Network Associates (NAI) started 2003 by putting spam between the crosshairs. On Monday the company announced the acquisition of Deersoft, a maker of antispam software, for an undisclosed sum.
Deersoft, of San Mateo, California, makes the SpamAssassin Pro and SpamAssassin Enterprise products. The company's software uses content rules and heuristic scans to analyze incoming e-mail messages and identify spam. Once identified, messages can be either rejected outright or saved for review.
NAI said that it intends to fold the SpamAssassin technology into their McAfee line of products, wooing enterprises by providing antispam technology at the network gateway and on e-mail servers, as well as on the desktop.
"Deersoft was attractive to us for the simple reason that SpamAssassin has the most sophisticated rules-based approach on market and the lowest false positive rates of the products we tested," according to Zoe Lowther, senior solutions marketing manager at NAI's McAfee Security division.
Among other things, Deersoft's technology provided NAI with more sophisticated rules-based scanning than what was available from NAI's competitors or in McAfee's existing antispam product, McAfee SpamKiller, Lowther said.
Working in a similar fashion to antivirus detection technology, SpamAssassin analyzes the attributes of incoming e-mail to spot spam, rather than simply matching the message source against a "blacklist" of known spammers.
In addition, the Deersoft technology provides multiplatform support, while SpamKiller works only in the Microsoft Corp. Windows environment, according to NAI.
The first McAfee-Deersoft fusion will be in the form of McAfee's SpamKiller Enterprise, a client-based desktop solution aimed at the enterprise that will be built on the foundation of Deersoft's SpamAssassin Pro product. Those additions will be unveiled in the second quarter of this year.
In addition, NAI will release a software update to the McAfee ePolicy Orchestrator (ePO) policy manager in the second quarter of 2003 that will let ePO manage SpamKiller Enterprise across the enterprise, Lowther said.
Finally, Deersoft's technology will be rolled into McAfee's WebShield and GroupShield products, providing antispam protection for Internet gateways and e-mail servers later in 2003.
SpamAssassin began as open source software developed by Justin Mason, a software programmer based in Ireland who was looking for a way to combat spam that was plaguing his own e-mail system, according to information posted on the Deersoft Web site.
After teaming up with Deersoft co-founder Craig Hughes and venture capitalist Gordon Kurberg, Mason launched Deersoft Inc. in June 2002. The company currently employs about seven or eight people, according to an NAI spokeswoman.
The purchase is just the latest sign of the growing importance of spam protection to both home users and enterprises, according to Brian Burke, senior analyst of Internet security at IDC.
"Spam is no longer just a nuisance, it's quickly becoming a major issue for corporate IT managers and users alike."
Burke said that Deersoft was a good fit for Network Associates, complementing its strength in antivirus protection while providing enterprise customers with a desperately needed tool to combat spam e-mail.
"SpamKiller is a desktop product that's focused on consumers. This acquisition addresses the corporate need for an antispam solution," Burke said.
The purchase was characterized in a statement released by NAI as "the first in a series of investments by Network Associates" in spam and other content filtering technologies. In the statement, NAI hinted that future announcements would concern technology to detect spam from sources that do not appear on antispam "blacklists," while also providing content filtering features.
That technology could come in the form of further acquisitions or internally developed products, according to Lowther.
NAI's moves are part of a larger consolidation in the security space, with larger players such as NAI and Symantec Corp. developing "suites" of related security products while smaller software vendors find their technology gobbled up or marginalized by the larger players, according to Burke.