Given how much PR email I get on a daily basis – which does help keep me up to date on what’s happening in the market segments I cover – I seldom miss newsworthy security events. On occasion I totally miss something of interest, like the M86 acquisition of Finjan … three freakin’ weeks ago! For those of you interested in email and web security, big firms don’t offer a lot of interesting tidbits to write about, which makes the smaller firms more fun to watch. In a mature market segment like email and web security, small security businesses need to innovate with technology and sales. To compete with established players like Google and Symantec, where “follow the leader” is a bad business strategy, you need to employ creative thinking in order to survive. This acquisition makes me think M86 has a slightly different vision than their competitors.

The Finjan product is an interesting mix of capabilities for web security. Primarily they sold appliances, sitting in the enterprise, acting as gateway servers for content security. Enterprise endpoints are configured to go through the gateway for screening. The product is focused on outbound content, with URL, anti-spyware and basic ‘DLP’ content screening (i.e., regular expression checks). The interesting aspects are the introduction of a proxy model not too long ago, sending remote users through a virtual gateway (in the cloud, of course) that screens and then routes requests. In essence they extend a virtual perimeter around the end point. This is sensible, as most firms will want to secure the endpoint and enforce usage policies regardless if the user is at home, on the road or in the office. Their ‘Vital Cloud’ gives users a pathway to a hybrid appliance/SaaS model, so they can leverage existing hardware while gaining access to additional features not supported by their existing hardware. This is not moving your data to the cloud, but instead offloading the service, which matters if your company worries about security of remote data storage. The remote client and SaaS feature, if I understand the technology correctly, is nothing more than a VPN connection to a virtual server with the client policies. Simple, but it should be effective.

You have probably noticed that the M86 team has been aggressive with acquisitions, working to create a complete portfolio of features for web content. The merger between 8e6 and Marshal gave them the web and email security pieces needed to compete on a very basic level; those two features are the minimum requirements for entry. But the Avinti acquisition seemed out of place. Rather than a cloud or SaaS play like their competition, they bought a type of behavior analysis tool. Both a powerful and flexible approach to detecting malware in what I was calling virtual Habitrail, but certainly not a novice tool. It required some skill to use, and was not something to put into the hands of your typical 8e6/Marshal customer. What’s more, neither the deployment model nor functions quite fit market trends.

But in light of the the Finjan acquisition (and I am guessing here), it looks as if M86 is trying to carve a niche as a managed service platform. For many SMB’s, content and email security is a problem they want to pay to have solved. It’s not just that they don’t want to worry about which box is the right one, but they cannot afford to hire specialists to understand threats, create policies, manage gateways, perform content analysis, create blacklists, detect malware, and all the rest. Managed service providers care less about the deployment, and more about leverage of effort. The merger of these products and deployment models would appeal to companies like Perot / Fishnet / Solutionary / SecureWorks, and so on. They would be able to deal with the complexities of Avinti and specifics of how to set up DLP. Being able to drop in an appliance and couple it with a virtual server in your data center for both monitoring and policy enforcement would be appropriate. Granted, Finjan gives M86 a hybrid deployment model previously missing (8e6 and Marshal were on-site appliance and software companies, respectively), allowing customers to stave off hardware obsolescence and still accommodate new features and overhead associated with new policies, but I still don’t think that’s where they are headed. They cannot compete head to head on uptime, pricing, SaaS options and scalability with Websense, Cisco and Proofpoint, but they can offer a depth of function that should be potent in the right hands.