Multinational software companies looking to fight computer viruses in the mainland must first battle local competitors, which have a strong hold on the anti-virus product market. As much as 95 per cent of the market was claimed by mainland vendors, said Daniel Schneersohn, Symantec's North Asia regional director. There are between five and 10 companies which dominate the anti-virus software market, leaving a handful of international companies - including Computer Associates (CA), Symantec, Trend Micro and Network Associates - to scramble for the remainder. Foreign vendors were optimistic, however, that sales would grow as the mainland computer market expanded. 'China is a critical market,' said Vivien Chung, Trend Micro general manager. The company had launched heavy marketing campaigns to build brand-name recognition, she said. Beijing Jiang Min Technology had about 80 per cent of the anti-virus software market, Ms Chung said. However, Jiang Min's latest product, KV300+, worked only on the DOS platform. Mainland anti-virus products tended to be cheaper and had better brand awareness among mainland users than foreign brands, but were 'purely of a detect and repair variety', said Symantec chief executive Gordon Eubanks. Software products from multinational brands usually detect and eradicate viruses before they can corrupt a PC. They also offer services such as 'updates' with antidotes which help identify and kill new bugs and can be upgraded into the software regularly. Symantec, the latest foreign contender in the mainland's anti-virus market, last month opened a Beijing office and released two of its Norton corporate anti-virus products in simplified Chinese. It planned to first target corporations and enter the consumer sector later, although the company believed both sectors of computer users were equally aware of, and susceptible to, viruses. 'There is a very high level of awareness of viruses,' Mr Schneersohn said, 'but not much understanding about what needs to be done.' CA assistant vice-president Peter Liu said users tended to panic on discovery of a virus. 'They will delete the virus or reformat a hard drive,' he said. This way of killing the virus was not always successful, and it prevented the software companies from collecting the bug. Software vendors need a sample of a virus to create an antidote. Once the antidote is created and put into a user's software database, it can prevent the user from re-infection or the virus spreading to other users. 'The problem is to collect the local virus,' Mr Liu said. Trend Micro had collected more than 2,000 mainland viruses from customers over the past year, but the number was not exceptionally high, given the number of computer users, Ms Chung said. Alex Jiang, CA's marketing director for north Asia, believed several computer viruses were home-grown, generated by categories of people that included 'the unsatisfied employee', 'people [who] are trying to show off their technical level', and those who did it purely 'for fun'. The National People's Congress last March approved revisions to the criminal code to outlaw virus creation. It is believed the most common mainland virus is of the macro type. Macro viruses, also the most common worldwide, attach themselves to software applications and are spread through documents as they are e-mailed or downloaded. The increasing use of e-mail has triggered growth of the problem, much more so than the use of corrupt pirated CD-Roms, software vendors said. CA recently released anti-virus software products for both the consumer and corporate markets - Kill 98 for Windows versions 98, 95 and 3.1; and Kill for Windows NT servers. The products were developed through CA's joint venture with mainland software firm China Jinchen, with which it formed a partnership earlier this year. Jinchen, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Ministry of Public Security, had a good database of viruses and established sales channels, CA's Mr Jiang said. CA would also benefit from using Jinchen's brand name, Kill, which was well-known, he said. Getting samples was a key to success, Mr Jiang said. 'That is why we chose Jinchen. They have got a very wide range of [virus] coverage in the China market.' However, CA does not think its joint venture will give it benefits over competitors through Jinchen's government ties. 'At this point, I think the opportunity for everyone is the same,' Mr Jiang said. Trend Micro, a Taiwanese company listed in Japan, said it had not encountered any complications in applying for and receiving licences for its software. However, it had been advised by government officials not to market its Taiwanese products in the mainland. Trend Micro sells PC-cillin 98 to consumers, and Server Protect for NT and Netware to corporations, in simplified Chinese versions. Trend Micro and CA held a slightly different view than Symantec on how best to combat mainland viruses. Symantec believed that foreign viruses were a large threat. 'It is really a global problem, with a global solution,' Mr Schneersohn said. The company said its laboratories, located around the world, could help to combat the onslaught of viruses that cross global boundaries via networks such as the Internet. Trend Micro believed battling mainland viruses was an equally important but taxing venture, given the difficulty in obtaining samples. Trend Micro services its customers by having them send viruses either to its re-sellers or directly to the company through its Web page, in cases where its software could not identify the virus. Antidotes for new viruses are returned to the customer, usually within 24 hours. Ms Chung believed participation of foreign anti-virus vendors was crucial to helping advance product standards on the mainland market. 'China will be more and more open to anti-virus products because with Internet use it's very easy to get viruses,' she said. 'China must have more foreign competitors . . . to improve [its] defence.'