Hardly a day goes by without us hearing about the threats that Trojans and other malware present to our beloved PCs. But one area we tend not to worry about is our even more beloved devices - the mobile handsets that accompany us everywhere, all the time.
Richard Marko - CEO of Eset, one of the world's larger providers of IT security - was recently on tour in Latin America to promote the company's products. What is the firm doing with respect to the mobility threat? And do IT security companies really hire hackers?
BNamericas caught up with Marko while he was on tour to address these and other inquiries.
BNamericas: As current CEO and former CTO at Eset, you're seeing different types of viruses every day. If you had to choose one major threat in the IT world today, what would that be?
Marko: Probably the biggest that most affects users is the so-called banking Trojans, with different types of malwares attacking online banking. According to some of the experts, Brazil is the birthplace of some of these Trojans. A large number of Brazilians are using online banking, estimated to be over 50% [of those that have bank accounts], compared to 20-25% in the US, so it's a big number.
Also, the lack of proper legislation in this area provides a good opportunity [for criminals] to get money. It's one of the biggest problems in the world - cybercrime is getting US$7bn a year from these types of activities.
BNamericas: Online and mobile banking is only set to increase over the next few years. What would you recommend that users do to avoid becoming victims of these banking Trojans?
Marko: It's mostly a combination of using technological solutions like security, and education of users.
BNamericas: But is there a type of catch-22 situation? Is business for the security industry best when there's the most problems?
Marko: Well as I mentioned, cybercrime is a several-billion dollar a year industry; it's a real threat. We've seen examples in the past of how large corporations are attacked with very complex attacking schemes.
BNamericas: How does Eset keep ahead of virus developments?
Marko: We have several research centers worldwide, and that's how they keep in touch with what's going on. We're trying to attract the best people worldwide, and we put a lot of resources into analyzing the latest threats.
And we employ new technology to do this. Staying with the old-fashioned technology is inefficient and outdated.
BNamericas: Who are the best in the industry? Are you hiring hackers?
Marko: [Laughs] Unfortunately, there's the idea out there that we hire hackers to create problems so that we can collect money from our users [in more security fees], but that's completely wrong. We're very careful about who we're hiring.
When you consider all the money that's at stake, you need to make sure you have good people. And internet is an easy place to hire programmers for what you need. There are plenty of people who are able to distinguish between good and bad, and who see the "brighter side" in having these skills.
BNamericas: What are you doing now in Latin America?
Marko: I'm on a tour. I was in Buenos Aires, now in São Paulo and then I will continue on to North America. This is related to the release of several key products for us - Eset Smart Security and then we'll release the mobile security version for Android.
We have over 100mn users worldwide, which is about 9% of all users, so we're an important player in the field and we're coming out with a new version of the product. It's coming with interesting features. We're always focused on proactive technology - which is able to analyze behavior of the programs and, based on the behavior, being able to distinguish between malicious and normal behavior. The new product is encoding a newer version of cloud-based systems, by which we collect the metadata on applications on the users' machines and analyzing or searching for any anomalies in the behavior. By doing that, we're trying to identify new possible threats, which could be fatal. We have a huge database of information with the number of users we have. So we're able to quickly identify new behavior. This is one part of the features in the new version.
The other part has to do with better user experience. We can improve things like gaming mode, for example... or providing functionalities by which parents are able to monitor or control the content their children see. There are also other features related to handling mobile media and USBs - a common vector by which computers get infected. It defines the rules for these devices.
With the product for the Android platform, we see a big increase in the number of incidents in the mobile area, and so providing solutions for this platform is providing the mass now.
BNamericas: You said you have about 100mn Eset users worldwide. What percentage would you say is in Latin America?
Marko: About 15% of users in Latin America have our solutions. Our presence is solid in the region - in most countries we're number one or two with regards to user share. That includes bigger countries like Mexico, Argentina, Colombia or Peru. Now we've established our own office in São Paulo, and we're looking to achieve similar results for Brazil.
BNamericas: What would be the breakdown between individual users and enterprise users?
Marko: It depends on the region, so when we look at it worldwide, it's about 50-50. But looking at just Latin America, the ratio is more on the enterprise user side, especially when we're talking about revenues, which is about 70% for enterprise.
BNamericas: Eset has eight development labs worldwide, one of which is in Buenos Aires. Will you be looking to open up other labs in the region?
Marko: We don't have short-term plans to do so, but I don't rule this out in the future.
BNamericas: Then what would you say are your short and medium-term plans for Brazil and the rest of Latin America?
Marko: We're trying to increase the presence in the region, in the segments where our presence is limited. So far, we're looking at all the segments with regular channels, retail, etc, as well as online.
As far as Brazil, even though we've been present for years to a certain extent, it's just been two years with our own presence. We're talking to bigger partners and we're looking for ways to define our strategy. But we grew almost 200% in revenues in 2010 compared to 2009. We're still growing more than 50% for the first half this year in Brazil, and we'd like to continue this growth and become a top-two player in the country in the next three years.
BNamericas: What types of revenues does Eset generate, and what percentage comes from Latin America?
Marko: The revenues for 2010 were US$182mn, and Latin America contributed approximately 6% of that.
BNamericas: Do you participate in social media?
Marko: As a company we participate in just about all of the major ones - Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Richard Marko is a graduate of the information systems department from the Slovak Technical University in Košice. He began his career with Eset during college and is one of the co-authors of the ESET NOD32 Antivirus scanning engine.
Initially, Marko held the post of chief software architect of the scanning core, and in 2008 he became chief technology officer. He has published works on antivirus and given lectures at conferences on heuristic algorithms.
About the company
Founded in 1992, Slovakia-headquartered Eset provides security solutions for the home and enterprise. It has offices in San Diego, California; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Prague, Czech Republic; and Singapore, as well as a partner network in more than 180 countries.