INTEROP: laying bets on the future

I just bet Dean Drako, the CEO of anti-spyware/spam vendor Barracuda Networks, $5 that within five years all of our important network connections will be made over secure connections. Dean disagrees. He thinks it will take longer than that.

The issue came up earlier this month when we were discussing spyware at Interop in Las Vegas — Drako’s company will incorporate spyware detection in its anti-spam firewall products — and I contend the spyware problem is growing at a pace that exceeds the rise of any previous threat.

My argument is founded on the fact that spyware already has become a huge problem. Depending on whose figures you believe, spyware is installed on up to 70 per cent of all corporate PCs and is responsible for at least half of all PC crashes.

If you haven’t experienced the joys of spyware, just wait, you will. I’ve been wrestling with spyware on my laptop on and off for the last couple of months. On start-up, an Internet Explorer window pops up on top of every other window titled “My Search Page,” and it is very hard to kill off. Until you click on a link, you can’t escape it, and after you do, you will be subjected to pop-up ads every few minutes. I’ve run every tool I can find to try to remove the software, but so far no luck.

The fact that spyware already is a major headache was obvious at Interop — the number of vendors with anti-spyware products was remarkable.

New answers

I saw several interesting anti-spyware products. AbsoluteSafe from start-up Zeroday Security is a small box connected to your PC by a USB cable and features a single switch and a red light. When the red light is on, your PC is protected and no software can be added to the system. Flip the switch, your PC can be updated. The hardware won’t be available until later this summer and don’t bother looking at its Web site ( for a while because not only is the site awful, it tells you less than I just did.

While AbsoluteSafe is targeted at individual PCs, SecureWave has an enterprise anti-spyware product now available for Windows. The product, called Sanctuary Application Control, uses kernel-level drivers to intercept application loading and performs an SHA checksum on the code. It then compares that checksum with a list of all known code and if the software can’t be identified, it prevents the software from running.

A third company of interest was RealBlocker, another start-up without a useful Web site ( It is demonstrating an interesting-looking, appliance-based system called RealBlocker that can detect and block spyware on the wire as it crosses your network, and block access to Web sites that are known spyware sources.

So how bad is the whole spyware thing going to get? Really bad. When I wrote earlier in the year about an Internet catastrophe, this is the kind of thing that could well make that prediction come true.

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