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Symantec Sounds Security Warning

But the software maker claims to have found a way to outwit cybercriminals.

NEW YORK (

TheStreet

) --

Symantec

(SYMC) - Get Report

warns that the security software industry is fighting a losing battle against

cybercriminals

but claims to have developed a breakthrough technology that will swing the balance back in favor of the good guys.

"As an industry we're not winning," said Rowan Trollope, Symantec's senior vice president of consumer products, at a New York event late Wednesday. "Things have changed, they have changed pretty dramatically

and our industry is at a crossroads."

With organized crime launching increasingly

sophisticated

cyberattacks, Trollope said that "a lot of work" must be done to turn the tide.

Previously unknown viruses and worms, also known as "zero day" threats, in particular, are a challenge for consumers and businesses. Illustrating the scale of this problem, Symantec says that unique online threats increased by a massive 600% between 2002 and 2008.

To make matters worse, cybercriminals are launching large numbers of small-scale attacks, according to Trollope, part of a deliberate attempt to stay under the radar of security companies.

"When a single file infects only five people in the world, what are the odds that security companies will see it?" he asked. "Pretty low."

However, the Cupertino, Calif.-based firm says that it has the answer.

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This week Symantec unveiled 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, prompting Symantec to rethink its strategy.

Trollope explained that Symantec has developed a security technology called "Quorum," which can detect threats using "file reputation."

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.

"It's an important innovation for our industry because it will help us close the gap on cybercriminals," said Trollope. "Signature technology is fundamentally broken -- it will not work with these new types of attacks."

Symantec, which competes with

McAfee

(MFE)

and

Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

, is in need of a revenue boost. The firm recently

missed

analysts'

first-quarter

profit and sales estimates, as customers focused their attention on short-term contracts.

The company's shares closed up 17 cents, or 1.08%, at $15.93 Thursday, mirroring the modest rally in tech stocks that saw the Nasdaq rise 1.15%.