Microsoft enters security business with firewall app

Microsoft has announced an enterprise-level firewall and Web-caching technology that the software vendor billed as its first product aimed purely at IT security uses.

The new Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server is a replacement for an entry-level proxy server package that Microsoft currently sells. Under development for more than three years and due for release later this month, the new software should give corporate users fairly robust firewall capabilities, according to analysts familiar with the technology.

The rollout of the ISA Server follows several recent incidents in which Microsoft's own network security has been breached by intruders or malicious hackers. For example, the company acknowledged late last month that it "did not apply sufficient self-defence techniques" prior to being hit by two rounds of denial-of-service attacks that blocked access to its Web sites.

Microsoft said the ISA Server combines the ability to protect corporate networks from unauthorised access with an auditing feature that lets network administrators inspect incoming and outgoing traffic. Web-caching technology is also included in an effort to boost overall application performance, the company added.

The firewall is available in two versions - a standard edition that costs $US1499 per CPU and an enterprise release that starts at $5999 per CPU. An evaluation copy of the software can be downloaded from Microsoft's Web site and will "have a seamless path to production" use when the ISA Server becomes generally available, the company said.

The software, which runs as a server application on top of Windows 2000 Server edition, should give users a firewall with enterprise-class capabilities, said Laura DiDio, an analyst at US-based Giga Information Group.

"It will likely be of most appeal to Microsoft's installed base, but it can be up there with anything else in the market," DiDio said. The ISA Server is engineered to be used in a cross-platform environment and doesn't need to be installed in an all-Windows environment, she added.

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