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David DeWalt is about to leave his post as president of McAfee to become the CEO of Palo Alto Networks, a late-stage security startup, VentureBeat has learned.

According to the source, unrelated to the company, DeWalt has accepted the top job at PAN. We were not able to independently confirm the tip. When we called Palo Alto Networks for confirmation, the company declined to comment.

Board members for Palo Alto Networks also refused to comment.

Palo Alto Networks provides high-speed, network-level security systems that can identify and stop threats by examining the data flowing through a company’s routers. That’s in contrast to the approach taken by McAfee and other traditional security companies, like Symantec and Trend Micro, which focus security measures on the end points, stopping viruses and other threats by using software that runs on PCs or servers.

Palo Alto Networks has been looking for a new CEO since December, 2010. The hunt has taken longer than expected, according to the company’s spokesperson. CEO duties have been shared between three people in the “office of the CEO,” according to PAN’s website: Cofounders Nir Zuk and Rajiv Batra, plus CFO Michael Lehman.

The hire would appear to position Palo Alto Networks well for a public offering or acquisition. PAN has been rumored to be shopping itself around for some time, and hiring DeWalt, a successful security CEO, would help spruce up the company for either exit by providing a clearer chain of command and less conflicted leadership.

DeWalt, 45, has done well at McAfee, where he had been CEO from 2007 until this year, when the company merged with Intel. In addition to organizing the company’s $7.68 billion sale to Intel, which closed in February, DeWalt has personally pulled down $32.8 million in total compensation over the past three years, according to McAfee’s 10-K filing for the fiscal year 2010. He may stand to collect even more depending on whether his departure triggers severance clauses in his contract with McAfee.

He’s also the chairman of the board at Polycom, a provider of conference room phones and telepresence systems.

Before McAfee, DeWalt was an executive at enterprise storage provider EMC Software, following that company’s 2003 acquisition of content management company Documentum, where he was the CEO.

Palo Alto Networks, founded in 2006, recently moved to new headquarters in Santa Clara, California. It has about 410 employees and has been growing rapidly, helped along by $64 million in venture funding led by Greylock Partners and Sequoia Capital. PAN recently landed $36 million in a third round of funding in November, 2008.

Photo: McAfee publicity photo of David DeWalt

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