McAfee product strategy needs focus, analysts say

Slew of McAfee product initiatives pique interest of customers but industry analysts say the security giant needs to sharpen its focus.

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At McAfee's annual user conference in September, executives at the security vendor set out to assure customers and partners that they have a clear product strategy as the company enters into marriage with Intel. The multi-pronged plan drew customer interest but industry observers say the security giant needs to hone its priorities if it wants to succeed.

While it isn't likely that innovative hardware-based security products will be released this year, McAfee President and CEO Dave DeWalt hinted just weeks after Intel announced its plan to acquire the company that new technologies are already in the pipeline. Until then, he said the company would continue to innovate with its software-based endpoint security initiatives. His message resonated with some McAfee customers who expressed their interest in the prospects of hardware-based security and McAfee's new virtualization platform,, an antivirus software package called MOVE that secures XenDesktop virtual machines and VMware servers.

Tom VanderZwaag, a security solution center manager at Santa Clara, Calif.-based Affymetrix, a maker of microchips for DNA analysis, says his firm is considering virtualization for its testing and administrative functions, a cost-cutting move which had him looking more closely at McAfee's software at the conference.

"We're getting into the virtualization space, so we're trying to understand the impact of these products," he says. "Obviously with budgetary constraints we'll probably be moving into a pilot mode soon and we see some potential, especially in the testing area and repeatable customers."

McAfee has been working with both Citrix Systems and VMware to apply its antivirus software to the network layer of a virtualized environment with minimal performance degradation. The company plans to integrate the MOVE platform into its ePolicy Orchestrator (ePO) central management console.

Along with the broad announcement around virtualization, McAfee's DeWalt reiterated the promise of improving security by placing it inside silicon rather than part of the operating system. "Instead of running in the application layer, we have to think about technologies at a lower level in the stack," DeWalt says.

DeWalt also touted McAfee's "Security Connected" initiative, which brings together its endpoint, network, and mobile products into a complete "ubiquitous" security platform. But some industry analysts and customers say the security giant needs to prioritize its direction. Andrew Braunberg, a research director at Washington, D.C.-based Current Analysis, says Intel has a strong track record of listening to its customers and anticipating what should come next, a benefit that could help McAfee find its way.

"[McAfee] has its fingers in so many different directions that it really sums up what their challenge or opportunity is right now," Braunberg says. "Their problem is deciding what to jump on first."

Joshua Corman, a research director at The 451 Group, agrees that more focus would help McAfee.

"I felt that all the messages were on ubiquity; putting McAfee everywhere," Corman says, adding, "It's not just about being ubiquitous it's also about improving the caliber."

Still, some customers were excited about the future painted by McAfee. Alexander Leach, a reverse engineer at a defense contractor, says the entire security industry is thinking about hardware-based security products. As malware grows more sophisticated, hardware-based technologies may show promise in defending networks, but the technologies being developed won't be the smoking gun needed to snuff out cybercriminal activity for good, he says.

"There's been a lot of talk about moving towards hardware, and there's probably going to be some pretty cool stuff from [Intel and McAfee], but it's always going to be a cat-and-mouse game no matter how we approach it," Leach says. "It's just like digital rights management or any other type of thing like that; security through obfuscation only works so much."

The challenge for McAfee will be to continue to develop ePO while it rolls out new hardware-based products, says a global infrastructure security manager in the agriculture industry who declined to give his name. There is a need for McAfee to improve data sharing within the centralized management console so security vendor products and even some McAfee products can pull data out of ePO to help security teams analyze data.

"One of the challenges I think we've had in this space for years is that there's no one silver bullet, but there's a whole holster full of them," he says. "We buy all kinds of different tools, there's a lot of overlap, and I spend a lot of time and a lot of man hours having people that are interpreting data from one system and looking at it in the context of another system."

Robert Westervelt is the news editor of SearchSecurity.com. Send comments on this article to feedback@infosecuritymag.com

This was first published in November 2010
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