Ovum comment: Google makes its first security acquisition

Google has quietly acquired privately-held GreenBorder Technologies for an undisclosed sum. GreenBorder shares its name with its main product which in turn takes its name from its appearance! GreenBorder is a sandbox in which Internet Explorer and incoming programs can be executed. This protects the rest of the computer and the files to which it has access. At the end of a session the sandbox is discarded and any changes to the browser revert to their earlier state.

Ovum principal analyst Graham Titterington comments:

Two things stand out here:

·  GreenBorder's announcement that it is immediately stopping all sales of its product

·  Google has bought a start-up company with a novel approach to Internet security rather than any of the mainstream players, of which there are still hundreds available.

There is a lot of logic in this move, although it is far from clear how Google will use its new toy.

Google is concerned about malware that is downloaded through browsers as the user surfs the Web. This has become the main artery for malware delivery. Google itself reported in mid-May 2007 that 1 in 10 websites was now infected with malware. The problem threatens Google's image as well as its users. Reports that many of Google's sponsored links go to malware distribution sites undermine Google's attempts to set itself up as an enterprise computing resource. Google has tried to improve the quality of its search engine results, but has failed to resolve the clash between immediate revenue and customer welfare.

GreenBorder tackles the problem of bad websites head on. It is targeted directly at Google's weak spot. This acquisition does not signal that Google wants to be a security vendor. In many ways GreenBorder achieves what Microsoft's security initiative (for example in Vista) has achieved, but in a much neater and more efficient way. We can see Google thumbing its nose at arch-rival Microsoft over this.

The question is 'how can Google use this technology to help its users‾' Presumably Google isn't interested in selling software for a $29.95 annual subscription. If it chooses to offer GreenBorder as a hosted service it will have to also offer a hosted Internet Explorer service, along with a hosting service for applications that users download from websites. This would have massive implications for Google's infrastructure requirements, although it would give Google a lot of detailed marketing data about its users.

Alternatively, Google could simply give the software to users and say that, now they are protected from malware, it no longer needs to worry about the quality of its search engine hits. Although this would be a reasonable position to take, it would be a marketing disaster. The third option is that Google will strip out the technology it needs to provide a better filter of site hits. This would seem to be a roundabout way of getting the sort of technology that is available from many vendors.

We await Google's next move with interest. Our money is on option (1), a hosted web browsing service. But Google is high on innovations and well accustomed to springing surprises.

Graham Titterington is a principal analyst at Ovum, specialising in IT security and business continuity.