Tempered Networks wants to secure critical infrastructure so hacks don’t lead to sewage spills

Although the rise of the internet of things means that organizations could gather enormous quantities of data through the billions of connected devices out there today, the big elephant in the room is that security is not where it needs to be, which means there’s a lot more access points for thieves to hack into. Tempered Networks, a Seattle-based security startup, aims to solve this problem and it plans to announce on Tuesday that it brought in a $15 million series A investment round, bringing the company’s total funding to $22 million.

Tempered Networks focuses on protecting the type of critical infrastructure that people “take for granted” in their daily lives, said Tempered Networks President and CEO Jeff Hussey. This type of infrastructure includes facilities like electric dams, pipelines that distribute natural gas, nuclear power plants and wastewater plants.

This type of infrastructure helps move the gears of the modern world and if something were to go awry in one of these facilities, there’s a chance that the pandemonium caused could be of several times more magnitude than your typical run-of-the-mill data breach. Just imagine a world in which a wastewater facility getting hacked causes raw sewage to flow down to the nearest fresh-water system, Hussey explained.

According to Hussey, who was a co-founder of networking company F5 Networks, the thirst for big data has led to government agencies, municipalities and companies running these types of facilities to hook together the networks that support critical infrastructure to corporate data networks in the hopes of uniting the data flow between the two networks.

What makes this somewhat worrisome is the fact that the networks supporting critical infrastructure now have security vulnerabilities because the applications and hardware on those networks are united under the transmission control protocol/internet protocol (TCP/IP), which is the standard protocol of the internet. Hussey said it wasn’t always this way as these networks used to rely on several different protocols, which created “air gaps” between the different hardware devices hooked onto the networks.

Now that everything operates under the same protocol, these “air gaps” that once acted as security buffers in the network no longer exist, which means that a hacker can now do more damage in these critical networks than he could have done in the past.

“Everything speaks the same language,” said Hussey. “It’s a relatively straight hack.”

To secure those now open networks, Tempered Networks sells little devices called HIP (Host Identity Protocol) switches that users can install in their data centers. These devices can be linked up to the critical infrastructure networks and, when working in tandem with Tempered Networks’s networking orchestration system, can create a “secure encrypted channel” from which all the data can now flow through.

Tempered Networks - overlay network

Tempered Networks – overlay network

Instead of having those gaps as a security mechanism, Tempered Networks basically encrypts the backend where the networking data has to pass between devices and applications.

Of course anything involving encryption means that there will be a hit in performance because of the amount of compute required, but Hussey said that “most of the devices we are protecting” don’t necessarily need top-of-the-line speed to operate correctly and efficiently.

“There needs to be a solution to securely connect [these devices] to a modern networking infrastructure and that is what we are doing,” said Hussey.

Hussey said Tempered Networks will sell the device “to anybody who will return our phone call” but it’s right now eyeing public utilities and industries like oil and gas or electricity. The startup counts [company]Boeing[/company], Washington Gas and the University of Washington as customers, among others.

Ignition Partners drove the funding round along with IDG Ventures. As part of the financing, Ignition Partners managing partner John Connors is taking a seat on the startup’s board.