The role of security companies on the Mac has never been as appreciated as it probably should. Intego is the current leader of the field, so we asked for the opportunity to know them better.

Marcel Marteau, CEO of Intego, was kind enough to grant us the following interview:

How would you define Intego?

Intego is the leader in Internet security software for Macintosh, and the company was founded in 1997.

We provide complete solutions so Mac users can protect themselves from all the dangers of the Internet. Our product line covers every type of Internet security risk and we consider it our role to ensure that as and when new security risks arise, we provide software to eliminate these threats so Mac users can be safe.

VirusBarrier X protects Macintosh users from all known Macintosh viruses, as well as Word and Excel macro viruses, when downloading files, receiving e-mail, transmitting documents over a network or copying files from CDs, DVDs or other external media. NetBarrier X3 is a combined desktop firewall and intrusion prevention solution that thwarts hackers, vandals and intruders, and protects users’ confidential data. ChatBarrier X3 works in conjunction with Apple’s iChat instant messaging software to provide one-click, real-time encryption of outgoing text chats and decryption of incoming messages.

ContentBarrier X protects users from undesirable content on the web, as well as in newsgroups and via chats. This protects children at home, and increases employee productivity while reducing litigation risk at work. Personal Antispam X3, for Apple Mail and Microsoft Entourage, is an intelligent solution for fighting e-mail spam. Personal Antispam uses a full range of techniques to spot spam as it arrives, and sequester it allowing users to verify spam before deletion.

Personal Backup X3 provides a comprehensive range of backup, synchronization, archive and clone features, allowing users to ensure not only regular backups of important files, but also, through the creation of a clone, ensuring that users have a bootable backup of their Mac OS X startup disk.

WiFi Locator, the world’s smallest WiFi hotspot finder, finds available AirPort and AirPort Extreme (802.11b and 802.11g) networks in under one second, enabling wireless Internet access for Macintosh laptop computers.

NetUpdate is an application that all Intego programs install so users can automatically download and install updates to all their Intego applications, as well as updates to virus, spam and filter definitions over the Internet.

We will be presenting new X4 versions of some of our programs at the Paris Apple Expo for our European customers, and in January at the San Francisco Macworld for our US customers.

What is your role at Intego?

CEO.

Mac OS X is praised as a comparatively "secure" system. Many products in Intego’s product range seem to contradict this. For instance, is there really such a need for network security when OS X has its own firewall?

While Mac OS X includes a firewall, this built-in firewall is inadequate and is difficult to configure. The default firewall configurations allow only for port blocking, and offer no additional protection from more sophisticated hacker attacks. Furthmore, advanced configurations of this firewall are only available via the command line.

Intego NetBarrier X3, designed for endpoint protection, offers far more comprehensive security. It provides both simpler and more granular configuration and protects against other types of attacks, including denial of service attacks, ping of death attacks and others. NetBarrier’s firewall offers multiple levels of configuration (from a set of basic configuration options to granular, rule-based configurations) to provide the ideal level of protection for all types of users. NetBarrier also offers powerful ad-blocking, cookie control, data filtering and information blocking features. NetBarrier logs network activity, allows or denies access to specific machines via a trusted group and stop list, and provides advanced network monitoring tools, showing all active services and ports, and providing traceroute and whois functions.

Your products seem to focus on software for individuals, what about the enterprise market?

Our Remote Management Console program provides a single interface for administrators and IT managers to oversee and configure Intego products on a network. It allows administrators to create and load settings files, configure individual settings and functions, and make changes to Intego programs on all computers quickly and easily. Settings for these programs can be managed individually or in groups, and administrators can apply the same settings to all users or apply templates with preset configurations to specific users.  With Intego Remote Management Console, administrators can connect to Macs anywhere in the world by applying a uniform security policy to all the Macs in a company, school or university, managing up to 10,000 networked computers.

What is the type of user that needs iChat encryption?

Many people, including those in businesses, use instant messaging with the same abandon as they use telephones, and are unaware that hackers can easily use network sniffers to intercept their messages and, perhaps, their trade secrets. iChat uses AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) servers for basic instant messaging. When using AIM, messages travel through many servers around the world in clear text and AOL gives no information as to which servers these messages use. In addition, an instant messaging session between one person in Madrid and another in Paris may travel through servers in the United States, and may be listened to by the US government, in accordance with the Patriot Act, without any requirement that the two parties be informed.

Do you expect Apple’s improving lookout and move to Intel to affect the number of security threats?

I hope not, but we are afraid that hackers, more familiar with Intel assembly code, will be able to better exploit any security risks that arise. A new operating system always has security weaknesses in the beginning, and we will be alert as Intel-based Mac OS X is released to ensure that we can protect our users as soon as any weaknesses are found.

How will the move to Intel affect Intego products? How is the porting going?

Apple has done an excellent job in preparing this transition, and, even today, the developer tools designed to help facilitate this transition are efficient and easy to use. Intego will have more work to do than some software companies, since our software works at a very low level in the OS, but for most applications this migration will be simple.

We will port all our existing applications to the Intel-based Mac OS X and have already begun working on this. We will naturally focus on developing new applications for this CPU, but we will certainly not stop supporting our current applications. The day that the first Apple computers with Intel processors are available, Intego software compatible with this new processor will be available as well.

Are you planning on "universal binaries" for your upcoming X4 range in September?

We will be using universal binaries for all Tiger and later versions of our software, but we will not be releasing these until Apple has released the Intel-compatible version of Mac OS X. We will be following Apple’s schedule as far as software releases are concerned.

How do you feel when people react "against the messenger" when you announce a security issue or possible threat? Mac users haven’t taken kindly to the first warnings.

While we are always uncomfortable announcing security weaknesses, it is our role to provide this service for our customers, who expect us to react as quickly as possible when security problems are discovered. We will continue to alert the Mac community and our users if other security weaknesses are found in Mac OS X, and, as always, will ensure that our software provides total protection from these possible dangers.

Intego seems to have a strong European component. What are the main differences between selling Mac software here or in the US?

Europe is a key territory for our software, and Spain is one of our strategic markets. We offer all our programs in many languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Italian and Japanese. We are also currently negotiating distribution agreements in South America.

The European market is more fragmented because of country-specific distribution, whereas the United States offers a larger market, with a unified language, unified distribution, and US distribution contracts generally include Canada.

Also, according to sources, Apple has committed to have 125 stores open by the end September, and have stated they intend to open stores on Continental Europe. These stores provide excellent visibility for both Macs and our products, and offers a unique location for users to buy hardware and software. In Europe, Apple’s on-line stores provide an excellent showcase for our products all across Europe.

What do you look forward to in the Mac scene?

We are hoping that Apple will open stores in major European cities: the store in London, which has been a great success, could be followed by Apple Stores in Madrid, Paris, Berlin, etc.

An increase in Apple’s retail presence in Europe would probably have the same effect as it has in the United States: better sales, more visibility, and a more general acceptance of the Mac platform. We are also looking forward to the change to Intel processors, which is a positive element for the future of the Mac.