Many think of the security industry as the dark side of IT, so it seems in many ways apposite that one of Europe's foremost security companies hails from a land where, during the winter, darkness can last unbroken for 51 days.F-Secure was founded in 1988, and is headquartered in Helsinki, Finland. The firm produces a range of anti-virus (AV) and intrusion detection system (IDS) solutions, with its main focus on the desktop market.
Traditional areas of operation are Scandinavia and mainland Europe, but international exposure has been gradually growing in the past two years thanks to concerted marketing drives. Although, CEO Kimmo Alkio (pictured) concedes that F-Secure is "not so well known in North America and Western Europe from an investor standpoint", he claims that his company is the fastest-growing publicly listed AV company globally.
Alkio has been at the F-Secure helm for just over a year. The firm produces a range of business-focused offerings, from AV and IDS appliances to centrally-manageable versions of their consumer security firewall/AV/anti-spam suite.
A core route to market for the company has been "software as a service", essentially gaining installs by striking deals with ISPs instead of the traditional high-street retail model. ISPs are increasingly deploying security functionality to reduce customer turnover, and often choose to repackage the product with their own branding. In the final quarter of 2007, the ISP business made EUR9.4 million, (£4.56m) representing 39 per cent of the company's total revenues, up from 33 per cent a year ago. ISP customers include Carphone Warehouse's Talk Talk, France Telecom, PCCW in Asia and Charter Communications in the US.
Additionally, the company has been a keen proponent of convergence, and has had a mobile AV/firewall product on the market for several years. Although this market is yet to take off, F-Secure claims to have seen significant interest from end users, and has signed licensing deals with a slew of operators, including Orange Switzerland and UK, T-Mobile UK and Swisscom.
"We have made a significant investment in mobile," says Alkio. "What we used to call convergence is here now. I think that a key point in the mobile security market will be when smartphone devices are available for less than £50, encouraging widespread adoption - we certainly see mobile as a central plank of our future strategy. I think that with mobility comes a vital need for security, and this will become increasingly vital in the future."
Alkio for one is no stranger to the mobile world, having been headhunted from his previous role as F-Secure chief operating officer by Nokia. He returned at the personal behest of Risto Siilasmaa, founder of the company and CEO for the first 18 years. Risto handed over the reins in November 2006, but still remains chairman of the board.
"As a smaller company, we need to stay agile, and it's good to be headquartered in the innovation hub that is Helsinki," says Alkio. "We need to be very realistic, and do solid business in the correct market - we need strong vision and good strategy to continue our current success."
F-Secure's growing market share and media visibility will doubtless concern the bigger players in the desktop AV space, but the decision not to directly compete for scarce retail space and high-street branding opportunities seems to have paid off so far. However, given the company's rate of expansion, this is one contender from the north that has to be taken seriously.