McAfee.com on Tuesday took the wraps off a new strategy and technology that should allow the company to provide broader, more intelligent security services to its customers using XML (Extensible Markup Language) and Web services, the company said. The company also announced a new software tool central to this strategy and upgrades to three existing products allowing them to work with the new technology.
The new initiative, dubbed "Grid Security Services," will use distributed computing techniques like those used in genome research to provide real time, dynamic security for every McAfee.com customer, said Srivats Sampath, chief executive officer of McAfee.com, which is located in Sunnyvale, California.
Each user of McAfee.com managed antivirus, firewall or privacy services will be able to opt-in to in the Grid Security Services, which will be free, he said. If they agree to be part of the service, they will become "nodes" on the grid and data from their McAfee.com security measures will be communicated to a central McAfee.com hub constantly and in real-time, Sampath said. The data will be exchanged using SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) and XML, he said.
McAfee.com's hub will then process the data coming in from users and generate alerts, updates, fixes and information about security threats as they happen, Sampath said. These alerts will frequently come in the form of pop-up windows alerting users to updates or patches, and installing them with a single click, he said, adding that users will not be overwhelmed by the volume of updates. Alerts will be routed either through the new SecurityCenter software announced Tuesday or though Microsoft Corp.'s .Net Alerts.
Grid Security Services will allow McAfee.com to offer users security measures more directly in tune with the threats they face, Sampath said. Security will now be "driven by what we're actually sensing on the grid," he said.
"The linchpin of the (grid security) strategy" is the new McAfee.com SecurityCenter console announced Tuesday, he said.
McAfee.com already offers a SecurityCenter pane built into Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Messenger.
The SecurityCenter console will allow consumers and small businesses to get a quick overview of their security posture based on the total security threat detected on the grid, he said. The SecurityCenter will provide such information as the My Security Index, which will rate a user's PC on a security scale from one to 10 (10 being the highest) within the context of a given day's threats, and will provide information about specific antivirus, antihacker and antiabuse stances, McAfee.com said in a statement.
The console will also offer alerts, information and updates, a vulnerability scanner that will check for open communications ports on the protected system, a world virus map that will allow users to get virus information by country, state, city or virus name, and more, the company said.
Though McAfee.com subscribers will derive the most value from the SecurityCenter, as they will be able to take advantage of updates, alerts and real-time data from it, anyone can use it as an informational tool, Sampath said.
SecurityCenter is a free download from the McAfee.com Web site and runs on Windows 95/98/2000/ME/XP.
Also released Tuesday were new versions of McAfee.com's flagship managed security services, updated to work with the Grid Security Services strategy.
The new version of the company's antivirus service, VirusScan Online, offers immediate encryption and quarantining of suspicious files, helping to prevent damage from viruses and worms, McAfee.com said in a statement. The new version also speeds download times for updates by only downloading new or updated information about virus definitions, the company said.
McAfee.com Personal Firewall has been updated with further integration with Hackerwatch.org to allow users to log in to Hackerwatch and easily report intrusion attempts, the company said. The service's reporting features have also been enhanced, giving users better attack summaries and the option to export log data as text files, McAfee.com said.
Finally, the company's Privacy Service sports expanded logging features, an enhanced list of blocked Web sites, automatic redirection to "safe" pages when users try to visit blocked pages, and more, the company said.
The new versions of all three services are immediately available and cost US$29.95 a year.
The Gird Security Services will "put security on its head," Sampath said. McAfee.com now has a system not unlike the U.S. Emergency Broadcast System, which would allow McAfee.com to easily alert all of its users of high-risk threats and the steps they need to take to protect themselves, he said. Such a system would only be used for serious security threats, like the Nimda worm, he said, but could greatly help users protect themselves in those situations. The Emergency Broadcast System alerts U.S. residents of imminent danger via radio and television messages.
The next phase of the service will allow nodes to talk to each other, as well as the hub, and makes changes and fixes in smaller groups, he said. Those features should be available by the end of the year, he said.
Grid Security Services will be important because the only way to protect a network as broad and complex as the Internet is with a distributed plan, he said.
The new initiative is "a technology that (will) actually improve the security of a network with every node you put on it," Sampath said. This is "the way security (will be) done in the future."