What happened

Shares of several network security companies soared on Friday, following the headline-making hack of network infrastructure expert SolarWinds (NYSE:SWI). Here are some of the most notable moves today that were sparked by the SolarWinds attack:

Company

Specialty

Largest Stock Price Jump on 12/18/2020

CAPS Score (Out of 5)

FireEye (NASDAQ:FEYE)

Security generalist

32.8%

3

Qualys (NASDAQ:QLYS)

Compliance and cloud security

17.4%

3

CyberArk Software (NASDAQ:CYBR)

Account security and management

16.2%

4

Proofpoint (NASDAQ:PFPT)

Enterprise security

11.5%

4

Data source: Yahoo! Finance and Motley Fool CAPS.

So what

SolarWinds makes a popular network management tool called Orion, which is used by a large percentage of enterprise-class networks around the world. Earlier this week, FireEye said that the company itself had been the victim of a successful network attack that used methods never before seen. The attackers walked away with access to some of FireEye's security assessment tools, which might also be useful to bad actors in the form of aggressive weapons.

The hackers then used FireEye's tools in conjunction with Orion to steal sensitive data from businesses and governments around the globe. Many security experts agree that the attacks are led by a group called Cozy Bear, which has the backing of the Russian government. About 18,000 organizations downloaded an infected version of SolarWinds Orion, though only 40 of these accounts appear to have seen any further attacks.

A black-gloved hand reaches out of a laptop screen to grab a card from a wallet.

I'll take that account info, thank you very much! Image source: Getty Images.

The highly targeted nature of this attack is making it hard for data security researchers to sleep at night.

"I woke up in the middle of the night last night just sick to my stomach," former White House Chief Information Officer Theresa Payton said to CNN Business. "On a scale of 1 to 10, I'm at a 9 -- and it's not because of what I know; it's because of what we still don't know."

The Cozy Bear attack naturally drove FireEye's share price lower last week, followed by sharp cuts to SolarWinds as the Orion-based nature of this threat came to light. Further details were released on Friday, which is why investors expect a mad rush for high-quality security tools for enterprise and government networks.

SolarWinds fell as much as 18.2% on Friday.

SWI Chart

SWI data by YCharts

Now what

All of the big moves listed above make perfect sense today. The Orion attack made it clear that large organizations need a variety of specialized security tools in order to battle an increasingly sophisticated range of cyberattacks.

It might sound strange that FireEye was forgiven so quickly, after admitting that the early stages of this attack were based on the company's own security tools. FireEye was also quick to spill the beans, embark on deep research into the whole episode, and keep the public up to date with its progress. Admitting your mistakes and then taking action to fix them is a great way to build trust, and that's a crucial component of doing business in the cybersecurity sector.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.