Trend Micro revises spyware approach

Trend Micro unveiled this week a gateway application, InterScan Web Security Suite 2.5, designed to prevent spyware, viruses and other potentially harmful files from entering corporate networks.

InterScan Web Security Suite 2.5

available now for Windows 2000 and Windows Server 2003. Pricing is based on volume and starts at US$7.20 per user for organizations with more than 1,000 seats.

The software, which is designed to detect minor variations in a known virus or spyware program, is capable of supporting more than 100,000 users. It works with Trend Micro’s Damage Cleanup Services 3.0, a separate software package designed to remove malware already on a machine.

The InterScan announcement was made a week after Tokyo-based Trend Micro announced three other anti-spyware products. Anti-Spyware 3.0, a PC application designed for small offices, monitors systems for programs with behaviour similar to spyware.

Anti-Spyware for Small and Medium Businesses 3.0 includes server agents that acquire recent definitions from Trend Micro’s spyware research centre, while Anti-Spyware Enterprise Edition – scheduled for release next month – is designed for larger organizations and includes management and reporting features. In those products, Trend Micro uses technology developed by Braintree, Mass.-based InterMute Inc., which it bought last month.

In acquiring InterMute, Trend Micro inherited “one of the best tools on the market,” said David Friedlander a senior analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research.

With the acquisition, Trend Micro brought aboard Ed English, InterMute’s chief executive officer, as its general manager for consumer products. English said spyware is not only a security risk, but it also slows machines down.

“You can see your new 4 GHz machine slow down to (the speed of) a 486,” he said during a briefing on last week’s product announcement. Spyware-related problems also increase the work load for IT support staff, Friedlander said.

“Spyware is a big help desk problem right now,” Friedlander said. “There’s a lot of support issues and performance issues that arise from it.”

In a Forrester survey earlier this year, 44 per cent of respondents (out of 185 technology decision-makers) estimate seven per cent of their help desk calls were prompted by spyware infections. Sixty-one per cent of respondents estimated more than 17 per cent of their PCs were infected. The remainder did not know how many of their machines were infected.

In addition to increasing the burden on help desks, Spyware poses a risk to companies’ confidential information, Friedlander said.

“There’s definitely the potential for someone to use spyware to target the organization to try to collect corporate information,” he said. “Since some of these programs are designed to steal passwords, they may be stealing corporate passwords in the process.”

InterScan Web Security Suite, which does not include InterMute technology but is based on software Trend Micro developed before the acquisition, is able to prevent spyware on infected systems from “phoning home,” or sending information back to the spyware developer.

Although some anti-spyware programs, such as Lavasoft Inc.’s Ad-Aware and Spybot, can be downloaded from the Internet free of charge, Friedlander said enterprise packages are better for IT departments supporting large companies.

“Without that central management capability, most firms with more than a few hundred desktops, especially if they’re across multiple locations, are really going to struggle to use something like Ad-Aware,” Friedlander said. “You’re relying on the user to run a scan when there’s a problem.”

He added anti-virus vendors like McAfee, Symantec and Computer Associates are releasing anti-spyware software.

Computer Associates International Inc., of Islandia N.Y., includes anti-spyware capability in its eTrust PestPatrol suite.

Sioux Fleming, Computer Associates’ director of product management for eTrust, warns anti-spyware software that’s programmed to examine application behaviour can sometimes miss spyware and can mistake legitimate traffic for spyware.

“Well-written spyware programs look like legitimate Internet traffic,” she said. “They use ports, mechanisms and protocols that legitimate Internet applications and browser applications use.”

She added some spyware programs steal information by logging keystrokes, but these can be confused with instant messaging software, which also tracks keystrokes and sends them out as plain text files.

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