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MCI sees green in securing small businesses

Coming out of bankruptcy protection in a tough field for long-distance carriers, MCI adds managed security services for smaller businesses to its lineup.

MCI is targeting the small and midsize business market with a new suite of managed security services, looking for new revenue sources to bolster its reorganized business.

On Tuesday, the carrier announced several managed services for midsize companies, including intrusion protection, vulnerability scanning, virus and spam protection, and new managed firewalls. MCI CEO Michael Capellas told reporters last week, when the company emerged from bankruptcy protection, that MCI would be targeting security services. The focus on security comes as MCI faces stiff competition and falling prices in its long distance consumer business. The situation has put pressure on long distance carriers to find new sources of revenue.

Managed security services could help, with businesses large and small focusing more attention on network protection. Industry analyst firm IDC estimates that companies will spend more than $12 billion dollars worldwide in 2004 to protect against security threats. Some will buy, install and manage security equipment themselves, while others will turn to service providers such as MCI.

"The need to protect critical company information is a growing concern and focus for small, medium and large businesses worldwide," Wayne Huyard, president of U.S. sales and service for MCI, said in a statement. "MCI's managed security solutions provide a comprehensive, multilayered approach to security that is essential to protecting the integrity of our customers' data, applications and networks."

MCI already offers managed security services to large corporate customers. The company recently announced enhanced remote access, firewall and intrusion protection services for large customers. With Tuesday's announcement, the carrier is expanding its reach into the small and medium-size business market. This could prove to be a smart strategy for MCI, given that 99 percent of U.S. businesses fall into this category, according to The Yankee Group.

MCI plans to introduce its Managed Intrusion Protection service in May. MCI will monitor network traffic from its Security Operations Center and will provide around-the-clock monitoring and analysis of suspicious activity.

The company is also introducing a new Managed E-mail Content service, with antivirus and antispam scanning of e-mail before it reaches customers' networks. Finally, MCI is expanding its existing managed firewall service, which uses Cisco Systems gear, Juniper Networks' Netscreen and Check Point-Nokia equipment, to the small and midsize business market.

MCI is not the only carrier focusing on security services. AT&T, MCI's arch rival, has been rounding out its portfolio. AT&T's broad range of services include antivirus scanning, firewalls, intrusion detection and virtual private networks. AT&T is also aggressively addressing the small and midsize business market.