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VMware acquires HIPS provider Determina

Dennis Fisher, Executive Editor

VMware , the market leader in virtualisation software, has acquired Determina , a Silicon Valley maker of host intrusion prevention products.

The terms of the acquisition have not been disclosed and there has not been any formal announcement of the deal, but it apparently occurred on 6 August. VMware went public with a much-hyped IPO on Monday, and is still in its quiet period.

"VMware has acquired Determina to integrate a talented product development team with unique security technology into our efforts to make our virtualisation platform the safest place to run applications. VMware does not have plans to enter the security content subscription business. VMware maintains its commitment to working with the security partner community to deliver a range of security solutions including vulnerability protection," Karthik Rau, vice president of product management at VMware, said in a statement.

In a research note analysing the deal, Gartner analyst Neil MacDonald says he expects VMware to integrate Determina's Memory Firewall technology into its existing products, including the ESX hypervisor, and to stop selling the Determina products as standalones. Determina's technology is unique in the HIPS market, as it is designed to protect the operating system and applications by preventing malicious code from abusing memory, which is typical of attacks such buffer overflows.

Determina, based in Redwood City, California., also has a development lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where VMware has its East Coast headquarters. One of Determina's co-founders, Vladimir Kiriansky, whose thesis work at MIT led to the development of the Memory Firewall, previously worked at VMware.

This is VMware's first real foray into the security market, and it comes at a time when the company's core virtualisation offerings are more in demand than ever. Large enterprises and other sizeable organisations are turning to virtualisation as a way to cut costs in the data center and get more out of the investments they have already made in servers and desktops. But the security of virtualised environments has been something of an unknown quantity due to the complexity of the technology and the ways in which hypervisors interact with the host OS.

Determina's technology is designed specifically to protect the OS from malicious code, regardless of the origin of the attack, so it would seem to be a sensible fit for VMware, analysts say.

"Securing the integrity of the hypervisor and the guest OS is integral to the widespread enterprise adoption of virtualisation," said Nick Selby, senior analyst at The 451 Group in New York. "Determina has some technology that can help VMware, if properly integrated, address some of the most compelling issues."

In his analysis of the deal, Gartner's MacDonald sounded many of the same notes. "By potentially integrating Memory Firewall into the ESX hypervisor, the hypervisor itself can provide an additional level of protection against intrusions. We also believe the memory protection will be extended to guest OSs as well: VMware's extensive use of binary emulation for virtualisation puts the ESX hypervisor in an advantageous position to exploit this style of protection," he wrote. "Further, by using the LiveShield capabilities, the ESX hypervisor could be used 'introspectively' to shield the hypervisor and guest OSs from attacks on known vulnerabilities in situations where these have not yet been patched. Both Determina technologies are fairly OS- and application-neutral, providing VMware with an easy way to protect ESX as well as Linux- and Windows-based guest OSs."


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