Google buys security software company, wants apps more secure

Google's purchase of security software company GreenBorder is smart in more ways than one.

Google Inc. went hunting in its own backyard for another thorn to stick in Microsoft's side, snapping up Internet security software company GreenBorder Technologies Inc., also based in Mountain View, Calif.

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GreenBorder makes software products that protect against viruses and other threats that can infiltrate computer systems through email, Web browsers and instant messaging by isolating Internet sessions from the desktop. GreenBorder's virtualization software decouples applications from their operating systems, runs them in a protected GreenBorder space, then dumps the content, cache and all, when the session is over. Users play in the "sandbox," limiting malicious code to access their systems. Web pages come up bordered in green to signal the all-safe zone.

The purchase was made in mid-May, according to Google spokesman Aaron Zamost. But the Mountain View behemoth is saying nothing more on the deal except to brag about the intelligence of its new colleagues. "We believe the expertise of GreenBorder's small, talented team of engineers will greatly benefit our users, advertisers and publishers," the company said in a statement. (All hail, the mythical land of meritocracy.)

Does the deal mean anything for CIOs? And can it be connected to Google's determination to torture Microsoft at every opportunity?

Yes and no, said analyst Neil MacDonald, an information security research fellow at Gartner Inc. "Yes, in the sense that the Google apps also need protection. As people use the browser to access Software as a Service, those sessions need to be protected somehow," MacDonald said.

But the Google model is quite different from Microsoft's, he stressed. Google is working to include these safety capabilities at no cost, whereas Microsoft entered the security market selling security add-on products, MacDonald said.

Microsoft introduced its own security suite, Windows Live Onecare , a year ago.

The GreenBorder products virtualize the Microsoft Windows operating system (OS) to isolate applications running in the GreenBorder environment from the rest of the applications on the Windows desktop, MacDonald said. The software virtualizes the Windows OS but not the hardware underneath, so only one copy of Windows needs to be licensed and managed. Competitive products, such as Microsoft's Virtual PC and EMC Corp.'s VMware, require another licensed copy of Windows.

Google is baking the security into the underlying infrastructure -- a growing trend among vendors, Natalie Lambert, senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc., said via email. Adding security in the form of browser virtualization helps protect users from malicious code flying around on the Internet. It will also bring virtualization to the forefront of emerging technologies, said via email.

The bigger picture: It shows users Google is serious about security.

"We have seen this type of security acquisition from EarthLink when they acquired Aluria Software in 2005 for its antispyware software," Lambert said. "I expect to see more security consolidation into the underlying infrastructure of the Internet."

Mainstream security?

CIOs should take note of the purchase of the security software company, MacDonald said, adding he believes it is really a matter of when, not if, portions of the Google software stack start being used within the enterprise. So now is the

As people use the browser
to access Software as a Service, those sessions need to be protected somehow.

Neil MacDonald
information security research fellowGartner Inc.
time to start asking tougher security questions about the Google offerings, including the patching policy, support policy and how the data is protected. Those same questions now apply to the GreenBorder technology, which came in consumer and enterprise versions before the company was acquired.

The GreenBorder technology is "quite innovative," in MacDonald's view. Indeed, he picked the security software company as one of five "cool" vendors in 2007. Now, Google will make GreenBorder part of its toolbar, available at no cost, and it will have value for consumers and the enterprise, he said, "just like the day before Google acquired it."

Bottom line? Google's motive for entering the Internet security market is the bottom line. A company that makes 99% of its money from online advertising needs to be concerned about online security. "To the extent that consumers stay off of the Web or are concerned about using the Internet, this directly impacts Google's revenue," MacDonald said. "So why not try to create a safer browsing experience by minimizing the damage that malicious code can do? That's what GreenBorder does."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer

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