May 27, 2019


Guardians: Florida companies patrolling the internet

Profile of several computer security firms in Florida

Mike Vogel | 6/11/2012

Prolexic’s special operations center in Hollywood [Photo: Prolexic]

» Prolexic, Hollywood

“I think the first month I was here a major sort of Fortune Global 500 company was getting attacked by Anonymous. They were attacking this company in eight different regions of world.”

— Scott Hammack

Founded in 2003, Prolexic had a colorful start tied to an online casino it defended in an era when offshore gambling companies were rumored to attack each other’s websites to gain a competitive edge. Prolexic’s early history and the exploits of founder Barrett Lyon, who helped authorities go after an internet ring in the former USSR, were captured in a 2010 book titled “Fatal System Error.”

The business was sold and then sold again in March 2011, when Silicon Valley-based Kennet Partners put up $11 million to buy it, partnering with veteran south Florida IT executive Scott Hammack, who put up $2 million.

Under Hammack, the 65-employee company has pursued a less colorful but higher-growth strategy. Its clients include 10 of the world’s largest banks, major e-commerce companies, online casinos, government-related entities, software service companies and members of the Global 2000.

The privately held company posted 45% revenue growth in 2011, turned a profit and doubled its customer base. In February, it announced $8 million in new venture funding and is recruiting 40 new employees.

KnowBe4 trains workers how to avoid getting infected. [Photo: Jeremiah Kokhar]

» KnowBe4, Clearwater

Stu Sjouwerman
Stu Sjouwerman [Photo: Jeremiah Kokhar]

Stu Sjouwerman founded KnowBe4, which was conceived as an alternative to traditional training lectures. KnowBe4 sends client employees simulated phishing attacks, such as fake messages from a firm’s IT department to click on a link and change their password. Changing a password that way is a fundamental mistake, but even so up to 40% of employees fall for it. KnowBe4 trains the workers online in how to spot fake e-mails and what not to do. In follow-up phishing tests, KnowBe4 finds the click rate drops 75% to 80%. Once hackers gain access through a computer, their aim is to steal intellectual property or find their way to the financial officers, capture their key logins and transfer money out. Some companies — in finance, health care and defense — are required to provide security awareness training to workers. Outside of those industries, many companies do not. “Everyone’s under attack. Even 50-, 25-employee type companies,” Sjouwerman says. China-based attacks generally are after intellectual property; European internet mafias are after money. “When communism died, highly skilled workers needed something that pays.”

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