Sometimes Worms Just Need a Time-Out Why Eva Chen got software maker Trend Micro to take a chance on hardware.
By Kim Girard

(Business 2.0) – The Nimda worm that ravaged computers across the world in September 2001 was the final straw for Eva Chen. The chief technology officer of virus-fighting Trend Micro watched as even the company's own network was slammed. It couldn't stop Nimda, which crippled Web servers that were using Microsoft software. All the company could do was tell its customers to shut down their networks and provide them the tools to clean up the mess.

"I felt so frustrated," says the usually ebullient Chen, who co-founded Trend Micro with CEO Steve Chang in 1988. Fighting such network invaders is a reactive operation: Existing software works after a destructive sequence of code is identified, meaning it starts doing its job only after the worm has been unleashed inside the network. "In 13 years, we've never stopped a new virus from coming," she told Chang late that night after the battle ended.

For the next year, she was constantly chewing on the problem. Chen asked about better ways to fight the scourge when meeting with the 300 engineers she managed in the United States, Asia, and Europe. Then, at the most unlikely time and place--while having dinner with her energetic 13-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter on a rare evening at home in Pasadena, Calif.--the answer came to her. Just as her kids sometimes had to be separated to bring calm to the family meal, maybe what she needed to do was separate, or segment, the network. "I grabbed a piece of paper and started to draw," she says, pulling out her day planner, on which she often sketches. She forgot to eat that night. Lost in thought, she drew a prototype of her idea.

She called it the Network VirusWall. It would sit on the edge of a corporate network, scanning data packets and detaining those that might contain worms. That suspicious data could be compared with up-to-the-second info from Trend Micro's virus-tracking command center. Worms and other evil things could then be squashed.

There was one problem. Chen's solution was hardware. Trend Micro made software. Top executives balked at the idea of shifting the company's focus. To persuade them that the solution had to be a containment unit to stop trouble before it spread through the application level of the network, Chen asked seven of her best engineers to meet at her home. "It was like the movie Ocean's Eleven," she jokes. For the next two weeks, they camped out in the living room, sleeping in shifts in the spare bedrooms, as they completed the prototype and wrote code to run it.

Finally, Chen invited the top execs to her home for a demonstration of the working model. As the seven tired engineers stood by, she unleashed a worm and the box did the trick.

Having won the thumbs-up, Chen put the final branding on the box: fire-engine red to stand out among an IT department's racks of gray and black servers. Response to the $6,000 box has been strong, helping to push Trend Micro's stock to a 52-week high, despite the recent sell-off in tech. Worms: Bring it on. -- KIM GIRARD