Symantec admits anti-virus software is no longer effective at stopping virus attacks

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Ever since I switched to Mac seven years ago, I never thought about my computer getting infected with viruses. (Yes, I know Mac have viruses too — but not enough to care about, yet.) However, Windows’ longtime battle with viruses won’t be over so there is still a market for antivirus software. I just don’t know what’s happening with Symantec.

The antivirus pioneer seems to be failing as the company admits its anti-virus software couldn’t detect most malware attacks; in fact, according a Symantec executive believes anti-virus products stop only 45 percent of the cyberattacks today. Programmers and critics have been noticing that and Symantec was humble enough to admit it.

This is bad news for anti-virus companies and seems like more people have noticed. People are trusting them less now especially after new products and services are being introduced left and right. Companies like FireEye and Juniper Networks are rolling out better products and different approaches to defending the computers with various detection techniques.

The key here to note is, Symantec isn’t say their software is failing. Rather, they are saying the traditional anti-virus approach based around database of malware signatures is no longer an effective method to protect against malware. Rather, new techniques need to be developed to fight new threats and Symantec seems to be falling behind the times — it still draws roughly 40% revenue from sale of traditional anti-virus products to consumers.

[via Ars Technica]

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19 comments

  1. vandamme

    In similar news, Home Depot is having a sale on “electronic water softeners” that, for $200, put a pulse of “modulating frequencies” into a coil around your water pipe. Great for diluting those homepathic medicines to even stronger concentrations.

    Malware resistance should be built in, not added on and has to be constantly updated (always behind). Thank you, Mr. Gates, for nothing. (And thank you, Mr. Torvalds, for a solid kernel.)

  2. Blue Cheer

    In other words, what this Symantec guy seems to be saying is that anyone who buys a Symantec product is an idiot. Probably true — and, no, I *don’t* believe that *all* av’s are similarly inept — but not a terribly bright thing for him to say. Unless, of course, he’s tired of being employed … anywhere.

  3. MikeR

    [@Mike S.] Mike, our experiences differ but I’m in no way disagreeing with the principal thrust of your comment because you’re right, Symantec is a reputable software developer and publisher. You’re also entirely correct in saying different consumers with different computers have different experiences of everything — it’s a point I think is too often lost in debates. (For example: my own recent-past experience was that Process Lasso was perfect at managing demand; I couldn’t understand all those who said they’d uninstalled it. Now that I’ve changed pooters and fired up Process Lasso on this new rig, oh ye gods: awful. Programs failing to open promptly, computer performance seriously retarded. I’ve uninstalled Process Lasso and everything’s fine again. Moral of the story: some programs play nicely together, some don’t. For whatever reason, PL is incompatible with my present configuration, so farewell — I haven’t the time or inclination to bother finding out why.)

    As I said in my own recent comment, I believe Dye is being misquoted here, there and everywhere, but that Symantec only has itself to blame for alienating so many over the years such that there’s now so much malicious delight about it being a purveyor of only half-good software.

    For myself, I’m absolutely certain that Dye’s Wall Street Journal “revelation” was a Public Relations stunt aimed at those unfamiliar with the manipulative world of corporate PR — people like the good-hearted Rhea, author of this dot.tech piece, who evidently fell hook, line and sinker for Dye’s pitch to the point of writing:

    “a Symantec executive believes anti-virus products stop only 45 percent of the cyberattacks today. Programmers and critics have been noticing that and Symantec was humble enough to admit it.”

    Oh dear, Rhea. A $multi-million corporation. . . humble? *Any* $multi-million corporation . . . humble? You just wrote exactly what Symantec wants everyone to say / think / believe. Best thing when dealing with any utterance from the senior exec of any major company is never to quote him or her uncritically but to first stop and think: *why* are they saying this now and *who*, exactly, are they saying it to?

    A healthy dose of cynicism would’ve made you realise why Dye’s “humility” was being paraded in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. Not a computing mag.

