Trend Micro gets patent on AV

Antivirus vendor Trend Micro Inc. has been granted a patent on a system designed to fight viruses and other malicious code sent through Java and ActiveX, the company said.

The patent covers the use of antivirus for mobile code, defined as Java and ActiveX, focusing specifically on the delivery of applications to mobile devices such as handhelds and phones using the code. The system patented involves a combination server, gateway and device-based scanning system that monitors the actions of the code and terminates malicious activity.

Distributing the scanning component of the technology across servers, gateways and devices balances performance and security needs, according to Eva Chen, chief technology officer at Trend.

Though there are not many devices yet deployed that need such protection, “it’s very possible that (companies) will use Java applets or Javascript to deploy code,” Chen said. As more features are added to mobile devices, more security problems will arise, she said. One example of a feature that could pose a threat is the downloading of new ring tones for mobile phones, she said. Such downloads are done using Java and could easily contain attack code, she said.

The technology covered in the patent is already being used in Trend’s InterScan Applet Trap software, Chen said. Additionally, the company is looking into the possibility of licensing the software to wireless carriers, she said.

The companies likely to be most immediately and directly affected by the patent, Trend’s competitors, aren’t worried, though. Symantec Corp. hasn’t had a chance to review the patent, but doesn’t expect that it will have any effect on its business, according to a spokeswoman for a public relations firm that handles Symantec.

Although saying that he had only just begun to examine the patent, “I seriously doubt there’s going to be an issue for us,” said Kent Roberts, executive vice-president and general counsel for Network Associates Inc., the parent company of McAfee.

While the technology covered by the patent is interesting, mobile code is not yet a serious threat, said Pete Lindstrom, senior analyst at the Hurwitz Group. Most companies are not yet running business-critical applications from handheld devices, but “as that type of activity increases, the threat becomes more significant,” he said.

Lindstrom downplayed the threat posed by mobile code in the near-term, though he did say that it was an area to be concerned with for the future.

“If you’re in planning mode, it’s something to be aware of,” he said, referring to the potential for malicious code to be spread through downloading ring tones and the like.

“If you’re concerned about current threats, that would be at the bottom of my list,” he said.

Trend’s patent comes roughly a month after competitor McAfee was awarded a patent on its software as a service business model and technology. Despite these two recent, high-profile patents, Chen said the applying for and granting of patents to security firms is simply business as usual.

“Every company has to protect its intellectual property,” and many do so by seeking patents, she said. “Since RSA’s (RSA Security Inc.’s) patent (on an encryption scheme, granted in 1983), everyone in the field is very conscious of patenting their technology.”

Though the company has no immediate plans to sue any companies for infringing its patent, Chen said that such an action is always a possibility.