This company offers what's known as unified threat management. That means protection at the edge of a network through a firewall, inside through intrusion detection and protection, and by way of an arsenal of weapons that fight against spam, viruses and malware.

"They try to bundle as many apps on a single piece of hardware as possible," Schwartz says. Its main product line, called FortiGate, includes customized chips that help prevent the security tasks from bogging down networks. Fortinet typically serves midsize companies, but it's trying to sell to bigger businesses. It's also rolling out new products.

Business is robust. Fortinet posted 25% sales growth in the fourth quarter, and the company upped 2013 guidance to 18% sales growth, one reason William Blair analyst Jonathan Ho has an "outperform" rating on the stock. Weller, at Stifel, has a "buy" rating and a $28 price target on Fortinet stock, which recently sold for about $23.


A 2011 IPO, Imperva offers security that protects apps, documents and other content stored in data centers. Sales grew 36% in the fourth quarter, and the company guided for 26% to 30% sales growth in 2013.

Customers look at Imperva products as complementing their overall security defenses, says Wassung of Cabot Money Management, which owns the stock. "So Imperva is not necessarily competing with the traditional security companies."

The stock has had a strong run since November, rising to about $37.70 from around $28, and, with a price-to-sales ratio of around 9, it looks fairly rich. One risk is that in a serious market pullback, Imperva might get hit harder, Wassung says. Analysts have a consensus $40 price target on the stock, according to Thomson One Analytics.

Check Point Software Technologies

Founded in 1993, Check Point has been losing share to relative upstarts such as Palo Alto Networks. Check Point also has been offering less-expensive variations on firewall protection to which its own customers are trading down. All that has been weighing on margins and sales, which grew at a modest 3.3% in the fourth quarter.

But don't count Check Point out just yet, says Schwartz, who has a "buy" rating on the stock. Check Point is rolling out new products -- such as anti-bot weapons; "threat emulation" products, which look closely at the effect of incoming software before letting it through; and protection for individual computer devices such as smartphones and iPads.

"We continue to believe that competitive concerns are overblown," says Weller at Stifel Nicolaus, who has a buy rating and a $55 price target on the stock, which recently sold for about $47.

Next, Check Point has a boatload of cash, or $1.5 billion, and it's looking to do acquisitions to boost growth. Here's another plus that's a bit technical, but important. Accounting rules have artificially hit results by forcing the company to defer a portion of sales revenue on new software offerings. But that negative effect will continue to recede as more of those new products turn 1 year old -- which means some of that deferred revenue starts hitting the books.


You may know Symantec, founded in 1982, because of its popular Norton line of PC security software. Symantec also offers IT security for companies. But it doesn't offer network security, one reason Symantec has foundered for much of the past seven years, its stock stuck in the $15 to $20 range for most of that time.

The stock finally broke out of that range and took off to hit $25 in January, after CEO Bennett announced a three-part overhaul of the company. He wants to, 1) boost margins by cutting costs, 2) boost sales growth to 5% and 3) return more cash to shareholders through buybacks and a dividend.

"A lot of the pieces are in place, but the work has to be done, and that is central to the thesis now," says Schwartz at Jefferies, who has a "buy" rating on the stock.

"Basically, as I sat on the board, I realized that this was a company that had great assets but no strategy," says Bennett, who hopes to change that.

Bennett brings some good experience to the table; he worked at General Electric (GE) for 23 years and was CEO at Intuit (INTU) for seven years. Bennett's basic strategy is to overcome Symantec's failure to integrate products acquired over the years in acquisitions. To do so, he wants to bundle them into "suites" of products, to boost sales.

Signs that Bennett is having success could boost the stock an additional $5 to $30, says Barclays analyst Raimo Lenschow, who has an "overweight" rating on the stock.

Click here to become a fan of MSN Money on Facebook

No guarantees, but then again, it's a risk to take anything for granted in the wily world of hackers and computer security.

At the time of publication, Michael Brush did not own or control shares of any company mentioned in this column. Brush is the editor of Brush Up on Stocks, an investment newsletter.

Michael Brush is the editor of Brush Up on Stocks, an investment newsletter. Click here to find Brush's most recent articles and blog posts.