Microsoft unveils integrated security

Microsoft's 'Stirling' package aimed at taking on rivals McAfee, Symantec

Microsoft shared details of its long-term security product strategy as part of its ongoing TechEd 2007 training conference on June 4, lifting the lid on plans to deliver an integrated suite of its software by mid-2009.

After leaping headlong into the security software market in 2007 with the launch of a range of products aimed at defending everything from endpoints to messaging servers, Microsoft officials said the company will soon seek to compete with the integrated security platforms currently offered by rivals including Symantec and McAfee.

Built under the code-name Stirling, the package of security applications will include Microsoft's Antigen server anti-virus, anti-spam and content filtering technologies -- in the form of its Forefront Security for Exchange Server and Forefront Security for SharePoint products -- along with its Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server software, Forefront Client Security desktop defence system, and network access control tools.

The system will also integrate elements of Microsoft's Systems Center IT management platform, company officials said.

By pulling the various security programs together under a single umbrella, Microsoft officials said they can help customers more easily achieve their goals of making IT infrastructure easier and cheaper to manage while providing improved protection through tighter product integration.

One of the most important aspects of Stirling -- which Microsoft plans to preview in 2007 and follow with a public beta version in 2008 before launching during the first half of 2009 -- is a centralised management and reporting console.

As part of the introduction of the Stirling roadmap, Microsoft also launched the beta 2 release of Forefront Server Security Management Console at TechEd. The product is touted as a centralised, Web-based management system for on-site or remote administration of its Forefront server security products.

The unified interface for security management in Stirling will allow IT administrators to share data between the various technologies included in the package and create analysis that offers a more comprehensive idea of their organisation's overall security posture, the company said.

"Most companies are currently dealing with a variety of security management consoles that create a mess as each has a different way of applying security and most fail to provide a way for administrators to document and apply processes across various types of solutions," said Josue Fontanez, senior product manager for Forefront Client Security at Microsoft.

While Microsoft's existing security products are already designed to mesh tightly with each other out of the box, pulling the tools together in the factory will provide new opportunities for intelligence gathering across the systems and speed companies' response times when they are attacked, the vendor claims.

"Today, workers have to figure out how to translate all that information into configurations and protect everything themselves, which is a real challenge, and each application requires its own infrastructure for reporting and defining policies, so work tends to be replicated across operations," Fontanez said. "If a complex threat emerges today, there is still a lot of manual work necessary to mitigate the attack, and we feel we can greatly simplify that process by bringing these pieces together."

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