Anti-virus vendor looks to move across Western Europe with UK firmly in its sights

Opinion by Dan Raywood

This week I was treated to a few days away in Bratislava with anti-virus and anti-spyware vendor, and all round good guys, ESET.

This week I was treated to a few days away in Bratislava with anti-virus and anti-spyware vendor, and all round good guys, ESET.

For those not au fait with Eastern Europe or cheap flight routes, Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia and as well as being only 37 miles from Vienna, making them Europe's two closest national capitals. It is also home to ESET's European operations.

Situated in the top three floors of the Aupark Tower overlooking the city, the Danube River and forest and Austria and Hungary, the company is a bit of a rarity. While most software companies originate in the US or Western Europe and spread eastwards into the former Communist bloc, ESET is doing the complete opposite and moving westwards with its product offering.

Sales and marketing director EMEA Miroslav Pikus described ESET as ‘an industry in production' after the development 17 years ago, five years after the original anti-virus ‘NOD' product was introduced in 1987.

Pikus said: “We believe that to be successful in achieving a small footprint and in proper detection, the culture is unique and I come from a western background in the US and I am a finance major, so I look at financial planning and do a formal business plan with return on investment. We do it, but the approach is slightly different.”

The company now boasts 400 staff and 80 million active users around the world, and 30 times growth over the past five years. Pikus claimed that ESET has ‘the most successful in number of virus bulletin tests passed, 57 out of 59', and said that ESET earns more profit than all other IT companies in Slovakia together.

The company has recently begun ramping up its marketing and advertising campaign with billboard and television advertising. It has also announced plans to do sponsorship of London Heathrow Airport's Terminal Five.

Martina Bezakova, marketing manager EMEA, claimed that it was time to start coordinating strategy, and with the global marketing team it was trying to bring the brand to one level and trying to make sure that the brand is one no matter where it is seen.

Bezakova also claimed that it was “interesting that western companies are trying to expand into Eastern Europe, so now it is an inverted situation by us being adopted and we are looking at western markets. We believe that there has been a history of high quality without any favours so we are following quality and when it is ready we sell it, our ambition is for people to like the product, it is not about pushing it everyday.”

So what about the future? Pikus stated that: “The anti-virus industry is one where you cannot substitute quality for quantity. Security is about dealing with trust, technologically the customer is putting trust into our hands – this is a bit of a cultural clash in terms of the sales aspect, we take special care in the sales approach and that is a lot different from working for the Americans.”

He further claimed that it is possible that in five-to-ten years things may change in the way that they have for mobile phones, where applications may be moved to service providers, but there will always be a need for software to consider bad intentions.

He also said that ESET is now making family packs with five licenses for home use. It also considered that protection could spread into home appliances, as microwave ovens and refrigerators are using technology so they may need a standardised OS that is connected to a network.

He also claimed that as the new Fiat has an MP3 player, the company might approach it with an OEM proposal! However one platform that ESET is not considering is the Apple iPhone. He said that writing anti-virus for the iPhone is not easy as it does not allow multi tasking or processes.

On the subject of mobile phone technology, I later met Michal Vidoman, product manager of mobile security, who claimed that ESET was considering anti-virus for mobiles as a whole market, not a niche, as only ten per cent of all devices are 'smart' but every new device is a smart device.

Vidoman said: “Malware can change rapidly due to devices being smart, but it is more interesting to write for computers and malware writers are not aware of the amount of data being stored on devices.

“Consider a situation where you protect your laptop or desktop, a lot of data will be synchronised to desktop. As devices become cheaper people will use them so the threat will increase, right now they are fairly unprotected so some protection will be needed.”

The company offers ESET mobile anti-virus for smartphones, which currently offers protection of mobile devices running OS Windows Mobile 5.0 and higher. For the future, Vidoman claimed that there are a lot of things to come. This week it was releasing mobile anti-virus in 13 languages and in September it will release the beta version of anti-virus for Symbian.

Vidoman said: “With this we have a strategy to allow developers to work, so with the mobile security suite so we can offer added value to customers such as firewall, anti-theft, enhanced anti-spam and to offer a home version and a business version that comes with remote administration.”

I finally met Juraj Malcho, the head of the virus lab, who was reported earlier in the week talking about how user education ‘is a must', but in half a year it will be very different, as it will work for a few months or years but people need to evolve themselves as the environment is changing.

He further claimed that the ‘biggest danger is exploits as you don't need user inter-activity to fire it up', while ‘not installing security patches and updates is an intolerable mistake and ignorance'.

Now from this outsider's point of view, it is interesting to see what ESET are achieving in a reasonably young country with an emphasis on design and style.

The fact that it is an Eastern European company spreading westwards is probably what sets it aside from its competitors. There is also no doubt that it believes strongly in its product, with a corner of the market well covered it will be interesting to see where its next move is to.

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