Neo Cyber Security tries to give anti-hacking tool to state

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 532 views 

A cyber security company that developed an anti-hacking tool tried to give it to the state, which in part had supported the company’s startup, but was unsuccessful.

Fayetteville-based Neo Cyber Security has developed a tool that “simulates a hack” of a computer system to find weak spots in technology infrastructure, said David Friede, a company investor who’s in charge of marketing and sales.

“Our company, Neo Cyber Security was started in part by an investment from the state of Arkansas through the ADFA,” Friede said in an email. “We have since developed a state-of-the-art cyber defense tool that helps prevent data breaches such as the one suffered by the state last year.”

In 2014, the company received $50,000 as part of the ARK Challenge, an accelerator program for technology startups. Arkansas Development Finance Authority financially supports the program.

Justin Farmer, founder and CEO of Neo Cyber Security, asked about giving the tool to the state agency and was referred to Mark Myers, state chief technology officer and director of the Arkansas Department of Information Systems. On Nov. 23, Myers resigned from his position and Yessica Jones was appointed interim director. About a month and a half ago, Farmer said he reached out to Myers to see if the state would use or at least try out the technology without charge, but Myers didn’t have time for Farmer.

“It is amazing to us the state would so freely give taxpayer money (which we do appreciate), yet show no interest in seeing where the money went,” Friede said.

Janet Wilson, public information manager for the Department of Information Systems, said the state already has “effective tools in place.” Since the summer, the state “has been undergoing a cyber security risk assessment.” Using another cyber security tool, “would be duplicative,” Wilson said. The state has rules and protocols it follows and underwent an “extensive and lengthy interview process” for a cyber security company.

In May, the state legislature signed off on a $1.6 million agreement with Kroll to provide cyber security service for the state. In June, the state hosted town hall meetings for its agencies, and the assessment was started in early August. The assessment is being implemented in phases and expected to wrap up in December. Further assessment is not expected, Wilson said.

“I believe this is a one-time thing,” she said.

While Farmer said he’s not looking to replace Kroll, he had hoped the state would have at least tried out his cyber security tool and could have offered “an awesome deal” for it. He believes his company’s service is “a little bit better” than Kroll’s because it’s not a “one and done” service, Farmer said. Neo Cyber Security’s tool runs daily penetration tests seeking possible threats and receives updates without the need for someone to be onsite for it to operate. It removes “the person out of the equation.”

“It’s patented,” Friede said. “There’s nothing else on the market like it.”

Farmer said the company’s mission is to create affordable cyber security. The newest version of the tool costs $3 per device, including computers, printers, smartphones or tablets connected to a server via Wi-Fi or network cable. The company also offers broader security contracts for larger companies. For example, a hospital client with 10,000 connected devices pays $500 monthly for the tool, Farmer said.

Most of the company’s 15 clients are in Northwest Arkansas and include university and hospitals. The tool went into “full-swing production” in January, Farmer said.