Security Vendors Look to Banks as Next Anti-virus Channel

Symantec and others are partnering with financial services institutions in the name of improving security for users and finding a new route onto consumer desktops.

With the rising concern among consumers over the risk of identity fraud related to online banking, security software makers have identified a new avenue for providing applications to users by signing-on the financial services companies as their channel partners.

Banks have become frustrated in their attempts to encourage more customers to embrace online services as awareness of spyware-driven identity theft has filtered into the mainstream.

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

Security software makers are looking for new ways to reach consumers as shrink-wrapped anti-virus programs become increasingly commoditized. While yet unproven, the emerging channel model could also provide a potentially rich new 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, analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research.

"In some cases it might be too little too late in that a lot of people have left the online banking channel over fears of ID theft, but it could also be a great audience, as theyre getting to a targeted user."

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

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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.

The analyst said it remains to be proven if security software makers can generate significant revenues using financial services companies and other online businesses to market their products.

In many cases the banks will look to offer discounted pricing for the tools, compared to versions of the security applications available at retailers, the effect of which on any profits derived through the deals remains unclear.

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

Bank of America, which claims to retain the most online banking customers in the world, with nearly 20 million subscribers and 10.1 million electronic bill payers, also offers SiteKey, which is now required of its users, at no charge.

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