(Photo by Andrew Zaleski, file)
If James Foster has a swagger that seems misplaced for the founder of a startup, it’s only because James Foster has done this before.
He worked for Boston-based, managed security services provider Guardent when it was acquired by VeriSign for $140 million in 2003. Then Foster, a native Floridian, returned to a more amicable climate when he moved to California and ran the research and development wing of vulnerability management-software creator Foundstone, acquired by McAfee in 2004 for $86 million.
When he finally came back to Maryland — before his extended foray into the private sector, he worked for government contractors and the Department of Defense as a civilian with the U.S. Navy — he was ready to start his own company, which he did in 2006 when he founded Ciphent.
“We made antivirus better, faster and stronger,” said Foster, 34, a software engineering graduate of Capitol College.
That cybersecurity firm, based in Hanover, would be acquired too. In 2010, after Ciphent reported revenue of $9.3 million the year prior, Denver-based Accuvant purchased Foster’s company for an undisclosed amount.
"Maryland is the hub for cyber — you can’t do that in California."
In a number of ways, then, founding a cybersecurity startup wasn’t as risky a proposition for Foster, with his deep ties in the private and public cybersecurity sectors, as it might’ve been for startup greenhorns looking to cash in on lucrative contracts with the Department of Defense. And so, in January this year, he cofounded his latest company, Riskive, which he claims is the “first predictive social threat management company.”
By social threat, he means social media, which Foster thinks is the next big target for hackers worldwide. Launched earlier this month was Riskive’s flagship product, FriendGuard, which protects people’s Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn profiles. (Foster’s bold claim is that Riskive’s product is the “only one in the world” that secures those four social media networks.)
“Hackers used to attack networks and systems, but you have to figure out what’s next, and either play catch up, or get there first and prevent it,” he said. Given the series of Twitter hacking attacks prominent publications and businesses were subjected to in early 2013, launching Riskive in the first month of 2013 was auspicious timing.
Because if cybersecurity used to be about protecting computer networks and systems — and a great deal of it still is just that — it’s slowly morphing into more isolated attacks on individuals and larger organizations’ social networks. Brian Razzaque, whose startup, SocialToaster, relies heavily on social media, seems to agree.
“I think there’s a lot of opportunity for Foster and his team to not just provide a solution but also to help and define that standard,” he told the Baltimore Business Journal in June.
By focusing on securing people’s social media accounts, Foster hopes Riskive will separate itself in the cluttered, competitive cybersecurity market in Maryland. It’s at least caught the eye of local investors and entrepreneurs by winning one of eight Incubator Company of the Year Awards in June.
But the caveat about cybersecurity in Maryland, a state many would call the “epicenter” of the nation’s cyber industry, is that it’s mighty crowded. Of course, where else is there better proximity to the government agencies willing to pony up big money for security services?
“If you don’t live in Maryland, you’re not really in the cyber industry,” Foster said. “Maryland is the hub for cyber — you can’t do that in California.”
As of May, the now eight-month-old startup was protecting more than 10 million social media accounts per day, he said. A “stealth” version of Riskive’s social threat software had been rolled out prior to FriendGuard’s formal launch. It’s free for individual social media users, but “enterprises and the government pay” for the service, said Foster.
Based out of Betamore, the startup is quickly growing out of its desk space inside the Federal Hill incubator and coworking space. Twenty people, including three Venture for America fellows, work for Riskive, which is sustaining itself thus far with several contracts with government and commercial customers and $2.2 million in seed funding raised in July.
“We’re really early, but we move really fast,” said Foster.
Whether they move faster than social media hackers, well — it’s perhaps a bit early to say.