view it as a major black eye.”

Symantec shares fell 6.1 percent to $19.64 in extended trading after the announcement. They had gained 1.6 percent to $20.91 at yesterday’s close in New York.
Executive Exits

Bennett’s firing comes after several top executives have left the company in recent months, including Francis deSouza, president of products and services, and James Beer, who had been chief financial officer since 2006 and left to become CFO of McKesson Corp. (MCK:US)

Symantec remains committed to its target of revenue growth of more than 5 percent by fiscal 2017, Chairman Daniel Schulman said in the statement.

“Our priority is now to identify a leader who can leverage our company’s assets and leadership team to drive the next stage of Symantec’s product innovation and growth,” Schulman said. “This considered decision was the result of an ongoing deliberative process, and not precipitated by any event or impropriety.”

Bennett previously served as CEO of TurboTax software maker Intuit Inc., and before that as an executive vice president of General Electric Capital.

Slipping Performance

Symantec shares soared after Bennett’s appointment as CEO of Symantec, more than doubling (SYMC:US) in his first year on the job on investor optimism that he would deliver more consistent results.

One of Bennett’s first major actions was eliminating 1,000 jobs, or about 5 percent of staff, in an effort to bolster profit. The honeymoon ended as sales sputtered, top executives left and the PC market worsened, dragging down Symantec’s biggest business unit.

Sales in Symantec’s consumer division, which includes the Norton line of antivirus products, fell 2.8 percent to $2.17 billion in the nine months ended Dec. 27. Revenue in the data-backup division declined 2.6 percent to $1.9 billion in the same period.

The company still likely won’t be able to hit its targets without acquisitions or selling business units, in part because of declines in demand for PC security software, Joel Fishbein Jr., an analyst at BMO Capital Markets in New York, wrote in a research note.
Mobile Security

One area where Symantec has lagged its peers is security software for smartphones and tablets, a growing market that is dominated by companies including Lookout Inc., which has more than 50 million users and has raised more than $131 million from venture capital firms, and NQ Mobile, a Chinese company with more than 100 million active monthly users.

In recent interviews, Bennett declined to directly discuss the PC industry’s impact on Symantec. In January, he attributed weaker results largely to his overhaul of the sales force, which involved reassigning accounts and training employees to sell different products. He said the company was “making progress” and that the restructuring was complete.

“I’m very pleased with the numbers we’re delivering given the kind of transformation we’ve undergone,” he said in an interview at the time. “Even though we’re a little short on revenue, we’re delivering faster growth for the future.”

Symantec declined to make Bennett available because he’s no longer an employee. Bennett couldn’t be directly reached.


Is it possible that antivirus software is spying on you?

January 3rd, 2014

Last week I received a question from a reader that surprised me. In effect, he asked why antivirus programs couldn’t take advantage of their trusted status to steal personal data and generally spy on you. My immediate gut reaction was: No way! But in order to answer him I really had to think it through.

This reader’s thoughts were as follows: “If I were a real criminal and had financial resources of something like a foreign enemy to fund me, I could hire the best talent and build a good AV program that is free and actually works. Since I am scanning your machine and all your document files, couldn’t I encrypt a few of your personal files and send them home to my server? Can I not get through your firewall because I have a legit need to call home so to speak to check for updates?”
Well, yes and no.

Rogue antivirus
Rogue antivirus programs do exist, and these days they look as good as or better than the real thing. We also call them “scareware” because they always pretend to find alarming malware infestations. The scan is free, but naturally you have to pay if you want them to “remove” what they “found.” Now the bad guys have your money and your credit card number.

Scareware is big business. Some of these frauds actually have tech support and customer service hotlines. One of my contacts in the antivirus industry told me about a customer who was furious when the legitimate antivirus program quarantined the rogue. “That was my antivirus,” ranted the customer, “I paid for it!”

The one difference between these products and the reader’s doomsday scenario, and it’s a big difference, is that they don’t actually work. They generally scan much faster than legitimate programs, because they’re not actually doing anything. In addition, the free-scan paid-clean-up model is a bit of a giveaway, as very few legitimate programs follow that model.

Serious scrutiny
Scareware programs exist specifically to make money. A working antivirus program that incorporates malicious features would be quite another thing. Fortunately, getting away with something like that would be really, really tough.
Independent antivirus testing labs like Dennis Technology Labs, AV-Comparatives, AV-Test, and others put antivirus programs under serious scrutiny. Their aim is to measure how well these products protect against malware, but many of the tests would also catch betrayal from within.

