Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Thursday, October 22, 2020
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IronNet, Founded by Ex-NSA Boss, Gains Funding 

A cybersecurity startup with a wealth of insider knowledge and a plan to leverage high-performance computing along with advanced visualization techniques has attracted the attention of well-known investors.

IronNet Cybersecurity, the startup founded in 2014 by former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) Director Keith Alexander (shown), has raised $32.5 million in a Series A funding round led by a cybersecurity venture fund along with a Silicon Valley heavyweight investor.

IronNet, Fulton, Md., said this week that Trident Capital Cybersecurity was joined in the initial funding round by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the Menlo Park, Calif., venture fund that provided early backing for Amazon.com, Google and other successful tech companies.

IronNet said it would use the cash infusion to continue development of a cyber defenses for the private sector. The startup claims its technology "enables real-time visualization of a company’s entire cyber infrastructure and employs advanced behavioral models and elite petabyte-scale analytics to detect anomalous activity and support proactive mitigation."

IronNet emphasized that its approach leverages high-performance computing to help identify cyber threats and alert security administrators in real time to potential threats to their network infrastructure. The startup also touts its approach as enabling companies to "implement active response actions."

Alexander, a four-star general who also served as head of U.S. Cyber Command, founded IronNet shortly after retiring from the U.S. Army last year. He brought with him a team of cyber experts from the Defense Department, the National Counterterrorism Center and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Brett Williams, a retired U.S. Air Force major general and former director of operations at U.S. Cyber Command, serves as IronNet's president of operations and training.

Alexander's rapid transition to the private sector drew fire from critics who said the former NSA chief was cashing in on his military service.

Undeterred, Alexander noted in announcing the venture funding that “cybersecurity has become the most pressing threat to both the global private sector and our national security, and existing approaches and defenses to protect networks are falling short."

The startup is promising private sector clients, presumably including military contractors handling classified data, higher levels of network visibility, data control and security. Other potential clients include government agencies attempting to shift their operations to cloud infrastructure.

The venture funding would be used to accelerate the product development and "scale the launch of the IronNet product line," the startup said.

Executives of both venture capital firms have joined IronNet's board of directors. “The need for new approaches to secure the world’s computer systems has reached a crisis level," noted Don Dixon, founder and managing director of Trident Capital Cyber.

"After there's a big hack, there's a tendency to go throw a bunch of money at the problem and you end up with a bunch of single-point solutions that have already been proven not to work," IronNet's Williams told NBC's Meet the Press last summer after a massive security breach at the Office of Personnel Management. "So we've got to get to the next generation of security."

IronNet's business model seeks to leverage brute force computing along with other emerging data visualization techniques to stay ahead of constantly morphing cyber threats.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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