Palo Alto Networks acquires security startup Morta to outsmart hackers

The combined company will provide enhanced automation technology to prevent attacks

Palo Alto Networks, an enterprise security company, has acquired Silicon Valley startup Morta Security in a deal that the companies say will better help their clients defend themselves against increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks.

Palo Alto Networks announced the deal on Monday. The terms were not disclosed, but it represents the second high-profile security acquisition in recent weeks, following the purchase of Mandiant by FireEye, a Palo Alto Networks competitor. That deal was valued at around US$1 billion.

Morta is the first acquisition for Palo Alto Networks. The startup has been in stealth mode since it was founded roughly two years ago by former employees of the National Security Agency and the U.S. Air Force. The experience of Morta's founders, and the technology they have developed, is poised to help advance Palo Alto Networks' strategy of detecting and preventing cyberattacks before they become catastrophic, representatives from both companies said.

The acquisition comes as the number of cyberattacks are on the rise and hackers' methods become more sophisticated, they said. "The days are gone of the bad guy simply going after the data center," said Nir Zuk, CTO and founder at Palo Alto Networks. Now, more attacks on data centers are being directed through an end user's machine, sometimes through less secure mobile devices, Zuk said. That makes data centers more susceptible to invaders.

Retail giant Target, as well as Internet companies such as Snapchat and Twitter, have been victims of data breaches in recent months, giving rise to heightened concerns over cyberattacks. Other victims have included major media companies including The New York Times and The Washington Post, sometimes perpetrated by nation-state attackers.

As these attacks increase, IT security companies may be looking to expand their tool sets and enhance their offerings to clients, possibly through acquisitions.

In the case of Palo Alto Networks, the acquisition of Morta is designed to strengthen its automation technologies, which analyze computer systems to detect abnormal behaviors and reduce the risk of attacks before they happen. This cuts down on the often high costs of bringing actual humans or consultants in to fix the problem after a data breach has occurred, the company said. It's also a different approach compared with first-generation security companies like Symantec and McAfee, the company said.

Palo Alto Networks likened the strategy employed by its competitor FireEye to being "post breach," meaning that the attacks are addressed after the fact by consultants or other personnel on the ground. Other traditional security software tackles problems in a more piecemeal fashion, Palo Alto Networks said, but their technology is designed to prevent attacks automatically, and earlier on.

Morta, based in Santa Clara, California, was founded in 2005 and claims more than 2,400 customers.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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Tags Internet-based applications and servicesonline safetysecuritydata breachDesktop securityExploits / vulnerabilitiesIdentity fraud / theftinternetdata protectionpalo alto networksMorta Security

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