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Security firms put up 'Personal Firewall Day'

Microsoft and a handful of security companies sponsor a push to heighten consumer security awareness, declaring a "Personal Firewall Day" in January.

Straddling the line between public service and marketing, Microsoft and a handful of security companies are sponsoring a campaign to heighten consumer security awareness and have declared Jan. 15 "Personal Firewall Day."

The campaign features a Web site hosted by TruSecure, the Virginia-based security company whose employee first came up with the idea for a consumer-oriented security day. The sports vendor-neutral advice for home PC users on how to secure their systems.

"If it becomes a perception that the Internet is a dangerous place to walk at night, that hurts us all," said Fred Felman, vice president of marketing for security software maker Zone Labs, which is a supporter of Personal Firewall Day.

Paul Robertson, director of risk assessment with TruSecure and the original proponent of the idea, said that safer home systems mean a more secure Internet in general.

"The zombies used for DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attacks and the proxy servers that help spammers are all on consumers' home machines," he said. "That's the biggest part of the security problem on the Internet."

The idea for a consumer-oriented site came to Robertson last summer, and since then, he has sold the idea to a number of security companies and Microsoft. In addition to TruSecure, the other companies supporting the initiative are Sygate, Zone Labs and the McAfee security division of Network Associates--which all sell personal firewall products.

Despite this, James Schmidt, the product manager for the McAfee desktop firewall, said that safety is as important as selling in the campaign.

"Maybe you can call this a 'soft sell,' but none of us have set it up that way," he said. "There are a lot of people in the world who are in the danger zone, because they don't have a firewall. I don't care what firewall people buy--though I would love it if it was mine--as long as they are protected."

Building defenses
For Microsoft, the move is an extension of its Trustworthy Computing Initiative. Personal Firewall Day also marks the second anniversary of expounding the need for more secure products.

While the software giant already has consumer education programs in place, another way to get the message out can't hurt, said Debby Fry Wilson, director of Trustworthy Computing Security for Microsoft's Security Business and Technology Unit.

"We have, for the last six months, been promoting the 'Protect Your PC' campaign," she said. "This is an opportunity for us to extend the message."

A notable name is missing from the list of sponsors, however.

Despite the fact that Symantec CEO John Thompson had previously , that maker of security software for home and business users is not on the list of sponsors for Personal Firewall Day.

The leading seller of home PC security software in the United States, Symantec decided that the focus of Personal Firewall Day is too narrow, company spokesman Phil Weiler said.

"While firewalls are important, Symantec believes they are only part of a comprehensive security solution," Weiler said. "Antivirus and intrusion detection are also necessary to address today's complex blended threats."

Moreover, antivirus products are currently a much better seller. Schmidt, of rival Network Associates, estimates that antivirus products outsell desktop firewalls by a ratio of 4-to-1. "Antivirus software is an easy sell to consumers--they get it," he said. "The personal firewall is a bit more difficult."

The new consumer awareness day joins a fast-growing list of security-focused anniversaries.

Microsoft, Network Associates and Symantec all support the National Cyber Security Alliance, an association of federal agencies and industry groups, which promotes a biannual National Cyber Security Day. That campaign focuses on the first Sunday in April and the last Sunday in October, when people set their clocks to account for daylight-saving time and standard time, respectively. Those days are also promoted by many fire departments as days to check the battery in smoke detectors.

In addition, the educational Computer Security Day, which was launched in 1988, falls on Nov. 30.

TruSecure's Robertson hopes that Personal Firewall Day will make it onto a few more calendars than Computer Security Day has in the past. "I didn't even know Computer Security Day existed until I started proposing this," he said. "It may have not gotten the attention it deserves, and maybe it's too broad."