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IronPort OS Gets Encryption Update

Cisco Systems' IronPort division is perhaps best known for its anti-spam e-mail appliances and technologies. But it wants to be known for more.

That might happen with the new encryption and data-loss prevention (DLP) features it's rolling out in its new AsyncOS operating system 5.5 release. The AsyncOS operating system powers IronPort's e-mail security appliances.

"This is data-loss prevention made easy," Nick Edwards, project manager for IronPort, told InternetNews.com. It takes advantage of investments customers have made in their anti-spam infrastructures and gives them really good tools for data-loss prevention.

Edwards added that AsyncOS started from a FreeBSD kernel on which IronPort developed its own proprietary MTA (mail transfer agent) and other features.

Among the key enhancements in AsyncOS 5.5 is full e-mail encryption. Edwards explained that all encryption takes place at the gateway of the sending organization and can be done by policy.

Once an outbound message has hit the server, an e-mail message is sent to the recipient that says they have a secure message waiting for them and if they go to a specific Web site login, they can retrieve it.

"It provides for a universal approach for deploying encryption without the need for some kind of end-to-end compatibility," Edwards said. "It takes complexity off the table and makes deployment easier."

According to Edwards, the fact that a recipient has to click on a link and go to a Web site to see their encrypted mail has not had any push back from customers.

The new AsyncOS release also helps users more easily tag and identify e-mail that should not be leaving the enterprise. Called "smart identifiers," they help to identify content, such as Social Security and credit-card numbers that should not be in outbound e-mail.

Edwards noted that IronPort had the ability to do custom filters prior to this release, but customers had to do a lot more manual lifting. Smart identifiers are intended to be as easy as point and click.

"The reason why it's called smart identifiers and not just identifiers is we've introduced logic to allow the platform to understand what it's looking at," Edwards explained.

Though the new AsyncOS adds features, existing users shouldn't necessarily expect that it will improve the performance of their e-mail security appliance. Edwards described the performance as "flat" for existing customers for the features they're already using.

"But if someone is going to deploy encryption, which is pretty CPU intensive, it depends on their rollout and how much mail they will encrypt," Edwards said. "We're not in the business of promising customers that they'll never experience a performance decline, but we are committed to giving them parity for their existing feature set release to release."

The release is the first made by IronPort since being acquired by Cisco earlier this year for $830 million. Though it's still relatively early in the integration, Edwards noted that there are a lot of interesting opportunities for IronPort to interoperate with Cisco.

"Cisco has a ton of products all across the network infrastructure and many look interesting to us to deploy our security technology on."