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Optical/IP

Cisco Buys WLAN Security Smarts

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is buying software security firm Meetinghouse Data Communications Inc. for $43.7 million in a move that reflects the importance of secure network access via WLAN. (See Cisco to Buy Meetinghouse.)

The move marks the return of Cisco's roving acquisition eye to the network security sector after it snapped up three specialist companies in the middle of 2005. (See Cisco Nets NetSift for $30M, Cisco Buys Startup for $1.2M per Employee, and Cisco Chomps FineGround.)

It's also a reminder that fierce rival Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) has been stepping on Cisco's enterprise toes. Analysts predicted Cisco could make a wireless LAN security acquisition following Juniper's purchase of Funk Software in December 2005. (See Cisco's Funk Breakdown.)

So what is Cisco getting for its cash, apart from 77 new staff? Well, Meetinghouse has developed "client-side 802.1X supplicant security software," according to Cisco's press release. To mere mortals, that means its software sits on devices such as desktop computers, laptops, and PDAs, and enables secure network access (fixed or WLAN connection) via 802.1x servers that provide port-based authentication. (See Review: 802.1X Authentication Servers and Aegis Authenticates Apple.)

In addition to being able to restrict network access to authorized users and devices, Meetinghouse's software also makes enterprise network managers' jobs easier, as they don't have to support multiple security systems that are dependent on the type and make of device.

Meetinghouse says its authentication software development kit (SDK) "ships with over 90% of the leading 802.11 semiconductor vendors," and its technology is integrated "in more than 75 percent of the LAN switch marketplace," enabling a high degree of interoperability. (See Meetinghouse, ISIL Secure WLAN, Meetinghouse Secures Atheros, NEC Likes Meetinghouse, and Notebook WiFi Clients.)

Cisco plans to integrate Meetinghouse into its Wireless Networking Business Unit (WNBU), and integrate its software into its existing security products. The vendor says the specialist's technology is "a natural extension to existing Cisco initiatives such as the Cisco Self Defending Network via Network Admission Control (NAC) and the Cisco Compatible Extensions (CCX) program."

The move will also strengthen Cisco's network-based applications pitch, dubbed Service Oriented Network Architecture (SONA). (See Cisco Everywhere: Meet SONA.)

Cisco expects the acquisition to close during its first fiscal quarter ending October 28. Cisco's share price closed Thursday at $19.63, up just 3 cents. The Meetinghouse news was announced after the markets closed.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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