InZero device boxes out cybersecurity threats

Monday, June 7, 2010

Firewalls. Antivirus software. Web gateways. All have so far done little to curb the exponential growth in cyberattacks in recent years. InZero Systems chief executive Louis R. Hughes, though, thinks his Herndon company might have a solution that can succeed where so many have failed.

It's a palm-size hardware device that connects to a computer and protects it from Internet threats. Hughes claims it has yet to be breached. In fact, the company is so confident of its ability to fend off hackers that it is hiring a firm to try to break down its defenses and then report the results at a National Press Club press event later this month.

The stunt is not quite as dramatic as the one put on by the Ukraine-born inventor of the device, Oleksiy Shevchenko, who once offered to give a Harley-Davison to anyone able to crack his system. No one succeeded.

Hughes, a former chief operating officer at Lockheed Martin and General Motors executive who more recently served as chief of staff of the United States' Afghanistan reconstruction effort, said the press event is necessary to drum up interest in the box.

"It's very difficult to get attention if you are a small company," Hughes said. "We're making claims very few people can dare to make."

Indeed, can anything be hacker-proof forever? And some have questioned the complexity. The company is in production, hoping to sell boxes initially for about $400 with a $40 a month for updates and a link to the firm's servers. A management console for networks adds another $500 to the cost. That price could come down depending on the quantity and as production scales up, Hughes said. A consumer device might cost $200 with $10-a-month charge.

To the user of a computer tethered to an InZero device, the experience of surfing the Web or sending an e-mail is the same as not being connected to the device. But what is actually happening is that those functions are being handled by the box, really a second computer. The user's computer is merely seeing what it is seeing, and therefore is not actually in harm's way.

Hughes said he warmed to the product after a former business partner introduced him to Shevchenko in 2003. Hughes said he arranged a meeting with British Telecom, which had its experts try to penetrate the box's defenses, only to fail.

Hughes said three investors, including himself, have sunk $10 million into the company, which currently employs about 60 people in three countries. The business is headquartered in Herndon, largely to be near other technology companies. "We have our little ecosystem here," he said. "It's like Silicon Valley East."

The company has since lined up an advisory panel that includes retired four-star Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark and retired Rear Adm. Jay M. Cohen, who served as undersecretary for science and technology for the Department of Homeland Security.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company