Network Associates tossing wider net

Network Associates has laid out plans to move into new areas, from spam control to intrusion prevention, as well as to augment its antivirus, help desk and protocol analysis products.

CEO George Samenuk, speaking at the company's annual Wall Street analysts briefing, wasn't forced to spend much time convincing anyone that the company has cleaned up its act since he came onboard two years ago amid mounting financial losses. But the big question was whether the company, which turned a healthy profit last year and is aiming for US$1 billion-plus in revenue this year, can succeed in expanding beyond its core markets with offerings that address an ever-more-complex network security environment.

"A year ago we didn't have a lot of new product announcements, but this year you will see a blitz from us," Samenuk said.

Network Associates officials said customers are demanding faster response times to threats, pointing out that intrusion-prevention equipment will play a key role. Such products are designed to block attacks, not just detect them as do intrusion-detection systems (IDS). Network Associates plans to get into that market next year, although the announcement was short on details.

"As an industry, we aren't stopping these attacks well," President Gene Hodges said. "You have to be able to make a decision in the network in startlingly short time spans, moving from what was once hours to a fraction of a second."

Network Associates' new interest in intrusion prevention is complicated by the company's involvement with Internet Security Systems Inc. (ISS), which specializes in intrusion detection. Because Network Associates lacked its own intrusion-detection offering, the company last year licensed IDS technology from ISS to incorporate into a gigabit-speed edition of the Sniffer protocol analyzer - dubbed Impermia - scheduled to be available by midyear.

But recently, Network Associates executives left room for a lot of doubt about the future of the relationship with ISS in terms of evolving Impermia into a product for intrusion prevention.

"ISS is the dominant leader in intrusion detection, and we are feverishly working to get the new product out in the second quarter," Samenuk said. "It doesn't mean we won't look at other partners or products. It's an experiment."

Network Associates, like rival Symantec Corp., is looking to make a stronger play in intrusion protection than either of them did in IDS. Neither was very successful with internal development, and Symantec even bought IDS company Recourse Technologies Inc. last August.

Network Associates also is keen on being able to offer a security information management product, which would combine alert and event data from multiple vendors' security systems, such as firewalls or IDS, to deliver a more complete view of a security situation. The company intends to publish an open API for its ePolicy Orchestrator and invite vendors to use it to share data with the Network Associates management system, Hodges said.

Few security information management products are on the market, mainly from start-ups such as ArcSight Inc. and NetForensics Inc. But established players, such as Check Point Software Technologies Ltd., Computer Associates International Inc. and Symantec, have begun plotting a road map for their offerings.

Network Associates customers are supportive of the company's product direction.

"It would be leveraging the Sniffer product to respond to any intrusion issues," said Tony Cellante, managing director of the IT group at Bear Stearns & Co. Inc., which uses Sniffer for network analysis.

Even as it sorts out its plans for security information management and intrusion prevention, Network Associates is enhancing existing products. Highlights include:

* Desktop Firewall 8.0, which will let administrators better enforce policies, such as requiring individuals to update their antivirus software every day or have their access to certain applications blocked.

* EPolicy Orchestrator 3.0, upgraded management software that will have a custom wizard for use by small businesses.

* Magic 7.7 help desk software, which will include asset discovery to gauge the network user's IP address and applications.

Network Associates also is seeking to fight off Symantec's success in the consumer market through a number of reseller deals with service providers America Online Inc., MSN and Sprint Corp. and equipment manufacturers Apple Computer Inc., Dell Computer Corp. and Sony Corp. Network Associates officials said they anticipate making more formal announcements in coming months.

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