Consumers are setting expectations with Internet service providers about security and privacy that will influence features offered to the corporate sector, according to one of the country's largest ISPs.
Bell Sympatico Tuesday introduced a set of antivirus and firewall services based on technology from Montreal security specialist Zero-Knowledge Systems. The suite, which is being offered as a monthly subscription services, will include a cookie manager, a keyword alert to notify users of confidential information and an ad manager to block pop-ups and banner ads.
Sympatico spokesman Andrew Cole said the security services go against the grain compared to how most things are launched in the telecom sector. "Ordinarily businesses customers would be leading in terms of features that are introduced to the consumer market," he said, "but given the high penetration rate of Internet among consumers, they tend to be the leaders in terms of new products."
Chris Weisdorf, president of the Residential Broadband Users Association (RBUA), applauded the services.
"It's about time," he said. "It would be nice to see it with other service providers in Canada and even in the U.S., because this sort of thing is needed."
The Sympatico deal marks an important win for Zero-Knowledge, which has been refocusing its efforts towards subscription services that ISPS can offer to their customers. Hamnett Hill, the firm's general manager of consumer products, said consumer awareness of security concerns have increased based on the amount of attention virus issues have received in the enterprise. Home users, he said, are now looking for the same kind of third-party to help manage privacy and security functions.
"It is increasingly complex to make sure that you're protected on an ongoing basis, make sure that you're continually updated and all the rest of it," he said.
Sympatico says the service is maintenance-free. It will reportedly work in the background to scan incoming data from the Internet, as well as local hard drives, diskettes, and CD-ROMs. It will then block and destroy viruses. Subscribers won't have to update the software themselves, as virus updates are automatically downloaded to their desktop on a regular basis to facilitate the recognition of the latest viruses on the Internet.
"You can become a little bit proactive in terms of setting it up, but otherwise it's taken care of for you," said Cole. "It's less for you to worry about."
Hill said it is important for vendors and ISPs to maximize simplicity of the services without sacrificing security.
"We find that consumers, on the whole, they just want to be protected with as little tinkering as possible," he said. "Your general consumer out there that's getting online with a dialup connection to do eBay and this and that, they don't want to fool around with their settings a whole lot. They just want to know that they're safe."
Weisdorf said the service might not be of much benefit to mature users like RBUA members who are familiar with firewalls, but he said it could be useful to the mass market, even though free software providers are already providing similar offerings. "I think it's a great way to get them acquainted with the kind of risks they're exposed to," he said. "But I'll tell you right now, with respect to the cookie blocking and pop-up blocking, that's something you can get immediately by downloading Mozilla."
Sympatico's security services will cost $5.95 per month for up to three PCs per household.