Symantec CEO gives Comdex sermon

You've got to say something significant when you're giving a keynote speech at Comdex. Preferably something visionary (in keeping with your guru status), terrifying (white knight to the rescue) and catchy (media coverage).

And head of Net security company Symantec, John Thompson did each with aplomb in a remarkable sermon in Las Vegas Wednesday.

Entranced audience members were treated to a Cassandra-like prediction of what will happen to the Internet in the future. "There may come a point where users look at technology as more of a liability," he warned, "condemned to set up a home Wi-Fi network linking a number of PCs with a badly written manual and technology support, putting you on hold for eternity."

Then there would be a fall in people that even connect to the Net, he glowered, dark mist curling satanically behind his ears. "And that's not a good thing for the industry".

But, surely Linux will save us? "NO!," Thompson boomed, the room's walls bending outwards and vibrating, "if and when the Linux target set gets as rich as Microsoft's, I believe you will find more vulnerabilities than you do today." (the same viewpoint that Microsoft has been expounding recently of course).

Spam? Crack! A bolt of lightning shot through the ceiling and split the podium in two. There is no answer, roared the towering figure. It is not enforceable. We are doomed to spend the rest of our lives clicking delete on sex-enhancer e-mails.

But all of a sudden, the thunder subsided, the storm clouds broke and a dazzling ray of sunlight blinded those gathered at his feet. "Security needs to move beyond its niche focus," Thompson uttered, a white dove hovering just above his shoulder. "We need more integrated security technologies."

The best way to defeat these attacks and defy Beelzebub is to introduce security at multiple levels in an organisation, He revealed. To secure application servers, applications, databases, host servers, bicycles and hot drinks machines pro-actively.

Then he reached forward and touched a young, troubled man on the head. "There is no single technology that can protect against today's complex, blended threats," He tutored. The young man raised his head, his eyes suddenly alive. "The security focus must shift to the gateway, the application server and so on."

But -- quickly -- how would this miraculous day be remembered without a catchy soundbite to slot into the first paragraph of news stories?

In the near future, the wise man counselled, we will see the beginnings of "Warhol" attacks -- viruses and worms so virulent that they spread across the whole Internet in just 15 minutes. Will we have "Flash" (aah-aah -- savior of the universe) threats that cover the Web in 30 seconds. And "Day Zero" raids that strike without warning using unknown holes in software. And... (that's enough snappy new terms John).

But the only way this will happen, he explained, is if software, hardware and other technology companies work together to improve security and make this a better world for our children and our children's children.

The teary and uplifted audience, some hugging the person next to them, began to realise. "Of course," said one man, a veteran of the early IT wars, "didn't we see it before?" They start to filter out but suddenly one man stood up and cried out to the stage: "Can you tell me exactly which of these products are available?" But the moment had passed, Thompson had been whisked off by his disciples and the room slipped into an eerie silence.

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Kieren McCarthy
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