30 Years the Anti-Virus Business with Dr.Web

The tech world loves a new shiny product that promises everything and anything, with buzzwords like “user-friendly”. That’s not Dr. Web game: they have a product that can be considered a grandfather in internet years and they pride themselves in getting things done.

We talked with Boris Sharov, CEO at Doctor Web, to know more about the history of the company, the products they offer and what threats companies and individuals have to deal with (and what they can do to better protect themselves).

Dr. Web has existed for more than 20 years, dealing with all kinds of threats and changes in technology. How did you stay on top of everything and what were the main challenges in that journey?

The famous Aidstest by Dmitry Lozinsky was the predecessor of Dr.Web, a free-of-charge anti-virus that was starting each time you started your PC. Dr.Web came a few years later when polymorphic viruses entered the scene. I don’t remember a computer at that time without Dr.Web on board. Igor Danilov, the man who was the author of Dr.Web was working on it to make computer users’ life easier. For him it was not about making money, it was only about making it harder for viruses. That was the beginning of the philosophy that became the basis of the Dr.Web R&D team – people who worked with Igor Danilov in the 90s. It was never meant to please users and make their life easier for them – it was developed to clean the computer regardless of whatever the malware might be.

The company named “Doctor Web” was founded 11 years after the appearance of Dr.Web anti-virus. Many competitors were far ahead of us. But our commitment to fight with malware helped us all these years to grow and to become stronger each year. We always lived with our own money. We have only one shareholder and this makes us unique among our competitors. We have developed all our anti-virus technologies ourselves and we make constant efforts to maintain them at the highest possible level.

Our main challenges are not technology related. Anti-malware industry today is too much marketing driven. This has a lot of reasons and we understand this reality as is. We used to oppose and still oppose the ever-existing trend of so called “user-friendliness” of software products. We believe that you can be user-friendly only when you are able to identify your user – and this is rarely the case for an anti-malware product. This is one of many reasons why we have turned down so called “independent” anti-virus tests and ratings. We managed to stay away from them – and this is for more than 14 years. We are happy that we proved to ourselves and to our customers that this does not influence the quality of the product.

Your company managed to export its products to the world, also having offices in Europe, Japan and Central Asia. To what do you credit that success?

We do not call our activity in foreign countries a success. We have not focused on that yet as our main market area is still Russia. Our sales there do not consume much resources, in many ways we are brand-driven. We prefer to focus on our home market while our efforts here are much more efficient than abroad. When you go abroad you spend much more on advertising, on promotion – you compete with local players in the field which is not your major one. When it comes to technology and to what we can do better than others – we feel relaxed. Yes, we have offices (daughter companies) abroad – 2 are in the former USSR area, 2 in Europe, 1 in Japan. The main challenge for us is attracting local talents – people are not willing to go to work in an unknown company. But those who come – stay with us for many years.

It is very exciting to compete in different markets. You see different approaches, different opinions on security issues. You can easily tell if the country has its own vision of information security or if it follows the international “opinion makers”. We realize that it is always important to be professional in your actions and in your judgements. It helped us to face a ransomware wave that has invaded some European countries recently. We managed to assist a lot of non-Dr.Web users to decrypt their files without paying the ransom to criminals.

What are the most common threats for normal users and for businesses these days?

Ransomware remains the most dangerous threat. It seems that the model found by criminals back in 2006-2007 gets stronger and stronger. The first waves that really devastated cyberspace 7-10 years ago and were based on just encrypting victims’ data have gone leaving their place to new forms of blackmail – attacks became more targeted, more sophisticated and the data is not just encrypted but also stolen. This leaves no chance to victimized enterprises – their backup strategy may be helpful to restore the data but the pressure for ransom is much stronger as the criminals threaten the victims by publishing the stolen sensitive data.

Illegal cryptocurrency mining stands next to ransomware as it presents a very “peaceful” and quiet form of crime – using the victim’s computing resource to mine bitcoins or other virtual currencies. At some moment mining became much more efficient than ransomware attacks. Our engineers witnessed too many cases when a legal mining piece of software was illegally installed on a personal computer or on a corporate server. Today it gives way to new types of ransomware, banking trojans, password stealers and adware.

The pandemic years created millions of opportunities for criminals to exploit poorly designed remote access infrastructure as many people had to work at home using internet connection to their place of work. Those opportunities were skillfully used by criminal groups – and that added a lot of problems to “conventional” ransomware attacks that many anti-malware companies managed to stop. Now the attackers had the chance to stop running anti-virus agents and leave the computers without any protection before launching the encryption software.

Attackers search for vulnerabilities and mistakes that people make. What tips do you have to our readers that want to improve their protection when surfing the web?

I don’t like telling people not to visit suspicious websites and not to open suspicious emails. The keyword there is obviously “suspicious”, but not many people can tell you exactly what suspicious means. Sometimes the site they visit looks really trustworthy but it turns out to be a fishing one.

My advice would be: before turning on your computer and surfing on the web try to tell yourself what kind of information you definitely don’t want to lose. Try to check, what is the data on your device you cannot show to anyone else? Once you conduct such a check you will be much more ready to enter the internet world with your anti-virus turned on and updated.

Each year we use more and more of our smartphones and tablets to access the internet and pay bills, read emails, watch TV shows etc. Are mobiles safe to its users or is it even more vulnerable than a regular PC?

In our lab you can see people with the following words on their T-shirts: “The worst virus is always sitting in front of your computer monitor”. Any mobile device like any PC is just a piece of hardware. What is really vulnerable is our attitude to the security basics. But our little mobile friends deserve much more care as sometimes they contain really vital information.

After so many years in the market, you have the experience to answer this: what are the next steps in your market? What will happen in 5-10 years?

New operating systems, new communication standards, growing dependence on digitalization, new devices will come one after another along with new criminal approaches and will be met by our traditional “I don’t have anything important on my device, why should they attack me?”

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