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 confidential.

"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 Symantec's competitors."

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.

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 database.

In an e-mail interview, Rosenberger said he signed a contract with RISS in 2000 to create 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 critical environment."

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," Paden said.

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.

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