Symantec offers small businesses “hassle free” security apps

Small business operators often carp about resource-guzzling security products that eat up precious computer memory, slow down their processes, and require extra time to maintain.

But Symantec Corp. says it has the antidote – the latest versions of its Norton security applications.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based company offered the betas of Norton Internet Security 2009 and Norton Anti-Virus 2009 for public download Tuesday.

The products have been designed for consumers and very small firms that often face challenges due to limited technical skill  and/or IT resources.

“When you offer a security product to consumers and small businesses, you can’t ask them to be IT administrators for the system as well,” said Tom Powledge, vice-president of product management at the consumer products division of Symantec Corp.

But one Canadian analyst doesn’t see the Norton 2009 products playing a significant role in the corporate space.

These apps “would be [suitable] for only the smallest of shops,” according to James Quin, senior research analyst for Info-Tech Research Inc. in London, Ont.

“Even in those cases, users would be better served with business grade products that come with better support and a broader feature set.”

Powledge, however, suggests that for home users and micro-businesses, the two Norton products are just what the doctor ordered.

Such groups are simply not equipped to handle administration demands of the more powerful systems, the Symantec executive said.

He said consumer and small business operators also often use their PCs as entertainment devices, and so are wary of software products that slow down performance.

Powledge cited a 2007 Deloitte LLP survey finding that 69 per cent of North Americans consider their computers more entertaining than their TV sets.

The same survey indicates that 58 per cent of computer users want to connect their home TV to the Internet, and to view TV shows on their PC.

Home users and organizations with six or less employees are likely to use slower computers that will only be slowed down by large security software files, the Symantec executive said.

A recent Symantec survey indicates computers of around 40 per cent of home users and small business operators are equipped with 512MB of RAM – which is used to around 75 per cent of capacity.

Around 31 per cent have PCs with 1GB of RAM, which is used to around 57 per cent of capacity.

“The implication for [us] vendors,” said Powledge, “is people want these devices secure but want us to stay out of the way.”

The owner of an Ontario-based personal fitness firm agrees.

“My expertise is running my business,” says Kim Mortson, proprietor of Body Design, based in Mt. Albert, Ont. “I don’t have time or expertise to deal with software.”

Mortson, the lone full-time worker in a company with 15 other part-time employees, said much of her time is spent managing her business and serving clients. “I would rather leave the IT stuff to experts in that field”.

Symantec says its Norton 2009 products respond to this mindset.

For instance, the security company says these applications boot faster, support multi-tasking, cut down on security pop-ups and restrict system virus scans to times when the computer is idle.

Previous versions of Norton Internet Security took at least five minutes to install on a 512MB PC.  Symantec says it has reduced install time down to 60 seconds and boot time to 10 seconds.

The products’ silent mode suspends alerts and updates automatically when the software senses computer activity.  

Symantec says Norton’s “multi-layered” system includes:

  • Browser protection against Web-based attacks;
  • The Symantec Online Network for Advance Response (SONAR) tool that analyzes the behaviour of programs running on the computer to determine if they may be malicious;
  • An anti-bot feature that monitors the PC 24/7 to identity and block bot attacks; and,
  • An intrusion prevention system that lets users set security modes to block rootkits, viruses and spyware.

But Quin of Info-Tech says, while these new tools may be well regarded, they aren’t suitable for most businesses.

“The licensing model, feature set and support options make them inappropriate for all but the smallest businesses.”

That said, the analyst also noted that one the biggest challenges of small business operators has to be complexity.

Each day, he said, brings a new threat and the release of niche tool to address it. “Sooner or later, the sheer number of different tools becomes overwhelming for all [businesses], especially SMBs.”

Quin said Info-Tech’s data shows that SMBs are still very concerned about random external threats such as malware. So these organizations typically shop around for easy-to-use packages, which many vendors are now offering.

Small business operators who find computing issues are cutting into their business development time should consider contracting out IT responsibilities, according to Mortson of Body Design.

She hires an IT service firm to provide 24/7 technical assistance to her company. The firm handles security, software installation and maintenance, as well as emergency calls.

Contracts may vary according to your needs and budget, she said.

For instance, last year Mortson paid the provider up to $1,000 for various services.

For the first six months of 2008, however, the bill has already reached $700 because she needed a backup and new hard drive installation after her company’s system crashed.

“The money is worth it because I need the peace of mind that my system will always be up and running in the shortest time possible.”

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