David Mattes was a research engineer for Boeing for more than 13 years — playing a key role in the aerospace company’s transition to wireless networks for the connected systems and machines used to assemble airplanes.
That shift from wired connections opened up new technological possibilities, and resulted in fewer cords on the factory floor, but it also brought new challenges for network security. That’s where Mattes specialized, working on new approaches and standards to keep those manufacturing systems secure and operational.
Boeing’s approach, based on Mattes’ work, has been lauded as a breakthrough for securing industrial systems. Now Mattes is applying that expertise and experience to the broader world of industrial systems and the emerging “Internet of things,” as the founder of Seattle-based Asguard Networks.
“It’s a huge problem,” he explained, pointing to the Stuxnet virus as an “eye-opening” event that illustrated the vulnerability of these systems. The key, he said, is to create a layer of security that can sit in front of industrial devices “to shield them from the broader network-connected world.”
Meet our new Geek of the Week, and continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
Who are you, anyway? I’m a husband, father, friend, lover of outdoors, engineer, entrepreneur, avid reader, lover of art, music, and humanity. I think my 11-year-old son describes me well in a 4th grade poem he wrote about me:
Father of Saia, Saul, and Frances
Drinker of coffee
Runner of runs
Biker of bikes
Player of Temple Run
Eater of food
Player of music
Singer of songs
Worker of Asguard Networks
Eater of food
Helper of everyone
I like how he wrote “Eater of food” twice!
What do you do, and why do you do it? I started Asguard Networks to strengthen the security of the world’s critical infrastructure. Advanced nations have created societies that are used to advanced comforts, which in turn are dependent on vast and ubiquitous industrial systems; these industrial systems provide clean water, remove dirty water, deliver energy and power, process food and medicine, transport food and clothing, fly us here and there, etc. The list of industrial systems upon which we all depend is very long and we shudder to think of life without them. But these very systems are woefully under protected from the dangerous world of the global Internet. I started Asguard Networks to make a difference in solving this problem.
What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? I think people think the world of connected devices consists of laptops, tablets, servers, mobile phones, printers and some other new enterprise/consumer devices. But these devices are really in the minority, and will continue to decrease in the census of internet-connected devices. The world is connected via a stretchy, pervasive Ethernet fabric that extends to places you might not thought possible: from your car to your medical device, from your power meter to your thermostat, from your water supply to your water treatment, and from your that to this, and this to that. This trend is accelerating, driving connectivity further out to the extreme edge of devices (watches, door locks, baby monitors), without a clear understanding of the inherent pitfalls that are the result of all this connectivity.
Where do you find your inspiration? Most often, in a good cup of coffee. And, as corny as it may sound, now I find most of my inspiration in my kids who place great faith in all of us to secure society’s underpinnings. It sounds dramatic, but if a cyber-attack on a scale larger than Stuxnet successfully disabled power plants, for weeks – even months – they’d be wanting for much more than their gadgets.
What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? Smartphone – hands down! They really can make it possible to achieve a work-life balance in my very busy day-to-day. Yes, always-on access does work our work more deeply into our psyches, but I was born the kind of person who completely internalizes my work anyway.
What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? We have an open floor plan office layout smack dab in the center of one very fun universe, Fremont. The team’s clearly all on the same page here, and aside from the engineering always underway, I want everyone to hear the guts and glory of our sales and support calls. Every aspect of every day is influencing every one of us, and we’re a strong team for it.
Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) Start the day early! I love getting into the office early, no later than 6-7ish. I love the fleeting quiet time, again collecting my thoughts before the phones starts pinging and ringing. Fortunately I bike commute now, but when I did drive daily to Boeing, I just had to beat the rush and crush of the road. Seeing the sun rise most every day, that’s a good trick to best managing your day.
Mac, Windows or Linux? Linux – since 1998. Mac at home for the family. Windows in a Virtual Machine – there is still no competitor to MS Office.
Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? This is an uninformed choice, but Picard. That cool demeanor: ‘make it so!’
Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Cloak of Invisibility – exactly what Asguard Networks creates for industrial systems!
If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … Happily use it to boost the ongoing launch of Asguard Networks.
I once waited in line for … The heck of it. When it was my turn, I left as easily as I arrived.
Your role models: Stu Bailey – An entrepreneur (Founder and CTO, Infoblox) who saw the power in open source technology and how to package it for Enterprise consumption. As the inventor of the IF-MAP protocol for large scale network security automation, I’m in awe of Stu’s ability to see into the future of mass connectivity and identify the need for an orchestration layer.
Guy Kawasaki and Eric Ries – Clear, succinct language for inspiration to get started in entrepreneurship. I have to credit both of these guys for teaching me the language of entrepreneurship.
Eric Byres – A respected and accomplished network security researcher and entrepreneur who has managed to find a successful balance between academics and important products. This is especially challenging in the industrial security space, because it’s (necessarily) such a conservative industry.
Greatest Game in History Backgammon.
Best Gadget Ever: iPhone
First Computer: In 1988 I saved up for a knockoff i386 with 64K RAM and started teaching my high school BASIC programming class.
Current Phone: iPhone
Favorite App: Roadify
Favorite Cause: Mercy Corps Women & Gender
Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: Explore new areas, try new skills! I’m never afraid to be an absolute beginner at something, simply because I crave the fleeting yet utterly fulfilling rush of discovery. Go away and get a little lost sometimes, and you’ll find new things about yourself, others, and our world.
LinkedIN: David Mattes