September 15, 2011, 11:00 AM

Consumers like free computer security tools

But their loyalty to anti-virus providers is diminishing, report says.

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It’s becoming increasingly difficult for anti-virus software providers to retain existing customers who have taken to cobbling together security solutions from multiple providers, according to a new report from Forrester Research Inc.

Free security programs that consumers download from the web are growing in popularity, according to the report, “Consumer Security Market, 2011 and Beyond.” Freeware vendors, such as Avast, Lion Strong Security and 360, take 40% of the top slots in the 16 global markets surveyed, with vendors of paid security programs, like McAfee, Norton and AVG, having the rest.

Forrester estimates that between 300 million and 350 million computers globally run free anti-virus programs today. In the U.S., consumers run an average of 1.15 anti-virus programs on their computers, one of the lowest averages globally. Consumers in developing countries tend to run more programs. In India, consumers run an average of 2.37 programs, Chinese consumers average 1.94 and Brazilians 1.42.

In the U.S., paid security programs continue to dominate the market. McAfee, Norton by Symantec and AVG take the top three spots. Symantec is No. 35 in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide.

Forrester says consumers renew with the same anti-virus provider approximately 55% to 72% of the time, depending on the region. The report does not break out the retention rates by location.

Forrester says paid software providers need to rethink how they market their products to maintain or increase market share. Vendors, such as McAfee, have costly paid arrangements with computer manufacturers so their software programs come pre-installed on new computers and use those tie-ins to acquire paid customers. Other vendors sell through retail channels. The growing problem there, Forrester says, is that consumers increasingly look to download their security programs or run Internet-based security programs, and many seek free software. For example, consumers age 18 to 35 are most attracted to free downloads, as opposed to paid downloads. “These vendors must adapt to changes in product acquisition,” the report authors write.

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