SAN DIEGO -- Microsoft's all-out ''securing the enterprise'' message took center stage on the opening day of TechEd with a string of security assurances from chief executive Steve Ballmer and confirmation that ISA Server 2004 will be generally available between July and September this year.

As expected, Ballmer's opening keynote included several references to security as the software giant's ''number one priority'' and the announcement of Web Services Enhancements (WSE) 2.0, a security-centric tool upgrade that uses the latest Web services protocol specs.

''Security is job number one. The issues you are having [with malicious hackers] are unacceptable,'' Ballmer declared. ''Unfortunately, there is no easy way to deal with it. There is no way to snap our fingers and make it all go away but I want to make it clear that, from top to bottom, security is the number one priority.''

In the midst of Ballmer's assurances, Redmond released a complete overview of the features of the Internet Security and Acceleration Server (ISA) 2004 which will feature support for unlimited multiple networks and enhanced VPN filtering.

ISA Server 2004, which comes in two editions -- Standard and Enterprise -- is a combination application layer firewall, virtual personal network (VPN) and Web caching repository. It can be used to perform deep inspection of Internet protocols to detect threats that traditional firewalls might miss.

The ISA Server upgrade, which powers the filtering and inspection of all VPN traffic, has also been tweaked to offer VPN client inspection for Microsoft Windows Server 2003-based quarantine services.

It features a brand-new user interface and upgraded wizards, templates and management tools to help administrators avoid common security configuration errors.

When installed on a system running Windows Server 2003, Microsoft said the ISA Server 2004 would offer the ability to create custom firewall user groups, extensive protocol support and improved support for FTP upload/ download policy and Web publishing.

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