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Blue chips join for online security

Cisco, Lucent, and Network Associates have signed on as the first members of a collaborative research effort.

Cisco Systems, Lucent Technologies, and Network Associates have signed on as the first members of a collaborative research effort among major online security research laboratories.

The newly formed Security Research Alliance (SRA) has three goals: encourage collaborative research, communicate security research findings to corporate computing executives, and improve the chances that basic research findings will become commercial products.

More blue-chip companies may join shortly. Discussions are under way with research labs at IBM, Hewlett-Packard, GTE, AT&T, Sun Microsystems, and Intel, according to Terry Benzel, director of research at Network Associates, which spearheaded tonight's announcement.

The announcement was made in conjunction with the annual RSA Data Security conference, which is emerging as a key venue not just for cryptographers but also for network security firms. RSA, which runs a research lab focused on cryptography, has so far not been invited to join the new consortium.

"This is a whole new approach for advancing the art of state-of-the-art research," Benzel said. She described the consortium of security research labs as "vendor-neutral" and focused on research that will hit the market in two to five years.

The new alliance is being unofficially encouraged by DARPA, the research arm of the U.S. Defense Department, a major funder of advanced security research.

"The government is demanding collaboration for most funding from DARPA," Benzel told CNET News.com. "They are looking for collaborative partnerships." But other influences are also at work.

"We see security research getting even more important with the Internet and electronic commerce," said H.M. Gittleson, director of Internet security products at Lucent, which now owns the renowned Bell Labs research operation.

But HP, for one, remains on the sidelines. Roberto Medrano, who runs HP's security business, told News.com he wonders if SRA, which said it will create a Web page in the near future, will move beyond the "PR alliances" that have become common, on paper at least, in the security industry.

SRA will get started in earnest with a Los Angeles symposium on April 13, the day prior to the spring Internet World trade show.