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Utility software firm Symantec is looking to ride high on the Internet wave with last month's acquisition of URLabs, a firm specialising in Internet access control and e-mail scanning. In a recent interview, John Thompson, president, chief executive officer and chairman of Symantec, spoke with IDG about the company's move into Web-based content security, particularly in the Asian market.

IDG: Can you elaborate on your recent acquisition of URLabs and why Symantec is getting into the Web-based content security market?

Thompson: Well first off, the reason that we see this as an opportunity for us is principally because customers have said it's a point of great need. As they open their systems up more to the possibilities of threats brought on by Internet or external connections, they see the need to protect their corporate data or data that resides in departmental systems.

The notion of content has become an item of great importance to customers around the world. We happen to have a very strong position as a dominant player in the area of antiviruses which is one of the segments of content security.

Expanding our presence in that category to include scanning and filtering technologies that deal with e-mail scanning or URL filtering or the identification of mobile and malicious code is a logical extension of the competency of our company and also represents a super big opportunity for us from a revenue point of view.

The Web-based content security category worldwide is expected to approach $US5 billion by the year 2003 and that's before you add any of the associated service revenue or the deployment and implementation of technology in that space.

The acquisition of URLabs is strategically important because it brings patented technology into the family that's focused very specifically in this area. It also brings to the family a development team that has developed products on both the Linux and Unix platforms.

Those skills and that platform coverage are very important to us as we look at working with not only an expanded set of corporate users, but an expanded set of ISPs as well. So it's a strategically important acquisition that supports the redirection or refocus of our company to a broader category called content security.

Can you talk about the terms of the agreement?

It was a $42 million cash purchase. We bought the entire company, its assets and people. There are about 35 people.

When do you expect to be shipping these new content security products under the Symantec name?

We've actually already shifted the products from URLabs. They're called High Gear and Mail Gear. One is an e-mail scanning product and the other is a dynamic URL filtering product. How we rebrand and integrate those things is a plan that is being worked out as we speak.

One of the first areas of integration will be in the digital immune system (DIS) which is our implementation of a management system as a security offering. Underneath that umbrella lies not only antivirus, but also connectivity support for remote devices as well as the elements of the content security strategy that we acquired from URLabs, so you'll see those products in the not-too-distant future.

The plan for DIS was a 1999 deliverable. We're assessing how quickly we can integrate the URLabs technology into that. I'd like to get it done this year but that's a plan we'll have to build now that we have the assets as a part of our team.

Can you talk about the difficulties foreign security application vendors like yourself face with respect to Chinese government officials and getting access to the mainland market?

[The mainland government officials] would certainly like to be in greater control of what technologies get deployed in China. That is why we have representatives from the Department of Public Security visiting our location down in Santa Monica not only to assess the technology but for us to pursue [opportunities] with them after they've made their decisions on which technology they want to use. Assuming it's ours, we have a basis of understanding to exercise those negotiations. We are aware that we need to be a partner with the mainland government in order to be able to participate in the market.


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