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McAfee buys whitelisting firm Solidcore

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Net security firm McAfee has bought whitelisting firm Solidcore for approximately $33m in cash, rising to $47m if sales targets are met.

The deal was announced Friday, and is expected to close by the end of Q2 2009. It will allow MCafee to offer endpoint security technology to a broader range of embedded devices, including ATMs, point of sale (POS) systems, and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems.

Whitelisting technology ensures that only pre-authorised software and code (ie known safe applications) can run on devices. The approach is an alternative to looking for either the signature or behaviour associated with known bad applications - the more traditional blacklisting approach of anti-virus scanners, intrusion prevention tools etc.

It's an elegant idea, but it can come unstuck, particularly in corporate desktop environments, where a large variety of legitimate and often changing applications might be running on PCs.

The whitelisting approach has much more in its favour when applied to embedded devices, where typically only a closely defined list of applications need to run. After all you're not going to run OpenOffice - much less Doom - on an ATM or SCADA device, assuming such a thing were possible.

The security of control systems at utilities that rely on SCADA technology has become a topic of concern over recent months, with anonymous Feds spinning the line that overseas intelligence agencies have hacked into the US national grid, for example.

The Solidcore acquisition allows McAfee to offer products designed to mitigate against these types of attack, as well as arguably more pressing concerns about malware on retail sales terminals. McAfee plans to integrate Solidcore’s dynamic whitelisting and compliance enforcement technology with its existing compliance mapping and policy audit tools. The acquisition will also allow McAfee to beef up its product portfolio in virtualisation security, using Solidcore’s technology for locking down virtual environments. ®

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