What if it was the Marvel Cybersecurity Universe?

The cybersecurity industry has long been known as a battleground pitting black hats against white hats, but what happens when the biggest combatant picks up the Infinity Gauntlet instead?

Cisco Systems Inc. CSCO, -4.96% unveiled its SecureX cybersecurity platform Monday morning, and revealed to MarketWatch that it had code-named the product “Thanos” during development. Thanos is a villain in Walt Disney Co.’s DIS, -4.29% Marvel universe who seeks to destroy exactly half the population of the universe.

For more: Cisco unleashes ‘Thanos’ in hopes for a ‘radical simplification’ of security software

Evil connotations aside, that spirit plays well into what chief information security officers are demanding from their products: Resources are scarce and they’re trying to find ways of simplifying their information-security needs. But the analogy doesn’t play well for Cisco’s enemies in the cybersecurity industry, who in this case would be equivalent to the Marvel heroes who battle Thanos and risk their lives to save the universe from Thanos’s evil plan.

But which company would be equivalent to which superhero? As the security industry prepared for its annual RSA get-together this week in San Francisco, MarketWatch decided to assign heroes to some of Cisco’s biggest rivals in the security sector, and then shot emails to members of the ETFMG Prime Cyber Security ETF HACK, -3.31% to get their opinions on what superhero they would be.

The response was surprising: Some companies that aren’t always known for being very open with the media jumped at the chance to discuss this topic. Palo Alto Networks Inc. PANW, -2.33% even requested a telephone interview with  Matt Chiodi, the public cloud chief security officer, so that he could argue his case for why the company deserved to be Captain America.

“Before Steve Rogers became Captain America he had to go through a transition, and this is extremely similar to what the company is going through now in their move to the cloud,” Chiodi said.

That wasn’t the hero MarketWatch had in mind for Palo Alto Networks, though. Here are the companies’ responses, as well as our picks for them, in rough order of market capitalization; uncredited statements came from spokespeople with no source listed.

MarketWatch’s choice: Iron Man. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Tony Stark — the billionaire alter ego of Iron Man — is obsessed with putting a “suit of armor around the world.” That sounds appropriate for the company known best for putting firewalls around a company’s information. Palo Alto Networks also has the largest market capitalization of the independent security-only companies, which lines up with Stark’s status as the richest Avenger.

Company’s choice: As noted above, Palo Alto Networks preferred another prominent Avenger, who used a super-soldier serum to bulk up just as Palo Alto Networks has used mergers and acquisitions of late. “Since we started back in 2005, Palo Alto Networks has always taken a holistic approach to security and so just like Captain America, we’re both leaders who enable others to do their best work and so Captain America specifically fights for American ideals and at Palo Alto Networks we fight to protect our digital way of life,” Chiodi said.

MarketWatch’s choice: The big-data specialist has focused a great deal on security in recent years, as its software can give strong and smart visibility to users. Hence, MarketWatch went with Vision, an android with artificial intelligence developed by Stark.

Company’s choice: Oliver Friedrichs, the vice president of security products at Splunk SPLK, -4.20% , instead went with the man who developed the AI that went into Vision.

“Two of the biggest buzzwords RSA attendees will hear once again this year are Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). Security technology powered by AI is still in its infancy. True AI, like you’d see from Ultron, still doesn’t exist. Machine Learning, and automation, however, are already integrated into a number of technologies, including Splunk’s security portfolio. That’s why Splunk is the Iron Man of the Security Operations Center — our Data-to-Everything platform helps analysts automatically respond to threats in real-time, just like the Iron Man suit enables Tony Stark to constantly evolve and automatically combat bad guys in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.”

MarketWatch’s choice: For the Israeli cybersecurity giant, MarketWatch chose Thor, the incredibly strong Avenger from a distant land. Check Point CHKP, -4.03% is also one of the oldest cybersecurity companies, and Thor is more than 1,500 years old, after all.

Company’s Choice: Iron Man, and a Check Point spokeswoman provided an uncredited list of reasons.

• Protector: We protect and save the world from security threats

• Technologist: Innovative always with the latest cutting-edge technology. Just like his (modular) suits of armor always updating and each tackling unique threats like our infinity suite

• Futurist: Plans for the future threats like us with Gen 6. We plan for future threats, and not just protect but prevent

• First: We are the first enterprise Cyber security company which paved the way for others to follow, just as Iron Man was the first Avenger in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)

MarketWatch’s choice: Akamai AKAM, -3.39% figured out how to shrink the Web, bringing people to the closest infrastructure necessary to perform tasks. Sounds to MarketWatch like Hank Pym, the original Ant Man, who invented technology that could shrink anything.

Company’s choice: Chief Security Officer Andy Ellis, who said he is an avid comic collector, chose an actual computer program.

