Sophos buys antispam firm for £14m

UK antivirus company Sophos has bought Canadian company ActiveState for £13.9m in cash, adding ActiveState's line of antispam...

UK antivirus company Sophos has bought Canadian company ActiveState for £13.9m in cash, adding ActiveState's line of antispam products to Sophos' enterprise antivirus software.

The deal will strengthen the position of both companies, which have faced stiff competition for business customers from major antivirus firms selling integrated antispam and antivirus products.

Vancouver-based ActiveState made a name for itself selling software development tools for open-source languages before moving into the content filtering arena.

The deal comes after the two companies formed a working relationship six months ago to co-operate in selling their technologies into large corporate accounts.

ActiveState products complement Sophos' software and the companies had similar customer bases, focusing almost exclusively on enterprises and business customers. 

ActiveState's PureMessage antispam gateway analyses e-mail messages to detect spam and also has content inspection features which allow companies to set and enforce corporate policies for message content.

Sophos initially will support PureMessage along with its own gateway mail product, MailMonitor. The two products will be merged some time next year.

Sophos also will continue to support ActiveState's development tools business indefinitely under the ActiveState brand.

Though not core to Sophos' business model, ActiveState's programming tools and languages business provides a deep well of development experience within the company that can contribute to filtering and antivirus tools.

The ActiveState products also have a loyal customer base within Fortune 1000 companies.

Development of the PureMessage product will continue in Vancouver and ActiveState's 104-person staff will be absorbed into Sophos.

For Sophos, the decision to expand into antispam was inevitable, according to Brian Burke of IDC. "Sophos had to get involved in antispam. Their competition would have killed them if they didn't."

Despite a strong reputation among enterprise customers, especially in Europe, pressure on the UK company was mounting from the likes of Symantec and Network Associates, which have all announced new products or partnering agreements to add antispam to their products in recent months, according to Forrester Research industry analyst Jan Sundgren.

The ActiveState purchase also adds more generic content filtering technology to Sophos' product line, which will serve the company well with customers looking for help in areas such as e-mail content security and compliance with regulations once the spam wave has passed, Burke added.

Paul Roberts writes for IDG News Service

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