Palo Alto Acquires Startup Morta Security, Adds Former NSA Talent

Palo Alto Networks has acquired Morta Security a Silicon Valley-based security startup, in a move the company said would bring on talent to bolster the threat detection and prevention capabilities of its next-generation firewall appliances.

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. Morta Security has been operating in stealth mode since 2012. Its founders, all former National Security Agency, U.S. Air Force and FDA employees, started Morta to develop new ways to detect and prevent sophisticated malware attacks.

Morta acquisition gives the company an injection of talented engineers to help deliver new technology and products this year, said Nir Zuk, the founder and CTO of Palo Alto Networks. Zuk said the company's core focus is to develop better ways to detect and prevent an attack before an infection happens.

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"We are facing more and more third-generation malware that is very targeted, developed with resources often backed by governments, and there are no technological solutions today to effectively address it," Zuk told CRN. "Palo Alto Networks has been working for a while to address this kind of malware, and combining this new company helps give us the people to work together on detection and prevention prior to an event happening."

The Palo Alto Networks deal comes just a week after FireEye, one of its chief competitors, acquired Mandiant, an Alexandra, Va.-based firm that provides endpoint security software and is well known for its threat intelligence research and incident response services, in a $1 billion blockbuster deal. A technology that both firms use, a virtualization sandbox and engine that inspects suspicious files to detect malware, is being added to a variety of security vendor appliances. In December, Blue Coat Systems acquired Norman Shark, an early sandboxing technology platform for malware analysis.

Morta has been in stealth since its inception while its engineers were building out its product, said Raj Shah, CEO of Morta Security. The acquisition gives the company access to greater scale, a large customer base and data, Shah said.

"The experience gained from dealing with these advanced adversaries on daily basis is what formed our technology approach to have a novel way to discover advanced malware in networks," Shah told CRN.

Solution providers told CRN that Palo Alto Networks has been one of their hottest products in 2013. Many are looking at the vendor to further build out its capabilities. The company's cloud-based WildFire malware inspection technology helps differentiate it from many unified threat management appliances, said R.J. Dobbins, director of sales at Road Spring, Texas-based Secure Data Solutions, a Palo Alto Networks partner.

"Our clients definitely like the idea of consolidating multiple threat prevention and detection functions under one device," Dobbins said. "I'm happy Palo Alto sees a way to expand and hopefully continues to differentiate themselves and maintain their leadership position."