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VPN security for the small business

Symantec furthers its push into the firewall and virtual private network market with three new products aimed at securely connecting branch offices and small businesses.

Security software maker Symantec announced Monday a new line of drop-in network appliances to protect companies against Internet attackers and to secure communications between offices.

Known as the Symantec Firewall/VPN Appliances, the three new products allow companies to add baseline security to their branch offices and encrypt all data between the company and small-office networks connecting through a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN uses encryption to securely connect two private networks over the Internet. The technology is more secure than a dial-up connection and cheaper than buying a dedicated communications line.

"There are many smaller businesses that are becoming more and more dependent on the Internet," said Barry Cioe, director of product management for Symantec's firewall and virtual private-networking products. "They are realizing that, with the number of hacks on the Internet, not only is their data vulnerable, but they can be used as a jumping off point for other attacks."

The three new security appliances are designed to spearhead Symantec's attack on the small-office and branch-office security market.

Each appliance has a "stateful" firewall that can detect network attacks that use several pieces of data to compromise a computer, the ability to establish an encrypted connection between two gateways, and intrusion detection features. An analog modem port also allows the devices to use a dial-up connection in the event that the broadband network goes down.

The appliances have some limited intrusion detection abilities, matching data signatures against a list of known exploit codes used by hackers to compromise machines. While the current list is semipermanently fixed in the product, future models will allow a more easily modifiable list, Cioe said.

The Symantec Firewall/VPN 100 is aimed at small corporate branch offices with a single connection to the Internet and an integrated four-port switch for the local network. The Symantec Firewall/VPN 200 adds reliability with a second connection to the Internet and eight switched ports to connect for local PCs and servers.

For small offices, the Symantec Firewall/VPN 200-R adds the ability for clients to connect directly to the gateway using Symantec's virtual private-networking software.

Cioe said that the product fills a niche that low-end router companies have not moved into and that high-end security appliance companies have ignored.

"When we went out to put this together, we talked to customers to find out what needs were not being met," he said. "There are a lot of home-office products out there, routers with some security or a firewall, but they didn't have business features."

List prices on the Symantec Firewall/VPN 100, 200 and 200-R are $499, $899 and $1,199 respectively.