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Mike Janke: Securing Machine to Machine Communications

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With today's wars increasingly being fought on an invisible front defined by data, the most innovative cybersecurity companies are finding new ways to protect data in motion.

On this week's episode of The Secure Communications Podcast, DataTribe cofounder Mike Janke talks about why he's excited about cutting edge technologies designed to secure machine to machine communications.

As a successful serial entrepreneur, cyber investor, and former member of Seal Team Six, Mike has a unique perspective on the importance of securing data and communications.

Listen to this week's episode to hear his thoughts on how data will define the wars of the future, what must be done to protect it, and who is doing the most innovative work in the field of secure communications.

Welcome to the Secure Communications Podcast

Data in motion is complex, chaotic, and unsecure, but the ability to seamlessly communicate is what drives innovation, growth and progress. Discover how the leading minds in the fields of technology, cybersecurity and communications are tackling the challenge of securing data in motion, and gain insights into what’s new and what’s next on the Secure Communications Podcast. Each week, host Kathleen Booth interviews bold thinkers who are developing and/or employing transformational technologies to solve communication security challenges.

In this episode

Mike Janke

In addition to co-founding Data Tribe, Mike Janke is a founder and former CEO of Silent Circle, the world’s leading Global Secure Communications service and the makers of Blackphone – Time Magazine’s top 10 invention of the year. Mike is also a former member of the elite SEAL Team 6 as well as an author of two best-selling books on self-discipline, leadership, and performance.

He is the 2016 recipient of the Visionary of the year award from the Center For Democracy and Technology. Mike is also the founder of Blue Pacific Studios – a Los Angeles based Film production firm. Prior to starting Silent Circle, he was the founder and former CEO of SOC-USA one of the country’s largest defense logistics and security firms headquartered in Washington DC, with over 10,000 employees in a dozen countries. Mike speaks around the world on Technology, Defense and Privacy.

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Kathleen (00:02): Thank you for joining this episode of the Secure Communications Podcast. I'm your host Kathleen Booth. And this week, my guest is Mike Janke, who is a five time CEO and investor, and a former member of Seal Team Six. Mike, you have such a fascinating background. Welcome to the podcast.

Mike (00:25): Thanks Kathleen. I'm honored to be on your podcast.

Kathleen (00:28): I am. I'm really excited to have you here because you know, we talk about secure communications on this podcast and that's a very deliberately, a very large umbrella. And it covers everything from secure voice to email, to how data moves between places. And one of the reasons I was really interested in having you on is you have this, this unique perspective, having been a founder of a cybersecurity, multiple cybersecurity companies, having served in the military and in a, in a branch of the military, in a, in a service that, that required a lot of secure communication capabilities. And now as an investor, you have this, this unique insight into what so many different companies are doing. So with that as a, as a starting point, maybe you could give a little bit more about your background and specifically what DataTribe is and what it's doing.

Mike (01:21): Sure. So I'll start from a little bit earlier where, you're right, in special operations, you know, everything you do is about secure comms, secure radio, secure satellites, secure everything. So you get a pretty good taste, you know, crypto drops crypto loads on this. When I left the Seal teams, I started a defense firm that became one of the larger defense firms in DC during 9-11 and after. But it's also where I saw a problem. You know, I had almost 8,300 employees at one time before I sold that company. And this was the age of BYOD. BYOD, bring your own device, right. And at the time there really wasn't anything other than maybe PGP email you know? Everybody had apps. They had Skype and there really wasn't any thought of secure communications as we think of it, voice and video.

Mike (02:29): So I saw that problem that was not being solved overseas with contractors, with government people. And so I got together with Phil Zimmerman the Internet Hall of Famer who's the creator of PGP as well as John Callas who was the chief cryptographer at Apple and the creator of Apple solid disc encryption. And we built, you know, a secure communication cyber company. And after many iterations, after a secure encrypted, world's first secure encrypted phone, black phone, built that along with a great team. And then many pure software cyber companies after that. Now you know, as things have changed, I, one of my investors that was a fan fantastic investor, Bob Ackerman of Allegis Capital out in Silicon Valley, who became more of my mentor in the venture side. And he and I founded DataTribe together five years ago. We saw that a different model needed to be applied.

