Local cybersecurity startup receives $8 million in new investments

Mission Secure, Inc. acquires funding for platform that provides system visibility and potential solutions to threats

Mission-Secure_web

Mission Secure, Inc. headquarters are located off the Downtown Mall.

Courtesy Mission Secure, Inc.

In the past few months, Mission Secure, Inc., or MSi, a local startup that develops cybersecurity software and hardware strategies for infrastructure security, completed a Series A financing, receiving over $8 million in funding from investors. 

Major contributors included Energy Innovation Capital, Chevron Technology Ventures, Macquarie Capital and the University of Virginia Licensing and Ventures Group. The company works in the oil and gas, power, transportation and defense industries, providing products that defend the control systems of infrastructure from cyber attacks.

“We made an investment over a year ago and then we were part of the most recent round of funding a few months ago,” said Robert Creeden, the managing director of the University LVG Seed Fund and New Ventures. “[MSi] is a very strong company… We are very happy to be able to invest in them and support them in any way that we possibly can.”

Mission Secure stemmed from a need recognized by the U.S. Department of Defense in 2010 to prevent attacks on weapon platforms in a way that still allowed such technology to operate properly. With funding from the DOD, faculty at the University began to explore approaches to achieving “cyber resiliency,” or the ability to simultaneously thwart attacks and complete missions as planned.

Several years later, in 2014, David Drescher — chief executive officer, co-founder and board member at MSi — along with several of his former business partners, connected with researchers and started MSi as a way to commercialize ideas and products developed at the University. Comprised of cyber security, military and business professionals, as well as software and systems engineers, MSi now has around 30 employees, with offices in both Charlottesville and Houston.

“We are a fast-growing company now,” Drescher said. “We are still relatively small, but when we first started this, nobody knew what we were talking about. Now they are starting to pay attention.” 

In particular, the research of Barry Horowitz, a professor and chair of the Systems and Information Engineering department, created much of the foundation of work for MSi. Horowitz and his team developed the technology as part of national defense projects, analyzing physical systems including cars, manufacturing machines and unmanned air vehicles in order to reinforce existing machines and fortify them against malfunction and attack.

“We have been and are working hard on transitioning these technologies into actual use, and I am anxious about how quickly we can get that done,” Horowitz said. “That’s one of the reasons we helped start MSi — because the university can’t do that; that has to be industry.”

Using the principles behind Horowitz’s research, the team at MSi created an integrated software and hardware solution. With the software in a client’s data center and the hardware physically attached to machines, the patented MSi platform continuously monitors and collects data from infrastructure to protect against threats. In the event of an attack, the MSi platform is designed to detect abnormal behavior, inform operators of the issues and enable autonomous or operator-guided corrections.

“Think about everything that touches your life,” Drescher said. “Think about the electricity running through your apartment or home, water coming out of your faucets, the fuel you put in your car. We are trying to help companies protect that — that is our mission.”

Primarily focused on the defense and energy sectors, the MSi platform supervises weapons platforms, such as unmanned air vehicles and tanks, and refinery equipment. Attempts to hinder the machinery or to fool it by falsely convincing the system it is secure with manufactured data are the most common threats. These have the potential to have widespread repercussions, whether that is through botched military defense maneuvers or unexpected explosions in a power plant.

“This company is all about national security,” Drescher said. “It’s about making sure power, energy, water and military systems are all safe and functioning when they need to so that they can do whatever the role it is they have to do.”

Today, MSi maintains its connections with the University and the local community. Its headquarters are located off the Downtown Mall, and, according to Drescher, even as the company expands, they intend to keep the headquarters in Charlottesville. 

Drescher also noted that at least a third of its employees have attended the University for their undergraduate, graduate or postdoctoral degree, and University students regularly intern at MSi over the summer. 

Drescher said that in light of the recent investment, the company’s top priority would be to hire more employees, a step that has already been taken. A recent announcement stated that David Jordan — former chief information security officer of Arlington County, Va. — and hacking and defense expert Weston Hecker would join MSi’s team as vice president of Cyber Services and Smart Cities and Lead Cyber Evangelist, respectively.

“We are just trying to build the business as big and fast as we can and get as many customers as we can,” Drescher said. “We have people who work on our team that are all very passionate about what they do … and we just want to keep hiring more people and doing more innovative things.”

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