McAfee buys SiteAdvisor

Software tests Web sites for hidden malware

McAfee Inc. has purchased Web-site rating company SiteAdvisor Inc., the two companies announced Wednesday.

Founded by a group of Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineers in April 2005, SiteAdvisor develops automated software that tests Web sites to see whether they install nasty things like spyware or computer viruses. Last month the company released a free browser toolbar designed to warn users when they visited Web sites that seemed risky.

SiteAdvisor's toolbar is able to superimpose Web-site ratings on top of search results from sites such as Google and Yahoo, and that technology appears to have been a motivating factor in the acquisition.

McAfee hopes to extend the SiteAdvisor technology to create a new line of "safe search" products, the first of which is expected in 2006, said Bill Kerrigan, executive vice president of McAfee's consumer group.

"I see it emerging as a new category," he said. The product "would give a consumer more information relative to [his or her] search results," and could be used to help users avoid visiting inappropriate sites or downloading spyware, he said.

Though SiteAdvisor's database of 2.7 million Web pages may also play into future enterprise offerings, McAfee's initial focus will probably be on developing a stand-alone consumer product, Kerrigan said, while noting that product plans have not yet been finalized.

But one thing does appear to have been decided: McAfee will continue to offer the SiteAdvisor toolbar, free of charge, he said.

From SiteAdvisor's perspective, the acquisition offers several benefits, said Chief Executive Officer Chris Dixon in a posting to the company's Web site.

McAfee will help boost the SiteAdvisor user base and speed up the company's software development, Dixon said. And the purchase will allow SiteAdvisor to "leverage both McAfee’s world class security technology and leading research capabilities to bring additional layers of protection to SiteAdvisor’s already extensive safety database," he added.

Site advisor employs a staff of "less than 25," Kerrigan said. He declined to comment on the terms of the acquisition.

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