“In the MCU, I think there’s a perfect character for Akamai: JARVIS (and later, FRIDAY). Like Jarvis, our role is to help someone else achieve their goals, and we provide the support infrastructure to enable our customers to get more done with their limited time and attention than they would have otherwise, by offloading the finer details of execution to us.

“Sometimes we tangle with the really advanced adversaries (“Age of Ultron”); other times we get to bring showy displays of distributed scale (House Party in “Iron Man 3”); mostly we just … get things done.”

MarketWatch’s choice: Considering Cloudflare NET, -5.76% also builds technology that makes the Web work better, MarketWatch gave them Scott Lang, the new-school Ant Man.

Company’s choice: Dr. Strange.

“He uses his powers for good and chooses to defend the world rather than capitalize on fortune. Cloudflare’s mission is to help build a better internet, and while we’ve built a strong business, we’ve also offered meaningful technology to anyone, for free, because it’s the right thing to do. We’ve been known for democratizing technologies like unmetered DDoS mitigation and Universal SSL, and two years ago announced, the world’s fastest DNS service, for free. Like Dr. Strange, we’re nerdy and doing our part to help (build a better Internet).”

MarketWatch’s choice: Okta OKTA, -5.08% is the security specialist that makes sure a network knows who is in it and exactly who they are. For MarketWatch, that screamed Happy Hogan, the chief of security for Stark Industries who is determined to make everyone wear their security badges.

Company’s choice: Okta wanted a much more powerful Marvel avatar — Captain Marvel.

“We would be Captain Marvel who goes from universe to universe protecting her people, not unlike a cloud identity provider. We provide security for any type of software or hybrid environment. Not to mention, in the most recent film, Captain Marvel protects her people from shapeshifting aliens that steal identities.”

MarketWatch’s choice: Proofpoint PFPT, -2.16% was a specialist in protecting email from spam and other concerns, but has branched out to prove useful in other areas. Sounds a lot like Hawkeye, the world’s greatest archer who has proved capable of a great deal more than just shooting arrows in his time with SHIELD. and The Avengers.

Company’s choice: Just one hero wasn’t enough for Proofpoint.

“The Marvel Cinematic Universe characters that best represent Proofpoint in the infosec universe are a combination of Captain Marvel and Iron Man,” said Ryan Kalember, executive vice president of Cybersecurity Strategy for Proofpoint. “Like Captain Marvel, we also became a hero and stop attacks before they get to Earth. She started as a pilot, similar to our beginnings as an email security company, and became a superhero after a crash with an alien spacecraft just like we did when email became the number one threat vector and we transformed into a cybersecurity leader. Also, she’s out in the galaxy fighting threats before they get to Earth — the first stage of the attack chain — just like what we do in stopping attacks on people as the first line of defense. We are also like Tony Stark in that we heavily invest in R&D, we believe in AI (like JARVIS), and technical innovation as augmentations, but we always have the person at the center of what we do.”

MarketWatch’s choice: Zscaler ZS, -4.86% is a young, flashy upstart (Generation Z, even!) in the cybersecurity industry, just like Spider-Man, who also likes to scale (walls).

Company’s choice: While the Fantastic Four is not (yet) part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Zscaler targeted that group for its choice. Given how excited at least one MarketWatch staffer will be when the Fantastic Four makes its debut in Disney’s Marvel universe, we allowed it.

“When it comes to superheroes, Zscaler is like Sue Storm, the Invisible Woman. Not only is she able to make herself invisible, but she can extend that invisibility to other objects and people, protecting them the latest supervillain. Much like the Invisible Woman, Zscaler approaches security by making applications invisible to the bad guys. You can’t attack what you can’t see. Zscaler cloud security platform sits between users and their apps, keeping customers’ digital identity private while connecting authenticated users to business applications to securely accelerate digital transformation. Every firewall exposed to the internet is an attack surface and has been the source of some of the latest high-profile ransomware attacks and data breaches. By eliminating the need for legacy security appliances and firewalls, Zscaler helps companies eliminate their internet attack surface because when the bad guys can’t see you, whether they’re Doctor Doom or a hacker, they can’t attack you.”

MarketWatch’s choice: We gave Qualys QLYS, -3.03% , which is known for its ability to search for and find vulnerabilities in networks, a villain with similar powers: Ultron, an artificial-intelligence system that came to life and seeks to take down The Avengers.

Company’s choice: Qualys said that Chief Marketing Officer Dan Barahona consulted with his children before deciding that his company is “a blend of Dr. Strange and Vision.”

“Vision is known for his ability to see everything, even in the darkest, furthest reaches of the universe (or hybrid IT network). Qualys is all about vision. We help organizations see all assets in their network and know everything about them (type of device, what’s running on them, what vulnerabilities they have, their criticality, etc.). But it’s not enough to have vision, you need action. And that’s where we’re like Dr. Strange, who can immediately teleport to where danger exists and neutralize it. This is our mission as well. With vision we know where danger lurks, but, like Dr. Strange, we can immediately get there and deliver the counterpunch (patches, remediation) to make sure organizations stay safe.”

