Sep 20 2010

Zone Alarm dabbling in “scareware” tactics

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The makers of Zone Alarm recently dabbled in a “scareware” tactic to sell more computer security software. Read about the hullabaloo here and here and here, then we’ll continue.

Done reading up on it? Good.

Legit AV firms exper­i­ment with unethi­cal sales tech­niques. It’s a fact of life.

Antivirus firms sometimes experiment with unethical sales techniques. It’s just a fact of life. Take McAfee, for example — in 1998 I took them to task for pushing “beneficial spam” and in 2009 I attacked them for claiming their software fights global warming.

I expect Zone Alarm will get embarrassed over this sales technique and it’ll go away. The rest of the industry will learn a lesson the easy way … and we won’t see it again anytime soon.

Every firm that protects customers from fake-AV malware, by default, must analyze how the malware spreads. This leads us to ask a philosophical question:

Should legit antivirus firms incorporate successful fake antivirus sales tactics into their own marketing plans?

To you & me, the answer to this philosophical question seems obvious. To a legit antivirus firm, though, the answer may prove … elusive.

There is a certain logic to what Zone Alarm did. Scareware firms draw truly amazing incomes, and computer security firms ultimately report to their shareholders. Need I say more?

Before a company like Zone Alarm can answer our philosophical question, they must first decide if they analyze scareware tactics only for their customers’ benefit — or if they now also analyze it for their marketing team’s benefit…