Symantec Buys Spam Killer, Gets Street CredBy Baselinemag | Posted 2005-03-07 Email Print
Symantec joined the spam-busting big leagues by acquiring Brightmail, but some wonder if the company is keeping its eye on the ball.
A year ago, Symantec was in the bush leagues of antispam vendors. The company, as part of its mail security software package, offered only a basic spam-blocking feature that guessed whether messages were spam and let companies manually maintain blacklists of keywords and the addresses of known spammers.
Symantec finally got serious about the market in May 2004, when it plunked down $370 million to buy Brightmail, whose approach to identifying spam was based on a network of 2 million "probe" mailboxes. Also last year, Symantec picked up a smaller startup, TurnTide, which developed a network device that squeezes down bandwidth from spammers' e-mail servers.
For Brightmail customer Chris Zeck, manager of infrastructure engineering at Bechtel, Symantec's takeover was reassuring. "Symantec is here to stay, so we know Brightmail isn't going away," Zeck says. "Brightmail has been effective for us." He says the software has ably handled the tenfold increase in spam sent to Bechtel's 19,000 employees over the past year and a half, and that the number of legitimate e-mail messages the system inaccurately blocks as spam is "near zero."
But some worry that Symantecwhich is in the middle of a planned $13.5 billion acquisition of storage software vendor Veritascould dilute Brightmail's singular focus on spam. "I'm not sure Symantec is that pressed to compete in the antispam market," says Brandon Bianchi, network engineer at Pelco, a video-surveillance equipment company. Symantec, he notes, has released one update to Brightmail AntiSpam since acquiring the company, whereas Brightmail used to issue releases every few months.
Also "a little concerned" about Symantec's Brightmail acquisition is Leo Ghazarian, manager of information technology at footwear company Asics America. He likes the Brightmail software because it works well and requires minimal maintenance. "My worry is that the future growth path might not be as aggressive," he says.
Symantec maintains that it is constantly improving the antispam offerings. "Today Symantec is protecting about 300 million Internet mailboxes," says Enrique Salem, formerly Brightmail's CEO and now in charge of Symantec's antispam and security gateway products. "That gives us incredible visibility into the world of e-mail and electronic threats."
Symantec Operating Results*
* Fiscal year ends March 31; FYTD reflects first nine months
Source: company reports
Total assets - $5.44B
Stockholders' equity - $3.61B
Cash and equivalents - $2.94B
Long-term debt - None
Shares outstanding - 742.45M
Market value, 2/28 - $15.37B
** As of Dec. 31, 2004, except as noted
Includes short-term investments