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Analysts: Security's where the money is

Two surveys forecast double-digit growth for the network-protection industry, despite the general tech-market malaise.

Two segments of the computer-security industry should shake off the general tech-market malaise and score double-digit growth this year, a pair of market researchers said Monday.

Gartner analyst firm Dataquest forecast that the worldwide security-software market will grow to $4.3 billion this year, up 18 percent from $3.6 billion in 2001. Meanwhile, managed security services should grow even faster, according to market researcher IDC, which estimates that such network-protection providers will take in $2.2 billion in 2005, up from $720 million in 2000.

The optimistic outlook reflects the realities of a post-Sept. 11 world, as companies and governments are turning to the computer-security industry to help them secure their most critical information-technology systems.

"Enterprises are looking particularly at defensive security technologies such as antivirus software, intrusion detection systems and firewalls," Colleen Graham, industry analyst for Gartner Dataquest, said in a statement. "Government and defense will increase spending in reaction to public concern about the shamefully low scores received in security audits performed in reaction to increased concerns about the security of the government IT infrastructure."

Ways of identifying people, such as face-recognition technologies and smart cards, will also get a boost from the focus on security, Graham said.

More telling than the reports, however, may be a pledge made by the world's largest independent software company. In mid-January, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates stated in a company-wide e-mail that security had become priority No. 1.

The necessity of computer security in the new age has boosted many companies' stock prices. Security-software maker Symantec saw the price of its shares nearly double from early September to Monday's close of $36.48, while rival Network Associates' stock price almost tripled, and firewall maker Check Point Software Technologies has seen its stock jump by half.

But while these companies' products are now seen as necessary, for many of their customers, installing and maintaining such security software will be an unwanted difficulty. That's the main reason behind what market researcher IDC predicts will be a 25 percent annual growth rate for companies that manage their clients' security systems.

"The managed security services market is being driven primarily by resource constraints to capital and security expertise," Allan Carey, senior analyst for IDC, said in a statement.

While large companies will be able to handle their own security needs, small and medium-sized businesses, which need to be secure despite limited resources, will be the main market for such managed services, Carey added.

Last week, Check Point announced new products specifically aimed at small businesses.