Does the US need another anti-virus company?

Between them, Symantec, McAfee, and Trend Micro just about have the US market for anti-virus software sewed up. But here comes Russia's Kaspersky Lab trying to gain a foothold. The Moscow-based company opened a sales office outside of Boston in February and has signed up about 40 resellers. Its target: small and medium-size businesses. So, why does the US need another anti-virus company? The answer: speed. Kaspersky reacts quicker than the giants to new viruses and other forms of malware, and gets fixes out fast.

The numbers are impressive. According to research done by Research Group, a German outfit, Kasperksy is the only significant AV player that gets out fixes in an average of less then four hours after virus are spotted in the wild. Trend Micro does it in seven hours and it takes Symantec and McAfee an average of more than 12 hours. Kaspersky wins for two reasons: Its researchers use a lot of automation to detect and diagnose outbreaks, and it issues fixes with amazing frequency--an average of more than 600 per month. For comparison, Symantec puts out updates about once a day, and Trend Micro and McAfee do it even less often, according to

Speed matters. Hackers have become so expert at mass-distributing malware, and at quickly sending out new variants, that their missives can quickly overwhelm the ability of individuals and companies to defend themselves. The shift from amateur to criminal in the hacker community makes speed of response essential. "A virus used to be a pain in the neck, but you weren't going to be robbed. Now, if you're vulnerable for even a few hours, you can lose a lot of money," says Stephen Orenberg, president of Kasperky's US subsidiary.

I'm fascinated with the idea of Russian computer brainiacs working away in our defense while we're sleeping, and Orenberg didn't disappoint me. He described the Moscow office, where Kaspersky's "woodpeckers"--the T-shirted young men who spot viruses and come up with antidotes--crouch over their computers in the wee hours of the morning. "The energy they give off would give you a sunburn," he says.

If Kaspersky starts gaining momentum in the US, Symantec, McAfee, and Trend are the ones who will get burned.

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