Symantec chief: Consumer confidence in data protection is key to online growth

In his keynote at RSA Conference 2007, Symantec CEO John W. Thompson said Big Yellow is ready for the shifting dynamics in the information security market, and implied that Microsoft's growing presence in security is a conflict of interest for its customers.

SAN FRANCISCO -- The battleground for security has moved beyond securing devices and critical infrastructure and instead should focus on protecting the data being shared through online transactions.

"Today the network perimeter can't be locked down...The reality is -- people are today's new perimeter."
 John W. Thompson,
CEO, Symantec Corp.
That was the message given by Symantec Corp. CEO John W. Thompson to thousands of attendees at RSA Conference 2007. Enterprises and vendors need to work together to ensure the online infrastructure, the information and the interactions, are protected and secured, he said.

"Today the network perimeter can't be locked down," Thompson said. "It's no longer defined by the physical assets in the data center or the desktops in the office. The reality is -- people are today's new perimeter."

Despite being the subject of recent criticism for an amorphous market strategy, Thompson cited ways Symantec is maneuvering itself to become successful in an increasingly competitive security market. He noted that Symantec is one of several companies that successfully pushed Microsoft to open the kernel to its new Windows Vista operating system, enabling security vendors to create software that supports it.

In remarks that received applause from attendees, Thompson implied that Symantec wouldn't be afraid to compete head-to-head against Microsoft in the security market. Microsoft has been broadening its operating system security to include its own antivirus software and smart card identity technology.

"You wouldn't want the company that is keeping your books to audit your books. That same logic should apply. You wouldn't want that company that created your company's operating platform to be the one that is securing it from a broad range of threats," he said alluding to Microsoft's security strategy.

"It's a huge conflict of interest," Thompson added. "By working together we can untangle this conflict of interest. Through cooperation and collaboration and healthy competition I have no doubt that we can create the confidence our connected world needs."

Despite Thompson's opinion, some attendees said that Microsoft has shown signs that it plans to cooperate with other vendors to protect critical data. Gerard P. Duguay, assistant director of computer and information systems at Seattle Pacific University, has been using Windows Vista for several months and said Microsoft's operating system security enhancements are compelling.

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"A lot of software, products and hardware we've bought by way of security over past five years are based on the fact that the operating system doesn't do it for you," Duguay said. "While there's this whole trusted security initiative, I don't think there has been many improvements to the degree that we really can trust the computers we're using."

Symantec as of late has retooled its strategy to broaden its scope beyond security as Microsoft increasingly takes up space in its native territory, said Natalie Lambert, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc.

"Organizations with demanding security needs will want broader functionality from various vendors like McAfee and Symantec," she said. "But Microsoft has made many moves to be an all encompassing vendor." Thompson touted his company's recent acquisition of IT management software vendor Altiris Inc. to improve endpoint security. Thompson said the move will enable customers to better manage and enforce security policies at the endpoint, identify and protect against threats, and repair and service assets.

He also touted his company push in identity management with the unveiling of an identity system called the Norton Identity Client, software designed to provide consumers with online credentials and give them protected access anywhere they transact on the Internet. The company expects to roll out the client over the next two years.

Still, Thompson said, it's going to take partnerships among vendors and enterprises to boost online consumer confidence.

"No one company is going to secure everybody and certainly no one can do it alone," he said. "No company is so dominant or so all knowing that it can provide the level of confidence needed throughout the entire online world."

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