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Will Google Destroy Symantec & McAfee?

Think Symantec & McAfee Are Feeling a Bit, Well, Insecure?

Gee, and Symantec and McAfee felt squeezed when Microsoft wandered into their space. Now Google has a toehold too. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place.

On May 11 Google quietly bought an outfit, a Mountain View neighbor actually, called GreenBorder Technologies Inc, and never said a word about it.

The acquisition is provocative because GreenBorder is in the Internet security business, a space new to the omnivorous Google, and nobody knows how Google is going to use this widgetry; and not knowing, when you think about it, is scarier for McAfee and Symantec than knowing.

Given the dismal state of security - and the increasing hostility of the Internet, even if GreenBorder is only half the end-all it's cracked up to be - and depending on how it's packaged - Google could have trouble stopping people from throwing money at it.

What price your security?

Anyway, the acquisition only came to light after the Google Operating System blog - which is not a Google property - stumbled over a terse "we've been bought" notice on GreenBorder's web site Monday and spread the word.

Apparently the company got frustrated waiting for Google to trumpet its acquisition but Google must have been distracted. Google is, by report, supposed to make 130 acquisitions this year.

And, see, up against the $1.65 billion Google agreed to pay for YouTube and the $3.1 billion it's arranged to pay for DoubleClick, GreenBorder looks like a poor relation.

There's been no indication of the purchase price, but reportedly Google paid less than the roundabout $20 million that the VCs pumped into the company since it got started in 2001, maybe it wrote a check for $12 million give or take. Texas Pacific Group Ventures, Sevin Rosen and Labrador Ventures backed it and maybe got 50 cents on the dollar.

According to the company's former director of security Bill Stout, GreenBorder was in the market for a $12 million D round (but would have taken six) late last year. It couldn't get it, started looking for a buyer after the holidays, and opened negotiations with Google four months before the deal closed, closure taking so long because, well, Google had other fish to fry.

Supposedly there had been some talk about it being a subsidiary, but that didn't happen. Google wanted the technology and the patents and the core developers. It reportedly hired six GreenBorder people who it can add to the three or four Windows kernel whizzes that Google poached off of GreenBorder a couple of years ago.

What GreenBorder does reportedly takes a lot of Windows savvy.

In typical Google fashion, GreenBorder has stopped taking any more users for the foreseeable future; only comme-si-comme-ca support is available for existing users through the end of their current subscriptions.

GreenBorder is called GreenBorder because of the green cordon it throws around users when they surf the web, download or use e-mail, it's GreenBorder's way of indicating to the user that he's protected from all manner of nasty spyware and nastier viruses and trojans. The user is actually behind a virtual session of his browser - a so-called sandbox - that's discarded along with any malicious code he picked up when the browser closes.

This sandbox is a form of virtualization that doesn't depend on the traditional, largely failed, rushing-to-catch-up-with-the-bad-guys signature recognition used by Symantec and McAfee and so doesn't have to be constantly updated as new malware is created (making it cheaper for Google to maintain in the process when you think about it).

Given its clout, Google could be the making of the desktop sandbox security market, Stout says, creating a real problem for the signature firms.

When it got started, GreenBorder wanted to be all things to all people, Stout said. It went through some false starts and CEOs until it lighted on what it's doing a couple of years ago - which probably explains the VCs' impatience - a six-year-old start-up is kinda shop-worn - at least the bloom is off the rose.

Anyway it applied its widgetry (a combination of cutting down the C++ code and redirecting it) to XP and Windows 2000 and to Internet Explorer 6 and 7 and then to Firefox 1.5 and 2.0.

It's been selling a corporate version, GreenBorder Pro, only a little while; it would have liked to have gotten $3,000 for a server and $50 for a client, but generally settled for half that, Stout said. A consumer version, added last year, has been free - a price point that was supposed to change eventually to an annual fee. The consumer model got it a bit of traction.

Google's own anti-malware team recently posted a white paper called "The Ghost in the Browser" and reported finding that one in 12 web sites are malicious. Google has a vested interest in seeing people aren't put off from searching, inhibited by fears of identity theft.

It wants them to be as dogged as John Wayne in that aptly named film, "The Searchers."

Google could deploy GreenBorder as a standalone product or as a way to protect corporate data or as part of its Google Desktop or for its newfangled venture offline Google Gears or as part of its nascent productivity suite - the betting seems to be running in favor of the later.

It will probably have to rewrite the code, which is kind of old. GreenBorder is already compatible with other anti-viruses, which users would still need. (You know how many ways there are to penetrate your computer?) It can currently protect the OS from applications and has figured out, but hasn't implemented, the reverse.

There are a couple of other companies that do what GreenBorder does, but they're not American and reportedly don't have GreenBorder's kernel knowledge, Stout said.

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