Small companies to get inside virus scoop

A Canadian grassroots organization dedicated to exchanging information about virus protection has opened its doors to small companies.

The Anti-Virus Information Exchange Network (AVIEN) was established two years ago as a

means for enterprise and government employees to share information. AVIEN is an independent network, says one of its founders Robert Vibert, and is dedicated to helping people within large organizations but doesn’t seek the support or sponsorship of the companies that employ them.

By keeping corporate interests at bay, AVIEN is able to act upon security threats quickly and decisively, says Vibert, who’s also the principal of Braeside, Ont.-based anti-virus consultant Segura Solutions. “”We’ll talk about viruses, we’ll talk about strategies for defending systems against new attacks that are coming out before, perhaps, the anti-virus companies have responded to it.””

The approach has been successful enough that small companies have been asking if they can become involved and benefit from the shared knowledge. Earlier this month, AVIEN responded with an offshoot group called AVI-EWS (Anti-Virus Information Early Warning Systems), which allows members of all sizes.

“”Managing 10,000 users or 100,000 is very different from talking about managing five or 10 (users),”” says Vibert. Small companies, however, are often the hardest hit by viruses because they don’t have the staff to cope with them, he adds.

“”That means that their technicians are pulled in all different directions,”” he says. “”It’s kind of hard to keep up to date on every single thing you need to do, as well as maintain your network and check out new technologies.””

Toronto-based InDefense Inc. is one of about 200 small business members in the AVI-EWS group. Chief technology officer Lixin Lu says it’s useful to belong to a network of people that work for SMEs and also be privy to anti-virus information from large companies and universities. “”They’ve got a very good chance of being attacked by a virus the first time,”” explains Lu. “”They report it to this organization, so everybody gets the alert. It’s very first-hand information. Usually that’s faster than any specialized report centre.””

An added benefit of membership for Lu is that his company is an anti-virus software developer. “”Where people usually have problems is with their (virus) scanners,”” he notes. “”That kind of information helped us finalize where we go and how to define a better product.””

The AVI-EWS service is usually faster than warnings from most security software companies, says member Russ Cluett, a security engineer for EDS Canada. AVI-EWS members receive tips the same time as the large anti-virus players like Symantec or McAfee. “”We get to learn of it as it’s being sent in. Even if there’s no signature files available, we know what to prevent from coming in. The reason it’s so fast is there’s no bureaucracy involved in it,”” says Cluett.

But news from AVI-EWS is no substitute for vigilance, he cautions. “”There could be some mistakes in it, but just so long as you recognize what it is and where it’s coming from, it’s extremely valuable.””

The AVI-EWS has members in Canada and as far away as parts of Europe, the Middle East and South America, according to Vibert, but the bulk are still American. Vibert is currently canvassing to get more Canadian SMEs to get involved.

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