New service gauges virus risk

In the wake of the "Melissa" scare, Network Associates Inc. has added a risk-assessment service to its Total Virus Defense software suite.

The new service, which is free to existing Network Associates TVD customers, will provide qualitative information about the risks associated with emerging viruses that customers can use in deciding whether to spend the money to update their anti-virus software. TVD provides a suite of anti-virus software that can be installed at points throughout a network, from the desktops to the servers and the Internet gateway.

The Anti-Virus Emergency Response Team (AVERT) risk-assessment program was developed in response to input from customers in the Defense Department and other government agencies as well as the private sector, according to Sal Viveros, group marketing manager of the TVD division for Network Associates, Santa Clara, Calif.

The Melissa virus was a catalyst to the offering, he said, bringing the risk-assessment service to market a month or so before it otherwise would have appeared.

According to the company, there are more than 300 new viruses discovered every month. While the Melissa virus garnered widespread attention, network administrators frequently know little about the real risk associated with other viruses.

"In the past, all viruses were created equal," Viveros said. Because network administrators had no information by which to rank a threat, they "had to assume it was significant in order to protect themselves" and so would frequently upgrade their software.

As part of the service, Network Associates' virus experts will rate emerging viruses as high, medium or low risk according to three criteria (see "How It Works"). If a virus is rated as a high risk, customers should upgrade their anti-virus software, the company said. Below that, customers need to weigh the potential risks with the cost of upgrading.

As part of the risk-assessment service, customers get access to the company's AVERT researchers, Viveros said. AVERT is a network of 85 virus researchers that Network Associates employs in labs worldwide to detect and design solutions to emerging threats. The service "prevents the 'cry wolf' scenario," where there are so many new viruses that you cannot determine what is serious, said Chris Christiansen, an analyst with market research firm International Data Corp., Framingham, Mass. It is a new development "to parse the risk," Christiansen said.

Network Associates also announced last week that its AVERT team would provide virus updates weekly, rather than monthly.

Network Associates provides mechanisms that customers can use to keep their anti-virus software current, Viveros said. Enterprise SecureCast, for example, pushes virus updates and software upgrades out to network administrators' e-mail boxes.

A complementary AutoUpdate function allows network administrators to set up a server to automatically download the latest anti-virus updates from Network Associates' World Wide Web site, located at www.nai.com.

TVD is sold on the General Services Administration schedule and through such contracts as the National Institutes of Health's Electronic Computer Store II and NASA's Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement II.

ECS Technologies Inc. of Baltimore, for example, offers two-year TVD subscriptions on the NIH and NASA vehicles ranging from $14 to $63 per node, according to Martin Howard, ECS' federal account manager "TVD is probably one of the most highly sought-after solutions for virus scan," Howard said.

-- Adams is a free-lance writer based in Alexandria, Va. She can be reached at cbadams@erols.com.

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