Jan. 12, 2010, could go down as the day any illusion that the Web was a safe place to do business died. That was the day Google (GOOG) announced that it and several other tech companies had been attacked by Chinese hackers, who pilfered source code and other secrets. It was an especially bleak day for David DeWalt, then chief executive officer of McAfee, the maker of the popular antivirus software that failed to detect the attacks. Later that year, he managed to sell McAfee to Intel (INTC) for $7.7 billion, but by then it was clear that old-school cyberprotection could no longer be counted upon to stop spies and hackers. DeWalt eventually moved on to become CEO and chairman of FireEye (FEYE), another Silicon Valley security company that has come up with an entirely different way to protect people’s data.
FireEye was founded a decade ago by former Sun Microsystems engineer Ashar Aziz, who sought to develop a more predictive approach to computer network protection. The company sells software that tricks hacking programs into targeting phony machines, then alerts clients to the attempted intrusions. Big corporations and Wall Street investors have embraced FireEye. In September, DeWalt oversaw the company’s initial public offering, which had the third-largest first-day IPO gain of 2013 and was valued at $5.5 billion. But FireEye’s share price fell 23 percent on May 7 after the company downgraded its earnings forecast due partly to aggressive spending on R&D and marketing.