Streamlining Tech Support And Rooting Out 'Evil'

Enterprise security and PC tech support for consumers on display at DEMO.

PALM DESERT, CALIF.-- Solutions to solve those pesky PC support problems, as well as larger enterprise security concerns, were on display here at the DEMO conference.

At the high end, a company called MANDIANT, launched its MANDIANT Intelligent Response (MIR 1.0) appliance that's designed to "find evil and solve crime."

Essentially an enterprise-class, application server, loaded with memory, storage (just under 3 terabytes) and custom software, the MIR collects activity on the network looking for things like unusual traffic patterns or strange IP addresses.

It also functions as a centralized data store and workspace for investigators to search the collected data for keywords, construct event timelines and compare and contrast the collected data to past incidents.

Jim Hansen, executive vice president and COO at MANDIANT, said the company founders include former federal agents—including himself—who worked in computer security diagnostics and forensics. The development of the MIR grew out of the firm's consulting practice of the past four years.

"We're on the react side rather than prevention," Hansen told InternetNews.com. "The idea is to minimize and contain the problems that come up."

In their onstage presentation, MANDIANT execs stressed companies are still vulnerable to rootkits , Trojans and other malicious software that can slip through firewalls, antivirus and other protection schemes.

"The bad guys aren't going after individuals. They're going after companies and organizations, and you need to respond quickly," said MANDIANT CEO Kevin Mandia.

The MIR 1.0 is designed for Win32 systems (Windows NT, XP) with support for Vista and other operating systems planned for later. The MIR 1.0 costs $86,500 plus maintenance and installation fees.

Consumer PC Help

Several companies launched support services aimed at consumers.

SupportSpace.com unveiled what it said is a more transparent, direct approach to tech support.

At the SupportSpace Web site users can find a marketplace of tech support experts certified by SupportSpace. The experts are given star ratings based on performance and user comments, all of which are posted in their original, unedited text. You can even see a transcription of a chat support session to get a sense of how your problem might be handled.

The individual experts post their own per-session price and the first session on the site is free. A recent sampling showed a price range of $20 to $49.99 per session among different experts who also post their picture and a list of services they offer.

"We've taken every precaution to make sure every session is safe, secure and recorded," said SupportSafe CEO Yair Grinlinger. Depending on the problem, support can be handled in a simple chat window or extend to a desktop sharing application so the remote expert can "take over" the customer's PC to identify the problem and run a suite of diagnostic software.

Another "support-named" company, Support.com, announced an update of its online PC help desk to include a free downloadable PC "health check." The software scans a user's PC and measures three main areas: Performance, Security and Hardware.

The software then provides details of each problem area found and gives the user an option to fix them on their own.

For example, in the Performance category there are 55 areas the software evaluates that are potentially "tunable" by knowledgeable users. Alternatively, the company offers its own list of solutions in a range of pre-set prices (e.g. $74.99 for a system tune-up, $89.99 for virus and spyware removal, etc.)

Pathworks Software launched Helpstream, a kind of on-demand tech support service platform other companies can implement to support their products and customers. Helpstream taps the community of users familiar with the product or technical issues to answer tech-support questions.

"Generally speaking, customer service mostly sucks," said Pathworks CEO Tony Nemelka. "It's not that companies don't want to do it, but it's hard to figure out and hard to connect users with the right experts."

Pathworks is free and ad-supported. The company also plans to generate revenue with additional premium services such as being able to brand the service as your own.

"We combine case management with community forums which have always been seen as more of a stepchild that's not integrated with standard support," Perry Mizota, vice president of marketing for Pathworks, told InternetNews.com.

TAGS: security,virus,technical support



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