Wireless nets get security

By Peter Griffin

Security software maker Symantec has overhauled its flagship Norton products, beefing up web browser and identity security and adding wireless network protection for the first time.

Norton internet Security 2008 and Norton Antivirus hit the market as a malicious worm infection based on the chat function of the free internet telephony service Skype proliferates around the web and levels of spam email messages reach new heights.

Symantec and other anti-virus vendors were this week moving to update their threat definitions to block the Skype vulnerability.

Fighting spam isn't so easy. Symantec's consumer product marketing manager for the Asia-Pacific region, David Hall, said new anti-spam legislation introduced last week was "a step in the right direction" in the fight against spammers, but email filtering is crucial to keeping inboxes clear of spam.

"What were seeing is a lot of anti-spam technology is moving to the internet provider level," said Hall.

Auckland-based anti-spam and virus service provider SMX says 78 per cent of the email messages it filtered for its customers in August were spam, with that figure rising to 81 per cent in the first part of September.

"Late last year and early this year saw spam levels hitting record levels, then declining quite sharply," said SMX founder Jesse Ball. "But in June this year levels started to rise steeply. By early July spam levels surpassed the all-time highs of last January and they're continuing to climb steeply each day."

Since its acquisition of anti-spam service provider Brightmail in 2004, Symantec has operated internet-provider level email filtering for the likes of Xtra, which inadvertently deluged many email users with spam when it moved to its new YahooXtra Bubble platform last month.

Symantec has a consumer anti-spam package on the market, though it's not bundled into its main internet security packages, the latest incarnation of which are based on the code developed for the slimmed-down Norton 360 security suite. The result, says Hall, is a 22 per cent improvement in the response of the user interface in the Norton 2008 line-up and 69 per cent lower memory usage.

"It's very small and stealthy, the memory footprint is about 10MB," said Hall of NIS 2008.

New to NIS is Browser Defender, which Hall said uses behavioural-based technology to inspect ActiveX, Javascript and VBScript code executed in Internet Explorer. Firefox support is expected to be added.

"Good websites are now delivering malicious code as well, inadvertently," said Hall, pointing to the high-profile hacking of the website of the Miami Dolphins in February in the Super Bowl run-up. Malicious code placed on the website attempted to infect visitors' PCs.

Also debuting is Norton Identity Safe, a digital vault that stores passwords, credit card numbers and personal details, populating web forms to protect against Trojan viruses and keyloggers.

Plugging a major gap in its line-up, NIS now features wireless networking security.

Hall said: "Fifty per cent of people with wireless networks don't know that they have to lock them down.

"We want them to turn on encryption. It doesn't matter what's on your network."

NIS will map wireless networks, tracking every device that connects to it and informing the administrator if unauthorised devices attempt to connect.

While Hall said Symantec had last year identified a 29 per cent rise in botnets - networks of compromised computers that are used to send out viruses or worms - the company's new botnet detector, Norton Antibot, is not built into NIS 2008.

Hall said there was no time to bundle it in.

"It's time to market. We needed a product now. The people most concerned would be some of our more technical users."

Symantec was also publicly testing a security suite for smartphones, which people were increasingly using to access the internet.

"As the new platform becomes more popular, the threats are starting to expand; they're doubling every six months," he said.

But the desktop PC remained the primary focus of hackers and virus makers.

"For every one mobile virus, there are 450 PC viruses."

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