Antivirus Software: Which One Should An Agent Choose?

By Mark E. Ruquet

Recently, an attack from a computer virus reduced the Internet to a crawl. The attack hit Microsoft SQL servers, exploiting a vulnerability for which the company had already prepared a defense patch. The patch was available to all users but never installed in time by the affected users.

Those affected had the information technology people in place to make repairs, get the patch in place, and eventually get things up and running again.

The lesson here for agents is that because their systems are exposed to so much Internet traffic, it is essential to make certain the agency has good, up-to-date antivirus software for its operation.

Probably the two biggest questions for an agent are what to choose and how often to update the antivirus software of choice.

Agents say they make their choices on someones recommendation. That someone could be the agency management provider or someone they rely upon for technology assistance, whether it is a consultant or friend.

The two most popular antivirus software producers are Cupertino, Calif.-based Symantec, best known for its Norton antivirus system, and McAfee, part of Network Associates Technology Inc., based in Santa Clara, Calif.

One important factor in choosing antivirus software is its compatibility with the agency management system.

A user of Applied Systems management system, Melissa McCage, commercial lines manager for the firm of Dulaney, Johnston, a subsidiary of insurance broker Hilb, Rogal, and Hamilton Co., based in Richmond, Va., says her firm uses the Norton system on the advice of University Park, Ill.-based Applied. Norton has been a part of the firms technology system for three years now, she said, and it has done all they have ever expected of it.

If there is a complaint about the system, it is that it is memory intensive, she noted. In order to run it along with the Applied system, McCage explains, the agency “made some alterations to make it run as quick as it can run,” based on the technical advice of Applied.

Ed Higgins, principal of the Thousand Island Agency in Clayton, N.Y., uses Ebix agency management system. His Norton antivirus software had conflicts with the Atlanta, Ga.-based companys system and he switched to McAfee.

Higgins, who is also the chairman of the Agents Council for Technology, says finding an antivirus software package that is suitable with their agency management system is their biggest challenge.

“Its like a car. I dont know how the engine works, but I want to make sure the car will drive,” he observes. He adds that to have the antivirus software is essential because “getting a virus can ruin your day.”

Cathy Glahn, director of technology for the Syracuse, N.Y.-based Independent Insurance Agents of New York, points out that there are more than 400 viruses appearing each month. Many are variations on existing ones. This underscores not only the need for an antivirus system for agents, she says, but also the importance of keeping the program updated and running all the time, even if it slows down the agencys system.

Keith Savino, president of Insure Help and partner with Warwick Resource Group, Warwick, N.Y., points out that some of the most common problems an agent may have with antivirus software come from not having enough protection in place.

Savino, who is also a lecturer on technology issues for the Glenmont, N.Y.-based Professional Insurance Agents of New York, says some agencies with their own servers fail to put in adequate firewall or filtering protection, to defend against an attack.

Another problem the agencies face, he points out, is the issue of updates. Agents rely upon their customer service representatives to perform the scheduled updates. Some CSRs may fail to follow through with the updates because they dont have the time to wait for the download. They may push it off to another time, then forget about it later.

“Education of staff is huge,” Savino says.

Tom Pedder, director of service and technology for All Lines Technology in Greensburg, Pa., a technology consulting firm to independent agents, admits it is difficult to say which antivirus software is best.

His firm supports both McAfee and Norton, but the latter is his preference, because of its “full feature management solutions” and tracking of viral activity on a network.

“To say one is better than the other is hard, like choosing a Ford or Chevy,” observes Pedder. “If an agent goes with quality products, then he is in good shape.”

He notes there are a lot of free antivirus software packages out there, but “Why would someone give it away if it were good?” He says many of these packages are free because they are still in the testing phase and that some of these vendors will not take responsibility for the product if something goes wrong.

One consideration to make in choosing an antivirus program, he explains, is whether the provider has established a support system for the product. Home users may not be as concerned about having that support. But it is not the same for a business, which needs help immediately when there is a problem. Being able to get that help is usually a sign of “a good quality product.”

Because of the damage a virus can do to an agencys data system the $25 to $50 per computer installation charge is a worthwhile investment, he contends.

“None of the antivirus products are foolproof, but going to a consultant can provide the agents with the tools and experience they lack,” says Pedder. “A hammer does not build a house; it is the person who is swinging the hammer.”

Mark E. Ruquet is an assistant editor for NUs Property & Casualty/Risk & Benefits Management Edition.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, March 31, 2003. Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved. Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.