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What you should do first to avoid getting hacked

Jan 14, 2016

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Protecting corporate data is a perpetual patch job. At any moment, cybersecurity officers scanning their company’s defenses can turn up thousands of vulnerabilities with new weaknesses popping up as fast as you fixed the last batch.

Kenna Security doesn’t compile lists of software shortcomings or fix them, but its product does something equally valuable for a growing roster of clients: It prioritizes the soft spots. “If you’ve got 250,000 vulnerabilities across your environment, we’ll show you the eight that you have to focus on,” says Kenna co-founder Ed Bellis. “We’ll show you what you have to do to address each one, and the amount of risk that you’re going to reduce by doing it.”

Bellis, 44, built the first version of Kenna’s software in 2010 after leaving his job as chief security officer at Orbitz. The product took a big step forward in 2013 when his startup, then called Risk I/O, began to incorporate proprietary, industrywide intelligence in addition to aggregating clients’ own scans. Still, Bellis struggled. By 2014, he had raised $6.25 million in venture capital but attracted only a handful of clients, including DirecTV and email manager SendGrid.

He went shopping for more money, this time with a twist: He would step down as CEO to focus on product development and hand over the top job and sales responsibility to a veteran executive. In October 2014, Kenna raised another $4 million and installed Karim Toubba, a former Juniper Networks VP, as CEO. Toubba, 44, and Kenna’s sales team are based in San Francisco while Bellis leads the River North-based product team as chief technology officer. The company’s 30 employees are split evenly between sales and engineering. (Bellis’ co-founder, Jeff Heuer, remains the design chief, also in Chicago.)

Toubba shifted Kenna’s sales focus from midsize companies to large ones, and suddenly Bellis’ product took off. In a year, the client list has grown to more than 100, including financial industry giants Experian, TransUnion and Fannie Mae. The larger clients are even more valuable because Kenna charges $1 per asset per month—an asset is an IP address or an Internet-accessible device—and they often have hundreds of thousands of assets. Kenna doesn’t disclose its revenue, but Bellis says receipts leaped 400 percent in 2015 and are expected to climb another 300 percent in 2016.

Roger Thornton, a Kenna board member and chief technology officer of AlienVault, an Austin, Texas-based cyberthreat scanner, credits Bellis for initiating the shift. He says hiring Toubba “is where the character of the founders and their smarts paid off, because once you’ve gone down a wrong path, it takes a real test of intellectual honesty and character to go a different way.”

Now Bellis, a Detroit native who lives in Evanston, has the rising-star company he always envisioned. Plus he loves his work. “Marketing was interesting but not in my wheelhouse,” he says. Coding, on the other hand, “is both in my wheelhouse and the area that I absolutely love.”

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