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Hack attack bad news is good news for Net security stocks

    RSA Security Inc. (Nasdaq: RSAS) shares scampered up 5, or 9 percent, to 58 Wednesday as investors jumped on it and other security software vendors in the wake of a recent attack on major Web sites.

    In the past two days, a number of prominent Internet sites have experienced service outages for several hours. Yahoo!, eBay, Amazon.com, CNN.com and Buy.com have all been victimized this week.

    The FBI, which is investigating, announced a news conference today to discuss the attacks. But the attacks were a dramatic demonstration of the Internet's vulnerabilities and the ease with which determined hackers can wreak havoc across the global computer network.

    RSA Security provides enterprise network and data security solutions, helping companies to conduct business securely online.

    While most of the companies under siege have seen only a modest dip in their stock prices, experts say this latest bought with hackers demonstrates how far the industry still must go to protect online transactions.

    Among other security providers, Secure Computing Corp. (Nasdaq: SCUR) added 1 3/4, or 13 percent, to 14 3/4; VeriSign Inc. (Nasdaq: VRSN) rose 5 1/2 to 194 15/16; ISS Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ISSX) gained 2 15/16 to 76 13/16; Entrust Technologies Inc. (Nasdaq: ENTU) moved up 1 1/16 to 64 7/8; Network Associates Inc. (Nasdaq: NETA) slipped 15/16 to 24 1/4; Symantec Corp. (Nasdaq: SYMC) edged up 3/16 to 61 1/4 and Check Point Software Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: CHKP) trimmed 5/16 to 139 3/4.

    "The attacks are driving home the importance of security," said Lawrence York, manager of the WWW Internet Fund.

    York's top picks included Check Point, Entrust Technologies, ISS Group and RSA Security. All four of those companies deal with either Net security or virtual private networks.

    He also singled out Keynote Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: KEYN), which is a Web site monitoring service. Its shares were up 5 5/16 to 118 7/8.

    RSA posted a fourth-quarter profit of 23 cents a share on sales of $62 million.

    First Call consensus expects it to earn 19 cents a share in its first quarter and 87 cents a share in the fiscal year.

    Its shares moved up to a 52-week high of 80 in December after falling to a low of 14 1/4 in March.

    Eleven of the 16 analysts following the stock maintain either a "buy" or "strong buy" recommendation.