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Cisco to buy security start-up

The company is putting down $5 million in cash to acquire Twingo Systems for its technology designed to protect corporate networks from weak spots in remote access.

Cisco Systems plans to buy security start-up Twingo Systems for $5 million to bolster network defenses at their outer limits.

The all-cash deal, announced Friday, is small by Cisco?s standards, but Twingo would provide the networking giant with a key technology to round out its remote access security suite. For the past several months, Cisco has been beefing up its security offering and adding new capabilities to routers.

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The company's vision of a "self-defending" network relies on network-level protection, as well as improved "end point" security--that is, safeguards at the desktop level. Last year, the company acquired Okena, which identifies and quarantines malicious code on end points to help prevent the spread of viruses and worms. Cisco also began working with several antivirus vendors, including Network Associates, Symantec and Trend Micro, to introduce a product that would check to make sure that a device wasn't infected with a virus before allowing it to connect to a network. Last month, Cisco extended the relationship to include IBM.

Twingo's software addresses a key problem associated with the use of a clientless remote access technology called Secure Sockets Layer. SSL is an encryption technology that is embedded in most standard Web browsers. Remote workers can use SSL to set up virtual private networks (VPNs) that allow access to corporate networks. Unlike IPSec, which requires a client to be downloaded to a remote PC, SSL allows workers to simply launch a browser from any Internet-enabled device to connect to the corporate network.

But because the technology allows access from just about any device, companies are exposed to certain security risks. For example, when a person accesses the network through a remote kiosk at a conference or an airport, the transaction itself is encrypted. After that person leaves the machine, however, certain information remains. Anyone else using that PC afterward could gain access to sensitive company information or even the network itself. Twingo's software agent protects companies from this action by fully erasing history files, temporary files, caches, cookies, e-mail file attachments and other downloaded data at the close of an SSL VPN user session.

The software is a complement to SSL VPN technology, and Twingo already has interoperability relationships with at least two SSL VPN appliance makers: Aventail and Netilla Networks. Cisco plans to incorporate Twingo's Virtual Secure Desktop into its existing SSL VPN products, beginning with the Cisco VPN 3000 Concentrator series.

"Solving end-point security issues and improving consistency of features and functionality regardless of location or end-system administrative permissions is key to the overall success of SSL VPN as a remote access technology," Richard Palmer, vice president and general manager of the Cisco VPN and Security Business Unit, said in a statement.

Other SSL VPN makers have also incorporated software to help protect end points. For example, Nokia is able to do a "health check" of machines connecting to the network via SSL to protect the network from viruses and worms.