With Symantec a Mess, Four Data Security Leaders to Watch

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Shares of Symantec Corp. (NASDAQ: SYMC) tanked Friday after the company said it had ousted its chief executive officer. But its woes highlight the emergence of a new generation of security-protection companies. Some of these companies could become the new generation of data security, leaving Symantec in the dust.

Among the top new companies are Palo Alto Networks Inc. (NYSE: PANW), FireEye Inc. (NASDAQ: FEYE), Barracuda Networks Inc. (NASDAQ: CUDA) and privately held Lookout Inc.

Steve Bennett had been Symantec CEO for less than two years. The reason for his departure, apparently, was board dissatisfaction with the pace of innovation, development of new products and growth initiatives.

Symantec is best known for its Norton Antivirus software, which protects personal computers against hackers. It has been the biggest player in that category, with a 19.6% market share, according to Gartner Group, ahead of Intel Corp. (NASDAQ: INTC) via McAfee with an 8.8% share. Another player is Trend Micro, a Japanese company.

The competitive reality, however, is that the PC business is shrinking. Symantec’s sin was not recognizing that the big opportunity is in developing security software that protects mobile devices and networks from cyberattacks. Bennett’s ouster just makes the problem more difficult. After the company announced the move, no fewer than five brokerages downgraded the stock.

Symantec shares are down 22% this year. Intel shares are flat. Trend Micro shares in Japan are down. But shares of Palo Alto Networks shares are up 34% this year. FireEye is up nearly 60%. Barracuda Networks shares have nearly doubled since the company went public at $18 in early November. All of them concentrate on protecting networks.

FireEye won some great publicity when BusinessWeek reported that the security company had warned Target Corp. (NYSE: TGT) as early as November that hackers were gaining access to its networks.

Watch privately held Lookout. It is growing rapidly and has aspirations to becoming the next Symantec. It claims more than 50 million consumers as customers. It helps protect corporate networks as companies increasingly let employees use their own smart phones to access company information, the trend known as Bring Your Own Device, or BYOD. It also has relationships with big telecom players, such as AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and T-Mobile US Inc. (NYSE: TMUS). France Telecom’s Orange mobile subsidiary invested $20 million in the company.

But the company does not appear in a hurry to go public. The company has been able to raise more than $130 million from an array of venture capital firms and telecom companies. Among them: France Telecom’s Orange mobile subsidiary, which has invested $20 million in Lookout. The New York Times recently put the value of the company at about $1 billion.

At any rate, the world of data security is changing rapidly. It is not changing in favor of Symantec’s model, and it leaves a lot of room for competing data security firms to grow even more, until Symantec can figure out how to win besides resting on the laurels of yesteryear.