  4. MikeR

    [@Midwest guy] Yup, they do play nicely, don’t they? Reinforces my belief that so-called “suites” from a single developer aren’t necessarily a good thing, seeing as how if the developer was outstanding in regard to *every* aspect of a “suite” then all competitors would’ve been put out of business years ago. But no single developer is that good.

  5. Mike S.

    [@TheVictor MikeR] Well, as I said in my comment, my comment as to the smoothness of the operation of the Symantec antivirus programs is separate from how effectively the programs work. And, MikeR, I’ve found that Norton Internet Security has been running smoothly and without interfering with my PCs for at least 6 years now. If there’s any question, check out the reviews at PCMag, which have noted this clean-up of the Symantec act. But, of course, there will be as many experiences and opinions as there are consumers and PCs and experiences indeed will vary.

    As to the Symantec antivirus effectiveness, my guess is, if this is the success rate of the Symantec programs, the industry as a whole is at that level or thereabouts at best as well (if not below). Whatever you might think about Symantec, it’s not a hack group. And that thought (the former) is a bit scary.

  6. MikeR

    Just to back up a bit. This looks like a disastrous attempt by Symantec to cope with its own realisation that Norton ain’t the cash cow it once was and that other AVs — notably, free — are rendering Symantec’s business model progressively obsolete. That ain’t good if you’re a $multi-million outfit that has long depended on an income stream from expensive recurring 12-month product licenses and from the benefits of getting your ‘trial’ product onto hundreds of thousands of new OEM desktop PCs worldwide, as was the case before desktop PC sales slumped, never to recover. You really do not want your investors to learn that your revenue graph is showing an unstoppable downward curve as savvy punters eschew the recurring fee proposition and as fewer PCs are sold resulting in fewer opportunities to convert the unwary trial user into a paying customer.

    Step forward, then, Brian Dye, Senior Vice President for Information Security (if not, um, information accuracy) who appears to have decided that the best way to get the bad news out is to claim that it’s, er, bad news for * everyone.* Not just Symantec. That Dye did this not by giving an interview to a computing mag but to The Wall Street Journal says all there is to say: this story isn’t *actually* about AV effectiveness at all but Symantec effectiveness as a going concern — after all, WSJ is the first choice of investors, not computer users; the two audiences are distinctly specialised and distinctly separate.

    I’ve no idea which hugely expensive corporate Public Relations firm advised Symantec on this strategy (but that’s a likely quarter $mill just gone down the drain) but it’s one as old as the fiscal hills, has never worked before and doesn’t work now. Deliciously (and predictably) misquoted as he has been, all Dye has done is get Symantec associated with failure, an association that would never have been countenanced had not the company lost the goodwill of so many thousands of computer users over the years. Fact is, and I’m sorry but I have to disagree with what Mike S says below, complaints about Symantec continue to resonate across the Internet. They didn’t stop 6 years ago. They didn’t even stop 6 days ago — have a look at Darren Lowe’s comment on this 3-day-old PC World thread:

    http://www.pcworld.com/article/2150743/antivirus-is-dead-says-maker-of-norton-antivirus.html

    And it sure as heck hasn’t been 6 years since I last got a PC back into some semblance of smooth running. . . *after* ridding it of Symantec products.

    Peter B’s comment about Gerald Ratner is interesting but the two cases are not similar. Ratner went publicly bonkers for reasons neither he nor anyone else has been able to figure out. Symantec’s Dye went very deliberately public with The Wall Street Journal for reasons he and Symantec presumably know only too well, a strategy that, unfortunately, has just seriously back-fired. Far from finessing a way out of a potentially awkward position, Symantec has just landed itself with the kind of self-inflicted PR disaster that folks like me, as a former corporate adviser myself, can only stare and wonder at: a self-confessed purveyor of a “45% Effective Solution” really hasn’t much left going for it at all.

  7. Peter B

    Anyone remember Gerald Ratner and jewelery ? That is a daft comment for any CEO to admit or say. Who ever said it at Symantec should be sacked. Anti virus has always been to protect you against virus,s and some Trojans.

