Founder stories: Hassan Habibi and Adam de Jong from CyAmast

At first glance, CyAmast co-founders Hassan Habibi and Adam de Jong might seem like very different people. Looking closer, it all makes sense.

Originally from Australia, Adam joined the US military where he built tactical data networks and worked in signals and intelligence. He then transitioned into GM functions, and was the 5th employee in Diamond Cyber Security, which he helped build into a saleable business that was ultimately acquired by CyberCX.

Originally from Iran, Hassan came to Australia in 2012, after seven years in the telecommunications industry, and began a PhD at the University of NSW. He’s now employed there as an academic and has spent the last six years investing his energy into research on a variety of technologies, like network security of IoT and applied machine learning, that underpin CyAmast — the business the two co-founded with three others.

The CyAmast crew

While they have very different skillsets and experience, when these two met over Hassan’s research, their shared focus on the practical — and on getting things done — showed them very quickly that they had a business opportunity on their hands.

Groundbreaking research, with a practical focus

“Hassan was researching the problems of tomorrow,” Adam says, “and now they’re here, today.”

“Well, the nature of our research is driven by industry,” Hassan agrees. His research teams tend to work with organisations like Google, Cisco, Optus and Telstra.

“The problem was, we didn’t have a clear insight into commercialisation,” Hassan explains, “and we needed someone to help us with that. Adam was experienced at sales and commercialisation, and understanding the complexity of the market. We knew that we could complement each other, and it all fell into place.”

“When we started our journey into the security of connected devices, there was a lot of excitement around the benefits of Internet-of-Things, and in 2014 we secured research funding from an industry partner. Through the research, the students in our research lab identified the vulnerabilities of those connected devices and, after a while, we realised we needed to do something fundamentally effective to protect these devices on the network.

“Every week a new device comes to the market with risks and vulnerabilities,” Hassan adds. “So my PhD student (now Chief Architect at CyAmast) developed a tool that automatically generates the standard descriptions of network behaviours for IoT devices.”

The tool can be used to determine network behaviours and create what’s called a Manufacturer Usage Device(or MUD) for each device. It can then be applied to a network of connected devices to track their behaviours and reduce the available attack surface.

Meeting the market

While Adam describes the Australian market as “embryonic, but good for validating our technology early,” the business has attracted a lot of offshore interest and currently has clients as far away as the Americas and Europe.

“We’re currently working with medical companies — we can have a huge application in that sector. We have a defence contract, we’re working with a couple of organisations in the R&D space here in Australia and US, and also with a telco working out of Spain.”

The market only looks set to grow.

“There’s an insatiable appetite for hyper-connectivity across the enterprise,” Adam explains. “That increasing dependence, coupled with inherently insecure devices, means organisations are fast being exposed to a large attack surface.”

CyAmast is, he says, uniquely “able to provide organisations with direct visibility and insight into what their various devices are doing and how they’re behaving,” through its “fundamentally different” use of deep technology.

The business has grown to six people, including a core founding team of four and two part-time employees who are, in fact, high-potential students at the University.

“One of the benefits of being tied to the university through our R&D contract is that we get early access to high-performing talent,” Hassan reveals. “We can groom them, and cultivate the experience we need, and then onboard them.”

That’s where Adam, who’s genuinely excited about building and leading teams, steps in.

“From the first meeting with Hassan and the team, I knew I was surrounded by smart people. Also, there was an understanding from the tech side that commercialisation doesn’t eventuate without a good team.”

Adam’s other motivation is the research itself. “We see a fundamental lack of Australian innovation on the global scene,” he says, “so commercialising the phenomenal research coming out of academia is a major driver for me.

“It’s a mission that I’m working hard to bring to fruition.”

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