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Software Strengthening Like a Virus

Let's face it: If McAfee (NYSE: MFE  ) hadn't grown earnings this quarter, we might suspect some serious problems. After all, viruses and worms have been rearing their ugly heads more than ever, and business and consumer users alike are more tuned in than ever to the need to run antivirus software.

It wasn't too long ago that most consumer computer users shrugged off the dangers of viruses and worms, but ever since last fall, when the infamous SoBig and LoveSan viruses hit, many people whose computers were infected and then went on the blink learned a valuable lesson. Constant patching by Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) and complaints about its security also raised the awareness of the need for antivirus software (though many Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) computer users still theorize they don't need it).

Meanwhile, the big guns in computing are all at least giving the impression that they are fighting the good fight against viruses and spam. Even though Motley Fool Stock Advisor stock Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) is a hardware maker, it recently created a Web site to help instruct consumers -- well, and push the services of antivirus partners.

McAfee, which was formerly known as Network Associates, quadrupled its second-quarter earnings. It reported profits of $10.2 million, or $0.06 per share, although this time last year, its earnings were admittedly impacted by charges.

Sales increased to $226 million, and McAfee added 822,000 new subscribers to its consumer online business, making its grand total 5.4 million. Big-name corporate clients include Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) America Online, another company that has a vested interest in keeping its user base virus-free.

McAfee nudged its guidance higher, saying it now expects third-quarter earnings of $0.12 per share, though it stood firm on fourth-quarter guidance. The earnings report is not too dissimilar from recent numbers from rival Symantec (Nasdaq: SYMC  ) , which of course is also seeing hefty demand for its products.

Though it sounds like a space ripe for growth, there are some uncertainties. Microsoft has said it wants to get into the antivirus game, and while some have viewed this with a critical eye given its security track record, others fear the impact that could have on companies such as McAfee and Symantec. Regardless, the ever-intensifying fight against security threats makes it tempting to take a deeper look at the industry.

Both Dell and Time Warner areMotley Fool Stock Advisorpicks. To find out what other stocks make the grade, try a subscription for six months, risk free. If you like to talk about viruses and other Internet threats, check out ourViruses, hoaxes, & spam, oh my!discussion board.

Alyce Lomaxdoes not own shares of any of the companies mentioned here. As for the recent article in USA Today about the one-third of Americans who allegedly respond to spam, she has one comment: What the heck's wrong with you people???

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