DHS promotes tech from workbench to market

In speech after speech, officials talk about the need for government and industry to work together to solve cybersecurity challenges. But for the past five year...

By Max Cacas
Federal News Radio

A former Secret Service agent has gone from protecting the President and foreign dignitaries, to working for the greater good promoting and facilitating government and industry collaboration on cybersecurity.

Robert Rodriguez is chairman of the Security Innovation Network, or SI-NET for short. During the recent ISC2 “SECURE AMERICAS” conference in Crystal City, Rodriguez described the organization of which he is the founder.

This program started five years ago when Doug Maughan from DHS S&T (Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology Directorate) approached me, along with the Kaufman Foundation, which is an entity focused on advancing entrepreneurship in different sectors — nano, medical devices, et cetera — and not done cyber. So they supported us initially.

Since then, he says, the SINET group has grown, supporting public-private partnerships with NSA, DOD, General Dynamics, Stanford, and other organizations — all, he says, in the name of bringing entrepreneurs, and their energy and good ideas, to the table.

“The biggest challenge that the entrepreneurs have, is awareness: ‘How do I get my message out that I have something great?’ I’ve never met an entrepreneur that does not believe in what they’ve built. They mortgage their homes, they work a hundred hours a week, et cetera. and they’re trying to get their message out.”

Appearing on the same panel with Rodriguez, Maughan, who is a program manager with DHS S&T, talks about a current SINET cybersecurity project.

We’re jointly sponsoring projects with the Department of Energy towards new research in the area of power, really looking at SmartGrid. This is about an $18 million project over the next five years. The lead organization is the University of Illinois, but they have a number of other universities participating, but the more important part here from the public-private perspective is they have an advisory board of 30-plus private sector electric companies.

Maughan says that’s important because it insures that new developments in smart grid technology will be sure to go to operators almost as soon as they are available.

In his presentation, Maughan also noted two small start-up companies that have become shining examples of what happens when SINET works for entrepreneurs.

Our poster child is a small company out of the University of Maryland. Eight employees, bought by Microsoft and quickly had eight new millionaires, but the more important piece here is that the technology from Komoku is now in the mainstream Microsoft malware removal tool kit, and is deployed to 400 million-plus machines around the world. So that’s what we consider to be homerun innovation. Endeavor Systems, another small company out of Virginia, and Solidcore, a little bit bigger company, both bought by McAfee within the last year, plus.

Maughan also talked about specific technologies backed by SINET and DHS S&T which have made their way from entrepreneur’s workbench to daily application.

One example: the Ironkey secure flash storage USB drive.

That was an initial fund by DHS S&T of $1.4 million to two employees back in 2005. It’s now a growing company – well over 100 employees, and probably the best USB (storage) in the marketplace. We did a 1,000-user deployment at DHS, and it’s now the standard-issue. When you come to DHS S&T, you get an Ironkey and that’s the only USB you’re supposed to use.

Rodriguez says this October, SINET will sponsor a showcase of some of the best cybersecurity technologies now under development at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C..


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