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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