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Testing the security of your computer can involve hacking into it.

MBJ SHOWCASE — Horne Cyber: Tackling the growing cyber-security threat

ALAN TURNER

ALAN TURNER

What is the best way for all of us in business to deal with the growing threat from hackers and cyber-terrorists? The short answer is to retain experts to hack into your system.

Horne Cyber, a division of Horne LLP, is in business to do just that. In a recent conversation with Brad Fuller, Director of Client Services, and Dr. Wesley McGrew, Director of Cyber Operations for Horne Cyber, we talked about the growing danger posed to business by hackers, both those who are organized and supported, as well as the “lone wolf”.

Both men are Mississippi State University alumni who started and developed Halberd Group LLC, the successful company which is now Horne Cyber. Dr. McGrew holds a Ph.D. in computer science for his research in vulnerability analysis of SCADA HMI systems, and is the author of penetration testing and forensics tools currently used by many practitioners. He is a repeat presenter at DEF CON and lecturer at Blackhat USA .

Fuller, after graduation, worked for the United States Senate, where he served as a professional staff member on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and also had oversight responsibilities of previous year funding for the Department of Energy and the Army Corps of Engineers, including cyber readiness of our nation’s critical assets.

So, just what does Horne Cyber do for its growing list of clients?

“Well, we hack into our clients’ systems to understand their vulnerabilities,”Brad said. “Once we’ve identified where the holes are, so to speak, our job is to plug those holes before they become breaches.”

“That’s the best time to act,” said Dr. McGrew. “Before an attack paralyzes the system and the business. Obviously, if we can hack into your system, so can any number of others. So our job is to stop the problem before it happens.”

Of course, that’s not always possible. Horne Cyber will also mobilize a team to assist in crisis management, namely, AFTER the system has been attacked.

“We work to identify which systems have been breached, and help the company recover from the attack,” said Dr. McGrew.

“A key goal is to identify what records have been compromised so that action can be taken to correct the potential problems,” Brad added.

When a client company hires Horne, it conduct a careful evaluation, which includes its work in hacking into the company’s system. Once corrective action has been taken, they’ll continue to monitor the company’s networks for any suspicious activity, and try to spot an attack in progress.

“One of the big problems we see is that a system may have been hacked one, two, or even three years ago, without the company’s awareness,” said Dr. McGrew. Obviously, that would send chills up and down any business owner’s spine.

Fuller said that their methodology in serving client needs includes a “blend of things….a mix of hardware and experienced human analysts. Having a human eye on the job can definitely improve our ability to detect and respond to an attack, and a human can often spot an anomaly that could go undetected otherwise.”

Both men agreed that the threat to business from cyber attacks has grown exponentially in recent years, including the current threat of ransomware.

“Some Third World nations are deriving significant financial benefits from supporting ransomware,” said McGrew. “This is a huge problem, and you see the impact of this on businesses every day.”

“And it’s important also, to note that less than 1 percent of all cyber crimes are ever prosecuted,” Fuller added. “It’s really a lucrative business for the hackers, and it definitely demands that businesses stay ahead of the threats.”

He indicated that in his work with the U.S. Senate, he learned just how important strong security is.

“Really coordinated cyber attacks could actually shut down significant parts of our nation’s critical infrastructure, impacting the electrical grid and many other areas,” he said.

“It’s vital to the health of any business to be prepared and as well protected as possible,” said McGrew. “That means having eyes on the networks at all times to deal with the issues before they turn into a crisis for the company.”

Both men see a bright and positive future for Horne Cyber, which currently has 30 employees. The company has offices in Starkville, Memphis, Nashville, and Ridgeland, and expects to grow in the coming months and years.

For further information on the company and their services, visit www.hornecyber.com.

» Contact Mississippi Business Journal publisher Alan Turner at alan.turner@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1021.

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