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11/9/2010
04:49 PM
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Schwartz On Security: Reaching The M&A Tipping Point

The jury is out on whether businesses will benefit from Intel buying McAfee or from Symantec, IBM and Microsoft sucking up everything in sight.

But there are signs that some security companies may be reaching a tipping point. On Saturday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Relational Investors LLC began building a stake in Symantec earlier this year, so as to split the company into separate security and data storage businesses. Analysts say that Symantec is still having difficulty benefiting from its 2005 acquisition of Veritas.

If the rampant pace of merger and acquisition activity threatens to create a fast food approach to information security -- ease over substance -- thankfully there's been some undeniably good news on the botnet M&A front lately: The brains behind the Zeus crimeware toolkit will reportedly retire, allowing his code to be merged with a competitor.

Zeus expert Don Jackson, director of threat intelligence at SecureWorks, recently told Reuters that the anonymous programmer behind Zeus had announced his retirement, saying his creation was taking too much heat, and that he'd hand the Zeus source code to up-and-comer financial crimeware outfit Spy Eye.

Little is known about the Zeus author, who first hit the scene in 2007, except that he appears to be Russian and to favor usernames based on expensive cars. Jackson, however, thinks the retirement announcement is a ruse so that the Zeus author can drop his less lucrative and more high-maintenance customers. He estimates that, so far this year, Zeus-using gangs have netted at least $100 million.

But other security experts noted that after you've sold enough software to earn yourself what's likely millions of dollars, then if not retire, you could afford to take a break.

With luck, one way or another, the author of Zeus will go away for a long time.

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