Why Network Security May Become the Most Important and Profitable Tech Sector

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Almost daily we are informed by the media of a security breach somewhere: banks, credit cards, Facebook accounts, email accounts, phone records and more. Cyber thieves are constantly finding new ways to get around even the most complex firewalls and security systems. This constant barrage of threats has turned what was initially a business designed for government security into one of the top areas in technology.

In the second quarter of this year, the overall security appliance market grew to $2.13 billion, or 6.1% year-over-year growth. The market is expected to grow to $10.17 billion by 2017 and increase of almost 500%. Despite the increasing prevalence of virtual and SaaS-based solutions, appliances remain the predominant delivery method for network security solutions. In a research piece out today, the analysts at Oppenheimer focused on a list of stocks to buy that are leading this hot category and should continue to do so.

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Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO) continues to lead the overall security appliance market with a 16.2% share in factory revenue for the second quarter, but this was down from 17.2% in the prior-year period. The company is intent on expanding its product offerings. The Thomson/First Call price target for this venerable tech leader is $28. Investors are paid a 2.8% dividend. Cisco closed Thursday at $23.77

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Check Point Software Technologies Ltd. (CHKP) holds the number two slot in security appliance revenue with a 12.5% share, as revenue has increased 4% compared to the first quarter of 2012. The consensus price target for this fast-growing company is $62. Checkpoint closed Thursday at $56.71.

Fortinet Inc. (FTNT) has vaulted in third place with a 6.2% share in the quarter. Fortinet's FortiGate network security platform is the first third-party next-generation firewall to be certified by NEC to protect its cloud platform. Since 2010, NEC and Fortinet have worked together to deploy the FortiGate platform as the security resource in the SDN environments NEC has built. The consensus price target for the stock is posted at $24. The stock closed Thursday at $20.59.

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Juniper Networks Inc. (JNPR) is in fourth place in security appliance revenue, with a 5.5% share of the market. The company quickly is switching some of its corporate focus from networking to the security market, and the plan seems to be gaining traction. The consensus price target for Juniper is posted at $22. The stock closed Thursday at $20.15.

Palo Alto Networks Inc. (PANW) continues to claw its way into contention with a string of strong new product offerings. The money managers at Thornburg Investment Management have made Palo Alto one of their top new holdings. The company posted year-over-year revenue gains of 55% and may be a takeover candidate. The consensus price target for the stock is $60. The stock closed Thursday at $46.61.

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ) is one of the older large hardware stocks to make the security appliance business an important new revenue avenue. The company, which was one of the top-performing stocks this past year, has sold off some and may offer investors a good entry point. The consensus price objective for the stock is $25.15. Investors receive a 2.7% dividend. The stock closed Thursday at $21.30.

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Cyber threats are not going away anytime soon. Most experts are convinced that criminals and terrorists will only continue to exploit delicate information to gain financially or at the very minimum provide huge disruptions in operations. The companies focusing on this threat will only continue to grow their revenues, as the adversaries grow their acumen for hacking and spying.

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