Google's acquisition of security company GreenBorder Technologies is a sign the search giant wants to bolster confidence in its browser-delivered applications amid growing threats from malicious software on the internet.
The acquisition, made earlier this month but revealed this week, gives the company a security product to offer with browser-delivered applications such as Docs and Spreadsheets, its productivity suite.
Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Mozilla's Firefox are the most commonly used browsers, but have experienced serious security vulnerabilities. For Google, which doesn't have a browser product itself, that's bad news and could put off IT managers from using browser-based applications.
With the GreenBorder buy, Google is trying to instill confidence in enterprises and users.
"Our belief is not that they wanted to get in the security business, but they want to make the browsing experience safe," said Jay Heiser, a research vice president with Gartner.
Google hasn't detailed how it will offer GreenBorder, designed to block "untrusted" programs, including malware, from affecting the underlying system. The program works with Internet Explorer, Firefox and Microsoft's Outlook as well as other browsers and email programs. GreenBorder offered a free consumer version and sold enterprise versions of its program.
If a user gets infected by visiting a malicious web site or downloads a worm from an email attachment, the bad program will only run in an isolated environment, or a "separate logical domain", according to a February 2005 evaluation from KeyLabs, a security testing company now owned by AppLabs Technologies.
When users notice their systems are slowing, the malware can simply be flushed out by resetting GreenBorder, and there are no traces left on the system.
It's not easy technology to build: "Desktop security suites have not utilised an approach similar to GreenBorder's due to the extremely high degree of complexity," KeyLabs' report said.
And it's also not a replacement for antivirus software. Most desktop AV suites receive regular updates, called signatures, that allow the programs to identify and remove malware. GreenBorder doesn't use signatures or sweep a machine clean of malware. GreenBorder also won't stop bad software that's already on the machine, the KeyLabs report said.
Still, GreenBorder has received good reviews from some users. Christian Mohn, a system administrator for the Norwegian shipping company, Seatrans, wrote on his blog that GreenBorder was easy-to-use and didn't slow down Internet Explorer.
Whatever limitations GreenBorder may have, increased confidence in software-as-a-service applications could be a worrisome issue for companies such as Microsoft, which has competing desktop products and is trying to figure out how to turn them into online services, said Christian A. Christiansen, program vice president, security products and services, at analyst firm IDC.