CA Jumps into Anti-Spyware Market

Acquisition of PestPatrol signals single-console management of viruses, spam, and spyware may not be far away.

Computer Associates (CA) announced it’s jumping into the anti-spyware market through the acquisition of Carlisle, Penn.-based PestPatrol Inc.

“This is one of the first significant acquisitions from a malware perspective,” says Matthew Kovar, vice president of security solutions and services at the Yankee Group.

With the emergence this year of two vendors offering anti-spyware software for the enterprise (PestPatrol and Webroot), analysts predicted antivirus firms would soon counter with their own anti-spyware technology, or make some timely acquisitions. Most analysts, anti-spyware vendors, and antivirus companies have said they expect antivirus and anti-spyware to merge, since customers ultimately want an all-in-one way to nuke everything from viruses and worms to spam and spyware.

That’s because enterprises are under attack from spyware. A recent study by Earthlink and PestPatrol found an average of over 25 pieces of potential malware on the average PC. According to PestPatrol research conducted and released just prior to the company’s acquisition, however, the presence of just one spyware program on a PC slowed the PC’s boot time by 3.5 times, delaying the computer’s start up from two minutes to seven minutes. Every additional “pest”—spyware, adware, malicious Trojan software and the like—added to the PC doubled the already slowed-down start-up time.

Infected PCs, besides requiring five times longer than normal to load a Web page, also accessed an average of three sites for every one site requested, and transmitted and received approximately three times more bytes of data than would have been expected with each new Web page access. In short, enterprises need an easy way to keep spyware off their PCs.

CA will brand its new acquisition as eTrust PestPatrol, part of its eTrust Threat Management software, which includes antivirus and anti-spam products, as well as software for monitoring employees’ Internet use. Expect the first enterprise software with this branding to appear within a month, plus a consumer product in CA’s EZ line. PestPatrol’s recently launched Center for Pest Research, an online clearinghouse of malware information, will be incorporated into CA’s Security Advisor service.

Beyond that, CA aims to have an integrated eTrust software suite—including anti-spyware—released in beta by the end of 2004. The suite will incorporate a common front end, messaging, and agents across all eTrust products.

CA says it acquired PestPatrol because of the steady increase in spyware threats, the pace of which is approaching or surpassing spam. “For us, strategically speaking, our customers—especially in the enterprise space—were beginning to say, 'Hey we’re concerned about privacy regulations, compliance, performance, things like blackmail.' If enterprises have a figure associated with what [blackmail] costs … that price potentially drops with anti-spyware—say, if an employee has a gambling problem and doesn’t want their employer to know,” notes Sam Curry, vice president for eTrust Security Management at CA.

While many users want a single program for countering viruses, spyware, spam, and the like, eradicating spyware takes a different kind of technology than a virus-scanning engine, since spyware can alter the registry or a variety of files, track keystrokes, or even turn permitted software to malicious use. “Spyware is far more radical than viruses. Viruses follow certain patterns … but spyware is far more volatile, because of the fiscal implications; people will do anything for a buck,” says Curry.

Given consumer and enterprise concern over spyware, the PestPatrol acquisition may raise CA’s star in both enterprise and consumer markets. Historically, the company made “some type of enterprise platform play” with its antivirus software, says Yankee Group’s Kovar. In other words, CA mostly targeted large enterprises, and as a result lacks the name recognition of Symantec, McAfee, or Trend Micro. “CA is as capable as anyone out there, but either they’re under-marketed or under-delivered from a sales perspective,” he says.

CA says it’s working to change that image. “Our core business is still the enterprise end of the spectrum,” says Curry. Even so, “we have announced and made a very public presence felt in the consumer space. We have both online sales now,” he says, as well as “nice blue and white boxes on shelves” in retail chains, including Best Buy.

With both an enterprise and consumer anti-spyware product, CA will have beaten other antivirus vendors to the spyware-eradication game. “When we went to look at the market, what the major antivirus vendors were doing was, by and large, they were re-tooling their software to detect spyware, but they couldn’t clean it,” notes Curry.

In fact, experts say the rapid growth of spyware surprised even anti-spyware vendors themselves, and may have caught large antivirus companies still in the early stages of anti-spyware-software development. The average time to develop anti-spyware technology for a company with major resources, estimates Curry, is two to three years—providing a company doesn’t first attempt to retool its antivirus engine. Today, he suspects companies with anti-spyware software in development are at least “one full development cycle behind—for [the] people who know what they’re doing—so at least a year away” from releasing a product. With its PestPatrol acquisition, CA may have found a way to get ahead in the antivirus and anti-spyware market.

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About the Author

Mathew Schwartz is a Contributing Editor for Enterprise Systems and is its Security Strategies column, as well as being a long-time contributor to the company's print publications. Mr. Schwartz is also a security and technology freelance writer.