Mike (03:43): And we also saw that the, the real innovation, the two to three generations ahead, or absolutely new category generation was coming out of the intelligence community and the classified research and development labs in the five nations, right? The five nations are the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, simply due to the sheer volume of government spending on the offensive side and the new R and D side. And it was, we're five to seven years ahead in some technologies over commercial. So we knew it took a different model. So, and we had invested in, in other companies, but more for me as an angel and him as a VC. And he has built the oldest and largest cybersecurity only venture capital firm in Silicon Valley. We started DataTribe here in Maryland, because this is the epicenter of where the offensive, and where all the talent is, and the forefront or the front porch of the nation state fight.

Mike (04:49): Right. And rather than being like a traditional VC, we, we created something called a startup foundry where the whole team at DataTribe are multi time CE, commercial CEOs, commercial CTOs, chief marketing officers who were also multitime CEOs. So operators. And we, we invest, you know, 2 million or more into a seed stage. We move them into our big facility and we literally embed. And the whole idea is to make it an unfair fight. So companies like Dragos and Enveil, Attila, Refirm, Prevailion, Strider are some of the more notable. We've had several on the cover of Wired Magazine, but it's, it's more akin to old school venture the way it was 30 years ago. A bunch of operators pulled money together, invested, moved the start up in and they just jumped in, right? Rather than 14 billion and you do 130 investments a year. It's just a different model.

Kathleen (05:58): Yeah. And some really impressive companies that have come out of it, as you mentioned. And, and that are still coming out because you're, you're actively continuing to incubate.

Mike (06:05): I'm there now.

Kathleen (06:08): So when you think about, you know, how, how things have evolved since your day back as a member of seal team six and really needing to communicate securely. And what you've seen through, as you described the, the nation state level efforts to, to develop technologies you know, clearly this is a problem that hasn't been solved yet. But there are so much interesting technology that is emerging. And, and specifically when it comes to moving data, which I think is becoming so much more important as we enter this, this time of big data you know? We have innovation like 5G coming down the line. There's so much going on, that's going to influence how we're able to use data in the future, but it doesn't really do as much good unless you can keep it protected. I'd love to hear kind of your perspective on where things stand with protecting data and what our biggest risks are right now.

Mike (07:01): Great question. Well, one of the things I will say is, you know, having been doing this a long time, you see a lot of the changes. So, you know, five years ago, people were worried about hackers who lived in their mom's basement or criminals, you know, sophisticated hacking. And that quickly shifted to nation States, you know, Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, massive criminal organizations in Eastern Europe. And you know, now every country has their version of the, of an NSA, right? And so this is what's non-kinetic war, right? Instead of planes and bombs and guys with guns, it's now in the digital realm. The digital substrate is where conflict is happening and it's, and it's unseen to most Americans. I mean, they're, every day there are articles, but you know, people become numb to it. There's no context, right? There's no plane blowing up. There's no CNN video of, you know, buildings burning in the Middle East, but it's just as real and so much like world war two. Silicon Valley is a product of when they put a ton of money into a microwave and chips and, and radars as well as nuclear out in Berkeley and the Stanford area after the war. The government had dumped billions into it with all these, this talent.

Mike (08:42): And those were the, the beginnings of what became Silicon Valley. You have these tens of thousands of PhDs and academics who have been working on, you know, silicone and, and nuclear or world war two. And now all of a sudden there's no work. So they took that and began to develop technologies. I mean, even the iPhone you carry around in your pocket came out of that government innovation. We're on that second wave now where over the last seven, and it'll keep going, Government has dumped so much money in the innovation and more in the software side, whether that's defensive architecture or offensive, and you're seeing cyber continue to be the benefit of it, as well as, you know, the darker projects. A lot of the hardware. But let's say, you know, during the Snowden incident, people, we equate secure communications with I'm on my cell phone and is somebody else listening or recording?

