When Eugene Kaspersky created his first anti-virus application in 1989, it was little more than a hobby and for the first three years the product was distributed free. But when security software vendors from overseas came calling, asking to license the core technology, Kaspersky realised that he might have something big.
First, the Moscow, Russia-based software engineer operated under the umbrella of Russian computer conglomerate Kama. Then, in 1997, he set-up on his own in a bid to make Kaspersky Labs' software as ubiquitous as F-Secure – which uses Kaspersky's core technology – McAfee, Norton Anti-virus (NAV), Sophos and Trend Micro.
Kaspersky claims that his anti-virus software enjoys a number of technical advantages compared to rivals. First, its componentised architecture means that when the software needs updating, only the virus library code needs to be downloaded, a patch of just 20 or 30K. This enables it to offer automated daily updates over the Internet or corporate intranet. This is a feature that some rivals do not offer.
Second, the company claims that its heuristics engine is capable of picking up viruses before a signature has even been written for it and downloaded into the virus library of the end-user's PC. The heuristics engine is able to correlate the potential harm that code within an email attachment might do to the end user's PC based on a number of rules, such as code trying to gain access to a Microsoft Outlook address book.
Third, Kaspersky says that its software comes with free technical support by email or by phone, although the user has to pick up the cost of a phone call to Moscow.
Finally, it is available for a wide range of platforms, including Microsoft Windows, various distributions of Linux, FreeBSD, Novell NetWare and PalmOS.
However, Kaspersky faces a number of challenges. It has been slow to port its software to Microsoft Windows XP. This has caused some frustration among users. Furthermore, it is largely targeting home users and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) – difficult markets to conquer and arguably less profitable than the corporate sector. However, says Kaspersky, they are cheaper to enter.
Such a strategy belies Kaspersky's lack of venture financing. Even so, it already derives between 65% and 70% of its revenues from outside Russia and enjoys strong brand recognition in Europe and the US as a result of a string of good reviews.