MarketWatch’s choice: This was the first one MarketWatch assigned, because it seemed obvious that the expert called in by even the most powerful companies to figure out what just went wrong would be Nick Fury. Fury is known as a spy with great knowledge of what is happening across the galaxy, while FireEye FEYE, -3.03% was the first to detail the Chinese military’s link to hacker groups, and is still known as a strong source of international intelligence. Heck, FireEye and Fury even sound similar, and there’s the whole eyepatch thing …

Company’s choice: Sadly, FireEye did not see eye-to-eye with MarketWatch on this one.

“FireEye is Captain Marvel meets Iron Man. We bring the values of justice, fairness and doing what’s right with the power of technology enhanced by humans to protect our customers and the universe,” said

MarketWatch’s choice: Tenable TENB, -0.48% focuses on understanding and minimizing risk for cyber attacks, which sounds to MarketWatch like Iron Man’s more cautious pal, War Machine.

Company’s choice: Vision.

"The Marvel character that best represents Tenable is Vision — Tony Stark’s AI/machine learning software in superhero form. Formerly known as JARVIS, before being transformed into Vision, he helps Tony analyze all of the technical systems for potential risk and vulnerabilities before the team builds innovative tech that ultimately saves the world.”

MarketWatch’s choice: Ping PING, -0.71%  was taken private after years of investment, then bundled with some other cybersecurity assets before suddenly reappearing on the public markets with an initial public offering last year. Sounds to us like the Winter Soldier, a U.S. soldier who was thought dead before reappearing with some new programming and a flash metal arm.

Company’s choice: The original Ant Man.

“When it comes to cybersecurity, Ping Identity would be Hank Pym because of his intellect and scientific-minded style. He’s one smart guy who was able to tackle a bunch of problems by assembling a skillful team and developing innovative new technologies. At Ping, we approach our work in the same way. We’re dedicated to providing simple identity solutions for complex problems to secure the global enterprise.”

MarketWatch’s choice: MarketWatch was actually having trouble choosing for Sailpoint SAIL, -5.26%  before Mike Kiser, senior identity strategist for SailPoint, sent in a response that was so much more complete and awesome than anything we could have done, that MarketWatch decided to just agree and present it unedited.

Company’s choice: Shuri from “Black Panther,” with the following reasoning.

“‘Guess what I call them? Sneakers!’

“While it might be tempting to choose a more prominent protagonist such as Iron Man or Captain America, this quote epitomizes why Shuri, the chief science officer for Wakanda in Black Panther, would be cast to represent SailPoint in the Marvel Cinematic universe.

“Shuri’s strong combination of unparalleled innovation, a concern for people using her inventions, a fierce commitment to her beliefs, and a sense of delight serves to illustrate SailPoint’s role within the cybersecurity industry.

“First, Shuri delivers unparalleled innovation — in the scene from which this quote is taken, she’s introducing a wide range of incredible technology for use by her brother, T’Challa, showing how far ahead she is than the rest of the world. She’s even been described as (gasp!) smarter than Tony Stark himself (does his suit collapse into a necklace? I think not.)

“This innovation is not for innovation’s sake, however. It is created with a user in mind. T’Challa’s suit, his communication gear — even the shoes that she mentions in the above quote — fit perfectly. (Whether these items would fit anyone or only T’Challa is an open question, but it is never wise to doubt Shuri’s prowess.) She knows that ease-of-use is king, and she eliminates anything that would prevent the use of what she’s created.

“Not merely a technologist, Shuri is also a woman of fierce convictions. Willing (and of course capable) to fight in combat — she takes on Killmonger by herself, who has replaced her brother as the Black Panther — and she more than holds her own. In doing so, she demonstrates commitment to what she believes is right.

“In each of these areas, Shuri mirrors SailPoint in cybersecurity. By rethinking our approach to identity, we are constantly driving ahead like Shuri. Knowing that technology is not an end in itself, SailPoint has approached identity with a user-centric mindset. Furthermore, SailPoint is fiercely committed to what we believe is right — ensuring that organizations are able to protect their identity infrastructure and the resources with which they have been entrusted.

“Perhaps Shuri’s best quality, though, is the delight that she brings. That she would call noiseless shoes ’sneakers’ is hilarious — and captures her excitement about possibilities that she alone can see. All too often in cybersecurity, the focus is exclusively on what can go wrong, on the next disaster looming around the corner. SailPoint is rethinking identity to see, like Shuri, the possibilities. What new ideas lurk nearby? What technology will solve existing problems and open up new opportunities? That optimism is what makes Shuri a fantastic character, and it is what SailPoint aspires to in cybersecurity.”

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