Antivirus “is dead” says Brian Dye, Symantec’s senior vice president for information security. Dye proposes businesses hire Symantec to minimize the damage once hackers break in.

The Wall Street Journal reports Symantec Declares Antivirus Software Dead, turns to minimizing damage from breaches.

Symantec Corp (SYMC) invented commercial antivirus software to protect computers from hackers a quarter-century ago. Now the company says such tactics are doomed to failure.

Antivirus “is dead,” says Brian Dye, Symantec’s senior vice president for information security. “We don’t think of antivirus as a moneymaker in any way.”

Antivirus products aim to prevent hackers from getting into a computer. But hackers often get in anyway these days. So Mr. Dye is leading a reinvention effort at Symantec that reflects a broader shift in the $70 billion a year cybersecurity industry.

Rather than fighting to keep the bad guys out, new technologies from an array of companies assume hackers get in so aim to spot them and minimize the damage.

Network-equipment maker Juniper Networks Inc (JNPR) wants customers to place fake data inside their firewalls to distract hackers. Shape Security Inc., a Silicon Valley startup, assumes that hackers will steal passwords and credit-card numbers so seeks to make it difficult to use the pilfered information.

Within six months, [Symantec] plans to sell intelligence briefings on specific threats so clients can learn not just that they are getting hacked, but why as well.

Mr. Dye, who has spent more than a decade with Symantec, says it was galling to watch other security companies surge ahead. “It’s one thing to sit there and get frustrated,” he says. “It’s another thing to act on it, go get your act together and go play the game you should have been playing in the first place.” Mr. Dye estimates antivirus now catches just 45% of cyberattacks.

International Business Machine Corp (IBM) on Monday plans to unveil its own security suite that looks for irregular behavior in computer networks.

If Symantec has an opening, it is that no security company has determined how consistently to defeat the most ambitious hackers from China, Iran and the former Soviet bloc. Hackers linked to Iran last spring breached the digital perimeters of energy companies and one of the U.S.’s five biggest banks but were caught before moving further into the systems.

Rather Curious Propositions

Symantec has a rather curious proposition that essentially boils down to this: Hire us to learn how to minimize the damage once hackers break through our software.

Juniper essentially says: Place fake data on your servers because hackers can break through our router security. Is doubling the data storage to “distract” hackers really a valid security solution? I think not.

Shape Security assumes data will be stolen. Wonderful. What’s the message here? Don’t put anything of use online? Double or triple encrypt everything?

The overall message from security providers is: don’t expect the security systems we sell will work. 

Individual consumers obviously cannot afford to pay Symantec, IBM or anyone else to assess the damage when software fails.

The saving grace for individuals is that ambitious hackers primarily attack banks and retailers like Target, where if they break in, they can steal information on tens-of-thousands of credit cards or accounts at a time.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock