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Cisco adding security to set itself apart

Analysts say the networking giant is quietly adding more security features to many of its products to fortify its stance against larger telecommunications equipment firms.

Networking giant Cisco Systems is quietly adding more security features into many of its products to fortify its stance against larger telecommunications equipment firms, analysts say.

Cisco is moving to make security a core differentiator between itself and larger competitors including Nortel, Lucent, and 3Com," said Abner Germanow, a network security analyst with International Data Corporation.

Since security features aren't central to the telecommunications equipment market, Cisco is emphasizing them to boost its position with corporate customers, analysts said. Lucent to date has offered customers a firewall and security consulting.

While Cisco beefs up product security, the firm is also slashing prices and adding new low-end products, which could put some heat on smaller competitors such as Check Point, Axent, Network Associates, and Internet Security Systems (ISS).

Germanow said Cisco's expanding interest in computer security isn't necessarily a threat to its smaller rivals, which also can partner with the firm.

"The market for security products is still extremely large," he said. "By having someone like Cisco in the market, it means all of a sudden you have a relatively powerful force that you need to work with, integrate with, and occasionally sell against."

Specifically, he said, companies such as Axent that offer host-based intrusion detection, which checks for unauthorized access to a specific computer or database, can be Cisco partners.

This week Cisco introduced a low-end version of its Pix firewall appliance with a starting price of $5,000.

The company last week also updated its NetSonar scanning software, which probes networks for security holes. The price of the new version, which adds support for Microsoft Windows NT, has been slashed to start at $495. Cisco's old version started at $3,000 and went as high as $44,000, which Cisco product line manager Joel McFarland said is comparable to Network Associates and ISS pricing.

For customers, lower prices mean Cisco security can be added as companies build networks, not added as an afterthought, analysts said.

Cisco also will bundle NetSonar with its network intrusion detection software, Net Ranger, later this year. Cisco spokesman Doug Webster said the firm also plans to add intrusion detection capabilities to the firewall features in Cisco's basic network software, the IOS operating system.

Cisco executives have hinted that there will be more security announcements later this summer. For example, Centri, the software-only firewall Cisco bought in June 1997 but has since discontinued may be revived as a security management console for Pix firewalls and Cisco routers.

The new Centri will let network managers set security policies, then implement them on specific Cisco devices rather than configure each router or firewall separately, the company said.

Expect Cisco also to partner with so-called content screening companies that make antivirus software, software to block hostile Java applets or Visual Basic components, and email add-ons that screen for inappropriate messages, analysts said. However, Chris Blask, a firewall product line manager at Cisco, said the firm had no immediate plans to enter those markets.

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