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A Microsoft security putsch: three trials and an acquisition

Leading up to RSA 2006 this week, Microsoft's security product team has checked a few long-standing promises off of its to-do list.

With this week's launch of several highly anticipated security software beta trials and its acquisition of a Web filtering product, Microsoft is looking more and more like its chief rivals in the security market.

The image is one that the company wants to cultivate, particularly as it heads into the year's largest security confab in San Francisco this week, RSA Conference 2006. Microsoft is expected to outline its advances in security, particularly regarding Windows Vista, its identity management strategy, as well as its progress on a number of ongoing security initiatives.

Leading up to the event, Microsoft attended to some product housekeeping. The company released the public beta of its Internet Security and Acceleration Server 2006, an early beta of its Client Protection antispyware and anti-malware software and an early beta of Microsoft Antigen for Exchange antispam technology.

Microsoft added to the security push when it said it was acquiring a Web filtering product, DynaComm i:filter, from FutureSoft Inc., in Houston.

"This follows on expected trends that Microsoft has already introduced by delivering security and maintenance in the form of OneCare," said Scott Crawford, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates, in Boulder, Colo., referring to the release of OneCare Live, an antispyware, antivirus product due out later this year. Microsoft released pricing information about OneCare Live earlier this week.

"These are proof points of Microsoft's continued expansion into the endpoint security market," Crawford added.

At the endpoint

In ISA Server 2006, customers can expect to see some added management tools. There is a mechanism for remote set up and for removing dependency on a local management infrastructure, said Joel Sloss, senior product manager for ISA Server. Microsoft has it scheduled for public availability in the second half of 2006.

Microsoft is also releasing beta versions of its branded Antigen line of servers for Exchange Server. The products Antigen for Exchange, Antigen for SMTP Gateways, Antigen Spam Manager and Antigen Enterprise Manager were acquired through Microsoft's purchase of Sybari Software Inc. last February. The products, which will be released within the next six months, will have improved cluster support as well as antispam and antivirus signature updates.

As a fan of progress, it is troubling seeing some of the guys in the field, like Symantec and McAfee, losing market share.
David Glick, Data Research and Analysis Corp.,

Client Protection is the antispyware and anti-malware technology for enterprises from Microsoft. This technology, which will integrate the company's antivirus engine -- technology gained when it acquired Giant Company Software Inc. -- and centralized management, will have a public beta this year in the third quarter. The product is slated to be available by the end of this year and will be sold as a standalone product.

Finally, Microsoft purchased URL content-filtering technology and a database with advanced categorization from FutureSoft. "We found that as much as you want to control what employees do, people can access infected Web sites," Sloss said. "You can avoid this by filtering at the URL level."

The Web filter already integrates with ISA Server. Microsoft executives won't say exactly where the technology will finally be built in to the overall infrastructure. "Right now, we are just focused on getting the asset in house to begin the integration process," Sloss said.

Competitors beware

With this continued press into the realm of antispyware and anti-malware, Microsoft is becoming more of a disruptive force in a market owned by Symantec Corp., McAfee Inc. and Trend Micro Inc.

Symantec, in particular, has countered by picking up companies with a big presence in the enterprise. Earlier this week, Symantec said it would acquire privately held Relicore Inc., in Burlington, Mass, an applications and server configuration software manufacturer.

One advantage that Microsoft has on its side is the fact that it can offer security tools that are more tightly integrated with its desktops and servers, which is a big help to IT folks, said Paul Stamp, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Mass.

Some customers agree with that assessment. "We try to run all Microsoft tools when we can -- not because they are the best but because they always seem to work best together [with Windows]," said David Glick, a network administrator at defense contractor Data Research and Analysis Corp., in Alexandria, Va.

"As a fan of progress though, it is troubling seeing some of the guys in the field, like Symantec and McAfee, losing market share," Glick added. "But in the end it will probably reduce the amount of time I spend installing other company's products."

Glick uses Symantec's Enterprise Client Security for antivirus protection. It works flawlessly. But there have been a few times when the software was out of sync with a Microsoft upgrade, such as when Windows XP SP2 was released.

The problem was fixed in a week or two, but there was that brief disconnect, Glick said, and "that kind of disconnect thing happens frequently with third-party tools."

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