Your ISP as a Security Provider

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2005-08-12 Print this article Print

Opinion: It should have happened years ago, but ISPs and security software providers are finally getting together to push security on users. They still have a long way to go.

The first one I noticed was AOL which began offering McAfee-based security products to its users. Ive always had the impression that most ISPs just try to get along doing as little as possible for the money you spend on them, but AOL really does a lot of work trying to secure its heavily attacked network. The good attitude may be spreading, and perhaps anti-virus companies are getting the idea too. Computer Associates, not a household name outside the data center, has started a campaign to get ISPs offering its eTrust security programs.
Some big ISPs, including Road Runner, Cablevisions Optimum Online and Yahoo-SBC have signed up, as well as some smaller ones.

The companies appear to be offering the software for free along with some free promotional period for updates, after which charges may apply. In effect, the ISPs become a sales and distribution channel for the security company.

Why did this take so long? Its such an obviously good idea, and well worth some marketing bucks for a player like CA who is, to put it bluntly, not a big deal in the anti-virus space. What feedback I get from users of eTrust is positive, although I personally havent used it.

CAs marketing here for the campaign is all ISP-oriented and would work as well from any other security company:
  1. It increases consumer confidence by lessening fear of getting viruses or spyware, or being a victim of ID theft.
  2. By projecting an image as a "secure" ISP, it helps to attract new and retain existing customers.
  3. It reduces support costs, as ISPs take a large number of calls related to spyware and virus attacks.
Theres a lot of truth to this, although the process of setup for these products probably brings with it a nasty spike in support costs. Once its up and running, everyone should be a lot happier: the customer, being protected, should have fewer problems. The ISP gets fewer security-related support issues, and probably makes some money on the ongoing relationship. CA makes money and gets its brand out there.

This isnt exactly a new idea; It must be at least three years since I was talking to anti-virus companies, asking them why they didnt look at the ISPs as a distribution channel. Perhaps they just didnt want to share any of the proceeds.

Next Page: I have a security dream.

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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