As the number of households with computers continues to rise, proliferated by the explosive popularity of netbooks, the opportunities for criminal organisations also increases. Andrew Wooden talks to George Tennet, BullGuard Chief Executive Officer, about what it is doing to combat this and the changing face of the security landscape?

Guarding the gates

How has the security landscape changed in the last year or so?
The main change in the last year is the rapidly growing consumer sector, mainly due to the increase in the numbers of households owning computer equipment.

With prices lowering (which may also be a result of the new netbook solutions), equipment is becoming far more affordable and therefore accessible to a much larger audience. This in turn offers malware writers a far more attractive target base, thus the number of malware threats and viruses being circulated exponentially increases. With so many attacks occurring, it is hard to avoid a need for a security system and consumers are becoming more willing to ensure they are safeguarded.

As the consumer sector grows, internet security companies are increasingly targeting this market sector and we are seeing more feature development in solutions, such as PC optimisation. BullGuard has always been a consumer-only focused brand with specifically designed consumer products, so we are concentrating on areas that we believe are of the most benefit and which actually add value for the consumer, such as back-up and support, and on ensuring straightforward, uncomplicated systems.

We have been including back-up with our security packages for three years, but have only recently noticed our competitors introducing the feature to their solutions. Internet security is not just about protecting a computer, it is also about protecting data and we can’t stress enough to our customers how important backing up files is.

What new threats will we be facing in the years to come that we aren’t necessarily aware of right now?

It goes without saying that threats will evolve and become more and more advanced, and unfortunately they are quite likely to become more targeted. There is an ever-increasing focus on monetary gain and professionalism among criminal gangs.

In the past these gangs mostly played the volume game: ensure that your malware or scam reaches a large number of people and a small percentage will always fall for it.

Targeted attacks are relatively new – the main targets are companies and successful individuals. As the victims of these attacks most often are not likely to speak about it in the open, it is difficult to determine how often these attacks actually occur. As and when smartphones and flat mobile internet fees become more widely used, an entirely new platform – the mobile platform – will become attractive to malware writers.

It is hard to predict threats and so the most important factor in internet security is being prepared for anything. To tackle threats, you must be in a position to react quickly and so continuous research and constant high alert is essential.

With some software firms, there is a growing trend towards downloading the programs instead of going through the box product route. Do you think there is any danger in this?

For the channel, we don’t see any danger in downloading software from a reseller point of view. The mass consumer market is still made up of a lot of first and second-time buyers of internet security who still find the idea of internet security daunting and thus require buying assistance and advice. The high street plays a very important role in selection; the less educated and experienced in IT will always turn to a high street shop where they can talk to a human being for face to face advice and so the number of those downloading is still relatively small.

As and when consumers do become more educated, they are usually at the renewal stage – most renewals are online and this is where our revenue scheme really comes into play to ensure that resellers keep benefiting from their sale. Our reseller lounge is an invaluable tool as our resellers are able to see how many of their customers are renewing their original box products as well as the rebates they are accumulating from renewals.

For the consumer there are some fake virus scanners out there (WindowsXP, for example), that pose as a scanner but in reality are a type of malware. If consumers stick to less obscure security brands they should be fine.

BullGuard intends to grow its UK strategy – how will this manifest itself? An expansion of the operation, more offices, more marketing?
This year we have mainly concentrated on our global operations, which have seen BullGuard put a new top level board team at head quarters, including myself, to drive the company forward. As one of the fastest growing security brands in the UK, we have received new investment from our investors which will enable us to focus on expanding regional offices and, as the UK is BullGuard’s number one existing market, the regional team is top priority for expansion in 2009.

The two areas which we will focus on most here in 2009 will be sales and marketing. In January we will introduce a new sales director and a reseller support specialist that will enable us to support more customers as our UK business grows and, as a result of the rapidly expanding UK sales team, BullGuard will also open a new UK sales office in Heathrow.

We have recently begun working with a new marketing agency to help us create UK-specific integrated marketing campaigns, PoS material, online material and more to increase awareness of the BullGuard brand and products in the market.

Can you tell us about your new channel programmes?
The basic principle of BullGuard’s ‘Revenue Share Programme’ is that our channel partners are entitled to a percentage of their customer’s online renewals and online upgrades.

In software, channel partners often do the hardest part by making the initial sale, but never see a longterm benefit as many customers renew their subscription online rather than coming back to the store. To address this issue, we track our products through the channel and ensure that online renewals are added to the relevant reseller’s account. All this happens with complete transparency.

Our new and improved online partner portal is called the ‘Reseller Lounge’. It is due to roll out in January and is redesigned to be even more targeted to the channel. It’s a unique tool which gives our customers greater access to the programme’s details to track sales, renewals and revenue accumulation.

Currently, Apple Macs enjoy being relatively immune to virus threats, since there are so few malware programmes developed for them. As Macs rise in market share, do you think this will change?
The share that Macs hold in the overall market at present is still relatively small, almost a non-entity in the world of malware writing, as the alternate PC market is far more appealing in size to virus writers.

The Mac market would have to increase substantially for it to become a target-based on market share but of course, long term, it may happen. Short term, malware writers may get tempted to target Macs out of spite or for their own entertainment off of the back of over zealous ‘impenetrable’ claims, but I don’t think there is any danger of large scale attacks.

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