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Equity Perspectives

Cybercrime is a rapidly growing industry—and so is protecting people, corporations, networks, and their data from thieves and spies. Lord Abbett analysts comment on the investment implications.

The war against hackers, organized criminals, spies, and would-be saboteurs has damaged trade, competitiveness, innovation, and growth.

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a think tank, cybercrime costs the global economy about $445 billion a year. In a report1 sponsored by a major security software company, CSIS predicted the cost of cybercrime will continue to increase as more business functions move online and as more companies and consumers around the world connect to the Internet. And, the report predicted that losses from the theft of intellectual property (IP) will also increase as acquiring countries improve their ability to make use of IP to manufacture competing goods. “Cybercrime is a tax on innovation and slows the pace of global innovation by reducing the rate of return to innovators and investors,” the report said. 

All of which explains why next-generation security software remains a strong growth theme at Lord Abbett. After all, the Gartner Group, a research firm, calculated that companies around the world spent $67 billion in 2013 on information security and are likely to spend considerably more this year. (See Chart 1.) The volume of data breaches has soared over the last 18 months, most notably the massive theft of credit and debit card information from a major American retailer. (See Chart 2.) In that case, hackers broke into the retailer’s network via the company’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system. The cost of such breaches has been hardest on the health care, education, pharmaceutical, and financial industries. (See Chart 3.)

“The market for security is growing rapidly because of the convergence of computing, networking, and services,” said Lord Abbett research analyst Ben Ebel. “And the growth potential is definitely in the early stages.”

Proliferating connectivity and variety of devices and our insistence on having access to resources anytime, anywhere, anyplace via the Internet has led to all kinds of threats,” added Lord Abbett research analyst Rick Vallieres. “Now, you have a combination of big-budget, very organized enterprises or governments funding people to attack, and the classic defenses against that need to be refreshed.  That’s what is driving the development of next-generation firewalls2 and sandbox3 technologies many users need to implement.”

One way to look at this problem is in terms of the traditional antivirus software that was written to take every piece of software that came through a computer or network, analyze it (which typically takes a week or two), then flag and remove any bad code.

“The problem now is there may be hundreds of people trying to crack your confidential information, and they’re using the same technologies that are being used for writing software, which means they are bombarding systems with code,” said Vallieres. “The volume is incredible. As a result, firewalls written for another time essentially had to be rewritten.”

Enter sandboxes, a technology that screens software that comes into a system, watches suspect code to see it how it behaves over time, and compares it with data from other sandboxes that might detect similar behavior or sources.  If a pattern emerges—for example, if overwhelming evidence points to certain Internet addresses abroad—then a flag goes up and the code is removed.   

While pure plays in next-generation firewalls and sandboxes have attracted considerable investor attention, a more diversified technology company that can deliver security software via cloud-based content-delivery networks also appears well positioned to grow faster than most people think, as more data and business processes move online, said Ebel.

As with most innovative technologies, some investors might be concerned about downward pricing pressure, given the rapid pace of innovation. “A lot of technology customers say ‘give me last year's functionality at half the price,’ or ‘charge me the same price this year, but give me twice as much functionality,’” Ebel added.  “But a company that already provides web performance, media delivery, networking, and traffic solutions via the cloud can layer security products onto their core content delivery network capabilities and potentially sell more.”

According to Ebel, there’s even greater potential for cyber security sales in the “Internet of things,” a term that refers to the proliferation of microprocessors embedded in all kinds of items, such as home appliances, cars, credit cards, passports, family pets, the closed-circuit camera on your street, the elevator in your office, and many more. Along those lines, Lord Abbett’s growth team has invested in a maker of devices that help people reduce home energy use and another product that keeps families safe in their homes with more reliable technology and more detailed information than traditional battery-powered alarms.  Connect all those with applications and services that synthesize and analyze the data in this greatly expanded network, and the security risks multiply exponentially.

As Ebel put it, “Think about the newest web-connected thermostats and security systems. If you can access them via your cell phone, you have to assume bad guys will likely be able to unlock your doors. Meanwhile, some new refrigerators now have Internet connectivity, which carry similar risks. And some new car models allow you to start the car remotely using a smart phone. If you can do that, can’t a crook do that?”

For large, multinational companies, the cyber battlefield is an ever-expanding universe of both known and unknown culprits, which means intelligence analysts must consider threats against a much larger pool of information, some machine generated and some human generated, over a significantly longer period of time. That’s where enterprise security specialists have developed products with strong growth potential, said Vallieres.

As one leading provider of enterprise security solutions says on its website:  “While current technologies and methods are still somewhat effective in identifying breaches, attackers have changed their methodologies and have made the ‘what you know’ proposition much more difficult to quantify. Compounding the issue is the explosion of unstructured data from increasingly complex technologies that often do not fit nicely into the structured world of security information and event management, which can impose artificial restrictions on the collection of specific data types and provide little visibility into attack patterns.”

 

Chart 1. Rampant Cyber Threats Has Fueled Higher Information-Security Spending 
$billions

Source: Gartner.  * Estimate  Forecast
Market forecasts and projections are based on current market conditions and are subject to change without notice.

Chart 2. The Volume of Breached Records Has Soared in Recent Years 
In millions

Source: Risk Based Security COPYRIGHT © 2014 RISK BASED SECURITY. As of May 29, 2014.

Chart 3. The Costs of Hacking Episodes Vary Widely by Industry 
Average cost of data breach per record, by industry, 2013, US$ 

Source: Ponemon Institute
For illustrative purposes only and does not represent any specific Lord Abbett mutual fund or any particular investment.

 

1 “Net Losses: Estimating the Global Cost of Cybercrime: Economic Impact of Cybercrime II,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, June 2014.
2  Firewalls typically filter all information coming through the Internet to home or business networks or computer systems.  Next-generation firewalls filter network and Internet traffic based upon applications or traffic types from specific sources. This type of service typically provides smarter and deeper inspection.
3 According to PC Magazine, “sandboxes” are a restricted environment in which certain functions, such as deleting files and modifying system information, are prohibited.  Sandboxes are used when executable code has come from an external source that is not entirely trusted.

 

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