[ISN] Microsoft swims upstream on security

InfoSec News isn at c4i.org
Fri Jun 23 15:39:29 EDT 2006


By Joris Evers
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
June 22, 2006

Microsoft's security ambitions don't stop with the consumer. The
company also has an eye on the multibillion-dollar enterprise security

Now that it's launched the Windows Live OneCare security service for
consumers, Microsoft is ramping up its efforts to convince businesses
that it is the solution to, not the source of, their security woes.  
The Redmond, Wash., company last week unveiled Forefront, a single
brand that encompasses updated and upcoming security products aimed at

The moves are part of Microsoft's attempt to expand its business and
tap new revenue sources, analysts said. Last year, security software
sales hit $12 billion, according to research firm IDC. On the
enterprise side, Yankee Group expects the Windows client security
software market to grow to $3.6 billion this year.

"They are in it for the money, of course," said Andrew Jaquith, an
analyst at Yankee Group. "Microsoft initially was very mysterious
about its security plans. But its steady drumbeat of announcements
over the last months shows intent to be a very broad enterprise
security player."

Under the Forefront plan, the brand-new Microsoft Client Protection
product, now in development, will be sold as Forefront Client Security
for PCs and servers. In addition, updates of Antigen for Exchange and
Antigen for SharePoint will also carry the Forefront tag, Microsoft
said. Antigen for Instant Messaging and the ISA Server firewall and
Web caching software are also in the Forefront group.

"We're going to provide a comprehensive set of security technologies
for businesses that is integrated with their existing infrastructure,
with an emphasis on the deployment, management and ongoing usability,"  
said Steve Brown, the director of product management in the security,
access and solutions division at Microsoft.

 As far as motivation goes, Microsoft sees its entry into the security
fray as a "very broad opportunity" for itself and for its customers,
Brown said. "The primary reason we're doing this is that there is
clearly a customer need for this approach," he said.

Companies such as McAfee, Symantec, Trend Micro and Computer
Associates have long demonstrated that there's money to be made in
protecting Windows systems. For Microsoft, it's simpler to create
security add-ons than to build security into its products, an approach
that would also make it harder for the company to make extra money, at
least one analyst said.

"This is a rather safe play," said Charles Kolodgy, an analyst at IDC.  
"It is easier than building the security into products and not being
able to directly capture revenue. And if their security product line
doesn't work, they can leave the market."

Microsoft has gradually built up its security muscle in recent years
through numerous acquisitions. It bought antivirus specialist GeCAD,
anti-spyware maker Giant Company Software and Sybari Software, maker
of the Antigen products. Its lineup also includes hosted e-mail
security services, picked up through the takeover of FrontBridge

Most recently, the company gobbled up Whale Communications, a
specialist in secure remote access and Web application firewalls. Last
October, it announced it would sell security software for business PCs
and servers. The new product, now called Forefront Client Security, is
due for release in the second quarter of next year.

In catch-up mode

While it's bound to attract some business for its new products right
away, Microsoft has some work to do to become a formidable competitor
in the security area. That's especially true when it comes to
enterprise client security, analysts said.

"They will get some market share just for being Microsoft," Burton
Group analyst Dan Blum said. "To take a majority position, they need
to establish a product that is functionally on par with, or pretty
close to, the likes of McAfee and Symantec," he said, adding that this
likely won't happen until 2008 or 2009.

Symantec, which provides a range of products aimed at protecting
corporate networks and systems, said Thursday that it's ready for any
competition from Microsoft.

"With a level playing field, all the vendors in the security space
will compete for mind share, based on what enterprise customers
believe to be the best product to suit their needs," a representative
of the security software maker said. "Symantec has been the leading
provider of effective protection against viruses and other malicious
threats for more than 15 years."

The main obstacle facing Microsoft is customer distrust. "There are
certain customers that don't trust them because of their previous
track record," Yankee Group's Jaquith said.

The software maker has invested heavily in security over the past
years. Despite this, most malicious software targets Microsoft
products, and the company still deals with lots of security holes.  
Last week, for example, it issued 12 security bulletins with fixes for
21 vulnerabilities--the largest number ever for its monthly "Patch
Tuesday" updates.

"You're in one camp or another with them," Jaquith said. Either
businesses are very loyal customers and are rooting for Microsoft, or
they feel they were burned by the company and simply don't trust it,
he said.

And there are those who feel the software giant is trying to turn
lemons into lemonade with its move into the security fray.

"The idea of Microsoft coming up with antivirus software is a sham,"  
said Frank Seichal of Old Bridge, N.J., who works in IT at a financial
institution. "Why should I purchase software from Microsoft to stop
the operating system vulnerabilities created by Microsoft? I can not
believe Microsoft is getting away with this."

Another factor to overcome are the high-quality products sold by
incumbent security vendors. McAfee, for example, has earned high marks
from its customers with the ePolicy Orchestrator, a central security
management tool, Jaquith said.

"Microsoft needs to prove reliability, stability and predictability.  
They need some success stories," Jaquith said. "Just saying that
they're better integrated and that they make the operating system is
not going to cut it."

In its Forefront documentation, Microsoft promises products that work
well together and with existing IT systems. Additionally, the software
will be simple to install and can be centrally managed, it says.  
However, they will protect only Microsoft software and not Linux
servers or SAP applications, for example.

"That is perhaps their greatest disadvantage," Blum said. "They tend
to have this somewhat myopic strategy centered around their own
products and ignoring other products, even those that run on Windows."

Rivals and regulators

Antitrust concerns also lurk. Microsoft may promote Forefront products
as better integrated, but if it has used hooks into its operating
system that are kept secret from rivals, regulators might be all over
the software giant, analysts said.

n fact, some small Microsoft competitors are already complaining about
the company's security pricing strategy. In a blog posting this week,
Alex Eckelberry, president of Clearwater, Fla.-based anti-spyware
toolmaker Sunbelt Software, said Microsoft is engaging in predatory
pricing with its OneCare and Antigen products.

By undercutting its rivals on price, Microsoft is pushing the
competition out of business, after which it will increase its prices,
Eckelberry wrote.

Jaquith dismissed that complaint. "I think they are being creative and
aggressive, but I don't think they are being predatory. There is
plenty of room for pricing innovation in this space," he said.

It was about time that Microsoft fleshed out its security strategy and
shared it with the public, Jaquith said. "Finally we're hearing what
they are doing," he said. "It is a 'damn the torpedoes, full speed
ahead' strategy."

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