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Virus wars!

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The virus landscape today is unrecognisable from a decade ago. One company saw it coming, and has stolen a march on the anti-virus industry, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

About eight years ago, at the Comdex fair in Las Vegas, I came across an exhibitor booth that stuck out like a sore thumb: an unknown Russian software company was displaying its wares in the heart of the Western hi-tech economy.

Not only that, but Kaspersky Lab was announcing its intention to be a player in one of the most specialised of software fields: information security. The MacAfees and Symantecs of the security world laughed up their sleeves.

Manning the stand was one Denis Zenkin, then head of Corporate Communications at Kaspersky Lab. He gave a spirited argument for a new way of thinking about information security. It was not merely about identifying viruses, he said. It was about waging a war against criminals.

Less than a decade later, that message has penetrated to the heart of the industry as the world beats off an onslaught of virus and ‚malware‚ attacks. And, thanks to its foresight, in 2010 Kaspersky Lab was the number three software security brand in the consumer market, and number four in the corporate market worldwide.

More important, however, is the geographical spread of that market share: only 21% of its sales are in the Americas ‚ itself a statistic that has shocked its American-based competitors.

Precisely because American companies thought Kaspersky could be ignored, they were able to take market share from under the radar.

The secret, however, has not been specifically in targeting the American market but, paradoxically, in not seeing the American market as their key market.

In a recent interview with flamboyant company founder and CEO Eugene Kaspersky, he stressed that they saw themselves as a global organisation, rather than one focused on its traditional market.

‚We had a plan for global expansion that said we had to have a presence everywhere. So it was just a question of time before we would come to Africa.‚

Kaspersky Lab have embarked on their Africa strategy through the typical route of setting up an office in South Africa, which it sees as the most developed country in the region, and therefore a gateway to other African countries.

But, says Eugene Kaspersky, they take the African market as seriously as any other. Last year, it was the continent with the highest growth in the world for Kaspersky Lab. In nine months, the rate of growth for the continent was 70% ‚ off an already well-established customer base.

‚There are still some of our competitors who don’t have a global presence and I don’t know why. It’s not a question of, are you able to do it or not? It’s a question of, do you want to do it or not? It seems they didn’t want to develop a global structure.‚

He is puzzled not only because it leaves large territories open for Kaspersky Lab to conquer, but also because IT requirements have become so standard worldwide.

‚The Internet, malware and computers are the same everywhere in the world today. In some regions there is a little difference, but in the end it is all the same,‚ he says.

Of course, Kaspersky doesn’t have it all its own way in Africa.

When chip-maker Intel paid almost $8-billion in August 2010 to buy global information security leader McAfee, its strategy was to boost its ability to provide a complete management system for computers. However, it also gave McAfee new reach.

With Intel’s own presence across Africa, through its PC chips as well as mobile processors, the long-term may hold a few surprises in the virus wars.

* Arthur Goldstuck heads up the World Wide Worx market research organisation and is editor-in-chief of Gadget. You can follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

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