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Fool us once… EMC/RSA Buys NetWitness

By Mike Rothman

To no one’s surprise (after NetworkWorld spilled the beans two weeks ago), RSA/EMC formalized its acquisition of NetWitness. I guess they don’t want to get fooled again the next time an APT comes to visit. Kidding aside, we have long been big fans of full packet capture, and believe it’s a critical technology moving forward. On that basis alone, this deal looks good for RSA/EMC.

Deal Rationale

APT, of course. Isn’t that the rationale for everything nowadays? Yes, that’s a bit tongue in cheek (okay, a lot) but for a long time we have been saying that you can’t stop a determined attacker, so you need to focus on reacting faster and better. The reality remains that the faster you figure out what happened and remediate (as much as you can), the more effectively you contain the damage. NetWitness gear helps organizations do that. We should also tip our collective hats to Amit Yoran and the rest of the NetWitness team for a big economic win, though we don’t know for sure how big a win. NetWitness was early into this market and did pretty much all the heavy lifting to establish the need, stand up an enterprise class solution, and show the value within a real attack context.

They also showed that having a llama at a conference party can work for lead generation. We can’t minimize the effect that will have on trade shows moving forward.

So how does this help EMC/RSA? First of all, full packet capture solves a serious problem for obvious targets of determined attackers. Regardless of whether the attack was a targeted phish/Adobe 0-day or Stuxnet type, you need to be able to figure out what happened, and having the actual network traffic helps the forensics guys put the pieces together. Large enterprises and governments have figured this out and we expect them to buy more of this gear this year than last. Probably a lot more. So EMC/RSA is buying into a rapidly growing market early.

But that’s not all. There is a decent amount of synergy with the rest of RSA’s security management offerings. Though you may hear some SIEM vendors pounding their chests as a result of this deal, NetWitness is not SIEM. Full packet capture may do some of the same things (including alert on possible attacks), but it analysis is based on what’s in the network traffic – not logs and events. More to the point, the technologies are complimentary – most customers pump NetWitness alerts into a SIEM for deeper correlation with other data sources. Additionally some of NetWitness’ new visualization and malware analysis capabilities supplement the analysis you can do with SIEM. Not coincidentally, this is how RSA positioned the deal in the release, with NetWitness and EnVision data being sent over to Archer for GRC (whatever that means).

Speaking of EnVision, this deal may take some of the pressure off that debacle. Customers now have a new shiny object to look at, while maybe focusing a little less on moving off the RSA log aggregation platform. It’s no secret that RSA is working on the next generation of the technology, and being able to offer NetWitness to unhappy EnVision customers may stop the bleeding until the next version ships.

A side benefit is that the sheer amount of network traffic to store will drive some back-end storage sales as well. For now, NetWitness is a stand-alone platform. But it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see some storage/archival integration with EMC products. EMC wouldn’t buy technology like NetWitness just to drive more storage demand, but it won’t hurt.

Too Little, Too Late (to Stop the Breach)

Lots of folks drew the wrong conclusion, that RSA bought NetWitness because of their recent breach. But these deals doesn’t happen overnight, so this acquisition has been in the works for quite a while. But what could better justify buying a technology than helping to detect a major breach? I’m sure EMC is pretty happy to control that technology. The trolls and haters focus on the fact that the breach still happened, so the technology couldn’t work that well, right?

Actually, the biggest issue is that EMC didn’t have enough NetWitness throughout their environment. They might have caught the breach earlier if they had the technology more widely deployed. Then again, maybe not, because you never know how effective any control will be at any given time against any particular attack, but EMC/RSA can definitely make the case that they could have reacted faster if they had NetWitness everywhere. And now they likely will.

Competitive Impact

The full packet capture market is still very young. There are only a handful of direct competitors to NetWitness, all of whom should see their valuations skyrocket as a result of this deal. Folks like Solera Networks are likely grinning from ear to ear today. We also expect a number of folks in adjacent businesses (such as SIEM) to start dipping their toes into this water.

Speaking of SIEM, NetWitness did have partnerships with the major SIEM providers to send them data, and this deal is unlikely to change much in the short term. But we expect to see a lot more integration down the road between NetWitness, EnVision Next, and Archer, which could create a competitive wedge for RSA/EMC in large enterprises. So we expect the big SIEM players to either buy or build this capability over the next 18 months to keep pace. Not that they aren’t all over the APT marketing already.

Bottom Line

This is a good deal for RSA/EMC – acquiring NetWitness provides a strong, differentiated technology in what we believe will be an important emerging market. But with RSA’s mixed results in leveraging acquired technology, it’s not clear that they will remain the leader in two years. But if they provide some level of real integration in that timeframe, they will have a very compelling set of products for security/compliance management.

This is also a good deal for both NetWitness and RSA customers. The product is now too high-profile for RSA to muck with it and decrease its value, as happens with all too many acquisitions. There are some potentially interesting integration opportunities, and the product will hum along nicely for those who are happy with current capabilities and the usual improvements over time.

It isn’t often we get to say nice things about a security deal, but this one is a slam dunk.

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