Cybersecurity / Funding / Startups

This startup stops cyber attacks at the ‘head’

Cryptonite came out of stealth mode Thursday. The Rockville startup's technology looks stop attackers from seeing what's in a network, and moving around.

Cryptonite makes devices invisible to attackers. (Photo by Flickr user West Point - The U.S. Military Academy, used under a Creative Commons license)

Before cyber attackers can steal data, they need to find out what’s in a network. That’s how they find out what’s vulnerable.

“In order to understand somebody’s network you have to do reconnaissance first,” said Mike Simon. It’s also where Simon’s company Cryptonite is looking to stop the attack.

“If you stop reconnaissance, you are knocking off the head of the kill-chain to stop the attacks,” Simon, the CEO of the startup, said. The company’s technology is designed to make parts of a network invisible to attackers. That could help companies protect devices from falling prey to a breach, and those devices could range. Simon used examples from a printer to a medical device.

“We automatically deny a malicious actor or cyber actor from getting to that printer at a point where they can infect or start to infect that network,” he said.

The startup, which was spun out of Rockville R&D firm Intelligent Automation Inc., is coming out of stealth mode Thursday as it seeks to expand in the commercial market through partnerships.

Along with blocking information about what is on the network, the technology also cuts off access to other parts of a network. A process known as segmentation can block “lateral” movement through a network, which could keep malware from spreading, Simon said.

The technology was initially developed through contracts from the U.S. Air Force and Department of Homeland Security. Simon, who is now a part of his third company, said he was approached by Intelligent Automation about running the spinout. IAI’s then-lead researcher Justin Yackoski joined as CTO, as well. The company is based along with IAI in Rockville. Md., and currently has 13 people in a mix of full-time and contract roles.

Simon said the technology, which is a network appliance that has embedded software, could be used by a variety of industries, such as critical infrastructure, manufacturing, hospitals, financial, healthcare or government.

Despite being in stealth mode, it’s gotten attention from investors. Cryptonite has attracted $5 million in seed funding to date. Among the backers is Ron Gula, the former CEO of Tenable Network Security who recently launched investment firm Gula Tech Adventures. Gula has recently talked about the opportunity presented for tech growth by services companies spinning out cyber startups, and called this one of the “most exciting” spinouts due to the team and backing IAI put behind the company, as well as the technology. The tool represents a shift from detecting attacks to stopping them before they get in, Gula said.

“It just changes the game to a default-deny from a default-allow,” Gula said.

Additional investors in the company include Pangia Technologies founder David Walker, SMS founder Al Nardslico, Model B cofounder Abtin Buergari, Shulman Rogers cofounder Don Rogers, co-founder of Shulman Rogers, and Dr. Leonard Haynes, co-founder of IAI.


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