Symantec's "Submit a Deal" Flawed
By Brian McWilliams
Jan. 29, 2003
A security glitch at Symantec's corporate website revealed to casual
Web surfers hundreds of proposals from companies seeking to be bought
out by the security firm.
The hole at Symantec's Submit a Deal site has some would-be buyout
targets fuming over the billion-dollar company's careless handling of
their sensitive data.
"We're talking about business deals. This is critical stuff, and I'm
pretty upset about the potential damage this could do to us," said
Eric Robichaud, chief executive of Rhode Island Soft Systems. RISS'
proposal that Symantec acquire its Vmyths virus information site was
among the many proffered deals revealed on the site.
After being notified this week that entries in its Lotus Notes
database could be viewed by anyone with a Web browser, Symantec took
the deal site offline. NGS Software, one of many security software
companies that had submitted partnership proposals at the site,
discovered the flaw.
Chris Paden, a spokesman for Symantec's business development group,
said the company was unsure how long the data went unprotected.
According to Paden, the information in the database was not
"It's not necessarily classified or covert information or tied up
through legal bounds," he said.
But security industry analysts said the goof could be harmful to
companies that opened their kimonos to Symantec.
"Just exposing the fact that a company sent in a deal to Symantec is a
bad thing," said John Pescatore, vice president of security research
for Gartner. "It lets competitors see each others' moves, including
Robichaud confirmed that RISS has been shopping Vmyths since late
2001, when the site's ad revenues dried up. In his proposal, submitted
in June, Robichaud offered to sell Vmyths to Symantec for $350,000,
plus $50,000 a year for the contract of the site's editor, Rob
Rosenberger is renowned for his scathing attacks on the security
industry, which he accuses of trying to fuel hysteria to sell more
software. A note on the front door of Vmyths states: "This site is NOT
sponsored by antivirus companies."
"Having Rob in your hip pocket during his daily press interviews can
only help ... Rob would lead to more sales in 12 months than this site
would cost to acquire," stated the RISS proposal in Symantec's
In an e-mail interview, Rosenberger said he signed a contract with
RISS in 2000 to create Vmyths.com from his popular Computer Virus
Myths homepage. To establish credibility, the site rejected ads from
antivirus software companies, he said. But now that Vmyths has proven
its independence, Rosenberger said that "if bought out by an antivirus
firm, Vmyths probably could survive in today's more open, more honest
Symantec's Paden declined to comment on Vmyths or any of the other
proposed deals. He did say that none of the 10 companies Symantec has
recently acquired had submitted proposals on its website.
"More than anything else (the site is) a good indicator of what's
going on in the market and who's doing what. It serves a bunch of
purposes besides just figuring out what kind of deal to cut next,"
Symantec's stock (SYMC) has risen by about a third over the last four
months. Revenue for the nine months ending Dec. 31 was up 34 percent
to $1.02 billion.
Christine Kozachok, a sales manager for software firm Secure
Computing, said she submitted two proposals at the Symantec site last
year and received no response.
"If they're telling people to submit proposals, and they're not really
acting on the information, then that's misleading. That seems shady to
me," she said.