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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Security

Wanted: Simple home security

Jon Oltsik says the explosion in broadband use forces a rethinking of Internet security. But a lethargic vendor response is not a promising harbinger.

How much data can fit through broadband pipes? The next big broadband battle is going to turn on that very question. With data speeds increasing and monthly charges now within range of most family budgets, you should expect a sharp increase in Internet usage across a range of devices from PCs and telephones to stereos and refrigerators. But that will inevitably invite more attacks from worms, viruses, Trojan horses and malicious hackers.

You'd think the broadband suppliers would tackle the security void (or even view it as a revenue opportunity).

Hardly.

Instead, cable and DSL (digital subscriber line) providers are taking baby steps. They prefer to address the security issue by providing a combination of bundles, evaluation software and Web-based advice.

Soon, dad has taken on a new role as the family security administrator. If the old man lacks these skills or ignores routine tasks, every system is at risk.
Qwest Communications International and Verizon Communications include a free license for MSN Premium, which includes antivirus and firewall protection, along with pop-up blocking. AT&T and several others provide little more than 30-day trials for security software.

That puts the burden of responsibility on customers. Savvy home users will go to the store and pick up a copy of McAfee or Symantec's Internet security suite that has antivirus, antispam, firewall and content filtering.

Here's the problem. As more bandwidth and devices connect to the Internet, the home network starts to get complex. Suddenly, you need security software on every device in the house. You have to manage configuration changes, patch vulnerabilities, filter content and download the latest antivirus signatures all over the house. Soon, dad has taken on a new role as the family security administrator. If the old man lacks these skills or ignores routine tasks, every system is at risk.

I don't know about you, but I barely have enough time to hang out with my kids, keep up with the bills, walk the dog and mow the lawn. I don't want to fill my precious few moments of personal time with maintaining residential firewall rules or deleting spyware.

What's needed is a simple home security service with two dominant features:

• The security service must not require any security knowledge. Upon installation, the security service asks me a few simple questions (in English, mind you), and then configures itself to my needs. It is dynamic in that it continues to maintain my security, even as threats change.

• All I have to do to preserve my security protection is pay a monthly bill. My estimate is that this service would cost between $5 and $15 per month.

It's as simple as that. What Internet user wouldn't sign up?

This isn't a pie-in-the-sky concept. Several companies from different industry sectors could take a leadership role. The right firm would need skills in security, services, customer service and distribution, backed up by a billing system that could handle monthly cycles.

The most plausible candidates come from the traditional security industry crowd, with Symantec and McAfee in the poll position. Both of these companies could use existing products to build a residential security "black box" and sell it through their traditional retail channels. They also have established services capabilities. A number of other security vendors, including Computer Associates International, Fortinet, Jupiter Networks' NetScreen and WatchGuard have security products and services but lack a consumer distribution channel.

PC networking companies like Belkin, D-Link, Cisco Systems' Linksys and Netgear could also make a play, as they have some security, distribution, services expertise. Not a perfect match but certainly the foundation for what is needed.

Of course, a single broadband provider could pioneer home security services and effectively change the rules of the game. For example, Verizon could establish a relationship with a security technology vendor, develop a model for cooperative development and support, then use existing pieces of its business to market, sell and bill its broadband subscribers. Security could be used in promotions to differentiate Verizon from cable providers to attract new customers.

This would require some risk taking and strategic vision--not exactly qualities associated with cable or telecommunications companies.

Broadband subscribers don't care who offers this service or which technologies they use. They care about getting rid of the security burden forever, and they'll gladly fork over $10 a month in perpetuity to make this happen. Undoubtedly, the company that comes up with the right home security services business model first will be an instant security leader and make a ton of money in the process.