Mike (09:50): I'm doing a video chat. Is somebody recording and eavesdropping? But we have transitioned into more of a different version of secure communications machine to machine, right? One server talking to another machine. The human data being sent across networks is a machine to machine communication. Anytime you send up, you know, a record or an attachment to an email and it's processed by a machine, it's machine to machine. And now you have massive, massive data centers and fusion cells that are sharing data, both in the corporate world, government, same thing. Penetrating those type of communications or being a man in the middle is the new kind of what we need to secure communications. There's always the need to secure your voice and your video, but that's more of an emotional thing, right? And that, that still is an issue. It's debated on the Senate.

Mike (10:59): You know, they want a backdoor into this. And people often think well I have a VPN. That that's, that's nothing. That's like, you know, I put in a rain coat on to go out in a hurricane. That, that may protect you from the very low level somebody doesn't get your IP address, but it has moved way beyond that. You take technologies like Attila that came out of the classified community. That is a massive leap in generational security for both machine to machine data, as well as people, right. You can plug it into a laptop. And if you're speaking to somebody else with that, you're top secret level. Or in the virtual world, virtual machines, speaking to virtual machines so that, that, those types of innovations are the secure communications that we refer to today.

Kathleen (11:58): I think it's so interesting how you described that because it's true for, and I'm somebody who hasn't worked in the cybersecurity industry for a very long time, you know, it's been a year or so. And, and I come in, you know, as, as just a person off the street, let's say. And I think the person on the street for most people, when they think about this, they do think about, as you say, their email, their phone. But let's be honest, what most of us are talking about and sending in our emails is of no interest to anyone at all. Including the person we're probably talking to. But what I do think is so interesting, and this really kind of came into even starker relief for me the last three days, because we just hosted this virtual summit on IoT security is, is how I think the person on the street doesn't really appreciate the extent to which every aspect of our daily lives is ruled and governed and managed and operated via a connection to the internet. And if we lose that, that, that has a such a bigger impact on our day to day lives, than somebody intercepting, you know, my phone call to my husband or my email to whoever, for most people. I mean, it's different when you're talking about classified government communications, of course, and highly sensitive military communication, but for, for 98% of the world, it's, it's really those other aspects of how data moves. And for intellectual property of companies and things like that. So it's really interesting.

Mike (13:28): That's a really good point. I mean, the way I've, I view it today, the individual and the personal consumer security is really privacy, but because of this massive boom of data, machine to machine, massive data lakes talk to the massive data lakes. Our lives are existing through electronics today. You have secure communication, which is viewed in the world of technology is a different terminology, right? I need to secure my link to my third party companies. If I'm Ford, I may have 2,000 third party providers, right? If I'm going to send an intellectual property drawing and engineering down to them that they built, I need to have secure communications of my machines to their machines, to their virtual machines. If you're in the government, it's the exact same thing, right? How can you share, you know, from this database to that database outside of voice and video, right? And that is really secure communications. If you're an opposing nation state, why would you try to hack the CIA when I can find out where you live and why not hack your home network? I get everything off your machine anyways, right? So the targets are changing how they attack and what we're trying to score. Now, you look at 5G, right? I mean, how often do you send something on your phone? That's got everything. Your GPS location. They can tell your gate, how you walk, your head or your foot or your.

Kathleen (15:16): And if you've got a, one of these watches, they probably can get your, you know, your biometric information as well.

Mike (15:24): And that's pretty much machine to machine. Yeah. Right. There's nobody there coalescing that. That's going from a device to a cloud and then to a virtual machine and then do some processing analytics. And so this machine to machine secure communication is really what we talk about today when we say secure communications.

