Strategy recast to address threats to online security from mobile, social network landscapes

It’s no longer about protecting one’s PCs from viruses and malware. Norton by Symantec, best known for its PC protection software, is recasting its focus, putting at the centre of its matrix the user, and not the device.

This was evident at the end of two days of talks, sneak peeks into upcoming products and extensive interactions the company organised with a section of the international media here on Tuesday and Wednesday last.

Engineers and spokespersons at the ‘Next at Norton’ conference listed a number of upcoming products based on the approach — from an App adviser that would recommend non-malicious software for mobile phones to a Wi-Fi hot spot privacy analyser which would screen threats in open Wi-Fi zones to a Facebook App that would determine whether one’s newsfeed contained links from scamsters.

Norton did not announce specific dates for the launch of the software, or even the names under which it would retail. It was more a sneak peak into the company’s evolving strategy.

“Not just about PCs”

The company seems determined to shrug off its image of being an ‘anti-virus and anti-malware’ software maker to re-brand itself a holistic provider of digital security in many forms the growing digital lifestyles require.

“Earlier, people used to say ‘protect my PC’,” Janice Chaffin, group president of the consumer business unit of Norton by Symantec, said in her opening remarks. “But these days, the call is to ‘protect me when I am on the Internet’.”

Some of the threats emerge from new ecosystems like social networks.

Copy-paste attacks

Nishant Doshi, architect, security technology and response, noted that with users spending more time on Facebook and Twitter than with email or files, cyberthreat started to become very potent on social networks. Instances of ‘copy-paste’ attacks — in which unsuspecting users end up copy-pasting java codes on their browser’s URL address field — were on the rise.

Mr. Doshi pointed to instances of scamsters having duped people on social networks into involuntarily signing up for services like weekly quizzes for exorbitant sums. There were recorded instances of premium SMSs being misused by the scamsters to create a new genre of cybercrime on social networks.

Most of the computing today happens on mobile platforms, which seems to have got prone to sustained attacks in the past year. According to Thomas Parsons, director, development (security technology and response), Norton has identified so far this month more than 13,000 malicious APKs (the .exe equivalent carrier files) in the Android ecosystem. The malicious software on mobile phones often delivers the dual blow of accessing the phone records of the user and slowing down performance. Norton launched a website dedicated to mobile security, www.mobilesecurity.com, to create awareness among phone users.

From fiction to reality

Reviewing the status of cyberthreats over the past year, Patrick Gardner, vice-president, engineering, security technology and response, said cyberwarfare had graduated from being a science fiction to reality, as was evident in some of the most sophisticated attacks in the past two years.

Stuxnet malware, discovered in 2010, targeted the Iranian nuclear enrichment facility at Natanz. Duqu malware, discovered last year, drew on Stuxnet executables to sniff information from computers. But the recent discovery of the W32.Flamer malware, which targeted computers in the Middle East, boasted of a level of sophistication akin to software development companies, he said.

Among other initiatives, Norton is partnering networking and telecommunications hardware manufacturer Broadcom to take embedded security to the next generation of 5G wireless systems.

No version numbers

Security software which Norton will start releasing from this fall won’t feature version numbers.

The company is also gearing up for the release of the Windows 8 operating system, and has staked a claim that its software will help the next generation of Windows perform faster.

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