Google buys into security, acquires GreenBorder

The search giant has acquired GreenBorder in order to get the security software company's engineers and to help secure its own hosted apps

Google has jumped into the anti-malware market, snatching up browser-based security software maker GreenBorder Technologies for an undisclosed amount of money.

Officials with the search market leader confirmed the deal on May 29 but said that the two firms signed an acquisition agreement roughly two weeks beforehand.

Google representatives would not provide further details about the deal itself or a timeframe for the GreenBorder acquisition to be closed within.

GreenBorder announced news of the buyout on its Web site over the weekend. The company is a venture-backed provider of browser-based HIPs (host intrusion protection) tools for both businesses and consumers.

Google officials said that the company moved to make the deal based on its perception that GreenBorder had a crack security software engineering team that could help boost security across all of its products.

"This is pretty straightforward, it's primarily a talent acquisition for us; they have a small team of engineers that we were really impressed with," said Aaron Zamost, a corporate communications representative with Google. "The idea is that these guys have great expertise in the security domain that can provide obvious benefits to Google, its users, and its advertisers."

The company would offer no further details of its plan to integrate GreenBorder's security tools into its own products, which have branched far beyond search into Web-based productivity applications that compete with Microsoft's ubiquitous Office products. The Google Apps Premier Edition, launched in Feb. 2007, offers businesses e-mail, calendar, instant messaging, and word processing capabilities.

GreenBorder had been offering both a free consumer version of its programs and paid editions of its applications marketed at enterprise users, including a version that specifically promised to secure computers using Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Outlook products for business users, dubbed GreenBorder Professional Edition.

The software also runs in coordination with other browsers and Web-based e-mail systems, including Firefox.

GreenBorder has pitched its technology as the security industry's "first desktop DMZ software for Windows" that promises to stop malware code from running on browser-based applications by forcing untrusted content sent through the programs to run in a virtualized protected environment.

By running unknown code in such a "time-out" setting, where the content remains isolated from a local host and any trusted network it is connected to, GreenBorder claims to prevent malware programs from delivering their nefarious payloads.

Any content arriving on a user's desktop from an untrusted source is visually hosted in a controlled virtual environment highlighted by a green border surrounding programs like Outlook and IE.

As with other companies previously acquired by Google, GreenBorder has halted downloads of its software. However, the firm said on its site that existing users will maintain uninterrupted access to its products with its support team is still available during the transition.

The company said it will continue to support existing customers through the end of their current subscriptions to its software.

"GreenBorder's proactive, always-on protection against malicious code is fundamentally more effective than reactive, detection-based approaches," Drew Hoffman, president and CEO of GreenBorder told InfoWorld at the time of Professional Edition's 2005 introduction.

"With the ever-changing, unpredictable nature of Internet-based threats, organizations are realizing that the race to plug holes in defenses can never be won," Hoffman said.

Google has made a series of recent moves to boost its profile in regards to improving security for its customers, launching an official blog on the topic in May and issuing a research paper at the HotBots 2007 conference in Boston in April.

According to the HotBots report, roughly one in 10 Web sites that Google can find with its powerful Internet crawling technologies carries some form of malware.

In late 2006, the company quietly began offering warnings to users about potentially dangerous sites found via its search engine in a manner very similar to McAfee's SiteAdvisor technology.

While the company remains coy about its overall security aspirations, industry watchers said they were unsurprised by Google's GreenBorder acquisition as the HIPs technologies gained via the deal could be used to improve security for any number of the firm's products.

"With Google moving into online software-as-a-service type applications that are all based on the browser, they're trying to show people that this platform is being secured," said John Pescatore, an analyst Gartner. "They can combine these security tools with the online applications as well as Google toolbar and Google Desktop and promise a level of automatic protection for end-users."

The GreenBorder tools do represent a more aggressive form of security than traditional anti-virus technologies, but Pescatore said that users would still need to rely on a combination of both types of software to retain the malware removal capabilities of signature-based applications.

The analyst pointed out that Google had previously experimented with applying HIPs technology in its browser-based toolbar via a partnership with WholeSecurity, which was eventually purchased by Syamtec in late 2005.

While anti-malware market leaders Symantec and McAfee have both brought similar HIPs products in house via acquisitions over the last several years, Microsoft, which is aggressively expanding its security business, has not offered competing applications as of yet.

Pescatore highlighted the fact that the software giant did take ownership of some HIPs capability through its buyout of anti-virus specialists Pelican in 2003, but said the company hasn't moved to launch any technologies as a result of the deal. However, the company may have something currently in development, he said.

"Symantec and McAfee both have this type of host intrusion protection, but Microsoft doesn't, and this is the sort of thing that Google can point people to consider if they were worried about using Google Apps through a browser," Pescatore said. "Microsoft acquired HIPs technology from Pelican but never used it, but they've been looking in this area and will have something under development."

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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