Getting a handle on security

Symantec Corp. is thinking small when it comes to security technology. The maker of PC and Internet security products now aims to bring mobile devices into the security fold.

In a recent interview, John Thompson, Symantec's chairman and chief executive officer, said the company seeks to put its antivirus technology in a smaller package.

"The technology needs to be smaller, less intrusive and intuitive," he said.

Symantec in March debuted an on-device antivirus engine for Palm Inc.'s Palm OS. The company last month released an upgrade, Symantec AntiVirus 2002 for Palm OS. In addition, Thompson said Symantec is building prototype virus scanners for Microsoft Corp.'s Windows CE operating system and Symbian Ltd.'s OS, which enables mobile phones to access the Web.

Symantec also is looking at i-mode, a wireless Web service from Japan's NTT DoCoMo Inc. NTT DoCoMo has teamed with AT&T to target the U.S. market with the wireless servi

"We're doing research on scanners that sit on those devices," Thompson said.

Federal customers, at least at this point, are primarily interested in antivirus software for Palm handhelds, according to Vince Steckler, Symantec's vice president of government sales. Palm devices are popular among senior managers in the Defense Department and other agencies. Steckler said he has not encountered interest in antivirus software for Windows CE and Symbian, but added that he expects inquiries to increase over time.

Overall, Symantec officials believe device-resident antivirus software will become increasingly important. To date, handhelds have been afforded antivirus protection primarily when they are tethered to a PC via a docking cradle. In that scenario, the PC-resident antivirus software scans for problems while the handheld is being synchronized with the PC. But that method offers no protection when handhelds are wirelessly connected to the Web or receiving files and programs via infrared ports.

Laura Garcia-Manrique, senior product manager for Symantec's Norton AntiVirus products, said virus attacks on mobile devices haven't been a huge problem, but that situation will change once wireless communication becomes prevalent with such devices. "When that happens, the door to viruses is just going to open," she said.

Jason Wright, industry analyst and program leader for security technologies at Frost & Sullivan, agreed that viruses will catch up with handheld devices wirelessly linked to the Web. "Whenever new technology comes...it takes a little while for hackers to get to know the system so they can exploit it," he said. He added that antivirus products for handheld devices will soon become more widely available.

Symantec has been doing research into making virus scanners more compact to deal with the hardware limitations of mobile devices. "You can't have an engine that takes a lot of memory or power to run," Garcia-Manrique said. Symantec's antivirus engine for Palm devices uses less than 50K of memory, she added.

Thompson said Symantec aims to achieve "real-time detection on things with limited performance."

But despite the research emphasis on technology, he cited process, not products, as the key to security. "It's not about firewalls, [virtual private networks] and antivirus [software]," he said. "It's more about having a plan...by which you more effectively utilize those technologies."

Thompson contends that more organizations are recognizing the need for a security architecture that goes beyond firewalls and VPNs to embrace vulnerability assessment, intrusion detection and managed security services. And to boost that recognition, Thompson believes a national cybersecurity awareness program is in order.

"Responsibility for security is with the individual or the business," he said. "There is a process by which you secure the environment."

Moore is a freelance writer based in Chantilly, Va.

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Symantec's handheld strategy

Current product: Symantec AntiVirus 2002 for Palm OS.

Pricing: Available for download at www.symantecstore.com for $39.95 and as part of Norton Internet Security 2002 Professional Edition.

What's next: Symantec is exploring on-device virus scanners for Microsoft Corp. Windows CE/Pocket PC, Symbian Ltd. and NTT DoCoMo Inc. i-mode operating systems.

Where to buy: Symantec products are widely available from such resellers as Dell Computer Corp., GTSI Corp. and CompUSA Federal.

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