Big Interview: BullGuard’s Steve Hicks

Steve Hicks, Head of Global Sales, BullGuard talks to PCR about cybersecurity, the burgeoning vgaming industry and the need for greater security and new channel opportunities.

Steve Hicks, Head of Global Sales, BullGuard had this to say:

How do you see the coming year developing in terms of consumer cybersecurity?
Consumer awareness of cybersecurity has certainly grown over the past year, which is clearly a positive, and we expect this greater awareness to inform decisions that consumers will make in the coming 12 months. For instance, time spent online increased dramatically over the last 12 months but alongside this came a storm of new and increased online threats, triggering a wave of understanding for many that online safety was dubious and indeed precious.

This is going to and already has made a difference. Previously, many people haven’t given online protection much thought because they didn’t believe they would become a victim of cybercrime. Now, people are very aware that it could easily happen to them and are actively making efforts to ensure they are protected online rather than being nudged and prompted.

In turn, this is going to make it much easier for resellers to sell cybersecurity in the coming year. For example, lots of people thought VPNs were technically complex to use and only suitable for those with in-depth knowledge which stunted take-up. But consumer perception is now changing with end users realising that VPNs are for all and easy to use, and subsequently demand is increasing exponentially.

People today are also questioning how safe they are while online and as such we can expect to see growth in identity protection software that safeguards payment cards and banking information. To summarise, I’d say in the coming 12 months resellers will find a lot more consumer receptivity to cybersecurity. Resellers can benefit from this by helping educate customers about cybersecurity and privacy solutions and ensuring their digital lives and personal information is protected.

Do you think consumers will take more active steps in protecting their privacy in the coming year?
Most certainly. Just look at what happened in January of this year. WhatsApp alerted users to a change in its terms and conditions and millions fled the platform faster than you could say ‘terms and conditions are changing.’

Figures from the UK parliament’s home affairs committee showed that Signal gained 7.5 million users in the first three weeks of the year, while Telegram gained a whopping 25 million. And all because WhatsApp didn’t explain clearly what the changes meant. People assumed their privacy would be breached which speaks volumes about how concerned and aware people are about what companies do with their data.

Facebook’s recent leaking of 500,000 user records, including phone numbers, and the company displaying near indifference, is only going to strengthen resolve. It leaves many feeling uncomfortable and rightly so. Technologies that secure privacy and are easy to use, such as VPNs, will certainly gain more traction in the coming year.

How important is innovation in defending against new threats?
It’s essential. Take zero-day threats for instance. A little over ten years ago they were relatively rare. Today, the number that are discovered in-the-wild attacking systems are more common and the damage they can do is significant indeed. Many can easily infect 300,000 computers and more in a short space of time.

We recently introduced Advanced Dynamic Machine Learning in our 2021 cybersecurity suite to help protect against these threats. It is layered over traditional signature-based detection and behavioural learning, and continually accesses large and dynamic pools of data that are constantly updated. It draws on this mass of data to make decisions about whether or not code is harmful based on a series of traits. Some code traits, for instance, may rank higher than other traits. In terms of detecting new attack vectors, new strains of malicious code, zero-day threats and new emerging malware, it’s certainly an innovation and an important detection tool for new threats.

We’ve always had a multi-layered approach to protection, and alongside dynamic machine learning, we’ve also included new cloud detection technology that detects threats as they emerge in real-time, without the need to update signatures on the device. And an On-Access engine that protects customers even if a manual scan is never run.

Are there any market opportunities that you think are currently underserved?
Yes, it’s got to be gaming. Gaming is a huge industry. According to Statista, there are currently more than 2.4 billion gamers in the world – that’s about one-third of the world’s entire population. Gamers are under constant attack from all sorts of threats such as credential hacking, gaming-specific malware and in-game ransomware, password stealers, phishing campaigns, software imitating well-known gaming platforms, dodgy third-party apps and DDoS attacks.

Yet gamers are one of the most exposed groups of people online because gamers don’t want anything to interfere with gameplay. They don’t want games jittering, they don’t want games lagging and they certainly don’t want games freezing. Fractions of a second can make the difference between beating an opponent or hanging their head between their legs and many gamers have the negative perception that antivirus software uses lots of system resources, which in turn slows gaming down. To avoid this, they either don’t use online protection or turn it off if they are running it.

We’ve addressed this shortfall with patented Game Booster technology. It recognises when a game is active and other apps are also running. It then automatically isolates all other apps, which are not games, on one or two CPU cores and stops all annoying pop-ups. As a result, other CPU cores are fully dedicated to the gaming app, enhancing gameplay without lag and ensuring the gamer is protected against malware threats and attacks at the same time.

We think this is an important development and one that provides good revenue growth opportunities. Game Booster is an important component within BullGuard’s software and we believe it provides a unique proposition to this huge and underserved market.

What is BullGuard’s view on channel opportunities in the coming year?
Privacy is an issue that is certainly gathering pace, and within this context, there are certainly healthy ongoing opportunities for VPN sales. BullGuard VPN is one of the few VPNs available to the Channel. Importantly, it doesn’t track or store user data, is low cost and extremely simple to use. In the current climate of growing awareness about the need for individual privacy, it certainly provides much potential for growing revenues and increasing profit.

Another area where sales opportunities are likely to increase is antimalware software, which ‘clearly’ contains user-friendly parental controls. Kids have inevitably spent more time online during lockdowns, which means even more exposure to malicious content and people with bad intentions. The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) recently revealed that children, even as young as three, have been exposed too much more predatory abuse during the pandemic. Keeping children safe from the dark corners of the Internet is always an issue, and now, huge campaigns backing the need to address the growing problem really helps drive home the message that children need to be kept safe online.

Parental controls are vital in enabling parents, grandparents and carers to block malicious websites, create filters so the kids don’t inadvertently stray onto sites that contain adult and malicious content, and set screen time boundaries. BullGuard Internet Security 2021 provides discrete, robust parental controls, as well as multi-award-winning antimalware and advanced protection technologies. BullGuard Premium Protection 2021 provides the same features and also includes identity protection and a Home Network scanner.

In short, full protection for all the entire family, including kids and avid gamers, is available in one neat product. Given that receptivity to cybersecurity and privacy technologies is greater than ever, we believe the next 12 months will present significant sales opportunities for the Channel.

What does BullGuard bring to the channel?
The importance of the channel is embedded in our DNA. The channel comes first and so our main goal is to boost our partners’ profits and to help them grow. To support this, we developed an industry-leading partner programme that provides extensive support, delivers healthy margins and offers compelling financial incentives. The Advantage Programme gives partners the products and tools they need to be successful and a lucrative revenue share scheme that is unique in the industry.

The Advantage Programme pays BullGuard partners a 25% share of online revenue from all renewals for the life of the product. With one of the highest customer renewal rates in the industry, this recurring revenue quickly becomes very significant. The revenue share scheme allows us to share our success with our partners, turning license renewals into a highly profitable revenue stream.

During the Covid pandemic, we ensured our partners were fully supported with regular “check-in” calls and were very much able to help with bespoke requests. Our visibility to partners during this period, where many other vendors disappeared, was extremely important in helping partners steer a successful course through the pandemic and explicitly reinforcing our determined commitment to the channel.

BullGuard has won PCR’s Award for Best Software and Services Vendor three years running (2018, 2019 and 2020) as well as PCR’s Company of the year award in 2020. This is testament to the strength of our products and also the support we provide to our partners.

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