By Damian Cristodero
College campuses are places where ideas can grow into real-world solutions.
In 2009, Anup Ghosh, then chief scientist in the Center for Secure Information Systems at George Mason University, began developing a unique way to protect computer networks from malicious malware.
His research fell squarely into the center’s mandate of finding solutions to business needs. It also showcases George Mason as an incubator of business ideas and a training ground for high-quality talent.
“We get our reputation because of the quality of our research and where our students go,” says Sushil Jajodia, professor of information technology and director of the Center for Secure information Systems. “But our other objective is to work with industry and transfer solutions the research comes up with into commercial projects.”
While at Mason, Ghosh hit it off with a student named Steve Taylor, a computer science major who was developing a video game. Taylor accepted Ghosh’s challenge of developing a platform that could identify and contain malware before it infects a computer.
In 2009, when Ghosh spun his research into Invincea, a Fairfax, Virginia-based company that protects organizations from computer network breaches, he invited Taylor, who graduated in 2008, to be his principal software engineer.
The university also has a stake in the company.
“I directed the research, but the students came up with the innovative ideas—collaborating with me and developing research prototypes,” says Ghosh, whose company, according to its website, has 25,000 customers and 3 million active users of its technology. “Mason gave me the freedom to be innovative and explore different ideas.”
In Invincea’s protection platform, whenever a web browser is opened or an attachment introduced, such as through email, a virtual environment is produced in which those applications operate.
“If anything were to jump out of its container, it’s completely sealed off,” says Taylor, who likened the virtual environment to a castle with a drawbridge. “We basically provide the drawbridge for the content you want to keep. If you download a file and want to keep it, the drawbridge opens when we vet that the file is safe.”
“It’s very different from an antivirus solution, which needs to be told the threat to look for,” Ghosh says.
Invincea also uses behavioral malware identification, which is the detection of malware variants through the analysis of their shared performance.
“It was Mason’s research and innovation that was the core of starting what eventually became Invincea,” Ghosh says.