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A Video Conversation with Bill Penn, CEO of LarkSpear on Cyber Automated Threat Sharing System

Click here for Part 1 Equipping private and public organizations with dynamic cybersecurity protection Bill PennBill Penn is the CEO of LarkSpear, Inc., a cybersecurity company based in Ellicott City, Maryland. LarkSpear’s flagship product is its Cyber Automated Threat Sharing System (CATSS), a service that continuously monitors clients’ organizations for cyber vulnerabilities in real time. CATSS is a community-based information sharing framework that combines advanced data analytics with rapid reporting and predictive algorithms, allowing clients to detect and address cyberattacks before they occur. LarkSpear was recently named one of the winners of the 2015 CyberMaryland Conference’s Cyber Shark Tank. How did LarkSpear originate? BILL PENN: I’m the owner of Sabre Engineering—that’s a software engineering development firm in the government commercial sector—so in that sense we have been doing government contracts for about 20 years. We’ve leveraged our expertise in the cyber domain, and we realized that we had a passion for the cyber need and the cyber protection requirements in the commercial and the government side, so that’s where LarkSpear got launched. We determined that we could build products in a rapid, faster pace outside in the commercial sector, so we incorporated LarkSpear in 2015. We partnered with Accumulo and Apache Tomcat and we’ve used their technologies and infrastructure to leverage their open-source strengths and frameworks for our software products. We actually were fortunate enough to be involved in the Accumulo creation, which is a government-based product that was pushed to open source and declassified. Tell us about CATSS. CATSS is a Cyber Automated Threat Sharing System. It’s a community-based ecosystem that allows birds of a feather in an industry to ingest reports into a common cloud structure. From those reports, we apply our analytic, so CATSS brings three strengths to the table. We do knowledge management, which is our Accumulo report data correlation. We do predictive analysis and advanced analytics. The community-based concept is a feature of the system where you have industry partners and businesses that want to share data. They want to share the threats that they have occurred on their systems and they want to help each other, so the ISACs are very prominent piece of the CATSS structure. The ISACs are the Information Sharing Analysis Centers. So, for example, we’re working with the IT ISAC to provide them analytic services to share threat information between those partners: so, a Juniper, a Microsoft, a Mandiant. The predictive elements of CATSS have to do with data correlation and running our real-time analytics on the data. Through elastic search and a mechanism that’s very common with how Google works, we mine the cyber data and we draw correlations between data points, so a data point with a certain confidence may be related to another data point based on our mining and our predictive analysis algorithms. Then, we also infer other data correlations between other data points, and then an analyst or a security operation center would be able to use a course of action that someone has already implemented to protect their system. Is there a lot of competition out there for CATSS? The competition is very thin right now in the cyber threat sharing landscape. The companies out there that we thought at one point were competitive with us—we found out that actually we’re complementary to them. If Sultra, for example, has a product that does threat sharing transfer and data transfer, they don’t do the analytics. They have a customer base that is requiring analytics on their data and we’re working with them to partner with them to provide that capability. How have investors responded to CATSS? LarkSpear and Sabre were both self-funded. LarkSpear has been all private investment. We’ve been very fortunate that we’re allowed to have the means to do that up to this date. What value does the product bring to the cybersecurity landscape? I think the value that CATSS brings to the landscape now, in a cyber threat world, is that while there’s some competition and there are some companies that are doing threat sharing, no one is really doing the analytics and the predictive analysis to get ahead of the threat. I think that’s where LarkSpear and our CATSS product really brings the most value to an organization and to this industry. How did you decide to call the company LarkSpear? We came up with the name LarkSpear very serendipitously. We’d spent many hours, late evenings, my CTO and myself trying to come up with names. We literally came back to a name that’s strong—it represents what we’re trying to do: be ahead of the threat and be the tip of the spear, hence, “LarkSpear.” What’s the company culture like? At LarkSpear, we have a very open environment. The company was built on an idea that we had to create a product that could help companies and help industry and help folks protect their assets. We have no barriers. We have no walls up. We allow our employees to think openly. We’re agile—we can turn on a dime. We have a very open door policy, and I always say that any idea at least needs to be heard once. I believe when I say that, that we open the door to have innovation and outward thinking. I think it’s a positive way to operate. What other values are important to you as an entrepreneur? Growing up, the one thing that I learned from both my mother and father was hard work. My father was an extremely hard worker; my grandparents were hard workers. We’re from a military background, but there’s nothing that can replace hard work. It has to pointed, smart, and focused, but if you work hard, I truly believe you will get what you want.

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