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Symantec snaps up antispam firm

TurnTide's spam-sniffing router becomes another weapon in Symantec's security arsenal, after a multimillion-dollar takeover.

Security company Symantec has acquired antispam specialist TurnTide for $28 million in cash, a sign of further consolidation among makers of e-mail filters.

News of the acquisition, which has not been announced publicly, was posted to TurnTide's Web site on Monday. Symantec confirmed the acquisition and said it had been finalized Thursday.

Conshohocken, Penn.-based TurnTide was spun off only six months ago from ePrivacy Group, a privacy protection consultancy. TurnTide, which has 20 employees, sells a router-based technology that filters out unwanted e-mail and viruses at the edge of corporate networks.

"We're looking to provide a broad security solution that will protect against different types of threats to corporate networks," Symantec spokeswoman Linda Smith Munyan said. TurnTide's technology will be part of a multitier antispam line-up that includes Brightmail and other products from Symantec, she added.

The TurnTide deal comes only two months after Symantec bought Brightmail for $370 million, pre-empting the San Francisco-based company's plans for an initial public offering. Brightmail, the largest maker of spam-fighting software, reported a net income of about $1.1 million on revenue of $26 million in 2003, compared with a net loss of $5.2 million on revenue of $12.1 million in 2002, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Once known mostly for its Norton AntiVirus tools, Symantec is extending its product lines to include security and antispam software, services and hardware. It competes with the likes of Ironport Systems, Microsoft, Sophos and Frontbridge.

The TurnTide deal underscores the importance of technologies that can stanch junk e-mail at the router level, before it reaches e-mail in-boxes. Initially, antispam products focused on detecting junk mail by looking for words or phrases commonly found in spam and setting filters to block messages containing these. While that approach is still baseline, products based on other techniques are now available. Some companies now sell protection for the mail server that bounces unwanted messages before they reach in-boxes. Others set up spam and virus filters in gateway servers, which are proxies set up between the Internet and mail servers. Using these eases the stress on the network of processing spam filters.

TurnTide goes a step further with its Anti-Spam Router, a hardware and software package. Working at the edge of the network, or the point at which a corporate network connects to the Internet, the antispam router looks at the actual packets of information in messages and determines which ones are likely to have come from a spammer. Using features inherent in the TCP/IP, it can limit the amount of traffic being sent from these sources.

Symantec said that it expects to continue to support existing TurnTide customers through the transition period. The company, based in Cupertino, Calif., also said it is "assessing" the staff needs of TurnTide, but plans to keep key engineering and salespeople.