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Microsoft, partners to take NAP for security

Eighteen firms sign up for Microsoft's end-to-end Network Access Protection security architecture.

Microsoft has taken the next step in making its end-to-end security architecture a reality.

On Monday, several companies announced they will be working with the software giant's Network Access Protection, or NAP, security architecture. Eighteen companies have signed on since July, when 25 agreed to participate as Microsoft first announced NAP.

Microsoft developed NAP to help corporate customers keep viruses and worms off their networks by making sure users' devices are checked before they gain access to the network. It combines virus-scanning technology with policy-based networking to deny connections to machines that don't conform with security policies.

From the beginning, Microsoft said it would continue to add new partners as it works on an open, standards-based security architecture.

Many of the new companies that have recently joined the initiative make virtual private networking, or VPN, products, including Check Point Software, Nortel Networks, F5 Networks and Aventail.

"It's important to include the VPN vendors, because a lot of attacks are launched on machines (operated) by remote users," said Steve Anderson, director of marketing for Microsoft Windows servers. "And these remote users are connecting to the network via VPNs. We wanted customers to be able to enforce security policy for these VPNs without having to change the technology they were using to provide the VPNs."

Anderson said the addition of the new partners is an important step in the evolution of the technology. In November, the company announced that NAP will interoperate with Cisco Systems' competing architecture, Network Admission Control, or NAC. The two companies will continue to work on their own solutions independently, but they are working together to ensure that customers can use elements from each portfolio to implement either architecture.

NAP won't actually be available until at least 2007, when the new version of Microsoft's Longhorn server software is released. By then, the company said, it will have signed up enough customers and completed the necessary work to provide a full solution. The initial 25 partners have already gotten the software development toolkit from Microsoft and are working on developing their own additions.

Pieces of the beta version of Longhorn will be available for testing this summer, said Anderson. Some components of the Cisco-Microsoft interoperable code will be available in these beta versions, he added.