Antivirus is dead?

Despite theories that new threats are simply too fast, stealthy, and targeted for tried-and-true antivirus software, antivirus is not dead. But its role has changed.

I often joke about the reputation we analysts have for wild hyperbole and speculation but I also realize that some of this well deserved. For example, one frequent analyst diatribe is the "technology X is dead" rap. Point to some technology and become the industry beacon who foretells its demise. Someone resurrects this tired strategy every few years.

The latest version of this old analyst song is that "antivirus is dead." The theory states that new threats are simply too fast, stealthy, and targeted for tried-and-true antivirus software from vendors like McAfee, Symantec, and Trend Micro. After all, antivirus software operates on an a posteriori model where antivirus vendors find malicious code in the wild, develop software signature defenses, and then distribute these signatures to customers. The "antivirus is dead" crowd believes that this model can no longer keep up.

As a member of the brotherhood of industry analysts, I apologize to the world for this soundbite-focused oversimplification. Indeed, antivirus is not dead but like other security technologies its role has changed. Like other IT categories, client security depends upon a layered "defense in depth" model. There is still plenty of pedestrian malware out there that antivirus software is perfectly capable of addressing. Yes, there are other more ominous threats as well which is why desktop software vendors now provide intrusion prevention heuristics as part of their security suites. In other words, add another layer of protection to enhance security and protect against another type of threat. In its simplest form this description categorizes all security strategies.

Saying antivirus software is dead is like saying that airbags made seatbelts obsolete. In fact, airbags simply made seatbelts a part of an overall safety system and thus enhanced automotive safety.

Finally, can someone please introduce me to the analyst who proclaimed that "mainframes are dead" back in 1990 or so? Even after all of these years, I doubt that anyone would own up to such a ridiculous and wildly inaccurate assertion.

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