Illinois start-up develops advanced cybersecurity monitoring tool for industrial networks
Since its inception in 2013, Illinois cybersecurity start-up Network Perception has placed its inaugural software product, NP-View, in dozens of electric utilities around the world.
“If a company makes a change to the network, say to the firewall, NP-Live allows you to understand in real-time what impact those changes have on your network,” said CEO Robin Berthier, who is also a research scientist in the University of Illinois’ Information Trust Institute. “It lets you ensure that those changes don’t introduce new security risks.”
Cyber attacks on corporate networks have risen dramatically over the past few years. In 2010, organizations reported 50 successful attacks per week, according to the Ponemon Institute’s 2014 Cost of Cyber Crime Study. In 2014, companies averaged 138 successful attacks per week, an increase of 176 percent.
The two tools offered by Network Perception make it easier to detect vulnerabilities that can lead to security breaches. The products help analyze how traffic moves from a trusted zone (e.g., networks that support critical infrastructure) to an untrusted zone (e.g., a corporate network that connects to the Internet).
“It’s very important that the communication lines between corporate networks and SCADA networks, which manage the critical cyber assets, are locked down and secure,” Berthier said. “These tools can alert IT professionals if the traffic flow patterns deviate from the baseline.”
Both tools are easy to deploy and use. Security programs can often be cumbersome and difficult for IT professionals to manage without weeks of training. Berthier and his team focused on usability during development, collaborating with utilities to make the products lightweight and intuitive.
Network Perception came about as a result of work conducted through the Trustworthy Cyber Infrastructure for the Power Grid project, funded from 2009-2015 by the Department of Energy with support from the Department of Homeland Security.
An additional grant from DHS helped the research team – which includes ITI Director and ECE Professor David Nicol and ECE Head and Professor William Sanders -- transition the tool from academia to the marketplace. Participation in the NSF ICORE program in 2014 educated the team in the principles of creating a “lean startup.”
The team also secured an NSF Small Business Innovation Research grant, which has provided nearly $1 million through two phases of funding, to conduct the research and development of NP-Live.