Revamped Webroot feels more secure

BROOMFIELD — Staying up to date is one of the challenges all businesses share. But in the computer security industry, just staying up to date isn’t nearly good enough.

That’s why Webroot Software Inc., a privately held Broomfield-based Internet security company, decided a few years ago to rethink its corporate strategy, scrap its best-selling products, focus on new markets and radically change the way Internet security works — all while fighting cybercriminals and the biggest names in the security business.

Webroot was founded in 1997 and for most of its history was based in Boulder. The company’s headquarters now is in Broomfield, where its name is at the top of an Interlocken office tower.

Webroot employs about 335 people, with about 150 to 160 employees based in Broomfield, according to Mike Malloy, Webroot’s executive vice president for products and strategy. It has annual revenue of about $130 million, Malloy said.

Webroot’s success has been built on consumer Internet security software that blocks and removes viruses and malware. While the consumer market always will remain in Webroot’s DNA, the company now is focusing more on sales to small- and medium-size businesses, Malloy said.

Webroot’s success will depend on SecureAnywhere, a suite of security tools it launched in 2011. Webroot has high hopes for the product, which it thinks is a completely new way of protecting computers and now devices such as tablets and smartphones, Malloy said.

To understand what SecureAnywhere does, it helps to think about Internet security from the user’s point of view. While the technology has evolved considerably, for the user the process of securing a computer is almost the same as it was in the mid-1990s.

“The whole PC security industry is built on a technological approach that’s been in use for 15 years,” Malloy said.

For users, it starts when they install antivirus software and other programs in a security suite, either from a disk or after downloading it. The important parts of the application are saved on the computer, where they will keep watch over the machine. The software then downloads the latest updates and gets to work.

Security software that’s out of date is pretty useless, so the program will have to be updated continually. To stay updated, the software company sends lists of newly discovered viruses and malware to the program.

Computer security companies take different approaches to keep on top of threats and develop products designed to predict which files are malware, but for the most part they rely on the same model. Their computer engineers have to discover malware, find solutions and then get the message out to every one of the product’s users.

Keeping lists up to date is a major weak point in the process, and malware creators always are becoming more innovative and organized, Malloy said.

“There are more than 100,000 new viruses and pieces of malware created every day by cybercriminals,” he said. Finding and protecting against all of them before they strike “is logistically an impossibility.”

A few years ago, Webroot’s leadership recognized that the usual way of doing computer security was failing. The company decided to revamp its product line entirely and create software that runs in the cloud. Webroot SecureAnywhere, released just over a year ago, is the result.

SecureAnywhere is innovative in several ways, some of which can be noticed by a typical PC user as soon as the program is installed. First, SecureAnywhere is much smaller than its competitors. While some packages run into the hundreds of megabytes, SecureAnywhere is small enough to fit on an old fashioned diskette.

SecureAnywhere also installs faster and has a comparatively minimal effect on system speed and performance.

The improved user experience is a big deal for Webroot, as performance issues caused by security software is a common problem for users.

“That was one of the complaints people had, the cure was almost as bad as the disease,” Malloy said.

SecureAnywhere’s most important work happens out of the user’s eye and in the cloud. Instead of relying on updates that are sent to users, Secure Anywhere users are connected to Webroot through the cloud. Webroot watches for any files or activity that looks suspicious and takes steps immediate steps to protect users.

SecureAnywhere also ensures all other Webroot users are protected without having to create a new list of viruses, Malloy said.

Early versions of SecureAnywhere have received positive reviews, with PCMag.com giving versions of the product gold and silver in its “Best Products of 2011” awards.

Sales are up, too. According to market research firm NPD Group, Webroot has increased its market share by 17 percent in the past year. As of October, Webroot had 31 percent of the retail security software market, good enough for second place among its competitors.

“We believe we’re poised for really good growth in 2013. We’re hoping for 20 to 30 percent growth,” Malloy said.

Phasing out its old product line and focusing all its attention on SecureAnywhere has slowed Webroot’s sales, and in the past few years the company has downsized from about 500 employees to its current size.

Making tough decisions about Webroot’s future looks as though it’s paying off now, and the company is trying to fill about 25 new positions, Malloy said.

“A transformation like this is hard on the company,” Malloy said. “We’ve been through a lot of changes in the past two years, and I feel like there’s a lot of momentum now.”

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