News Column

Counteracting Compromised Computers: a Conversation With Panda Security's Juan Santana

Jan. 21, 2009


Panda Security, Juan Santana, computer viruses, virus protection, malware
Panda Security CEO Juan Santana

Staying a step ahead of those who wish to do harm through computers is a tough business. Enabling business networks and home PCs to fend them off is Juan Santana's business.

As the CEO of Panda Security -- a Spanish firm that's attempting to grow its business worldwide -- Mr. Santana has to contend not only with viruses, hacking, and malware, but with bigger security companies, like Symantec or McAfee, and, perhaps more notably, the misinformation that most computer users operate under.

"The biggest challenge we have with consumers, in general, is that there is a big difference between perceived security and actual security," he told

He elaborated that the goals of most hackers have changed over the past few decades.

"Hackers used to want to be known, to be in the news. Now that they are doing it in order to make money, what they want is for the infections be low profile and remain undetected for as long as possible."

Mr. Santana said that malware -- which can silently steal your personal information, passwords, and more -- multiplied significantly in 2007.

"In 2007, we had more malware samples than in the whole of the 17 years since the company was founded," he said. "In 2008, we expected 6 million-7 million samples, end ended up with about 15 million."

Another common problem that Panda Security encounters is that many end users, because they have an antivirus program, believe they have protection when, in fact, the program's virus definitions have not been updated for years.

Accordingly, it's of little wonder that as many as four out of 10 computers hooked up to the Internet are compromised.

Collective Intelligence -- or Protection via the Cloud
Traditionally, protection software has resided on a hard drive and used a very high percentage of a system's resources to identify, find, and fix infections. With the amount of malware increasing so significantly, this problem would be compounded further. Panda Security's strategy, however, has evolved into a Web-based service, meaning that the hard work is done elsewhere, allowing a business or consumer to save precious computing power for tasks rather than battling bugs. Putting the protection into the "cloud" also allows Panda to utilize what Mr. Santana refers to as "collective intelligence."

"Malware is increasingly more difficult to put all the knowledge we have into a PC. Collective intelligence is an automatic system that detects, classifies, and disinfects malware automatically."

It's a strategy that Panda began utilizing about 4 years ago, and appears to be the way the whole protection industry is headed. Mr. Santana stresses that Panda's head start on a Web-based protection strategy gives is a leg up in terms of performance. However, he knows that end users don't especially care about the why or how they are protected -- they just want results.

"Our communication to the market is now 'look, don't worry, install and forget the product, because we take care of you, and you don't need to concern yourself with all the protections behind the product.'" But to industry analysts and specialized press, he does indeed stress the particulars, to show that Panda Security can compete, even as a smaller player.

Market Opportunities
And, as a smaller player, there's some room to grow. Panda enjoys about a 35 percent market share in its native Spain, but a 3.1 percent market share worldwide. While Mr. Santana said that the company has been profitable since its inception 18 years ago, and has enjoyed a reputation of having good technology, it has only recently (2007) made a concerted effort to expand its presence internationally.

Panda is able to develop technology by itself, and prefers to do so, as opposed to some of the bigger players in the industry, who Mr. Santana says are willing to acquire companies for technology. For Panda, it's all about increasing locations. "Our expansion is more of a geographic one than a technology one," Mr. Santana said. The company's expansion strategy is to increase global presence through acquisitions in some key markets and partnership agreements in others. This model has allowed a local presence in 56 countries, including 19 markets in Latin America.

Panda now has a direct presence in the U.S., Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, has founded a company in Japan, and is in the process of founding one in China. Using this strategy, Panda has about 2.1 million paying customers; 140,000 corporate clients, and around 700 employees worldwide. Adding in employees from countries where it utilizes partnership agreements to maintain a presence, Panda employs closer to 1,500.

U.S. 'Evangelizing'
Panda has long recognized the importance of having a U.S. office. Its stateside headquarters is in Los Angeles, which employs a team of about 60.

Mr. Santana refers to this office as a "cornerstone to our strategy going forward." Another key part of the U.S. strategy is recognizing the need to reach the U.S. Hispanic Market. Panda Security has made a key hire to help it reach this important segment: Carlos Zevallos, who is Panda's manager of Hispanic PR & Promotions. He functions as the company's "chief evangelist" for the Hispanic market. Mr. Santana stressed several times that Panda's technology is the key, and it's only getting people to experience it that will result in customer conversions. Mr. Zevallos' outreach efforts, which include utilizing Hispanic-focused wire services and some translated press releases, has helped Panda's progress.

Indeed, the L.A. presence, combined with "a very focused strategy," including Hispanic outreach, has helped Panda achieve growth rates of about 20 percent in the U.S. Under the current economic climate, Mr. Santana finds that kind of growth very encouraging.

Even if it isn't expanding quite as quickly as all that malware is.

For more stories covering the world of technology, please see HispanicBusiness' Tech Channel

Source: (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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