When misery means moolah

It's an industry where profits soar when trouble strikes. And for the market leaders in anti-virus software - Symantec Corp., Network Associates Inc. and Trend Micro Inc. - the proliferation of worms and viruses spreading across the Internet means money in the bank.

"Attacks upsize our revenue," Symantec CEO John Thompson said succinctly when discussing his company's 43 percent first-quarter revenue increase with Wall Street analysts in April.

"Virus activity during the quarter contributed to strong performance," Network Associates CEO George Samenuk said during his firm's quarterly earnings call with analysts. Though Network Associates' $216.6 million in quarterly revenue was flat over the year before, sales of McAfee anti-virus products compensated for drops in the Sniffer network-analysis tool business, which is being sold on the heels of the Magic Helpdesk sale to BMC Software Inc. for $47 million earlier this year.

Who's to thank for the boom in anti-virus software?

The rainmakers are the virus authors themselves - such as confessed virus writer Sven Jaschen, for instance, the German teenager arrested by German police in Lower Saxony this month for allegedly writing the Sasser worm that spread across the globe.

Without a doubt, the boom in anti-virus "is spurred on by the tremendous number of outbreaks," says Lane Bess, president and COO at the North American operation of Trend Micro, the third top vendor, with $454 million in annual revenue, up about 25 percent.from the year before. "It's the fear factor."

However, some find it crass to say mayhem means moolah, making anti-virus vendors seem like ambulance-chasing lawyers.

"The truth may be that it does bring sales," said Mikko Hypponen, manager of anti-virus research at F-Secure Corp. of Helsinki, Finland. "But it's an irresponsible way of portraying our industry."

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