A change of guard in the infosec market

by Brenon Daly

After an uncharacteristic half-year absence from the top end of the information security (infosec) market, a private equity (PE) shop has now put up the largest print in the bustling sector so far this year. Insight Venture Partners built on an earlier investment in Recorded Future to take a controlling stake in the threat intelligence startup in a deal valued at $780m.

Other than that, however, most of this year’s activity has been coming from newly resurgent strategic acquirers. In fact, except for Insight’s reach for Recorded Future, strategic acquirers account for all of the 10 largest infosec transactions listed in 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase so far in 2019.

Already this year, Palo Alto Networks has announced three acquisitions totaling a cool $1bn in aggregate spending, Sophos has doubled up on deals, and FireEye has shelled out a quarter-billion dollars in its largest single purchase in a half-decade. Other infosec M&A mainstays such as Symantec, Akamai and Proofpoint have also been heard from this year, with all of them inking $100m+ acquisitions.

The key to many of these corporate deals getting done is that buyers are paying up. That’s particularly true for Palo Alto, which has made a practice of paying hundreds of millions of dollars for startups that measure their revenue in the tens of millions of dollars. But FireEye and Symantec have also paid double-digit valuations this year.

As strategic acquirers stretch on valuation, they have been able to elbow PE buyers aside. According to the M&A KnowledgeBase, buyout firms are behind just one of every five infosec transactions so far in 2019, down from at least one of four deals in each of the previous three years. Further, our data indicates that PE shops’ slumping market share of only 21% in infosec M&A so far in 2019 is a full 10 percentage points lower than their share of the overall tech M&A market.