    You needed a separate prog for catching nearly all Trogans and a separate prog like spybot for malware , Nowadays there are loads of different progs for catching malware and Trojans.

    What Semantic should be doing is saying their product is for virus only. Then develop a different malware product of their own if they wanted to . These companies that provide an all in one , including firewall are shooting them selves in the foot as you are not going to want to ditch your already installed antivirus or firewall if they are working well.

  8. Mike S.

    [@MikeR] Sorry, MikeR, but you’re behind the times. Norton’s antivirus programs no longer are bloatware and have been functioning well for at least 6 years now, since Symantec cleaned up its act. Nor, whether the programs effectively stop attacks is another thing . . . .

  9. MikeR

    [@sl0j0n] This might not be the best thread to get advice on AV set-ups but for what it’s worth, I’d certainly recommend Malwarebytes, either the free version or the PRO. AV software like Norton that either slooooows everything to a crawl or intrudes and obstructs isn’t for me: what I want is a defensive system that I’m not aware of, invisible but effective. It took me a little while to find a set of programs that play nicely together but now I’m very content with Malwarebytes PRO (they’ve just changed the title to Premium) + PandaCloud AV Free + WinPatrol PRO (though Free is still outstanding). None of that software ever needs to “learn” anything. None of it necessitates setting exclusions and inclusions. None of it nags. Not sure how a less powerful PC would manage but this one running Windows 7 with 8Gb RAM loads all three on start-up and that’s it.

  10. sl0j0n

    Hello, all.
    Back in the late 90’s I bought my first PC.
    Not the 1st 1 I ever used, just the 1st 1 I actually OWNED.
    Used “Internet Explorer”, like most folks, AND got pwnd quick enough, too.
    Stupid “drive-by” download, that ONLY IE was susceptible to.
    Stupid “ActiveX” crap.
    Way to go, Micro$uck.
    So I struggled to pay for the “anti-virus”; yeah that “Norton” crap.
    Had to format my hdd to get rid of it.
    Back then, there was the “Safe Computing” initiative,
    which basically meant you had to ‘learn’ how *not* 2 get pwnd.
    So for about 8-10 years I surfed ‘nude’, no anti-virus, & *NO* IE.
    Thank you “Netscape”!
    But it finally got so bad, like everybody else, I had to get some ‘protection’, too.
    Tried a LOT of programs since then, but never went back to “Norton”.
    NEVER will, either.
    Used AVG for a while, but it got bloated+sloppy too.
    avast! is pretty good, but I thinking about augmenting it w/ Malwarebytes Anti-Malware.
    Anybody here use it?
    Anybody here know about it?

    Have a GREAT day, Neighbors!

  11. MikeR

    Symantec has about as much credibility as a wet plank. It gobbled up Norton, majored (and still does) in recurring billing, and has been responsible for the slowing-down-to-point-of-collapse of more computers worldwide than any other single identifiable cause. Thanks to Symantec, Norton is expensive bloated crapware which — Symantec now ‘fesses up — doesn’t actually work half the time. Well, er, doh. Many of us knew that already. For all those doggedly loyal Norton users, however, who come on threads such as this to defend Symantec and its now self-admitted costly half-useless AV bloatware, will they be able to get half their money back? Seems to me, Symantec persuaded ‘em all to part with their money (and keep doing so every 12 months) for a product which promised to perform with a success rate of 100% and yet can’t seem to manage half of that.

    Heigh-ho. It’ll soon be a quarter of a century since Peter Norton sold out to Symantec for umpteen $millions, and good luck to him, too, because Norton Utilities was definitely the number 1 go-to for my computing generation. Symantec, by contrast, has never earned the same respect, and this bonkers revelation by one of its top bosses is only going to ensure that its revenues now plummet — unless, of course, there are still enough idiots out there ready to stump up for a product whose own producer now admits doesn’t work and has never worked effectively . . .RIP, Symantec.