It’s been a rough few years for information security. Maybe it was the hysteria of the Mayan Apocalypse, or maybe it was the two-month-long cyber feud between Palestinian and Israeli hackers, but 2012 posted the highest number of cyber attacks in history. Last year saw giants like Target, Neiman Marcus, and TD Bank report that thousands of their users’ credit card numbers and personal data had been compromised. And already in 2014, the Open Security Foundation has registered 27 malicious data breaches globally, with an estimated 20,618,760 records compromised.
These breaches have consisted of leaks as benign as website login passwords, and as vital as medical records and social insurance numbers. And that’s just from organizations that are willing or have no choice but to report they’ve been penetrated. Experts say that as technological devices, including fridges and thermostats, become ‘smarter’ and more interconnected, and sensitive information is increasingly collected and stored by corporations, the rate of predatory data breaches and malevolent hacks will continue to rise.
Mark Twain once said, “When everyone is looking for gold, it’s a good time to be in the pick and shovel business.” By that token, when private citizens and businesses of all sizes are afraid that their information is at risk in databases that could be hacked, will all their contents sold to the highest bidder, it’s a good time to invest in the cyber security market. Despite facing a continually-evolving foe in an ever-changing environment, and being unable to guarantee the effectiveness of their services, information and network security firms are cleaning up. Here are the biggest movers of 2014.
8 #8 Proofpoint Inc.
Market Cap: $1.37 billion
Your fridge might be plotting against you. Proofpoint Inc. made a splash earlier this year after publishing a press release based on their investigations into a wide-spread botnet (network of compromised computers used by hackers for malicious ends). Of the 450,000 systems involved in the network, 100,000 were low-tech devices like home media centres, televisions and, yes, at least one refrigerator. This company has been on the rise in a big way since its IPO in April of 2012.
Though this company has suffered some volatility, if they can capitalize on the attention they already have and exploit fears about the “Internet of Things” going awry, they should continue to make even more money.
7 #7 Fortinet Inc.
Market Cap: $3.9 Billion
A cybersecurity provider for the little guy; unlike many of its competitors, Fortinet Inc. goes after smaller customers, those sometimes overlooked in favour of larger, more profitable corporations. It concentrates on servicing retailers, branch offices, and any other client that needs to secure lines of communication between dispersed bodies. Fortinet Inc. specializes in what’s known in the security industry as unified threat management (UTM), which means they sell single products designed to take on multiple problems such as firewalling, anti-virus, SPAM filtering, and data leak prevention.
After a brief dip at the end of 2013, the company is once again gaining market share after the announcement of a new UTM platform and 12 new products. In January, stock market pundits claimed the stock was due to outperform their original 2014 estimates.
6 #6 Palo Alto Networks Inc.
Market Cap: $4.5 Billion
If they’re good enough for the French defence sector, they must be good enough for most, right? Palo Alto stands as the first network security company to have its platform and firewall capabilities certified by the Agence Nationale de la Securite des Systemes d'Information, a highly regarded French defence consultant. This can only mean good things for their ability to catch high-end, valuable defence clients.
When they’re not being certified by high-level security think tanks, this company can be found gobbling up start-ups to fill in any security gaps it might see developing. In most investors’ opinions, this company has the potential to become one of the giants in the online security business.
5 #5 F5 Networks
Market Cap: $7.57 Billion
It’s hard to find someone these days who isn’t in the cloud. Not being able to access all of your information whenever you’d like from wherever you happen to be? You might as well be in the Stone Age. F5 Networks has made it their purpose to make cloud computing more secure, and, for that mission, investors are throwing their money at the company hand over fist.
Right now this company is dominating the Asia Pacific market. Skeptics wonder if they’ll be able to keep up with the increasing demands of virtual network defense and cloud security, but until and unless the markets decide otherwise, this company is going to keep bringing in money.
4 #4 FireEye
Market Cap: $8.84 Billion
If you want an idea how hot this company is right now, in the past two months, this company’s stock has nearly doubled in value. This company’s draw lies in its unorthodox approach to security. Rather than protecting a client against identified threats, the company focuses on detecting problematic user behaviour, or irregularities in the flow of data in the network, to target possible predators.
This approach should mean that their services don’t become outdated as new viruses and methods of network hacking develop, which would give FireEye the staying power that some of their competitors lack.
3 #3 Checkpoint Software Technologies
Market Cap: $12.89 Billion
Thanks to Checkpoint Software Technologies, call centres around the world will be running more efficiently. You may or may not appreciate that fact. This company specializes in providing unified threat management for high-speed, high-volume networks. In the past the company has tangled with Palo Alto Networks over clients, but a recent hardware upgrade, allowing Checkpoint security platforms to run at a dizzying 400Gps, could give them a boost in the market.
In addition to their large network offerings, Checkpoint is establishing itself in the mobile security market, safeguarding consumers’ phone from what experts predict will be an increasing amount of malicious apps and malware.
2 #2 Symantec Corp
Market Cap: $16.5 Billion
Have you ever used Norton Anti-virus software? Then you’re already familiar with Symantec Corporation. In the past few years Symantec has taken a beating. They were lambasted after the Symantec software being used by the New York Times failed to detect the malware installed by Chinese hackers. In 2012, it came out that VeriSign, an encryption certificate authority bought by Symantec in 2010, had been hacked multiple times since the company had been purchased.
Just a few months prior to that announcement, Symantec revealed that its own network had been hacked and some of the source code for its security programs stolen. In 2013, the incoming CEO of Symantec declared the company “broken” and promised to reform its operating structure. And yet the company maintains investors. Whether that’s a gesture of faith in Symantec or a testament to the power of the terror surrounding information insecurity remains to be seen.
1 #1 Cisco Systems
Market Cap: $122.62 Billion
Cisco Systems is the Tom Hanks of tech security companies. Yeah, maybe they’re not sexy. Yeah, they’ve been around forever. But, damned if they don’t deliver every single time. When people want a familiar face and reliable performance, Cisco is where they go, and the company has the market share to prove it. Cisco often also builds, sells, and installs the networks for which they offer protection, so their huge worth isn’t due to cyber security alone.
Founded in 1984, Cisco has been in the network and security game for 30 years. In tech years, that’s about 360 years. Oftentimes when companies - especially tech companies - get older, they lose touch with the realities of the market. What Cisco may lack in hunger and ingenuity, it makes up for in capital; this company has the size and wherewithal to buy any newcomers to the game that can add to its network protection arsenal.