eEye Digital Security this week began quietly offering a free version of its intrusion prevention system (IPS) client, called Blink Personal, to consumers.
Marc Maiffret, CTO and chief hacking officer of eEye, says the company is still putting the final touches on the Blink Personal rollout, which will go public next month.
Maiffret isn't coy about eEye's motives for sending out the free IPS client. "It's definitely a marketing ploy," he says in response to similar charges by critics. "From a business perspective, it will help get the Blink brand out there... And the more home users we have telling us what we need to work on, the more we can improve and make our commercial product more solid."
eEye's freebie strategy for kick-starting its new security tool is nothing new in the security space -- McAfee did it many years ago, ZoneAlarm does it with its IPS tool, and StillSecure gives away StrataGuard. "Virtually every host or end point security product with any traction has a 'free' version," says Thomas Ptacek, a researcher with Matasano Security.
Aside from the marketing perks, eEye plans to gather attack data from customers as well, something that may not sit well with some users. "We're not looking to collect information about your browsing habits," Maiffret says. "We want attack information so we can make Blink the best we can, and one way is to make as big a honeypot as possible."
Maiffret says eEye will track attack trends -- such as zero-day attacks like those currently targeting IE and PowerPoint -- and then make that data public while also using it for Blink product development.
Unlike an automated honeypot that requires a user to click a link before you can see an attack, this approach captures what happens after a user takes an action, while at the same time protecting the client, explains Ross Brown, CEO of eEye in his blog, where he first announced Blink Personal. The data is "sanitized" to protect confidentiality, he says.
"We only get an IP address and attack info, no packet captures or other things that could -- if the attack was right and the moon aligned with Mars -- contain personal info," Brown writes.
Michael Rothman, president and principal analyst of Security Incite, says gathering this kind of data is beneficial. "Data makes everyone smarter. Is there a risk that the vendor will misuse the data? Sure," he says. "But I think it's minimal and the benefit of sharing the data is greater."
The Blink home version is similar to the commercial product, with a few exceptions - it doesn't include the spyware scanning feature like eEye OEMs, nor can it be remotely managed. The lack of remote management capability should make it more difficult for businesses to pirate it, according to Maiffret.
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading