Former CEO John W. Thompson (1999-2009) – who also had a 28-year career with IBM and is currently chair of Microsoft – took a sprawling business that included many non-security activities and focused the company by shutting down some of the ancillary products while strengthening the company’s security business through a series of acquisitions and by building a huge sales team. Still, the company had too large a portfolio and commentators considered it was trying to be ‘too many things to too many people.’
Symantec then acquired Veritas – ostensibly a back-up company - in 2005 for $10 billion but the company faltered as the world economy went into meltdown during the global financial crisis. Since then the company has had three CEO’s in three years and has regained focus under long-term board member and now CEO Michael Brown.
However, this article is more about Norton – the company it acquired from Peter Norton in 1990. Norton software started as ‘Norton Utilities’ and Norton anti-virus for Mac and later for PC. At one stage, Norton products accounted for 82% of Symantec’s turnover.
I met with Gavin Lowth, Vice President, Norton Sales AJP (based in Singapore after serving in Japan and Australia) , and Mark Gorrie, Director Norton Pacific region, for an update on the company’s Norton branded, consumer focused business.
Gavin has been with Symantec for 15 years and Mark for 13 – they are both good company men. It is called “Bleed Yellow” - a result of working for a positive, productive community – a supportive network that takes pride in working for the industry’s ‘best’ company.
I have also been exposed to that concept over the years via its support for causes such as beyondblue and it was hard to miss the yellow Norton V8 supercars for the past seven years (although it will not continue the sponsorship in 2015).
The first message was product oriented. “We perhaps confused the market with Norton Anti-Virus, Norton Internet Security, and Norton 360 as well as Norton Utilities. It’s a misnomer today to even think of security simplistically as anti-virus – its more about dangerous downloads - malware, adware, spyware, Trojans; browser protection; email protection, anti-spam, phishing protection; webcam monitoring; Facebook protection; identity theft prevention; sensitive information security; firewalls; and right up to remote device location and wiping on all platforms – PC, Mac, Android and iOS. Let’s not forget backup and PC maintenance as well,” Gavin said.
“That is why our premium product – Norton 360 which does everything – is now our main focus. In Australia, it took less than six months for it to become our best selling product. And it has been completely rewritten to reduce system overheads – an 80-90% reduction in client size. You will now find it amongst the least taxing of any AV software,” said Mark.
I asked about the effect of free security software like Microsoft Security Essentials or the free versions of AVG, Avast, and many more. “Everyone wants to feel safe. Free is better than nothing but you are not safe. You need layers of protection not found in the free products. Besides we have a special promotion on 360 now – A$89.99 for up to five devices,” said Mark.
“Ransomware is rife in Australia because as a country and economy we can afford to pay. Few free products can stop it – Norton is best in this regard,” said Mark.
I asked about the confusion (sometimes) between Symantec (enterprise) and Norton (consumer). “Symantec endpoint protection is for enterprises where there are many different threat vectors from being on a network, more zero day threat issues, and BYOD (bring your own device) issues. Much of the relevant technology has come down from the [Symantec] ‘big end of town’ to Norton products but the two brands will remain focused on their markets,” said Gavin.
I asked about Windows 10 and protection for Windows 10 Mobile but we got talking about mobile devices. “The biggest potential threat is iOS – iPhone and iPad as Apple will not allow AV companies access to the operating system to develop protection – there are none on the iTunes app store. Don’t get me wrong – Apple does a good job in protecting iOS but it is a major target as market share grows and tragically users have no awareness of the potential threat,” Gavin said. He commented that Norton was Windows 10 ready and current users would get an update on its release. He was impressed with the levels of inbuilt security in Windows 10. “Microsoft have been very open, especially to protect the new Edge Browser and its move to apps,” he added.
I asked about the Internet of Things (IoT). “Homes [and businesses] are now a collection of connected devices. It is impossible to protect all devices – especially those with embedded operating systems, but we can protect the home ‘network’ – the ecosystem – from attacks.
I asked about how Norton distribute their products. “First we don’t pay OEMs [any more] to put free trials on new systems – something our competitors do. We think it hurts the products reputation. We mainly sell via retailers and on-line at our web site," said Gavin.
Mark spoke about the retail channel, via traditional computer resellers and the on-line. He said that Norton was different to most AV companies – it goes out and trains retail staff, it helps keep them aware of issues and retail staff are better equipped to sell protection and security than ever.
The tables turned “Do you think Norton’s is still the eminent security solution,” Gavin asked of me. “Norton has always enjoyed top-of-mind recognition among consumers but I felt it had lost its way somewhat over the past few years. I am seeing more consumers using AVG, Kaspersky, Avast, and many more,” I said.
Gavin smiled and said, “You are right. Norton had its best sales from 2003-2006. That is why the separation of the company into security and information management is so important – we can concentrate on what we do best.”
AusCERT security conference was on recently and I was privileged to spend time with people including Eugene Kaspersky and Avast’s CEO Vince Steckler. In addition, there were events by Check Point and all manner of security reports were released. It was security overload.
Of course, each company has their own take on why their product is best. I had stopped using Norton some time ago (probably mid-2000) when I simply found it too bloated, slow and hard to remove, (there is now a Norton removal tool called SymNRT). I remember reviewing it against Trend, McAfee (now an Intel company), AVG and many more and moving my recommendation to McAfee (paid) and AVG (free).
A few years ago, Norton code was completely rewritten and the client (on the PC) now only has two .exe programs and uses a meagre 15MB of ram. Independent reviews since rate it amongst the fastest so I will test it soon – swapping AV midstream is not easy.
That is the crux – I want the best protection for me (relatively computer literate), my wife (knows about malware by bitter experience), and my adult kids who just want PCs to work and do not like ringing me for support.
Looking at 360 it appears to be the most holistic product on the market (most reviews give it 4 or more stars out of 5) from a company that seems to care more about [its] people and users than necessarily profit.