Free Service Aims to Untangle Network Security Concerns

By Lauren Simonds | Posted December 11, 2006

Yesterday, it was called Metavize, but today the San Mateo, Calif.-based company officially changed its name to Untangle and, more importantly, announced that its suite of on-demand network security software is now free to the more than five million U.S. small businesses with 10 or fewer employees. Untangle says it offers the same enterprise-level protection at an affordable price for companies with 11 or more employees.

Untangle's software suite runs on a dedicated server and is designed to protect small business networks from viruses, spyware, phishing and a host of other ever-evolving digital threats. Bob Walters, Untangle's CEO, said that small businesses face the same security concerns as enterprise companies, but have been underserved. "This isn't due to a lack of technology, there's plenty available," says Walters, "The problem is that the technology isn't packaged properly."

Walters notes that open-source solutions are free, but they're "designed by geeks for geeks," and thus too complicated for most small companies. Security appliance boxes that plug into the network are somewhat better, he says, but still prone to management complexity and cost because you had to keep adding more boxes. The first generation of security appliances was function-specific: one box for anti-virus protection, another to fight spam and so on.

Currently, appliances offering United Threat Management (UTM) [define] capability — where one box protects against multiple threat categories —are in vogue, but Walters points out that as new categories arise, the old box can't protect against the new threat and can quickly become outdated.

Untangle likens its approach to that of Apple's iTunes. OK, network security isn't nearly as cool as an iPod, but the idea is that you download the software you need from Untangle to the server appliance, and you're connected. The company offers 13 different applications, and Raul Mujica, the company's vice president of marketing, says they're adding more every month.

"Small business owners can pick and choose the functionality they want and simply download it to the server," says Mujica. "Our research shows that small businesses hate adding boxes to the network. If a new threat category turns up, they don't have to change to a new appliance or add a new box. Simply download the software that addresses the new threat. This is the last box they'll ever need because it's extensible."

Untangle designed the platform for small businesses with fewer than 150 employees that have either a part-time or a small, in-house IT staff. The software applications, which include anti-virus, anti-spyware, spam blocker, Web content filtering, intrusion prevention system [define], attack shield and others, are based on open-source code. Companies can run the software on an existing or new Intel- or AMD -based x86 server. They also have the option to purchase a server from Untangle with the software pre-loaded.


Untangle: Anti-spyware
Anti-spyware is one of 13 applications that Untangle — the company formerly known as Metavize — offers small businesses
(Click to view larger image.)

As for making the software free to SMBs with 10 or fewer employees, Walters says they had two main motivations. "First of all, we developed our software using free open-source code, and we wanted to give something back to the community. Second, we think this free offering will spur small companies to adopt the security protection they need. And it will generate word-of-mouth. The money that we can make selling this solution to companies with 11 and more employees is enough to run a profitable business."

Untangle charges a flat monthly fee — no per-user costs — of $75 for companies with 11-30 employees and $195 per month for companies with more than 30 employees.

Untangle: The Real World

In Newnan, Georgia, about 38 miles southwest of Atlanta, Chris Christiansen heads up a three-person IT team — and he says Untangle's on-demand software plays a major role in his department's proactive approach. Christiansen joined CeloNova BioSciences Inc., a 48-employee company that makes implantable medical devices, two-and-a-half years ago as the company's director of information technology and communications. He estimates that, at the time, his team spent 75 percent of its time on help desk calls. "Spyware entering the network was a huge problem," he says "and it was affecting productivity. Accounting couldn't cut checks because of pop-ups. It was a real drag."

The spyware [define] issue was so significant that the team became completely reactive. "We didn't have time to take a breath much less be proactive and think about systems that could move the company forward," he says. In Christiansen's previous job as a consultant, his client used a network security appliance from Metavize (now known as Untangle). He decided to give it a try.

The main problem with spyware, according to Christiansen, is that you can clean it out of a network, but if you don't have effective detection, the system simply gets re-infected by new spyware. "I brought in the box, which took about 30 minutes to install, and the problem went away. The re-infections stopped immediately, " he says. Since installing Untangle two years ago, Christiansen's team hasn't received a single helpdesk call related to spyware.

As pleased as he was with Untangle's performance, Christiansen says he didn't realize the product's total value until the company commissioned an independent IT audit on the state of its technology. The auditor noted Untangle's various other applications and filters citing the added protection they provided to the company.

In his report to CelaNova's CEO and COO, the auditor called implementing Untangle a great decision and a key component in the company's layered security strategy.

Christiansen subscribes to all of Untangle's security applications, although, he says, they don't use the VPN feature. The company has three offices — the headquarters in Georgia, and an office in France and Germany. Each office has a server running Untangle.

Currently, Christiansen's team is researching a full Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, which he says is important to the company's overall strategy. "Untangle does what it's supposed to do, and it does it well. And that lets us spend our time thinking about bringing in new technology, like ERP, what we need it to do and writing RFPs — not spending our time fighting spyware," Christiansen said.

"It lets us focus proactively on technology that will help our company become more successful.

Lauren Simonds is managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com.

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