Anti-virus software rivals McAfee and Symantec are going toe-to-toe again as they both unveiled network access control products at the RSA Conference in San Jose, Calif. last month.

McAfee’s Policy Enforcer will include Windows-based desktop client software to let customers enforce end-point security by having the Windows-based Policy Enforcer server check for updated patches, anti-virus, firewall and unauthorized applications before allowing a user onto the network. The server component also will be available as a software module that can run in McAfee’s management console, ePolicy Orchestrator.

The goal is not just to enforce patch and anti-virus updates, says Eric Winsborrow, McAfee vice-president of product marketing. “We’re also going to be able to check for the existence of infections like Sasser or Zotob or botnets before allowing the machine onto the network.”

If a desktop doesn’t pass inspection, Policy Enforcer will quarantine it to facilitate a remediation process so that the user can meet the security policy and gain admittance to the network. McAfee’s product also will include a Windows-based scanner to perform network discovery and determine what devices are coming onto the network.

Symantec is targeting the same segment with it’s Symantec Network Access Control Enforcer appliance, a hardware-based version of the Sygate Enterprise Protection software product it received through the acquisition of Sygate Technologies last year.

The appliance will include a desktop software agent for Windows-based computers that will perform a wide variety of host integrity checks, says John Brody, senior director of product management.

Network Access Control Enforcer will check for anti-virus and ensure that required software patches are installed.

Whether deployed on a LAN segment or behind the VPN gateway, it also will be able to scan machines that may not have the host-based agent on it.

McAfee and Symantec each has its own approaches to network access control, but the question arises how their products may fit into the Cisco and Microsoft technical frameworks. Cisco’s Network Admission Control (NAC) relies on Cisco switches and routers as the policy enforcement point. Microsoft’s Network Access Protection (NAP) is in beta with Vista.

Symantec and McAfee both say their products do support Cisco’s NAC and they intend to support Microsoft NAP as the beta-testing program for it concludes, probably later this fall. Both also say they will back the Trusted Network Connect specification from the Trusted Computing Group.

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