Is Tempered Networks cybersecurity’s silver bullet?

New technology locks down controls of critical infrastructure networks

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There are no silver bullets. That’s a widely held truism in the cybersecurity realm.

But now a Seattle start-up has set out to commercialize breakthrough technology its founders believe holds the potential to arise as something of a silver bullet.

Tempered Networks is taking a unique approach toward locking down the industrial control systems (ICS) so profoundly exposed to hackers.

ICS technologies, especially those that run power plants, utilities and transportation systems, are a huge security concern. Most were installed pre-Internet as isolated entities using arcane protocols intrinsically difficult to hack.

But with the push to increasingly connect everything – including ICS – to mobile computing and the Internet cloud, the door has swung wide open to hackers.

Heavy R&D

The Boeing Company thought about this problem in the 1990s as it was erecting a highly-automated manufacturing plant north of Seattle to assemble 777 jetliners with major components scheduled to arrive, just-in-time, from suppliers in Europe and Asia.

The airplane maker put seven years of research and development – all while churning out the current global fleet of 777s – into perfecting a system that obsessively controls each and every connection made between each and every computing device in a given network. If you have no business making a connection, you won’t connect.

And then, as Tempered Network co-founder and CEO Jeff Hussey recently told ThirdCertainty, “Boeing decided that this was enabling technology, not core technology, and so they encouraged the team to go out and commercialize that software — and they did. “

Jeff Hussey
Jeff Hussey

That team of aerospace engineers was led by Boeing R&D specialist David Mattes, now co-founder and CTO of Tempered Networks.

Hussey describes Tempered’s technology as a cloaking system that makes the approved device-to-device communications within a given network invisible to anybody who does not have the correct keys.

“If you can’t see it, you can’t hack it,” he says. “Anyone who says there is no silver bullet in security hasn’t seen this solution.”

Launched in 2012, the company has won customers in the manufacturing, oil & gas, and utilities industries, where there is huge demand for a more cost-effective way to lock down old ICS networks getting plugged into modern Internet cloud environments.

Network lockdowns

But Hussey says Tempered’s approach could also be effective in locking hackers out of sensitive sections of business networks.

Sitting at his desk in a non-descript office building in the shadow of Seattle’s iconic Space Needle, Hussey outlined how, as networks expand in complexity, firewalls, honeypot systems and anti-malware packages won’t hold up.

Hussey’s new office is a few blocks from his old office, which was in the sprawling waterfront campus of networking equipment giant F5 Networks, which Hussey founded.

When Hussey heard about the Tempered Networks opportunity, it sparked his entrepreneurial drive, and he brought a team of F5 alums over to Tempered. The sense of urgency at the start-up is palpable.

“When we get to a hundred times the size of the current Internet, the complexity of securing that many devices, will be overwhelming,” Hussey preaches. “There aren’t enough security professionals in the world to address that. It can only be addressed by software. The basis of our solution is providing software, and using a secure orchestration engine designed to solve security issues at that scale. ”

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