Network Associates back in firewall business

TORONTO — Network Associates International is preparing to re-enter the firewall market with a product that will be run by its single-server management tool.

The security firm plans to release the product, which will probably

be called the Personal Desktop Firewall, sometime before the end of this month. Connected to a small agent on a desktop hard drive, the firewall will be managed by NAI’s ePolicy Orchestrator, a software tool designed to enforce anti-virus protection and policies from one console.

Last October NAI shut down its PGP Security unit and fired 250 employees after posting a loss of US$11.3 million. PGP, which stood for Pretty Good Privacy, sold products like the GPfire distributed firewall.

“”We got out of the firewall business because we weren’t the No. 1 player in that market,”” said NAI president George Samenuk, who was in Canada Wednesday. “”We weren’t even the No. 2 or 3 player. We were, like, ninth.””

Samenuk said the new firewall will allow NAI to capitalize on the simplification he said ePolicy Orchestrator has brought to network administrators. “”They don’t want to have 10 different consoles,”” he said. “”(With this firewall), on a financial application, you’ll be able to shut it down from a central console. People want to manage, contain and stop these attacks before they happen.””

Approximately 20 of NAI’s customers are beta-testing the firewall, including one of the world’s top five banks, which Samenuk wouldn’t name. Customers will be able to shut down individual desktops once a virus is detected, he said, or an entire department.

Robert Vibert, principal of Braeside, Ont.-based anti-virus consultant Segura Solutions, pointed out that personal firewalls are not usually updated as often as anti-virus products. “”There’s just no comparison,”” he said. “”Most personal firewalls might be updated once every six months — it’s not the same type of technology. It doesn’t require a signature in the same way.””

Usually those updates are along the lines of what you’d see in word processing software, Vibert added — a patch to fix a bug or some enhanced functionality. “”(Enterprises) have already got software distribution tools, in any large organization anyway,”” he said. “”‘What’s the personal firewall doing that the corporate firewall isn’t doing?’ is a question they’re going to ask.””

Samenuk said he was under no illusions that firewalls are the best tools to protect data, calling faith in firewalls a “”myth”” of network security. Instead, he said NAI is waiting for capital expenditures to start rising again so the company can take advantage of the emerging wireless market. “”Less than five per cent of these wireless networks are protected,”” he said. Post-secondary institutions are the early adopters here, he said, and data protection typically falls by the wayside. “”They don’t care if it’s secure. They just want to be able to walk around with their devices.””

Despite the economic slowdown Samenuk projected more than 20 per cent growth for NAI this year. Last year, Network Associates Canada grew by 32 per cent, making it one of the firm’s best-performing units. Canada, Samenuk said, is among the top three best countries in terms of government adoption of anti-virus solutions. The U.S., in contrast, is “”antiquated — it’s still paper and pencil,”” he said.

Though users never seem to learn their lesson about opening unsolicited e-mail attachments, Samenuk admitted even he is not immune. “”I open stuff,”” he said. “”I have seven brothers, they send me stuff all the time. Other people send me stuff — you want to know what’s in there. It’s human nature. I open stuff!””

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