Orbital to develop second Thaicom satellite

Silent Circle, the National Harbor-based mobile security company that gained traction after revelations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, just picked up a $30 million investment.

The company, co-founded by the developer of the e-mail encryption service Pretty Good Privacy, is helping develop Blackphone, a secure smartphone, among other products. Silent Circle received the latest funding from venture capitalist Ross Perot Jr. and the private investment fund Cain Capital, the company announced last week.

The money will be used to meet increased demand for Silent Circle’s existing products and services, fund new initiatives and hire more employees, said Mike Janke, Silent Circle’s chief executive.

Snowden’s revelations last year about the extent of the NSA’s electronic surveillance on ordinary citizens sparked privacy concerns that helped propel Silent Circle’s products into the spotlight. Janke said the company experienced a 400 percent increase in growth last summer, which it was not prepared to handle.

“I don’t think we expected to be so disruptive,” he said. “That’s both scary [for a small company] and it’s good.”

The infusion of funds will help further Silent Circle’s goal to dominate the secure communications market, Janke said.

Blackphone, the mobile device that Silent Circle developed with Madrid-based Geeksphone, is slated to hit the market next month. Based on current demand, Silent Circle expects to sell more than 3 million devices over the course of a year, Janke said.

Aside from Blackphone, the tech firm is developing a range of secure devices including the “Blacktablet.” It will also release a private video-conferencing software designed to compete with Skype this summer, Janke said.

Meanwhile, the after-effects of Snowden’s revelations continue to shape the company’s plans.

Last year, Silent Circle and other secure e-mail providers such as Lavabit (the software that Snowden used) decided to shut down their services in order to avoid government requests for confidential customer information.

By next year, Silent Circle will unveil an “end-to-end” encrypted e-mail service, Janke said. This type of encryption does not place customer data in the company’s hands, which means it cannot be compelled to provide that information to the government.

The company moved its headquarters into a 16,000 square-foot facility in National Harbor earlier this year. In last week’s announcement, Silent Circle also said it was moving its global offices from a Caribbean island to Switzerland because of the strength of that country’s privacy laws.

More than 70 percent of Silent Circle’s customers are based outside North America, according to Janke.

Orbital Sciences snags Asian contract

Dulles-based Orbital Sciences is scheduled to start production on a commercial communications satellite for Thaicom, its second contract with the Asian satellite operator. The satellite will be launched in early 2016 and will expand broadband service in Thailand, parts of South Asia and Africa, the company said.

The project is Orbital’s second launch for the company this year. A Thaicom 6 satellite launch was completed in January using the space company’s GeoStar product line.

Orbital announced a $5 billion merger with defense contractor Alliant Techsystems last month, which will create a new aerospace company named Orbital ATK. The merger, if approved, will be completed by the end of this year.

Contractors expect uneven growth

During IT contractor Deltek’s annual industry conference in McLean, panelists outlined some of the issues facing government contractors in 2014, including greater competition, increased scrutiny from government audits and the challenge of making good hires.

Panelists also offered up some advice.

Focus was going to be the key to success in a highly competitive environment, said Thomas Anderson, an industry consultant.

Big companies would be able to make other investments, he said, but small contractors needed to focus on what they do best in order to win business.

Overall, contractors expect revenue to grow by an average of 14 percent this year, according to a Deltek survey presented at the conference. But growth will be concentrated at one end of the spectrum. Smaller companies (those worth less than $20 million) expect business to grow by 23 percent. For mid-sized companies, that rate is 10 percent, and for the biggest players in the market, growth is in the range of 2 percent.

Amrita Jayakumar covers federal government contracting for Capital Business, The Post's local business publication.
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