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Cisco, IBM ally on security defenses

The networking giant and longtime partner Big Blue will integrate their security technology to provide automated tools that protect networks from attack and keep out unauthorized users.

IBM and Cisco Systems said Friday they will integrate their security and management products to provide businesses with automated tools that protect networks from attack and that improve control over who can access data.

The integrated software and hardware products will "talk" to each other and help identify systems that are not compliant with established security policies, the companies said. When noncompliant systems or threats are detected, the IBM and Cisco security technologies can automatically adapt to protect against security breaches, such as hacking, worms and viruses.

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The companies said that taking an automated approach should help simplify security, reduce implementation and administration costs, and bolster business productivity.

In order to provide better control over access to networks, Cisco's security policy management technology will be merged with IBM's Tivoli network management software, beginning in March. This will help businesses to manage large numbers of employee, business partner and customer identities across their network, the companies said. It should reduce common security risks, such as invalid user accounts, that can lead to identity theft or intellectual property theft.

Big Blue said it is integrating Cisco security features into its laptop computers. ThinkPad notebooks will be outfitted with new microprocessor chips that allow people working remotely to use Cisco's IPSec virtual private network (VPN) products to access corporate networks via a wireline or wireless connection. In the future, Cisco's Security Agent will be incorporated into IBM clients and servers to help provide protection from worms and viruses, cutting down on the need to update security software often.

The two companies will also improve security authentication for customer end-point machines, such as PCs and servers, by integrating IBM Tivoli security management software with Cisco infrastructure products that use the Cisco Network Admission Control program. With NAC, Cisco devices communicate with each other and implement predefined security policies that automatically permit or deny access to critical network and system resources.

In addition, Cisco and its Armonk, N.Y.-based partner will collaborate to provide security services through IBM Global Services. Consultants will help to assess IT infrastructure, to design and implement integrated security solutions, and to provide customers with the skills necessary for managing their security operations.

Networking giant Cisco and IBM have a strong, long-standing alliance. Cisco CEO John Chambers has called it one of the "broadest, most strategic and most effective partnerships." Last year, he said during a conference call that the partnership resulted in well over $1 billion worth of business to both companies in fiscal year 2003.

IBM currently resells a slew of Cisco gear to enterprise customers, including some storage products, the Catalyst 6500 and Cisco's 10 gigabit per second Ethernet switch.

San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco beefed up its security lineup last year with the introduction of several products. In a quarterly conference call in February, Chambers said that security is currently one of the most lucrative product areas outside of Cisco's core IP routing and Ethernet switching businesses. The product category is on track to generate close to $1 billion for the fiscal year 2004, which ends in June.