Check Point Software has always been conservatively run, concentrating on its core strengths in firewall software and eschewing the big-money acquisition sprees of rivals such as Network Associates and Symantec.
This focus has helped the company maintain the runaway leadership of the firewall market, and see off strong challenges from Cisco and Sun Microsystems.
But a strategic shift is on the way. Check Point is making a tentative move into new sectors and, for the first time, is embarking on its own acquisition spree.
Check Point president Jerry Ungerman is aware that few acquisitions in the security sector could be described as successful. “All of the last ten acquisitions in the security field have probably failed.” he says, citing the case of rival Symantec, which bought three intrusion detection suppliers: “Why buy three intrusion detection companies unless the first two failed? Symantec bought Axent Technology for $1 billion and there’s nothing left of it.”
Check Point is undaunted, however, identifying three broad areas for acquisitions: perimeter, internal and web.
Why should Check Point fare better? “We are going to come up with technology that will address corporate security in a single product, as opposed to doing it in a multitude of products,” says Ungerman.
The plan is to continue to develop firewall software as the centrepiece of corporate network access strategies. That will encompass all aspects of web security, including firewalls, access control, authentication and management.
At the same time, Check Point also plans to offer some important components, such as Application Intelligence, on a standalone basis.
Application Intelligence provides a form of intrusion prevention, one of software’s hottest technologies. Its primary role is to perform protocol anomaly analysis on incoming data packets, helping to detect and shut out application layer attacks that traditional firewalls – which simply keep network ports open or closed – remain oblivious to.
While analysts expect firewall and intrusion prevention technology to eventually merge, Check Point is hedging its bets. At certain points in the network, an organisation will simply want intrusion prevention, rather than the whole security ‘stack’, says Ungerman.
What may worry competitors is the flexibility with which FireWall-1’s various components can be deployed.
Integration has long been an Achilles’ heal of security software and there could be a rich reward for the first vendor to genuinely achieve it. Add access control and authentication to a line-up that already includes virtual private networking (VPN) software and Check Point will start to look like the first 1,000-pound gorilla of computer security.