Interview: Symantec CEO Calls for a Radical Approach

John W. Thompson says technology alone can't solve virus and spam problems.

Symantec chairman, president, and CEO John W. Thompson and PC Magazine editor-in-chief Michael J. Miller sat down recently to explore the explosion of spam and virus attacks.

Michael J. Miller: Microsoft has been talking about the things its doing to stop problems like MyDoom. What is your reaction?

John Thompson: Well, I think there is certainly an opportunity through its MSN properties to clamp down a bit more. And Microsoft can do more things in Exchange and Outlook that would help the problem. Eliminate the problem? Im not so sure. Certainly Microsoft can reduce the overall level of the productivity hit. But well see.

Its not an easy problem to tackle. Its not unlike the early days, the nascent days of antiviruses, when the technology had to grow up and mature in order to be able to deal with the cleverness of the attackers. That is certainly the case now with spam. People are moving away from writing subject lines. You get a lot of trash that has no subject line, and spammers are becoming clever with the spelling of some of the words, because they know that "Viagra" is now on everybodys blacklist. They flip the i and the a, and the message gets through. We need to develop engines that are more capable of detecting those kinds of variants—not unlike what we did in the AV business.

MM: One of the arguments Bill Gates makes is that we need to charge people for sending mail.

JT: I happen to agree with that, and Im delighted to hear that Bill has finally picked up on the theme that Ive been on now for years.