Criminal masterminds wreaking havoc from behind a computer screen, hacking into security systems, banks and the government systems through complex algorithms may still sound a little too futuristic to be true. Throw in Bruce Willis and a few "yippee ki-yays," and you've got yourself Live Free or Die Hard 2.0.
Unfortunately, this type of criminal activity is not only plausible, but happens every minute of every day in cyber space.
Cyber threats aren't just plots for movies anymore -- they're real. And both government and industry are now taking them very, very seriously. Cyber attacks have become so dangerous that they're now considered the top security threat facing the United States.
Just last week, JPMorgan Chase (JPM) was hit with a denial-of-service cyber-attack, a new tactic that threatens our major banks. In 2012, there were nearly 200 cyber attacks against the control systems of our critical infrastructure facilities, which includes our power plants, refineries, transportation systems and water treatment facilities. That was a nearly five-fold increase from the number of attacks carried out in 2010. And now, we're facing 102 successful attacks a week. No wonder President Obama recently met with technology and defense CEOs to discuss the situation.
You can see why governments and companies around the globe are spending billions of dollars in a frantic race to ward off an explosion of cyber attacks. The U.S. government has spent more than $600 billion on information technology over the last decade, and a huge -- and rapidly expanding -- portion of those billions are being dedicated to cyber defense. U.S. corporations have spent over $5 billion on cyber security, and that amount is sure to increase.
Throw in spending by foreign corporations and governments, and all told, the global cyber security market will be one of the fastest-growing markets on the planet, projected to reach $80 billion in the next five years.
Critical needs often fuel growth industries, and from an investing standpoint, that's what we're seeing here. So what should you do? Aside from updating your computer security system, consider investing in game-changing companies and technologies at the absolute forefront of the new cyber wars. Here are three that I like right now:
Symantec (SYMC) focuses on security software for computers, and most individuals are familiar with its well-known consumer brand, Norton, which includes a variety of products. However, about two-thirds of sales come from software for businesses and large organizations.
I also like the company's Global Intelligence Network, which monitors Internet threats, and the Internet Security Threat Report produced by the network. One of their newer applications, Nukona, helps lock down corporate data if employees' personal smartphones or tablets are not in compliance with the company's policies. Symantec also has offerings to secure data on mobile devices provided by the company to employees.
Fortinet (FTNT) is a leader in unified threat management appliances. FTNT's primary security platform is called FortiGate. The company's solutions are designed to integrate a broad range of security technologies including firewall, virtual private networking, antivirus, intrusion prevention, Web filtering, antispam, wireless controls and more.
As you would expect, the UTM market is growing. According to industry firm IDC, it increased more than 17% in 2010 to $2.1 billion. IDC expects the market to continue to grow about 13% annually, reaching nearly $4 billion by 2015.Sourcefire (FIRE) develops "intrusion detection" hardware, software and cloud-based network security products and services for businesses and government agencies. These products and services are to help customers before, during and after an attack.
FIRE has a virtual arsenal of advanced technologies designed to thwart malware attacks. The company has developed a cutting-edge technology that uses cloud-based computing systems to look across millions of computing machines simultaneously to detect malware attacks in real time. It also offers "sandbox" technology to verify untested code or programs and assess their legitimacy, and FIRE recently introduced a next-generation firewall that enables them to lock down channels that malware moves around on. In 2012, Sourcefire was named the 11th-fastest-growing tech company in America by Forbes.