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I've seen the future

How you'll keep your business secure with an all-in-one package

Back in the days when I ran a computer games company, there was a huge hit called Myst. The publishers decided to release it in Germany under the same name, little realising that mist means, well, merde. It was a cultural faux-pas on the scale of JFK's assertion that "ich bin ein Berliner" in 1963, which roughly translates as "I am a donut" or Dan Quayle’s ambition to learn Latin so he could speak to the inhabitants of Latin America.

All this is preamble to the recent announcement that Microsoft is beta-testing a product in the US called OneCare. I presume they are going to change the name before it is launched in the UK. Anyhow, let's get past that name and concentrate on the product.


Quote�It combines lots of different security-related functions into one service.�End Quote

What is interesting about, ahem, OneCare, is that it combines lots of different security-related functions into one service; including backup, system tune-up, firewall, anti-spyware and antivirus software. It's like having an IT guy in a box. If it works, it could take a lot of the pain out of consumer security.

I won't form a final judgement on OneCare until I've seen it myself. There are already security suites that combine different programs but I have always been wary of them because the individual components aren't always 'best of breed'. More importantly, while they may be appropriate for individual PCs, they are not ideal for businesses with multiple computers. What's missing is the management piece.

In large companies, IT departments run sophisticated management tools to track the health of their network. They can set policies, remotely install software and check that systems are kept clean of internet nasties. But, until recently, this kind of oversight has been much more difficult for smaller companies.

Web based

However, there is a new generation of small business security software. They include different security functions (such as firewalls, antivirus and so on), central management, easy to use web-based interfaces and automated updates.

For example, I have been using a product called McAfee Managed VirusScan for a few months now to run antivirus scans on my PC, my server, my wife's laptop and several family computers. It's not a business, but looking after five different PCs in three different locations sometimes feels like one!

It combines a familiar virus scanning system with - and this is the cool bit - a web-based management system. Instead of traipsing round to individual PCs and installing individual antivirus programs off a disk, all I had to do was enter an email address and the system can enrol new users automatically. All the user has to do, once they get my email, is download a piece of software from McAfee’s website.


Quote�I get weekly email reports on the state of all the computers I look after.�End Quote

Once installed, the management system can track whether they have any infections, whether they are running the latest signatures, whether they have done a complete scan recently and so on. I get weekly email reports on the state of all the computers I look after and I can go to the internet-based management console and get reports and make changes whenever I want.

The result: my family get carefree antivirus protection and I can proactively manage the system from my desktop. It saves me a lot of time and in a business environment I think it could be very effective.

As computer security becomes more and more complicated, I think this kind of integrated, managed security software will soon become the only way small companies can cope with the endless demands of staying secure and still have time left to run a business.

As if to remind us why this is necessary, a scam email has being doing the rounds asking for help for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. If you click on the link in the email, it installs a virus. To misquote Madame Marquise de Pompadour, Apr�s le d�luge, nous.

What next?

Matthew Stibbe writes a new column every fortnight. Sign up to receive them automatically by email.

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