A surge in high-profile hacker attacks this year is demonstrating the limits of an older generation of security software from Symantec Corp. and McAfee Inc., putting pressure on them to revamp their product lines.
The top providers of security software are racing to adjust to cloud computing and the growth of workers plugging mobile devices into corporate networks. None of the recent attacks tied to hacker groups such as Anonymous and Lulz Security could have been repelled by traditional antivirus programs or firewall software, according to Johannes Ullrich, a researcher at the SANS Technology Institute. That’s giving a boost to upstart rivals, which are developing new ways to safeguard data.
“It sure feels like security Armageddon, and that’s what we’re hearing from a lot of customers,” said George Kurtz, chief technology officer at McAfee, now part of Intel Corp.
Along with providing competition to Symantec and McAfee, security startups will become candidates for takeovers or initial public offerings. More than 20 of these companies may file for IPOs in the next 18 months, said Brent Bracelin, an analyst at Pacific Crest Securities in Portland, Oregon. Startups such as Q1 Labs Inc. and Palo Alto Networks Inc. are working on more advanced approaches to firewalls, early intrusion detection and around-the-clock systems monitoring.
“Security 1.0 was about locking down fixed devices,” Bracelin said. Now that everyone brings their own device to work, companies have to adapt, he said. “We don’t see an easy path for the Symantecs and the Intel/McAfees of the world to evolve beyond the security 1.0 technology to the next-generation market.”
Bigger security companies have already been losing share to smaller ones, research firm Gartner Inc. said in a report last week. The top five providers -- led by Symantec and McAfee -- accounted for 44 percent of the $16.5 billion worldwide security software market in 2010, according to Gartner. That’s down from 60 percent in 2006.
Many promising startups may become takeover bait, extending an acquisition binge for the industry. Four of the 10 biggest security acquisitions in history were announced last year, including Intel’s purchase of McAfee, said Rob Owens, an analyst at Pacific Crest.
Symantec and Intel may use more acquisitions to fill gaps in their product portfolios, along with Hewlett-Packard Co., International Business Machines Corp. and EMC Corp., Owens said.
The companies likely to be acquired include Q1 Labs and Splunk Inc., said Robert Breza, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets. Waltham, Massachusetts-based Q1 Labs focuses on security information and event management, or SIEM, a category of software that monitors networks and manages security threats. Splunk, located in San Francisco, makes software that can collect and index security data.
Symantec and McAfee both say they’re prepared to adapt to the new security market. “Any segment focused on cutting-edge security technology -- we’ve done very well,” said Francis deSouza, group president of enterprise products and services at Mountain View, California-based Symantec. McAfee’s Kurtz said his company has “already started this transition and we’re ahead of the curve.”
McAfee sold itself to Intel so that it could merge security software with computer chips, a “much more next-generation way of viewing security,” said Daniel Ives, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets in New York. The first fruits of that effort will be released later this year.
McAfee has also released so-called whitelist programs, which permit only approved applications to run. Whitelisting is one of the most promising of the newer security technologies in terms of ability to stop attacks, said Ullrich, the researcher at Bethesda, Maryland-based SANS.
Symantec, meanwhile, is now selling software that blocks files by “reputation.” Because today’s hackers often target one user at a time -- thwarting traditional filters -- the software screens files it’s never seen before.
An increase in security spending has given a boost to Symantec’s sales the past two quarters. That’s contributed to a 31 percent gain in the shares over the past year. Symantec fell $1.15 to $17.12 at 4 p.m. today on the Nasdaq Stock Market. Shares of Santa Clara, California-based Intel, which are little changed in the past 12 months, lost 96 cents to $20.85.
Symantec also will invest in areas such as data-loss prevention on mobile phones and ways to safely enable workers to use personal devices on corporate networks, deSouza said. That effort may include acquisitions.
“We will certainly do a lot of organic stuff, but if there’s something that’s interesting, we are not shy about buying it,” he said in an interview.
The comments echoed remarks by Chief Executive Officer Enrique Salem, who said in May that Symantec plans to spend as much as $1.25 billion on acquisitions in mobile and cloud-computing markets. With cloud computing, users access software and information over the Internet from remote data centers.
Last October, Hewlett-Packard ponied up about $1.5 billion for ArcSight Inc., which makes SIEM technology. That helped turn Hewlett-Packard into the fifth-biggest security-software seller. Now it’s on the lookout for more acquisitions in the field, CEO Leo Apotheker said in March.
Dell Inc., Hewlett-Packard’s biggest rival in the personal-computer market, is making its own deals. In February, the company acquired SecureWorks Inc., a seller of managed security services. SecureWorks offers companies a service that monitors the security of their networks. It’s now hiring 240 people to handle the rising workload, said Jon Ramsey, an executive director at SecureWorks.
Other startups are preparing for IPOs. That includes Q1 Labs, which aims to go public by mid-2012, said CEO Brendan Hannigan. His company doesn’t want to be acquired, he said.
Imperva Inc., a maker of firewall software for Web applications, filed paperwork in June to sell shares to the public. Splunk is aiming for an IPO next year, said Joe Fitzpatrick, a spokesman for the company. Palo Alto Networks is considering going public as well, said spokesman Mike Haro. They declined to discuss takeover possibilities.
At WhiteHat Security, which scans websites for security flaws, either a public offering or a sale to a larger company are possibilities, said CEO Stephanie Fohn.
In any case, the next generation of technologies needs to take hold if companies want to keep pace with hackers, said Pacific Crest’s Owens.
“The existing solutions clearly aren’t getting the job done,” he said.