Banks to Serve as Virus Firewalls

Security vendors look for more ways to spur online business

By offering anti-virus applications and other security tools to users directly via their Web sites, banks are hoping they can persuade more people to do business online.

Security software makers also are looking for new ways to reach consumers as shrink-wrapped anti-virus programs become increasingly commoditized. While yet unproved, the emerging channel model could provide a potentially rich opportunity for security vendors to generate new software revenue, analysts said.

"People who do online banking are very concerned about their security, so the vendors are getting to a targeted user while helping the banks rebuild confidence in their services," said Natalie Lambert, an analyst with Forrester Research, in Cambridge, Mass.

One benefit for consumers could be that they will be encouraged to update their security software more frequently if they are reminded to do so by companies with which they already do business online, backers of the model say.

Users who neglect to refresh the desktop security tools they already own remain a significant hurdle in battling malware and online fraud, according to Lambert. She said it remains to be seen if security software makers can generate significant revenues using financial services companies and other online businesses to market products.

In some cases, such as Bank of Americas use of authentication software made by PassMark Security in the banks SiteKey offering, launched in June, the technology provider will operate behind the scenes.

Bank of America, which claims the most online banking customers in the world, with nearly 20 million subscribers and 10.1 million electronic bill payers, offers SiteKey, which is now required of its online users, free.

Under another so-called OEM model, startup Authentium is offering a set of software development tools to banks and other service providers. The tools allow the companies to create their own online security applications.

By creating a virtual ATM, Authentiums Trusted Exchange SDK (software developer kit) promises to lock down all other programs running on a desktop to protect sensitive data when a user is making an online transaction.

Barclays Bank is charging its customers $30 apiece to use online anti-virus software offered on its site via a deal with applications vendor F-Secure and is charging just under $50 for a more comprehensive assortment of F-Secure technologies that includes anti-spyware protection and rootkit monitoring tools. Those prices reflect a roughly 30 percent discount off F-Secures standard pricing.

Symantec already has struck deals to provide its software with high-profile partners, including Morgan Stanley. Enrique Salem, group president of consumer products and solutions at Symantec, in Cupertino, Calif., said that reaching customers at the point where they are most concerned about their safety online makes good business sense for everyone involved.

"Consumer security was previously about protecting the PC. Now its about protecting personal information and business information to prevent fraud," Salem said.

"The proliferation of passwords that people have today is a very inefficient way to manage security, so youll see us offer a number of services, many Web-based, that will aim to make end users lives more secure online," Salem said.

Symantec is also looking at new services that will increase trust between online businesses and consumers.

As part of the companys emerging "Security 2.0" vision, Salem said, Symantec is looking to develop a range of identity- and reputation-oriented applications, such as browser tool bars, that businesses can use to authenticate communications with their customers.

One financial services company already selling Symantecs software to its end users is the TD Canada Trust mortgage banking unit of TD Bank Financial Group, in Toronto.

Since 2003, the company has offered a discounted version of Symantecs Norton AntiVirus package, at about 40 percent below retail price. In February, TD Canada Trust began offering Symantecs WholeSecurity Confidence Online Internet security suite.

Jeff van Duynhoven, vice president of electronic channels and technology at TD Canada Trust, said the bank hopes to reassure online users that they can do business safely.

Van Duynhoven said he remains uncertain what sort of volume his company can provide Symantec as a reseller. More than 100,000 of TD Canada Trusts 2.4 million active online customers have already downloaded a free trial of the software, van Duynhoven said.

"Our primary driver is attracting those people who have Internet access but dont bank online, and we know the single-biggest reason they wont do so is because of security concerns," van Duynhoven said.

Banking on Better Security

An epidemic of phishing schemes, spyware and identity theft is forcing banks to become more involved in security. Here are the emerging online banking security models:

* Offering free online security tools

* Subsidizing third-party applications

* Reselling shrink-wrapped software

* Partnering with ISPs to create secure links

* Adopting two-factor authentication

Source: eWEEK reporting