Ex-NSA innovation chief’s new startup looks to future-proof federal agencies against cyberthreats

Kevin Keaton's new startup is launching with an eye to mitigating the cyber threats of the future.

Kevin Keaton's new startup is launching with an eye to mitigating the cyber threats of the future. Photo courtesy Eyris

Kevin Keaton’s Eyris would fuse blockchain technologies into advanced security solutions to defend federal agencies, the Pentagon and others against cyber threats.

A startup led by a former top National Security Agency official launched with $3 million in pre-seed funding, with the hope of providing federal agencies and the Defense Department with future-proof methods to stop hackers from infiltrating government systems, the company told Nextgov/FCW.

The startup, called Eyris, is backed by Red Cell Partners, an incubation firm focused on cybersecurity, national security and healthcare. Kevin Keaton, the first chief of innovation at NSA, heads the company, which would offer a platform for customers to shore up protections for their systems using enhanced encryption techniques derived from blockchain technology.

Keaton, who called the firm the “foundation of zero trust” principles, said that Eyris has been offering up its services to federal agencies to help them meet a key September zero trust implementation deadline required by the White House.

The Eyris products would layer a user interface over sensitive data that would allow system administrators to set permissions on who could access it. The blockchain-enabled features include immutability in which data access logs couldn’t be changed or tampered with, as well as composability, where permissions can be built up on top of one another.

The funding announcement comes in the wake of multiple reported cyberattacks that have targeted federal agencies and the private sector over the past year, including an incident where Chinese cyber operatives accessed emails from high-level State Department and Commerce Department officials.

“The initial implication would be that I can absolutely prevent you from having [lost] those emails,” Keaton said in an interview with Nextgov/FCW, arguing Eyris technology would make it harder for hackers to access and exploit login credentials.

He also pointed to more recent developments at Change Healthcare, as providers continue to feel the hardship from a ransomware incident that paralyzed the prescription routing provider owned by UnitedHealth.

“Our solution would have 100% been able to deal with that,” Keaton argued. “I can trust that my backups are there. They’re highly resilient and they can withstand a ransomware attack or a DDoS attack,” he said.

Keaton is also offering up Eyris to the Defense Department, and added that the company is in conversations with the Pentagon and intelligence community about its services. 

The Defense Department has long expressed interest in zero trust principles, he said, adding that the firm is working on creating design and pilot partnerships with the Pentagon to deploy Eyris applications into military systems. Keaton, who has over 30 years of experience in the national security space, argues much of the startup’s potential lies in servicing DOD.

The announcement comes on the heels of high-profile intelligence community briefings this week in which officials stressed that nation-state hackers and cybercriminal gangs are ramping up efforts to target U.S. infrastructure and instill doubt into election outcomes.

“The pace of these attacks are just going to continue to increase,” Keaton said. “You can either create a system that can’t be hacked easily, or you can put in a system where an adversary can’t see what you have.”

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