Kathleen (15:46): So why is this something that has not been solved yet?

Mike (15:49): I don't think it'll ever be solved. I mean, I don't think there's a Holy Grail. A lot of it is because there's one constant in life and that is change and progression, right. Taxes is probably right.

Kathleen (16:07): Yes. Death, right.

Mike (16:13): We're working on that too. But systems today, at the pace of innovation, they're 14 months here and they're almost already old. And attackers, you know, because you need to do so many things in order to have a company of a hundred thousand people working seamlessly. It's impossible to keep it locked down. You know, it's, it's just an impossibility. So understanding that there's always a bleeding edge of innovation. And typically when innovation happens, security is kind of an afterthought, right? You look at autonomous vehicles and look at drones and you look at all the, you know, the Alexas and any of the new technology that rolls out every year. It generally takes three to four years and all kinds of articles about people listening in Alexa or...

Kathleen (17:10): Ring cameras. Yeah.

Mike (17:12): Hacking an autonomous car and then people go, Oh, wow. We better secure that. And that's the nature of innovation. So, you know, we, we get better and better. The other issue is you have to think of the differences in the world. Okay? So in the Western world, the democratized world, we provide a firewall where our intelligence services and our military, their charter is not to help the commercial world, right. There's dot gov. And then there's dot mil in America. The CIA and the NSA, they're looking outward. They're not looking at work. They're not tasked with helping, you know, Goldman Sachs. That's not their charter, but in many other parts of the world, the lines are blurred between the government entities, the intelligence services and commercial. You take China, Russia, you name it. They hack on behalf of their economy. If they can hack into Johns Hopkins research lab and take the latest tech, they give that to corporations that are partially owned by the government and they compete with us commercially. So it's an uneven playing field where our commercial entities are left to their own devices, ie. money, CISOs, people to defend against very sophisticated nation states. That's not the same in other countries. You have China, Russia that controls the entire green line, the green VPN controls, what comes in or out. They control, you know, all of it. So it's easier in those terms, but it does impact their innovation a little bit. But that's the difference in the playing fields?

Kathleen (19:03): Yeah. I thought you raised a really interesting point, which is this, this blurring of the lines between political cyber offensive and economic cyber offensive efforts. And, you know, one of the things that I did when I came into the cybersecurity world was I read Andy Greenberg's Sandworm, which is such a phenomenal, I mean, I feel like it needs to be made into a movie because it reads like fiction. But frighteningly enough, it's not. But it's such a phenomenal book that, that explains like that, that exact kind of convergence of how you, you really can't separate the two anymore. And, and I think that's, it also underscores why it's so important for businesses to take security more seriously.

Mike (19:50): No, without a doubt. I mean, you still have what they call kind of the recreational malice individual somewhere who's trying to, you know, just for kicks. But you have, you know, criminal gangs that that'll have a thousand sophisticated programmers that just came out of the FSB or, you know, and then you have nation states who, you know, they don't have the same laws and restrictions we do. And they're not necessarily trying to, you know, breach DOD and NSA and stuff like that. They're helping their economies by stealing the latest fighter engineering plans from Lockheed, or they're helping their car industry by hacking into Tesla, Ford. So even the, the face of the warfare has changed, but it's just as damaging, right. Economic as well as the cyber war.

Kathleen (20:50): Now you earlier, you mentioned the term bleeding edge and that's one of the things that I love to dig into on this podcast is, who is doing the really innovative work that gets you excited. I, you know, and I know you get to see lots of different companies in your position at DataTribe and, and as an investor. So I'm really curious, what's getting you most excited these days?

