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F5 Networks picks up another security start-up

The company's $29 million purchase of MagniFire puts it in the application firewall market, as F5 prepares to battle bigger companies for a piece of the network security pie.

F5 Networks is preparing to battle bigger networking companies like Cisco Systems, as it continues to add new security products to its portfolio.

On Tuesday, the company announced it has bought MagniFire, an application firewall start-up with 23 employees, for $29 million in cash.

The acquisition will help F5 round out its security portfolio, said Dan Matte, the company's senior vice president of marketing. The company, which started life as a seller of load-balancing appliances, has now bought two security start-ups in as many years. Last year, F5 bought uRoam, which makes a product to connect remote computers to corporate networks using Secure Sockets Layer encryption.

F5 says its move into the security market has been prompted by customers who are looking for more-integrated solutions.

"Customers are asking for more intelligence and security in the network," Matte said. "It could be added to the router or firewall, but we think it belongs in the traffic-management gear that sits in front of the servers."

F5's stiffest competition will likely come from makers of IP-routing products, like Cisco Systems and Juniper Networks, which have also been adding new security products and features to their portfolios recently. Juniper, which competes toe to toe with Cisco in the router market, spent roughly $3.4 billion this year to buy NetScreen Technologies, a firewall and VPN maker.

Cisco has also bought a few smaller companies recently to beef up its security offerings, and it plans to continue adding new security features to its switching and routing products. Cisco is already leading the market in several security categories, including the market for traditional firewalls.

Matte said that MagniFire's product, TrafficShield, complements traditional firewall products. While traditional firewalls protect against network-level attacks, TrafficShield protects companies from malicious attacks launched through Web applications, he said.

Unlike some intrusion-protection products that identify and keep out "bad traffic," TrafficShield applies rules and policies to identify known "good traffic." Using these policies, the product blocks all traffic that doesn't appear to be coming from legitimate sources. Specifically, the product is designed to protect companies against hackers scanning ports looking for vulnerable Web servers to use in denial-of-service attacks, and to protect e-commerce sites from the theft of sensitive customer information.