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MessageLabs to buy OmniPod for IM security

Acquisition of hosted secure IM provider is MessageLabs' ticket into the instant messaging security fray.

MessageLabs, a hosted e-mail and Web security specialist, is expanding into instant messaging security by acquiring OmniPod.

The acquisition of OmniPod, a privately held, venture-backed secure enterprise IM provider, is expected to be announced Wednesday, a MessageLabs representative said Tuesday. The deal is expected to close in the coming weeks, but financial details of the agreement are not being disclosed, the representative said.

"Our longer-term vision is to ensure integrity of information while it travels over the Internet," Jos White, MessageLabs president, said in an interview Tuesday. "We want to be a secure information exchange, and we think that the acquisition of OmniPod is a significant step toward that vision."

New York-based OmniPod is not an IM company per se. Instead it provides its own hosted, secure IM platform to about 250 customers, primarily in the United States. The service includes client software and online management. OmniPod connects to popular IM services, such as America Online's AOL Instant Messenger and Microsoft's MSN. Competing products include Microsoft Live Communications Server, IBM Lotus Sametime and Jabber.

MessageLabs will continue to sell OmniPod's current service, but also plans to introduce an IM security service in the second quarter of next year, White said. This hosted service will let customers send their IM traffic through MessageLabs' servers for filtering, just like with e-mail. Rival services are offered today by Postini and others.

"IM is being increasingly used as a legitimate business application, and with that comes the need for security and policy enforcement," White said.

The service is intended to counter a barrage of IM security threats. The number of IM pests in October increased more than 1,500 percent compared with last year and more than 30 percent sequentially, according to an IMlogic report issued Tuesday. As the number of threats grew, the payload became more malicious.

MessageLabs hopes to sell the IM security service to its current base of 12,000 customers. The company will fit the new offering tightly into its existing e-mail and Web security service. "Customers have asked us for this," White said.