Mike (21:11): Well, that's a tough question because I think I have the greatest job in the world where you get the scratch the intellectual itch every day. See some of the most amazing technologies. But we have a particular area where we focus on things that have never been done before. We're not looking for iterative technology, right? We're not looking for an endpoint or a threat Intel feed. That's 10% less filling and 5% less sugar than the other 62 that are out there. We're looking for things. If you look at our portfolio, you know, Dragos, well, they were in the Sandworm book. They were featured heavily in that book. If you take a look at Enveil, homomorphic encryption. Or Strider, economic espionage. Or Attila, you know, the next version of TS machine to machine, people to machine communication spaces where either nobody else is even playing.

Mike (22:11): So you're, you're creating a new category, but we're not just confined to cyber. We like to say we're cyber as well as data science. We see innovation coming out of areas that might have nothing really to do with cyber, but more architecture, right? So by way of example, many of the classified agencies and government agencies have a pipe of data they bring in that's many times larger than Google and Amazon, which is probably a hundred times larger than say Ford or Disney. But every year that goes by, the Ford and the Disneys are digitizing and the amount of their pipe gets bigger and bigger, but many architectures or the plumbing of networks breaks at that. You know, what worked three years ago, can't handle the speed, the scale, the size, whether it's analytics, messaging buses, you know. So, oftentimes you'll see innovation coming out of areas that's not sexy.

Mike (23:22): It's plumbing of networks. But let's say it's three generations ahead of Hadoop. Or, you know, it's a, it's a new way of compressed data storage to handle the massive loads of data that organizations get today. That might be 10 times bigger than they were three years ago. So the bleeding edge has many things. Yes, you can get excited by hoverboards and, you know, jet packs and autonomous driving and robots, and that is bleeding edge innovation, but there are other areas where innovation is happening at light speed that is hidden or not sexy, or it's, it's the magic that happens behind your iPhone. You know, 5G's one of those, right. People don't care, they just go, wow, that was fast. And now I can Skype 72 of my friends at the same time.

Kathleen (24:22): Hey, my zoom call doesn't glitch when I have a lot of people on it.

Mike (24:27): Three Netflix shows at the same time on my iPhone. But what innovation happened behind that architecture, behind that scene to deliver that is where the real innovation happened. And that's areas we, we look at as well. Most of what we see from the cyber side that comes out and is just generations ahead, or new, actually comes out of the offensive side. So let me explain. So when you've got spy versus spy, right, everybody agrees China, Russia, and many other countries are very sophisticated, right? They had, they're very, very sophisticated. So for our nation and some of the five nations, they have to create new ways, new tools of either penetrating a network or getting into you know a network or evading malware. And when they do that, after a while they realize, Oh my God, the whole world's susceptible to what we just created, what we were able to do. We should leave and build a defense for that. Because that's going to be extremely relevant in 12, 18 months. So that's an example of where defensive innovation and insights come out of offensive types of, you know, breakthroughs.

Kathleen (25:56): Yeah. It's fascinating. And any particular individual people or companies that, that you want to shout out that are doing really great work?

Mike (26:04): Well, I would be a Homer definitely by saying that, you know, a lot of the DataTribe companies, but there, there are some really interesting companies out there that are in that zone where people are looking at and going well, that's incredible, but does it really do what it says? If you think of homomorphic encryption, you know, which is kind of the Holy Grail of things if you, that came out of Fort Meade. If you think of a Strider, which is a unique company that is actually solving the economic, a non cyber problem from a big data perspective. And that's, that's one of the fastest growing companies by month over month growth that we've seen. And that's, people are like, what? Technology that, but when you think about it, the world is so intertwined. You know, companies, public companies, to grow, they've got to be in Asia, they've got to be in Israel, they've got to be in Europe, they've got to be in South America.

