Symantec answers Comodo

Comodo Group Inc., a vendor of free Internet security software, is challenging Symantec Corp. to an independent test of their respective anti-virus products in an effort to prove wrong statements by Symantec that paid software works better than free.

“It’s very simple. We challenge them. Let’s test and let the world know what the test says,” said Melih Abdulhayaglou, CEO of Jersey City, N.J.-based Comodo, to ComputerWorld Canada.

Earlier this week, Abdulhayaglou issued the challenge on his blog in a message that read: “To Symantec: Comodo openly challenges you to an independent test to see which product can protect users better. A $$$ Norton product or totally Free Comodo!”

Abdulhayaglou said he thinks it’s unethical of the Cupertino, Calif.-based security vendor to go around saying that free anti-virus products are incapable of protecting the end user. 

“They are using it as a scare tactic to convince people to pay for a product that they don’t have to,” said Abdulhayaglou.

But while there have been incidents of malware posing as free anti-virus software, Abdulhayaglou said, “you can’t go and (tar) everything with the same brush.”

The independent test will entail executing new malware on two PCs, one armed with Comodo’s free software and the other with Symantec’s paid Norton software. “You will see that Comodo will come out much better than Norton,” declared Abdulhayaglou.

In the days following the challenge being issued, Abdulhayaglou said he has not heard from Symantec and doesn’t expect that he will. “Do I think they will do it? No, they will not. They cannot afford to. They have too much to lose. I don’t think I will,” said Abdulhayaglou.

If Norton loses the challenge, Abdulhayaglou wants Symantec to retract comments made about paid security software being better than free ones, and issue a statement saying that free anti-virus does indeed work.

ComputerWorld Canada reached out to Symantec, asking for a response and whether the company will accept Comodo’s challenge. A spokesperson issued the following statement by e-mail: “Norton is included in a variety of independent, third-party tests from testing labs like AV-Test and AV Comparatives. We encourage Comodo to contact these testing labs if they are interested in having their product included in these tests.”

Brian O’Higgins, an Ottawa-based independent security consultant, weighing in on the free-versus-paid debate, warns that it would be difficult to draw a useful conclusion from such a test because PC security is not just about how much malware a software can deflect.

“On the surface, it sounds simple … it’s a very complicated issue,” said O’Higgins.

The danger is false positives, or blocking things that shouldn’t be blocked, said O’Higgins. “If you have a very sophisticated test, that would be a much more level playing field,” he said.

While incumbent software, like Symantec products, is mature and armed with a broader range of capabilities, newer products are likely better at stopping newer attacks, noted O’Higgins. But, he added, it’s still not that straightforward.

The free-versus-paid software debate is hardly black and white. O’Higgins describes a “U-shaped curve” that defines software: the availability of reliable free or low-cost tools, followed by junk tools at medium price, then great products at a high price.

A study in July by Opswat Inc., a vendor of a development toolkit for managing third-party security applications, found that free anti-virus software packages were at the top of the list of security software deployments.

The top four free software were Avast Free Antivirus, Avira AntiVir Personal Free Antivirus, AVG Anti-Virus Free, and Microsoft’s Security Essentials.

In fifth place was Avast’s paid anti-virus offering, followed by paid Kaspersky Internet Security, and paid Norton AntiVirus.

When it comes to revenue, research firm Gartner Inc. reported in April 2010 that Symantec led consumer security software in 2009.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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