Symantec Beefs Up Cybercrime Tools

Security software giant Symantec ( SYMC) has given a glimpse into its technology roadmap, touting a new approach to tackling cybercrime.

Symantec will unveil in September the new versions of its Norton Internet Security and Norton Antivirus technology, which it claims can thwart previously unknown viruses and worms. Typically, security software scans applications for known virus characteristics or "signatures." For previously unseen threats, however, this approach is inadequate, and that has prompted Symantec to rethink its strategy.

Norton Internet Security and Norton Antivirus will be the firm's first products to offer a security technology called Quorum, according to Symantec executives speaking at a cybersecurity event in New York this week.

"We looked at the protection model, and we realized that it had to change very dramatically," David Cole, senior director for Symantec's consumer products, told TheStreet.com. "There's a hell of a lot of threats out there."

Quorum taps into Norton's Community Watch program, which collects information from millions of Symantec customers. This is then used to check where the application comes from, how common its attributes are, and ultimately, whether it has been seen before.

By using these criteria, Quorum devises a "reputation score," which tells users whether the application is likely to be good or bad. The new Norton products also check for virus signatures, as well as monitoring the behavior of applications once they are up and running, which were both offered on earlier versions of the software.

" Quorum is not going to eliminate the older techniques, and how they were done," explained Cole. "But the main thing is that it promises to give us much, much higher detection rates against unknown malware."

Symantec, which competes with McAfee ( MFE) and Microsoft ( MSFT), is upping its game at a crucial time in its product calendar. Fall typically marks the launch of new software products, and the Cupertino, Calif.-based firm is keen to boost its Norton business.

Despite recording record revenue in its recent fiscal 2009 results, Symantec saw its consumer business decline 1% year-over-year, although this increased 4% when adjusted for the effects of currency. The security specialist also missed Wall Street's fourth-quarter revenue forecast, underlining the myriad challenges facing the software sector.

Cole predicts that Quorum technology will find its way into the new version of Symantec's Norton 360 product, which is likely to launch in March 2010, and also promised a renewed focus Web services.

"What I think is that you will see us introduce more things along the lines of 'Online Family,' " he explained. "We think that this is an important part of our future."

Launched earlier this year, Norton Online Family is a Web service which lets parents control their kids' Internet usage. Cole told TheStreet.com that the company is also considering Web services in areas such as identity protection, but did not reveal specific details.

The executive was similarly cagey on the subject of encrypted USBs, explaining that Symantec's security software is creeping onto thumbdrives.

"We're doing a version of our product for select markets on USBs now, for example, netbooks," he said, in response to a question. "For secure USB storage, it's something that we might go into."

The company unveiled beta versions of its new Norton Internet Security and Antivirus offerings this week. Along with the next year's version of Norton360, the software will all be compatible with Microsoft's Windows 7, according to Cole.

Shares of Symantec, which also overhauled its NetBackup storage software this week, fell 27 cents, or 1.75%, to $15.16 Wednesday, as the Nasdaq dipped 0.76%.