LAS VEGAS—If software vendors and security companies dont get their act together and start producing better products, users will begin dropping off the Internet out of sheer frustration, predicted John Thompson, chairman and CEO of Symantec Corp., in his keynote speech at Comdex here Wednesday.
Thompson challenged vendors to begin turning out more secure software solutions and to take the initiative in trying to protect customers from attackers and themselves. If that doesnt come to pass, then Internet users—especially less savvy consumers—will reduce the amount of time they spend on the Internet and only use it when they absolutely need to.
"There may come a point where users see technology as more of a liability than an asset," Thompson said. "Theyll just use the Web when they have to."
In a speech that touched lightly on a wide range of topics but didnt delve deeply into any, Thompson saved most of his vigor for an attack on the way that lawmakers and technology companies are handling the spam problem. He was sharply critical of recent anti-spam legislation efforts on both the federal and state level and said that government regulation is not the right answer to the problem.
"I predict that the spam legislation will be unmanageable and cause confusion among consumers," Thompson said. "Government regulation is not the answer. It will stifle innovation. You need to ask yourselves why some in our industry would advocate this."
Thompson expanded on this theme after his speech, saying that spam is a unique animal, but one that can be tamed through some fairly simple changes in the technology and economics surrounding mass mailing. Drawing a parallel between e-mail and postal mail, Thompson said the reason that consumers arent buried under a mountain of junk letters is that companies have to pay to send postal mail. He suggested that a similar model would help throttle the overwhelming levels of spam coursing through the Internet.
"There is no cost [to send spam]; therefore, people send all kinds of junk. Service providers can fix this by changing the economics of the situation," he said. "Dont rely on legislative initiatives. A simple technology solution solves this problem. You know whats coming through your network. If someone is sending 100,000 e-mails, block them. I dont understand why you need to appeal to the government."
Thompson also was dismissive of Computer Associates International Inc.s announcement that it will give users free copies of its anti-virus software as part of Microsoft Corp.s Protect Your PC campaign.
"Weve seen desperate acts by desperate people before," Thompson said. "If you dont have much of a share, it doesnt hurt you to give it away. We dont believe that securing the infrastructure is philanthropic. Wed like to get a return. But were always ready to compete."