Montgomery County makes first cybersecurity investment in small firm poached from Virginia

A small Virginia cybersecurity firm has relocated to Bethesda after receiving Montgomery County’s first financial investment in a cybersecurity company as economic development officials there look to create a hotbed for the flourishing industry.

That endeavor includes a mix of equity investments, tax credits and incubator space designed to nurture cybersecurity companies headquartered in the county that provide software and services to the private sector rather than just government.

“The amount of money that is being spent and will be spent on civil cybersecurity will dwarf defense spending,” said Steve Silverman, director of the county’s Department of Economic Development. “Ask anybody who’s got a Target card.”

The $100,000 funneled to Mobile System 7 from Montgomery County’s economic development fund represents the first deal in an investment strategy that Silverman said will likely become more aggressive in the coming years.

The investment comes as economic development officials plan to host the first Cyber Montgomery Forum Thursday, bringing together leaders from the public and private sectors to discuss the cybersecurity’s potential impact on the region.

Some of the county’s efforts to bolster the civil cybersecurity sector, however, have been met with opposition. The decision to close a biotechnology incubator to make way for a National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence and work space for cybersecurity start-ups sparked ire among some in the life sciences community.

“The best way to describe this is we are at the beginning of a civil cybersecurity comparable to where we were with life sciences 35 years ago. We anticipate tremendous expansion of civil cybersecurity here in the county,” Silverman said.

“There’s an instant start up and ramp up opportunity in cybersecurity that’s very different than life science,” he continued. “The challenge with life science, particularly therapeutic drugs, is it can take eight to 10 years to come to market.”

Mobile System 7 collected $1 million from investors last month with funds run by the State of Maryland and Montgomery County kicking in a combined $400,000. The money will allow the company to expand its staff of nine employees, executives said.

Government agencies and corporations hire Mobile System 7 to monitor their servers and networks for suspicious activities. Its software then flags potential bad actors or shuts them down entirely, said chief executive Mark McGovern.

“We do that using the same strategy that credit cards use to protect your money,” he said. “We pay close attention to who is trying to access your data, what identity they are using and how they are accessing it.”

For example, if a single account tries to access the network from different locations within a short space of time, it may be flagged as a potential threat or shut down entirely depending on the security measures an organization has in place.

Workers are increasingly accessing information from smartphones and other portable devices, which can be more difficult to secure than an office desktop computer or company-issued laptop, said Brian Kelly, vice president of sales and marketing.

“It’s just created a lot larger of a problem and escalated it. It has really created the environment that has caused a lot of concern for organizations,” Kelly said.

Follow reporter Steven Overly on Twitter: @StevenOverly

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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