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Battling viruses, SMB-style

A virus can bring a business to its knees -- regardless of how big the business. In our "Security on a Shoestring" series, we take a look at an SMB's best line of defense.

Kornberg Associates Inc., an architecture firm with about 20 employees, needed to find a comprehensive, yet inexpensive...

way to protect against viruses. But first, it had some decisions to make.

For starters, the San Diego-based company had to choose whether to handle virus protection in-house or outsource virus-blocking responsibilities to a managed service provider. It also had to pick an antivirus vendor and determine how many layers of protection it required.

Kornberg chose to tackle the job itself. It deployed three tiers of protection from different vendors: Trend Micro Inc.'s Client/Server/Messaging Suite for Small and Medium Business, Internet Security Systems Inc.'s BlackICE for packet filtering (scanning data packets as they pass through a network interface) and Lavasoft Inc.'s Ad-aware for system scanning. All told, the price came to about $1,200 per year.

"Between those three, we've weathered all the storms," said Mike Mulvey, a senior associate at Kornberg who also serves as the company's "entire IT department."

Kornberg's antivirus approach might not be best for everyone. Several vendors offer software and managed services aimed at smaller companies with limited resources.

Product possibilities

Tokyo-headquartered Trend Micro, which sticks strictly to software and not services, sells three antivirus products for SMBs. The Client/Server/Messaging Suite, which Kornberg purchased, is designed for companies that run their own messaging server such as Microsoft Exchange. Its Client/Server Suite for SMBs is geared toward environments that consist chiefly of PCs and file servers. Finally, Trend Micro's InterScan Web Security Suite protects at the gateway level, the point at which e-mail traffic is routed from the Internet into the company.

"[InterScan] is a device that sits right behind your Internet and broadband connection and … scans all your e-mail, Web traffic and file downloads for viruses and spam," said Richard Sheng, Trend Micro's global SMB product marketing manager.

If you don't implement good antivirus technology, you can actually wipe out your whole network.
Michael Osterman, principal analyst, Osterman Research,

Sheng said that start-up fees for these three systems range from $21 to $42 per user for the first year. Subsequent annual renewal fees cost about 30% less, he added.

Sophos Plc., a U.K.-based security software vendor, offers both software and a managed service. Its Small Business Suite provides antivirus and antispam protection for desktops, file servers and e-mail servers.

MessageLabs Inc., in New York, has e-mail security services for smaller companies seeking to outsource. The company offers any combination of antivirus, antispam and content filtering capabilities. MessageLabs said that for all three services, companies with up to 250 employees can expect to pay $4 per user per month.

McAfee Inc., which has one of the most popular subscription services, has several programs designed for SMBs. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company's VirusScan ASaP is an online managed service that costs $40.80 per license for companies with between 51 and 100 users. Companies with 51-100 users can also purchase McAfee's Active Virus Defense SMB Edition, a software suite, for $56.08 per license.

Antivirus decisions

Before purchasing any antivirus software or service, experts said it's important for small businesses to weigh the pros and cons of insourcing and outsourcing and decide which one is right for them.

Choosing a managed service presents its own benefits, according to Michael Osterman, principal analyst with Osterman Research in Black Diamond, Wash. For one, he said, managed services stop viruses long before they get anywhere near an organization's network.

He said that managed service providers also possess extremely large and efficient virus signature files of up to 2 GB, which are used to identify incoming viruses.

"You end up with better virus protection if you use a managed service provider than you sometimes get with an in-house filter," Osterman said.

On the other hand, in-house antivirus software and appliances aren't all that expensive and don't require a lot of management.

"Appliances are generally plug-and-play and there is very little installation and configuration," said Brian Burke, a program manager for the security products service at Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corp. "You don't need to be an IT expert to install these things and to manage them going forward."

Companies that decide to stop viruses on their own will want to deploy a multi-layered defense, the experts advise.

"You need to have something at the server or the gateway level to intercept stuff coming in, and you also need stuff at the desktop," said Osterman. "With spam filtration you can get by with just stuff at the server level, with viruses you really need it at both levels."

To increase efficiency, the analysts said companies fighting viruses in-house should consider deploying software from three separate vendors -- one product for the desktop, one for the e-mail server and one for the gateway.

For more information

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While this approach might be a tad more expensive than one-stop-shopping, it likely adds an extra layer of protection. That's because oftentimes one vendor will develop the ability to protect against a new virus more quickly than the others.

"If one vendor gets his signature deployed an hour earlier, that can make a huge difference," said IDC's Burke.

In the end, analysts said, it really doesn't matter which type of antivirus solution an SMB chooses, as long as it chooses something.

"If you don't implement good spam filtering technology, it's a nuisance and it's a productivity waster," Osterman said. "If you don't implement good antivirus technology, you can actually wipe out your whole network."

This story originally appeared on the SmallBizIT Web site.

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