Nash DavidJul 08, 2016 15:23:33 IST
Popular consumer antivirus company Avast would acquire its rival AVG for $1.3 billion, in an all cash deal. And the first thought that crossed my mind was whether antivirus companies mattered anymore. But on deeper pondering and discussing with a few individuals in the industry, what I realised was that it isn’t a straightforward question to answer.
$1.3 billion is a lot of money, to say the least. And coming to think of it, somehow, the news of one antivirus company buying another sounds like it's Nokia buying BlackBerry. None of them matter anymore. Yet, they have a base of passionate users. To be fair though, antivirus companies have transitioned from the PC space to devices. They aren’t typical antivirus companies anymore. In fact, they've turned into larger, security solutions companies. The core base upon which these companies based their businesses upon is slowly going downhill, if we are to consider the desktop and laptop segment.
Add the element of the underlying operating system, and we could easily do away with MacOS (OS X) and Linux. As negligible as they may be, a significant portion of users don’t necessarily need a security solution – unless there’s a great deal of risqué in their use patterns.
So that comes to a significant question. Do antivirus programs matter anymore? The straightforward answer is no! But we can't predict human behaviour. We don't know for sure, when someone using our device, or for that matter when we as users would cross the boundaries of safety and expose ourselves to obvious vulnerabilities.
Besides, with who does the onus to cover these vulnerabilities lie? In the ideal world, there wouldn't be a need for an antivirus. Probably mine is just a bias. And there's reason for it. I remember this incident from 10 years ago, when my desktop PC didn't have capabilities I would want to boast about. To stay safe, I remember running Norton. It was a huge suite by itself that was meant to keep me safe from all kinds of threats. Well, least be spoken, the antivirus probably work extra hard to ensure my system ran slow.
The whole experience left a bitter aftertaste. Since then, I've always wanted to stay away from antivirus programs. Yes, I've briefly used Avast, AVG, Kaspersky, QuickHeal and tons of other antivirus programs through the years. Most of these experiences have been by way of employers installing them on my work system.
Since Windows 7, however, Microsoft began bundling Microsoft Security Essentials with Windows as well. It ran on the premise that if users legitimately got the Windows operating system, then there was no need for a third party antivirus software. By the time Windows 8, 8.1 and the current Windows 10 updates rolled out, Security Essentials merged into the OS itself. In effect, the solution to the whole problem of attacks and vulnerabilities was taken on by the developer of the operating system itself.
So the existence of a large security industry thrives on the fact that there are vulnerabilities in the operating system. Only if Microsoft plugged these bugs, it would've been leaner, better, safer and faster. Besides, we wouldn't have found the need to install additional programs to stay safe. But then, we don't live in an ideal world, do we?
In a similar comparison, it seems like the mobile ecosystem is turning into the next breeding ground for antivirus programs. If that's not all, it might just go on to take the IoT space by storm. Tools such as CleanMaster are quite popular on the Android platform. Nearly every Android smartphone user I interact with spends precious moments tapping on the Clean Master app and feeling happy while seeing the dashboard run through a count of files it has supposedly cleaned. Similar to Windows on the PC side, we'd rather expect Google to constantly fix the tons of vulnerabilities that are found in the Android ecosystem.
Stay safe, and you'd not need additional tools and resource hogs to take away from the capabilities of your device. Nonetheless, that's the ideal world. In the real world, we as humans never disappoint. We find ways to mess things up. Whether it's an unknown pen drive that got the latest movies from the internet, or an unchecked email that wasn't from who it claimed to be, there are a myriad possibilities out there.
The announcement by Avast specified the reason to acquire AVG as the intent to "gain scale, technological depth, and geographical breadth so that the new organisation can be in a position to take advantage of emerging growth opportunities in internet security as well as organisational efficiencies." Every company needs new customers and access to new markets. This is a step taken by Avast in that direction.
So what justifies reports of Intel contemplating the sale of Intel Security. If you're not in the know, remember McAfee? That's the antivirus company Intel acquired. If there's ever been a perfect alignment justified by strategists, it's got to be the acquisition of McAfee as a security solutions company to get ahead in the IoT space. Many have banked on connected devices (which is popularly referred to as Internet of Things) to take the world by storm. And if Intel, which is banking heavily on the Internet of things, acquires a security company then it underscores the importance of security solutions in the age of connected devices. Only, things aren't quite panning out in that direction.
Looking at the acquisition of AVG by Avast, it seems like a natural industry consolidation and an effort to exist rather than highlighting the importance of antivirus programs.