CEO pokes holes at firewall ‘myth’

The next major virus will be at least 15 times as destructive as Nimda – which George Samenuk, CEO of Network Associates, calls the most sophisticated virus he has ever seen.

But despite his own prophecy, he still opens unsolicited e-mail attachments.

“Computers were designed by humans and they are used by humans and people get my e-mail and I open up stuff,” Samenuk said. “Sure, maybe I shouldn’t, but I want to know what’s in there and I am CEO of one of the largest security companies in the world.”

Samenuk, who became CEO of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Network Associates Inc. just over a year ago, was in Toronto Wednesday promoting his company’s security software, which include the McAfee suite of products, Sniffer technologies and the Magic Service Desk Suite.

“Every large company, every government agency gets attacked every day,” he said. “Nimda showed us things we never thought were possible because it was very sophisticated and written by a computer genius. Nimda scared the heck out of us and half the world was shut down.”

Viruses get into companies and shut them down because of what Samenuk calls the “big myth of the industry.”

“The myth in this whole IT security story for customers is that once they put in firewalls, they are okay,” he said, adding that Network Associates is coming out with a personal desktop firewall later this month that will be managed by a single console. “Things get through firewalls.”

Samenuk is holding on for what he said will be the next big boom for security. By 2003, wireless will be at the top of company capital expenditure lists, beginning a trend that will see wires go the way of the eight-track.

“We think in 2003, wireless is going to be enormous,” he said.

“We don’t expect a lot of revenue this year, but in a couple of years, it’s going to go crazy. In five years, there will be no wires. In companies, in homes, in universities, kids won’t know wires.”

But Larry Karnis, president of Brampton, Ont.-based consultant firm Application Enhancements Inc., said a number of things would have to happen before he tells his customers to convert to wireless. Karnis said he thinks wires will be around a bit longer, and it will only be when the desire for wireless is truly user-driven and not vendor-driven that its utility will be realized.

“If the problem is driven by user need, than that’s great. But if the problem is that the market for network cards has turned into a commodity market, then it may very well be that the vendors are trying to drive the market to get their high-priced products out,” he said. “There hasn’t been enough done to convince me that I wouldn’t be broadcasting my information for someone to steal.”

Samenuk said customers are also asking for a product that comes with security and network management bundled, which he said Network Associates will be rolling out later this year.

But Karnis said the big key for consumer faith is getting rid of an old problem with virus software.

“Antivirus software by its very nature is intrusive and it gets right under the sheets with the operating system and I have seen a number of computer failures as a result of the anti-virus software not cooperating well with the system,” he said.

Gus Malezis, vice-president of sales for Network Associates in Canada, said security has to become more of a priority for company managers to avoid a repeat of Nimda’s destruction.

“If a 16-year-old can take down the world, does that mean we have really bright 16-year-olds or does it mean that we weren’t on the ball thinking about security,” he said. “I think it’s the latter.”

Software programmers were thinking about features and functions and not thinking about security, Malezis said.

“We are at the edge, waiting for the next virus,” Samenuk agreed. “There is one out there right now.”

That virus is the Kleze worm, according to antivirus firms F-Secure Corp. and Central Command Inc. The companies warned users Tuesday that the worm, which can delete files, halts the work of security programs and spreads itself when an infected e-mail is opened. Users are urged to update antivirus definitions and scan their machines as soon as possible.

While Network Associates and Symantec have control of about 55 per cent of the anti-virus market, Samenuk says he doesn’t foresee any price wars in the future of the industry.

“There is another 45 per cent of the market taken by smaller competitors so the coming years have half of the market wide open,” he said. “You are only as good as your performance in the last 24 hours.”

F-Secure, in Espoo, Finland, is at

Central Command, in Medina, Ohio, is at

Network Associates in Santa Clara, Calif. is at

Application Enhancement in Brampton, Ont., is at