The Cyber Security Market Is Hot! Here’s Why

A dozen years ago the $3.5 billion security market was dominated by five vendors. Last year, VCs bankrolled 230 startups. My, how things have changed!

By any credible account, the cyber security market is hot. According to Gartner analysts, in 2014 worldwide information security market growth will accelerate to 8.6% and exceed $73 billion. Cyber-related M&A activity and trading multiples are indicative of customer and investor markets that are demanding much more innovation, faster.

It has not always been that way.  

In 2002, I briefly abandoned the then information security market. Frankly, it sucked. I can remember more times than I care to admit saying, "This is just too hard." Or, "There’s no money in information security." We all knew the problems for the solutions we were building existed, but back then, the market simply didn’t care.

In 2002, the minimum standard of care for enterprises was limited to anti-virus, firewalls, intrusion detection, and, later, if you were in a regulated industry, SIEM or some sort of log aggregation solution. Enterprise executives lived in ignorant bliss, believing that their biggest risks were related to being out of compliance with their respective regulatory authorities.

In 2002, Gartner estimated the worldwide security software market to be an anemic $3.5 billion -- a market that was dominated by five vendors that owned approximately 60% marketshare -- Symantec, Network Associates, IBM, TrendMicro, and Check Point.

Fast-forward to 2014. New product categories abound, with Gartner covering too many cyber security-related magic quadrants to list (with more on the way).  Investors are enthusiastically entering the market, with VCs investing $1.4 billion in 230 cybersecurity companies in 2013 alone. 

So, what has fundamentally changed since 2002? What are the factors that are driving cyber security market growth? Here are four fundamentals that we at Mach37 continue to think about.

First: The obvious. The threat continues to accelerate in capability and scale. Cybercrime is big business and has finally reached the tipping point where consumers and regulators are demanding that businesses deploy effective solutions.

Second: The Internet-of-Things is exacerbating the problem. Now, we have laptops, iPhones, wearable computers, gaming systems, other mobile devices… the list is boundless. Many of these devices are either themselves untrustworthy or are interacting with untrustworthy mobile networks. Few have the computing horsepower to perform traditional security functions of familiar desktops and laptops -- making them even easier targets. As difficult as the security problem was before, it just got a lot worse.

Third: Cyber security is now a Main Street issue. Every one of us is affected --  and now we finally realize it. Retail-related breaches, such as the recent Target breach, have hit tens of millions of consumers. Cyber security stories are now common in all mass media outlets. 

Fourth: The competitive market is finally rewarding innovation.  For many years, the information security market was dominated by large security platform companies that milked their antivirus cows and had very little incentive to innovate. Because of incumbent supply chain dominance, new entrants were often forced to battle over a very small number of early adopters or to sell to or through these powerful few to reach the broader market.   

Over the past few years, new entrants have emerged and are challenging the fat incumbents… and the financial markets are rewarding them. As I write this, FireEye enjoys a market cap of $5.7 billion, with an astounding 35x (yes, I said 35) enterprise value to revenue multiple.  Similarly impressive, although more modest, Palo Alto Networks trades at roughly 9x revenue with a $5 billion market cap.

Conversely, historical incumbent Symantec is trading at paltry 2x revenue and recently fired its CEO and executive management team. 

I am sure there are many other factors, but whatever has changed in cyber security, the need for continued innovation has remained constant. Similarly, the fundamentals described above are not likely to change for at least a generation. And, speaking for those of us who lived through 2002, I am really glad to be in this market.