Here’s an example. One sign of a bot infestation is suspicious traffic between the bot and its command-and-control server, so you can bet antivirus researchers are watching network traffic closely. A traitorous antivirus program would trigger the same kind of alarms.

In most cases, getting an antivirus program tested and certified costs the vendor money. That being the case, some vendors of free antivirus solutions don’t participate. However, quite a few do. If you’re truly worried, pick a free solution from a company that does participate in testing. For example, there’s AVG, Avast, Bitdefender Free, and a number of gratis lab-vetted solutions out there.

Doesn’t make financial sense

Most vendors offer a range of security products, with free antivirus at the bottom of the range. They profit when any free user upgrades to commercial antivirus, or to a security suite, or purchases some other type of security product. Wide distribution of free antivirus gives the company a built-in customer base for paid products, and ensures that the company name is widely known. Throwing all this away in order to create some kind of spy program would be nuts.

That said, it’s still faintly conceivable that a nation-state could secretly create some kind of antivirus-spy program, since the aim is not to make money but to steal data. You might think twice before installing a brand new antivirus from an iffy region like North Korea, for example.

I wouldn’t worry at all about installing a well-known free antivirus, especially one that’s part of bigger product line. It’s even better if the vendor has been around for years – Avast Software just celebrated 25 years in business. You’re a lot more likely to suffer from the fallout of a data breach than to encounter an antivirus that’s turned to the dark side.


Make sure free antivirus software really is free

September 5th, 2013

Some readers have told us they’ve had trouble downloading the free antivirus software we recommend because they were “lured” to other downloads while navigating the maze of pages required to get to the product they wanted. This is a common issue with free software, since the manufacturer, or its partner for distributing the software, often bombards the user with big “download” buttons that look like they link to the desired target, but actually go to other software that requires payment.

When you set out to download software, make sure you’re on the right website, then carefully examine subsequent pages in the download sequence and choose the page that actually goes to the real download.

To illustrate, take a look at the process for finding, downloading, and installing the free Avast! antivirus. If you Google or Bing “avast free” (without quotes), you get a link to “” as the top nonsponsored result. Since the link goes to the actual manufacturer’s website, we can assume it’s genuine—but it’s worth looking twice, since there is a lot of malware disguised as antivirus programs.

Clicking that link takes us to a page that includes this table:

While first column is the free product, the middle one looks enticing, as it’s “Most popular.” But it will get you a different version, with a “reminder” after 30 days to pay for continued use. Since all we want is the truly free version, we click the button on the left and get to this page:

Aha! Now there’s a big blue button for another chance to “enhance your protection” and get the paid version. The button we want is the smaller gray one below it. Clicking that gets us here:
More potential pitfalls! This switch without warning to a different website (
could lead us to believe we’ve gotten off track and should go back to the previous page to get the paid product. But this is actually the right place. Avast! has partnered with CNET’s service to distribute the free version of its software.

Still, there are three opportunities to click the wrong thing: The “special offer” and the “buy and save” are both for Avast’s paid product, and the bigger green “Start Download” button goes to an entirely different brand of security software. We avoid them all and click “Download Now” in the gray rectangle. A quick check of the filename in the file-download box shows that this is what we want. Clicking “Run” gets us a standard Windows security check, followed by the Avast! setup window:

“Express Install” seems like the right thing to click, though there is an opportunity to include a “free trial” of another paid Avast! Product. Fortunately, it’s not selected by default. Clicking Express Install starts the installation, ending with a note that says we have 30 days of protection, but we’ll also receive prompts to purchase “premium protection.” But we’ll also be prompted to register the software, and after which we’d be able to keep using it free.

So consider yourself warned: If you download the free version of Avast!, you’ll receive additional upselling attempts made, but you’ll be able to register and keep using the software for free. You’ll have to re-register after a year to keep using the free software.

When we opened the Avast! program interface for the first time, a Web page opens offering other Avast! Free products, and encouraging us to “share” Avast! with friends. No need to do anything but close this page.

After we registered the free Avast!, this popped up:

We avoid clicking the big green button, and close this window by clicking either the “X” in the upper right, or the tiny blue “Stay with basic protection” link at the bottom.

Finally, this window shows the free software is properly installed and registered for one year.
Now Avast! will automatically update itself to keep up with new malware threats. Be careful not to click the “Upgrade” button at the top, though, or you’ll be upsold to a trial of the paid version.


Get Adobe Flash player