Microsoft announces additions to ISA server

Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday released the Feature Pack 1 for its Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) server 2000, the company’s enterprise firewall product.

Originally released as a proxy server back in 2001, some of the announced software upgrades to the ISA server include Remote Procedure Call (RPC) filtering for incoming Microsoft Exchange RPC connections, a version of URLScan for other inbound and outbound RPC connections and support for RSA Security Inc.’s SecureID authentication tokens.

And as one analyst pointed out, the RSA partnership aspect of the ISA release is an anomaly compared to how Microsoft usually acts in its software releases.

“There is a different focus on this product which is to have as many third-parties in the sand-box as possible for content filtering and URL blocking,” said Jim Hurley, vice-president and managing director of the security and privacy practice division at the Aberdeen Group in Boston.

Last year, the Aberdeen Group conducted user research on the ISA server and it found that customers were generally accepting of the product and that it was reliable and easy to use, he said. Typically, users primarily opted for the ISA to replace existing internal firewalls. Common application usage included Internet connections or using the offering as a firewall content filter device for connecting employees to e-mail, Hurley said.

The new features are available to customers who already have an ISA licence that is running Microsoft Exchange as their e-mail server. However, this is merely a delay tactic until the Redmond, Wash., company releases both Outlook 11 and Exchange 2003, scheduled to be released this summer. At that point the RPC filtering will no longer be needed, as the technology will be available in those releases, said Peter Pawlak, lead analyst server applications for Directions On Microsoft in Kirkland, Wash.

As Pawlak explained, the RPC feature is important because it passes straight through the firewall to the Exchange server without first having to establish the VPN connection and the data remains encrypted. He suggested that with the ISA server, Microsoft sits behind only Check Point Software Technologies Ltd. and Cisco Systems in market share.

“It’s a pretty good piece of software (but) it’s not the industry leader in terms of installed numbers. But it is quite popular,” he said.

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