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AOL to enter security arena

Company is creating security bundle called Total Care that it plans to sell to the general public, CNET has learned.

AOL is preparing to enter the security fray with a new software bundle that it plans to market to the general public, not just its subscribers, CNET has learned.

The software, dubbed "Total Care," is expected to be available to software testers in the coming weeks, a source familiar with AOL's plans said. The product will include security and PC care features, matching Microsoft's recently launched Windows Live OneCare product and upcoming products from Symantec and McAfee, this person said.

Total Care marks one of AOL's first steps in the security space, outside of tools it offers exclusively to the millions of subscribers to its Internet service. The Dulles, Va.-based company is also quietly running a test of a security tool--the Active Security Monitor--that screens the security status of a computer and offers guidance on improving protection.

With OneCare, Microsoft says it has created an all-in-one PC care product. OneCare adds PC maintenance tools and backup features to the security basics--a firewall, and antivirus and anti-spyware applications. In the wake of the OneCare announcement, all major security companies have said they would release similar products.

AOL is not building Total Care by itself. The company has partnered with unnamed third-party security providers for the bundle, the source said. Currently, AOL has deals with McAfee and CA for the AOL Safety and Security Center, which offers a firewall, antivirus, anti-spyware and phishing protection to AOL subscribers at no cost.

McAfee will provide technology for at least part of AOL's Total Care, a person familiar with the product plans said. AOL is a significant sales channel for McAfee. The Santa Clara, Calif., security software specialist on Tuesday announced packaging for its newly integrated consumer products, which are due out in beta this month and in final form this summer.

Consumers increasingly get their security software from Internet service providers, rather than buying from a store or online, according to Gartner research. Last year, about 14 percent of consumer security software sales came from ISPs, up from barely 5 percent a year before, Gartner said.

"We expect the big brand ISPs and search companies to launch their own security offerings," said Arabella Hallawell, a Gartner analyst. These will come either from partnerships with established players or from relabeling no-name security products with their own brand, she said.

ISPs can become a threat to security stalwart Symantec, which held more than 70 percent of the consumer security market last year. "Symantec will suffer from not wanting to embrace the ISP channel," Hallawell said. That's in addition to losing market share to security newcomer Microsoft.

The market for consumer PC security software continues to grow, reaching $1.95 billion last year, up 17 percent year-on-year, according to Gartner. For this year, Gartner expects a lower growth rate, Hallawell said.