Gearing Up for Cyber-Terrorism

In an exclusive interview, NAI's Samenuk discusses cyber-terrorism and the 'rearchitecting of Network Associates.'

When George Samenuk took over in January as CEO of security giant Network Associates Inc., the Santa Clara, Calif., company was at a crossroads. NAI had reported a loss of more than $147 million in the previous quarter and was buffeted by accusations that it had forced inventory on its channel partners in order to increase revenue. In the 11 months since, Samenuk has completely revamped his executive team, overhauled the product line, eliminated two divisions and returned the company to profitability. Hes also made enough of a name for himself to be invited to Washington to advise the vice president and attorney general on security issues. Senior Writer Dennis Fisher sat down with Samenuk this week at the InfoSecurity show in New York to talk about the busy last year and the specter of cyber-terrorism.

eWEEK: Cyber-terror has been a big topic of conversation lately, and I know you were just in Washington talking about this. Do you see it as a real threat?
Samenuk: Is there the potential for some sort of big event with computers? Absolutely yes. I think were naïve if we dont believe it can happen. A year ago, people thought they were prepared, but the events of the past year have showed us thats not true. Were ill-prepared. Companies and the government are so dependent on networks, we have to take additional steps. Theres a lot more work that needs to be done.

eWEEK: The government is great at holding hearings and having meetings, but do you really expect them to act?
Samenuk: The threat is taken very seriously within the government. Theres no doubt in my mind that theyre going to do something. They need to be proactive with finding the right funding and the right people.

eWEEK: What form would you expect the governments action to take?
Samenuk: Theyre thinking of something similar to the Y2K guidelines. A standard that companies could follow.

eWEEK: What do you think is the biggest barrier that will have to be overcome in this process?
Samenuk: Awareness. Because awareness translates into money and this is not a 29-cent fix.

eWEEK: What do you see as the big threats in the coming year?
Samenuk: Well, the FBI told us that the two big areas will be wireless and routers and hubs. No one is protected there. We were the first ones to have a wireless anti-virus solution, and were not selling a lot of it because there hasnt been a big event there yet.

eWEEK: On a different subject, youve made a lot of changes since you came on board: changing the product line, executive changes. Where do you think you are along that road?
Samenuk: I think were 80 percent done. I call it the rearchitecting of Network Associates. It frees me up to be with customers.

eWEEK: What is still left to be done?
Samenuk: A number of things. We still have some personnel openings. Still looking for a controller. Thats No. 1. No. 2 is we need to get new, innovative products out there faster. A perfect example: We came out with the e250 gateway server July 7. We sold out in the third quarter. I hope we can meet demand in the fourth quarter. When customers go after a product like that, I know we have something. We have a lot more innovative products well roll out in the first quarter and all next year.

eWEEK: Can you give me any idea what kind of things youre working on?
Samenuk: Were working on a Sniffer filter. We found out during Nimda that putting a filter on Sniffer and detecting malicious code in the network was an early warning for Nimda. Think about it. We have 200,000 Sniffers installed, and were reading the data packets. All of a sudden you see certain abnormalities and malicious behaviors. You can stop that immediately. Not only the fix and the cleanup, but detection is one of the key problem areas. Well probably put intrusion detection into Sniffers next year. Customers have been asking for that.

eWEEK: What about wireless?
Samenuk: Were seeing a rise in Sniffer wireless sales. Bill Gates recently said that 802.11b, which you know very well, is the next major revolution in computing. I agree. If you think about wireless, think about your home, think about work, think about my car having wireless communications. It will come. Just like any technological revolution thats early on, its new and its insecure. But the demand is there. Thats a huge opportunity for us.