CA offers free antivirus software

Computer Associates is giving away security software to consumers to stop them from spreading computer viruses--but the deal could undermine the strength of its competitors.

Robert Lemos
Robert Lemos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Robert Lemos
covers viruses, worms and other security threats.
2 min read
Computer Associates International plans to give away security software to consumers to stop them from spreading computer viruses--but the deal could undermine the strength of its competitors.

The deal, announced Tuesday, allows each consumer to download for free CA's eTrust EZ Armor software, which includes virus protection and a personal firewall. Customers of the security software company also can receive a free year of updates to fend off the latest threats.

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CA decided to take the step because home users with vulnerable computers help a virus epidemic grow, which then affects corporations, said Ian Hameroff, senior security strategist for CA.

"Our focus is and remains to be at the enterprise," he said. "The risks today are not necessarily in the enterprise, but they are ending up affecting the enterprise."

Hameroff said the deal wasn't about weakening its competitors in an industry in which the company has traditionally not competed.

"Our main focus was not to erode the market share of our competitors," he said. "If that is a side effect, then that is a side effect."

However, antivirus software giant Symantec's stock price shed more than 7 percent on the news, finishing the day at $61.68, while No. 2 antivirus software maker Network Associates ended down more than 5 percent at $13.29.

At least one security industry analyst believed the drop in the two companies' stock was an overreaction to the news. CA has about 6 percent of the worldwide antivirus market, but has less than 1 percent of the consumer market for the software, said Donovan Gow, vice president of equity research for market analysis firm American Technology Research.

"Computer Associates has long been a player in the antivirus space but has never managed to gain much traction," he wrote in a research note about the declines in stock prices.

Microsoft, which has teamed up with CA to direct consumers to the new offer, recently announced that it created a $5 million fund to reward people that provide the FBI with information leading to the arrest of those who released certain viruses. The first two bounties already have been announced: $250,000 each for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the groups responsible for releasing the Sobig.f virus and the MSBlast worm.

CA looks at its free software offer as a carrot of a different sort--this one aimed at consumers with insecure PCs.

"The percentage of home computer users that don't update their antivirus software is very large," Hameroff said.

The 18MB eTrust EZ Armor software package is available on CA's Web site.