Mike (27:13): And many of them, their third party providers, many of the employees they bring in, their foreigners, are not all there just to work for the company, right. Stealing IP and so forth. Attila is another one. You, you take a look at Attila, right? That was a massive breakthrough at the NSA. What generally weighs 13 pounds and could never see the light of day for you to plug in, to speak to somebody else who had the same giant green device to plug in. Now you have a TS connection that Attila developed out of there. Something that's an inch by an inch that you can plug in and now it's virtualized, right? So most citizens will never see that, but that's now being implemented into corporations, right? So what was the state of the art for, let's say secure machine to machine, both physical, as well as virtual, you know. That's a seven generational leap on scale, security, size, and usability.

Mike (28:21): It's not sexy. The average user it's, it just happens behind the scenes. Those things interest me because they are very big leaps in the way things happen. And we're still, you know, we're just on the, on the cusp of what AI is impacting our, our world. And it'll continue at a rapid pace to impact our world. There's, there's some amazing breakthroughs. There's a company in Canada called MindBridge. The CTO and co founder was the chief architect of Watson, right? You've seen all the commercials and it's applied to probably one of the most archaic industries in the world, which is auditing of financials. Anybody who's worked for a company or been in a company, knows that once a year, you need to get audited and you pay a hundred thousand dollars to a big firm. They come in, but they only look at less than 1% of your financial data. They go through it and then they certify it.

Kathleen (29:22): And it's still an intensely painful process, even though it's just 1% of people looking at spreadsheets. Talk about an industry that's ripe for disruption.

Mike (29:32): And this, this company applied AI that can not only look at a hundred percent, but a hundred percent of your historical going back to 1900.

Kathleen (29:42): Wow.

Mike (29:42): They show you fraud, show you where you miscalculated, but where you're overspending this. So pretty soon, I mean, it's one of the fastest growing AI companies in the world. Pretty soon to be listed on the stock exchange or anything. It's gotta be AI that validates financials. It's just human error. Even if it's not, no,

Kathleen (30:03): I was going to say, now we just have to hope that that technology doesn't fall into the hands of the IRS or all of us are doomed for the mistakes we've made. Oh, well, so interesting. So if someone wants to learn more about DataTribe or the companies that you've funded, how can they do that?

Mike (30:22): You can just go to You can see our companies you know, pretty much anywhere. Two of ours were just awarded the World Economic Forum innovators, right. And what's interesting about that, there were only six in the entire world selected in cybersecurity. Three of those came right out of here within a 20 mile radius of the NSA.

Kathleen (30:51): That's amazing.

Mike (30:52): In the world, right. So things are changing a lot where there are hubs and spokes of, of pure excellence. And two of them were DataTribe companies.

Kathleen (31:03): Yeah. And I'll give a little plug for the podcast because I did just interview Ellison Anne Williams from Enveil and I've interviewed Rob Lee from Dragos. So if you want to learn more about either of those companies, which were those two that you mentioned, check out some prior episodes because I will say with both of them, my main goal as host was to just not sound like an idiot as I interviewed them, because it's amazing what they're doing.

Mike (31:28): Yeah. And look to, to be selected at the World Economic Forum, when they look at, you know, 40,000 companies and they boiled it down and you got two of them right here, it's, it's an impressive. But they are doing not just cool stuff, it's really having an impact on the globe. And they're two of the smartest people I know.

Kathleen (31:48): Yeah. Well, and speaking of cool stuff, I think it really also does speak to the incredible work that you guys are doing at DataTribe that you've found these companies, you've really incubated them, helped them grow and kind of, you know, sent them out from the nest in a, in a position to really be successful. So kudos to you for that.

Mike (32:05): Oh, well, thank you. But you know, we love the podcast. We push that out far and wide. It's really, what I would say, topical information that is relevant to today, not, you know, things are rolled six months from now in the world of technology. So keep doing what you're doing

Kathleen (32:25): Well, thank you very much. I appreciate that plug. And thank you for joining me this week, Mike. It was a pleasure. And if you're listening and you enjoyed this episode, please consider leaving the podcast a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you choose to listen. We want to hear from you. And if you have an idea for a future episode or a guest, tweet us at @AttilaSecurity. Thanks so much.