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Check Point back in browser-based VPN security

The third time could be a charm for Check Point Software as it introduces yet another SSL virtual private network product.

Check Point Software is taking another shot at debuting a browser-based remote access product.

On Monday, the security company will announce a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) virtual private network (VPN) appliance called Connectra, which will provide secure access to remote workers via the Web. It also announced the SSL VPN Extender, which gives its existing VPN-1 product SSL VPN functionality. This appliance uses IPsec encryption and includes a firewall.

Check Point has had an SSL VPN product on the market since 2002 but hasn't made significant headway with it. The latest product will replace Check Point's existing offering, a company representative said.

Companies are increasingly using SSL VPNs as alternatives to IPsec VPNs. Most of these companies see SSL VPNs as a simple and inexpensive way to provide remote workers with access to key applications on the corporate network, because it gives them access through a standard Web browser instead of through an IPsec client running on each device accessing the network.

"Check Point has seen the erosion of market share in the remote access market as customers migrate from IPSec VPNs to using SSL technology," said Phil Schacter, vice president at the Burton Group. "IPSec is being used much more now to connect two locations together."

The SSL VPN market, once filled with only start-ups, is now dominated by several large companies such as Cisco Systems, Juniper Networks, Nokia and Nortel Networks.

Check Point has already attempted to enter the market twice. It introduced its first SSL VPN product in July 2002, and then relaunched it again in November 2003, promising customer availability by the first quarter of 2004. But to date, competitors say they've never come up against Check Point in a customer account. The company wasn't even mentioned as an SSL VPN player in a research report published by Gartner in April. Gartner identified 16 companies in the SSL VPN market and established NetScreen Technologies--recently acquired by Juniper--Aventail and Nortel as leaders.

A Check Point representative admitted that the previous product had not been robust enough, but said the new product has all the necessary features to affectively compete. Specifically, Check Point has focused on endpoint security, adding technology to scan for spyware on devices that are trying to establish a connection to the network.

According to Gartner's recent report, endpoint security is a key factor for corporate customers buying SSL VPN solutions. Although these companies appreciate SSL's portability, they are alarmed at the risks of access from unmanaged endpoint systems. Customers will increasingly be looking for products that have more integrated endpoint security than they have in the past, Gartner predicted. This could play into Check Point's strengths, because the company is well-known as a top firewall vendor.

The company also will be offering a new software add-on called Web Intelligence to the Connectra product to help protect the actual Web connection between the remote user and corporate servers.

But Check Point isn't the only company offering endpoint security--and it's not the only one with expertise in firewall technology. Juniper, through its acquisition of NetScreen, also has firewall expertise, and its SSL VPN appliance already offers endpoint security.

Nokia, which partners with Check Point to deliver its IPSec/firewall appliance, has built its own SSL VPN solution. It also is focusing on endpoint security. Cisco, which announced its SSL VPN offering last year, is integrating endpoint security into its offering.

So far, market leader Juniper isn't worried about Check Point's entrance into the market.

"We've been competing against Check Point in the VPN firewall market for years," said Andrew Harding, director of marketing for Juniper's Security Products Group. "We'd never discount their ability to address a market, but we've seen them struggle to bring a product to market. But we've already got a four-year head-start on them when it comes to the technology."

The Burton Group's Schacter said that Check Point could struggle to win new business as it faces tough competition. But it will likely focus its efforts on winning deals with its large installed base of VPN/firewall users.