Antivirus pioneer Symantec declares AV “dead” and “doomed to failure”

Commercial antivirus pioneer Symantec has finally admitted publicly what critics have been saying for years: the growing inability of the scanning software to detect the majority of malware attacks makes it "dead" and "doomed to failure," according to a published report.

Over the past two reported quarters, Symantec has watched revenue fall, and sales are expected to flag again in the most recent period when the company releases financial results later this week, an article published Monday by The Wall Street Journal reported. The declines come as Juniper Networks, FireEye, and other companies have rolled out products and services that take a decidedly different approach to securing computers and networks. Rather than scan for files that are categorized as malicious, these newer techniques aim to detect, minimize, and contain the damage that attackers can do in the event that they penetrate a customer's defenses. Citing Symantec Senior President Brian Dye, the WSJ said:

Mr. Dye, who has spent more than a decade with Symantec, says it was galling to watch other security companies surge ahead. "It's one thing to sit there and get frustrated," he says. "It's another thing to act on it, go get your act together and go play the game you should have been playing in the first place."

Symantec pioneered computer security with its antivirus software in the late 1980s. The technology keeps hackers out by checking against a list of malicious code spotted on computers. Think of it as an immune system for machines.

But hackers increasingly use novel bugs. Mr. Dye estimates antivirus now catches just 45% of cyberattacks.

That puts Symantec in a pickle. Antivirus and other products that run on individual devices still account for more than 40% of the company's revenue. Specialized cybersecurity services for businesses account for less than one-fifth of revenue and generate smaller profit margins. It would be impractical, if not impossible, to sell such services to individual consumers.

To be fair, Symantec began to move beyond malware long ago. Its Norton security suite has long included a password manager and code that detects malicious e-mails and Web links. Heuristic algorithms also attempt to detect malicious files even when they have never been seen before. But increasingly, Symantec is competing against its newer rivals by matching the suite of non-AV services they provide.

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