These Maryland cyber startups got $1M contracts at an Air Force pitch day - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Nov. 21, 2019 1:45 pm

These Maryland cyber startups got $1M contracts at an Air Force pitch day

Enveil and ReFirm Labs will each work to adapt cybersecurity technology to use cases for the armed forces branch.
U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flying in formation.

U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flying in formation.

(Photo by Flickr user Jim Bauer, used via a Creative Commons license)

The U.S. Air Force is looking to tap the expertise of tech companies, and a pair of Maryland cybersecurity startups are among those who received funding at a pitch day held by the armed forces branch last week.

At the Nov. 13 to 14 event in Dayton, Ohio, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) awarded $1 million contracts to Fulton-based ReFirm Labs and Columbia-based Enveil.

In all, the AFLCMC awarded $15 million at the event, the Dayton Daily News reported. Modeled on investor pitch days in the commercial world, the Air Force is holding the events to connect with businesses and speed up the process of working with them. In doing so, it draws on the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which is a way that the government supports R&D in its own areas of interest through private companies.

With these Phase II Small Business Innovation Research Awards, the selected companies will work to pilot and adapt their technology platforms for the Air Force’s specific needs.

ReFirm Labs, which raised $2 million from investors in October, specializes in the security of software that controls a connected device’s hardware.

ReFirm’s contract follows a $50,000 Phase I SBIR award. It will fuel further research into identifying security vulnerabilities in firmware, which controls the software of a connected device. ReFirm’s platform, called Centrifuge, analyzes firmware for potential vulnerabilities, which is a time-consuming process for engineers.

“We can use our technology to automate a lot of that so that they can get more done with fewer people, and those people doing those assessments can focus on things we identify vs. trying to do everything manually,” said ReFirm CEO Derick Naef.

In this case, the firmware being analyzed is helping to control aircraft and information systems used by the Air Force. The new award will allow the company to pilot the technology and adapt to meet the Air Force needs.

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Enveil’s ZeroReveal offering is built on a technique that allows data to remain encrypted while it is being processed. For the Air Force, the company said this could help with securing data that is open source or publicly available. It can allow for search and analysis of datasets outside the Air Force, without revealing what they were seeking or details about a particular mission.

“Enveil’s technology breakthroughs empower unmatched capabilities for mission-critical applications by enabling secure data collaboration with untrusted data sources and third-party data owners,” Enveil CEO Ellison Anne Williams said in a statement. “This AFLCMC contract provides us with an opportunity to advance Air Force missions by extending the boundary of trusted compute to secure the supply change and reduce operational risk.”

The teams both have roots working on problems within the national security apparatus. Both companies were founded by alums of Maryland’s government-facing institutions, such as the National Security Agency and Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. They are among a cluster of cybersecurity and data science startups that were formed by veterans of the intelligence community, then received support to commercialize their technology from Fulton-based DataTribe.

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