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Data loss prevention, although still in its infancy as a technology, is an increasingly important layer of protection against the accidental and intentional release of sensitive information. The market is dominated by the likes of Symantec, McAfee and Websense, but that’s not intimidating U.K.-based Sophos from trying to muscle in on the market with a free offering.

As McAfee holds court with its partners and customers in Las Vegas this week, Sophos announced that it will give away its DLP software to customers who buy its antivirus applications.

>> CHECK OUT: Sophos’ Top 5 Reasons Free DLP is Good for Partners

In an interview with Reuters, Sophos said the program is designed to spur sales of its antivirus applications that protect networks and computers from malware while giving customers the opportunity to try its DLP technology. Additionally, the free add-on may shake a few customers away from Symantec and McAfee, which are top two vendors for antivirus software and leaders in data loss prevention.

What makes this offer particularly attractive is DLP, though relatively immature as a technology, is expensive to acquire and implement. Most DLP technology packages are designed for moderate and large enterprise deployments. In the Reuters report, Jefferies and Co analyst Katherine Egbert said the Sophos program could hurt Symantec and McAfee by robbing them of existing and potential customers in both antivirus and DLP products.

This is the second free incentive program Sophos has launched in the last month. In September, Sophos formed a partnership with Hewlett-Packard to give away antivirus software with its high-end Integrity server. Sophos channel chief Chris Doggett said the HP alliance is exposing new customers to Sophos products and technology, and creating new up-sell opportunities for the company’s channel partners.

Free is fast becoming the promotional weapon of choice among security vendors to capture market and mindshare among customers.

Last week, Microsoft launched Security Essentials, a free suite of antivirus and anti-rootkit technologies that draws upon community-generated data to keep up-to-date on threats and countermeasures.

At the Focus conference, McAfee CEO Dave DeWalt touted the number of free applications, including SiteAdvisor, that McAfee makes available to help protect individual and business Internet users.

Earlier this week, AVG announced that new versions of its AVG 9.0 network and client-based antivirus products were generally available. The software comes in commercial and free versions.

Several other tertiary security vendors, including BitDefender, Panda Security and Lavasoft, offer free products to entice new customers to try their lesser-known branded products.