Symantec CEO Says Apple, Google Applications Malware Targets

Symantec CEO Enrique Salem
Enrique Salem, chief executive officer of Symantec Corp. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Symantec Corp. Chief Executive Officer Enrique Salem said downloadable applications for smartphones and tablets represent a new front in the fight against computer threats.

Applications available from Apple Inc.’s App Store and Google Inc.’s Android Market are vulnerable to attacks by hackers who want information housed on handsets and tablet computers, Salem said in an interview yesterday at Bloomberg’s San Francisco office. Apple’s store boasts more than 350,000 applications, while Android Market has more than 200,000.

“It’s very hard to completely vet everything,” Salem said. “It’s early in mobile security.”

Symantec, the largest maker of security software, may spend as much as $860 million more on acquisitions this year to help it expand in mobile, he said. The company also seeks targets in cloud services, or the delivery of computing over the Internet, and virtualization, software that helps servers run more efficiently, Salem said, reiterating remarks he made May 26.

The company is shifting its focus as demand surges for smartphones, tablets and cloud computing, while businesses and consumers curtail personal computer purchases.

Salem told analysts at the May 26 meeting in New York that Symantec would spend as much as $1.25 billion on acquisitions in the fiscal year that began in April. Included in that total is $390 million Symantec spent on Clearwell Systems, which specializes in electronic legal research.

Symantec, based in Mountain View, California, fell 22 cents to $18.80 at 4 p.m. New York time in Nasdaq Stock Market trading. It climbed 14 percent this year before today.

Mac Threats

For Apple users, the threats don’t end with mobile devices. Mac laptops and desktops will increasingly be the target of malware as they gain popularity, Salem said. Symantec’s software has long secured PCs running Microsoft’s Windows software.

“Apple takes security very seriously,” said Tom Neumayr, a spokesman for Apple. “We have a very thorough approval process and review every App. We also check the identities of every developer and if we ever find anything malicious, the developer will be removed from the iPhone Developer Program and their apps can be removed from the App Store.”

Apple has been trying to combat malicious software targeting Mac users in the past month. The malware, posing as an antivirus program called “MacDefender,” tries to trick people in to thinking they have a virus. The scam encourages users to download fake security software.

‘Fraudulent Purposes’

“Its ultimate goal is to get the user’s credit card information which may be used for fraudulent purposes,” Apple said in a May 24 message to users about how to avoid and remove the software from their machines.

Gina Weakley, a spokeswoman for Google, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

In the market for cloud computing, Symantec is building programs to help companies’ information technology departments safeguard applications from Inc. and other Web-delivered software, including SuccessFactors Inc. and possibly Workday Inc., according to Salem.

Symantec is also close to delivering software that can scan servers running virtualization software from VMware Inc. and Microsoft Corp. more efficiently, Salem said.

Symantec, in a May 11 report, forecast higher revenue than analysts predicted, buoyed by demand for data-backup software and the effect of a weaker dollar on overseas sales.

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