Despite GreenBorder acquisition, Google security plan remains unclear

Google bought GreenBorder for its "sandbox" browser function, but that doesn't mean it will compete with Symantec and McAfee.

Just a week after launching Google Online Security Blog to "periodically provide updates on recent trends, interesting findings, and efforts related to online security," Google acquired the security developer GreenBorder, whose software creates a sort of virtualized Web browser for safer Internet use.

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Both developments show Google is taking online security more seriously, but not to the point that it will compete with established security vendors -- as Google's word processor and other productivity applications are expected to compete with Microsoft, according to Natalie Lambert, a senior analyst with Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass.

"I don't really see them becoming an antivirus vendor," she said.

Bill Gardner, the director of competitive marketing for McAfee Inc., said Google has the intelligence, money and power to expand in whatever direction it wants. However, "we tend to expect that they will keep their focus on their core business," he said.

What direction it will take in security is something of a mystery. Responding to an email question about the company's strategy for GreenBorder, a spokesman replied: "We're excited to welcome GreenBorder's talented team of engineers to Google. We believe they can help build products and features that will benefit our users, advertisers and publishers."

Asked about Google's future in security, the spokesman pointed to this blog post, which highlights the company's efforts to "keep the bad guys out" by offering malware warnings and an antiphishing tool in Google Toolbar.

Lambert expects Google to stick with that philosophy and focus its security efforts on protecting the users of its Web portal, email and applications -- likely by acquiring smaller security companies and integrating their features. The features that Google has or will integrate include spam filtering, virus scanning and application-level security, she said.

A key indicator of that strategy is the fact that Google stopped selling GreenBorder immediately after the acquisition, Lambert said.

Symantec declined to comment for this story, citing a policy against speaking about other vendors' news. Both Gardner and Lambert said Google, like every other software and Internet company, is attempting its own security solutions to address users' growing concerns.

"No one can afford to look to their customers as if they're not concerned about such a huge problem," Gardner said. "There's a lot of large competitors, and we take them all very seriously."

GreenBorder works by creating a so-called "sandbox" for each browser session that eliminates all browsing history and other data when the session ends. Although Google stopped selling the product after the acquisition, the company has said it will continue to support existing customers.

Let us know what you think about this story; email: Colin Steele, Features Writer.

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