Consolidation Trend Should Help Fight Virus, Spam Infestation

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If a fairly new trend continues to pick up speed, IT managers will have an easier time keeping their companies' email from being infested with viruses and spam.

Anti-virus companies are starting to join forces with anti-spam companies, giving IT and email managers fewer vendors to deal with and an easier time managing their 'email hygiene' tools. Yesterday's acquisition of anti-spam vendor ActiveState by Sophos, Inc., an anti-virus company based in Lynfield, Mass., was just the latest consolidation in this trend, say industry observers.

''Judging by what our clients are asking for, there's been a real demand for more streamlined solutuions,'' says Jan Sundgren, an industry analyst with Cambridge-based Forrester Research. ''It is a hassle... the acquisition process and administration of content security. There's so much pressure now to streamline things and cut costs. This is a pretty strong trend.''

Sophos, considered by some industry analysts to hold the Number Four spot in the list of top anti-virus vendors, announced Wednesday that they bought ActiveState, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, for $23 million in cash. Sophos plans to integrate its anti-virus technology with PureMessage, ActiveState's enterprise email protection software. Sophos PureMessage will be designed to deliver anti-virus and anti-spam protection in one product offering.

''We're looking to extend the perimeter boundary defense,'' says Steve Orenberg, president of Sophos. ''Spam has become more nefarious and has had more effect on the enterprise than ever before... Spam is a very prolific carrier of email viruses. Look at sobig, the fastest-spreading and most pervasive virus in history. What spam enabled Sobig to do was proliferate at an incredible speed far beyond what anybody had experienced before.''

Actually, thanks to a combination of the Blaster worm and Sobig-F, the Sobig variant that hit last month, August went down in history as the worst month on record for digital attacks. Sobig-F alone caused $29.7 billion worth of economic damages.

Industry analysts generally agree that spam today accounts for at least 50 percent of the email entering corporate networks. ISPs have it even worse, with spam accounting for often more than 70 percent of their incoming mail.

Together, spam and viruses have become a major hurdle for nearly ever IT manager out there.

Email hygiene is the latest phrase wrapped around the activity of keeping the email system up and running and clean. It includes spam blocking, virus blocking, content blocking and securing email through encryption.

Matt Cain, a vice president at industry analyst firm, Meta Group, says anything the industry can do to make email hygiene easier is a big benefit for IT managers.

''The Sophos acquisition is important as an example of where the email hygiene market is going to go,'' says Cain. ''We're going to see more consolidation in this market. A few years from now, you'll go to an anti-virus vendor and buy a suite of hygiene tools that bundle all of these tools together.''

Forrester's Sundgren says Sophos' move should only strengthen the company, which sits in the top tier of anti-virus vendors, along with Network Associates, Symantec and Trend Micro.

''One weakness Sophos had was a focus on anti-virus as the market was moving to broader solutions,'' says Sundgren. ''Now they're in a very good position.''

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