SSL networking heats up

The market is heating up for products that allow secure access to corporate networks based on a widely used browser security technology known as secure sockets layer encryption.

Robert Lemos
Robert Lemos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Robert Lemos
covers viruses, worms and other security threats.
3 min read
The market is heating up for products that allow secure access to corporate networks based on a widely used browser security technology known as secure sockets layer encryption.

Cisco Systems became the latest company to introduce a virtual private network (VPN) product based on secure sockets layer (SSL) encryption when it announced on Monday that it would add the feature to its 3000 series of network concentrators. The hardware devices act as a single access point into corporate networks and give telecommuters and branch offices a secure connection to internal networks.

"We really see this as extending the remote access capabilities of our products," said Scott Pope, manager of VPN technologies for Cisco. "It makes a lot of sense to have both built on the same box."

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Cisco is only the latest company to join the wave of interest in SSL products. The big three in the industry are Aventail, Neoteris and SafeWeb, said Dave Kosiur, senior analyst for the Burton Group, an industry research firm. Two out of those three have been acquired recently: Neoteris was bought by network security appliance maker NetScreen, and SafeWeb was bought by security technology company Symantec.

Other companies that have jumped into the market include Nokia, which entered the market in June with its Secure Access System, and networking giant Nortel, which offers SSL networking in its Alteon line of products.

"I think that you will see some new names, but some of the existing players will either disappear or be bought out by others," Kosiur said. "I don't know if the market is large enough to support pure-play SSL players," meaning companies that specialize in SSL.

Virtual private networks allow many secure virtual connections over a single Internet line. Current products have mainly used a secure encryption standard known as Internet Protocol security, or IPSec. However, the technology requires that the remote worker install a special application to establish the secure connection.

The difficulty in getting a user up and running under IPSec is the fundamental reason that many analysts predict that SSL will be used by most remote workers. Moreover, the market is large enough to support a company that specializes in providing secure sockets layer networking, said Sarah Daniels, vice president of product management and marketing for Aventail. Aventail itself focuses only on the SSL market.

"The big players will eventually get it right," she said. "They might end up owning 60 percent of the market but pure-plays will own 20 (percent) to 30 percent of the market."

She pointed to NetScreen, now an Aventail rival, as proof. The network security device maker fought off large rivals, such as Check Point Software and Symantec, to carve out a niche for itself in providing integrated network security. Now it's expanding again--this time into SSL networking.

The Burton Group's Kosiur believes that is the way to go. Companies that don't offer both types of virtual private networking technology may be at a disadvantage, he said. He believes that companies will adopt both technologies--traditional IPSec networking for the power users and the newer SSL networking for occasional remote access--giving companies that support both--such as Cisco, NetScreen and Nortel--an advantage.

"When we talk to our clients, they are not moving solely to SSL," he said.

That means that, despite their slow start, giants Cisco and Nortel will likely give the leaders a run for their money, Kosiur said.