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3/23/2006
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'Skype Killer' Products To Do Battle In Marketplace

There's a new breed of so-called "Skype-killer" products filtering into the marketplace. They aim to help overworked IT shops get a grip on the popular P2P application.

While Skype and its VoIP copycats continue their explosive growth, opposition to the P2P application may be growing. At least that's the view as seen by vendors touting a new class of "Skype killer" product.

Skype is generating alarm among many IT managers who are concerned that the P2P solution is infiltrating their networks without their knowledge and without their knowing the impact of the VoIP technology, according to some vendors selling gear that can control Skype.

"Skype is an unauthorized application," said Chris King, product marketing manager at Blue Coat Systems whose ProxySG appliance can control Skype. "There are security issues, and there are network performance issues."

Unlike the telecommunications companies that complain about the loss of revenue to Skype, IT and network managers are concerned more about security issues and network overloads, King said in an interview this week.

Unauthorized Skype traffic on enterprise networks "can use up chunks of bandwidth" when "supernodes" and routers are overwhelmed, the product marketing manager at Blue Coat said.

Security issues are growing rapidly largely due to the growth of new compliance regulations. King cited the mandatory regulations that call for all communications between stockbrokers and their customers to be recorded. That includes e-mail, instant messages, and, increasingly, VoIP communications.

King said the problem in IT installations is that Skype is often used without the knowledge or approval of IT managers, who are in the dark about the kinds of data that is moving through their networks.

"Just as potent malware security threats are beginning to come through unofficial enterprise use of instant messaging," according to a Blue Coat statement on the issue, "corporations are becoming increasingly concerned about eventual Skype-borne worms, viruses and other threats. Without control, organizations are powerless to stop a potential pandemic."

King doesn't see the need for a dedicated "Skype box." Blue Coat, which has shipped more than 25,000 proxy appliances, has tailored the devices so organizations can allow or deny access to Skype in total or on an individual basis by user name or group.

"We can terminate or reissue connections," he said. "It can be changed to meet policy or (the traffic) can be dropped." The appliances can differentiate between SSL traffic and other encrypted traffic moving through ports 80 (HTTP) or ports 443 (HTTPS.)

Another firm, Verso Technologies, has been selling into the telecommunications service provider market. In an e-mail this week, Verso said a version of its NetSpective product, which filters Skype, is being tested by a telecom firm in China. "Verso has sold the technology to another carrier, but we cannot disclose the name or the location of the carrier."

Verso CEO Monty Bannerman said: "We have also several carrier trials ongoing with our NetSpective filtering product. I am pleased to report that one of our trials resulted in a sale in Q4." Verso did not release the name of its customers.

Skype, a unit of eBay, has more than 60 million registered uses worldwide with about nine million in China.

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