A smooth shift to business for a group of Navy officers

Computers: Men make the transition from defending the country to protecting networks

Small business

October 22, 2001|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

George Kenneth Hunter is no stranger to security - as a Naval officer and cryptologist it has been his life's work to keep track of spies to keep the country safe.

Now, just a few months from leaving the Navy, Hunter and a few other officers and friends are putting their skills to work in hopes of creating safe computing with a new information security software.

Their company, Netta Systems LLC, is one of the latest to enter the county's NeoTech incubator looking for support and hoping to connect with investors - and they've found at least one.

The group received $50,000 from the state last week as part of the Department of Business and Economic Development Challenge Program. The company expects the state to invest $100,000 more by the end of January.

"This really is our first official endorsement," said Hunter, the company's founder and chief operating officer. "The Challenge Program gets us going so we can make the deals with the venture capitalists."

Tori Leonard, a spokeswoman for the development program said the state was banking on the founders' background for the company's potential.

"It's made up of ex-Navy, national security guys," she said. "We felt they would have the background to create something like this."

Netta Systems is the second company in the incubator to develop a product for information security. Sphere Corp., formerly Guarded Profile, is developing a firewall package based on technologies developed at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

Both companies are vying for a piece of the estimated $3.2 billion U.S. security products market - a market that is growing at a rate of about 33 percent annually, according to market research and consulting group Frost & Sullivan.

Netta Systems had its beginnings in Hunter's basement last year, and moved to the incubator last month.

"While we knew we had significant background in information security - 70-plus years - and many other areas for building and operating a company, we realized there were some gaps," said Bart Umentum, chief marketing officer. "We wanted to leverage [the incubator's] resources and their network to provide the springboard we need to make sure when we are ready to go on out own, we'll have filled the gaps."

Netta Systems' focus is on creating software that strengthens the computer's operating system - which developers say is the most vulnerable part of a computer. The software is to filter information and at the same time authenticate both the individual seeking access and the computer.

The goal is to control the flow of information and processes to and from the operating system and throughout the network, Hunter said.

"Instead of going after each vulnerability, this makes it so that each vulnerability won't generate any value," Hunter said.

The company's goal is to sell its product to Internet service providers, which would include the software as part of its service to customers.

According to Jason A. Wright, an analyst with Frost & Sullivan, that plan puts the company in the right direction.

"That is definitely a viable business model," he said. "That is a business strategy that is often implemented in information security."

Hunter started developing the framework for his technology in his spare time away from his job at the Naval Security Group, a unit adjacent to, and that works closely with the National Security Agency at Fort Meade. He is scheduled to leave the Navy in March, when he can devote all his time to the company.

The company is working on developing the software, establishing strategic partnerships, and raising cash. Umentum said the company is looking for $1.5 million to $3 million for its first round of venture capital funding.

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