Perigee snares $1.5M seed to secure HVAC and other infrastructure

It’s been an eventful fall for Perigee CEO and founder Mollie Breen. The former NSA employee participated in the TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Battlefield in September, and she just closed her first seed round on Thanksgiving, giving her a $1.5 million runway to begin building the company.

Outsiders Fund led the round, with participation from Westport, Contour Venture Partners, BBG Ventures, Innospark Ventures and a couple of individual investors.

Perigee wants to secure areas of the company like HVAC systems or elevators that may interact with the company’s network, but which often fall outside the typical network security monitoring purview. Breen says the company’s value proposition is about bridging the gap between network security and operations security. She said this has been a security blind spot for companies, often caught between these two teams. Perigee provides a set of analytics that gives the security team visibility into this vulnerable area.

As Breen explained when we spoke in September around her Battlefield turn, the solution learns normal behavior from the operations systems as it interacts with the network, collecting data like which systems and individuals normally access it. It can then determine when something seems off and cut off an anomalous act, which may be indicative of hacker activity, before it reaches the network.

She says that as a female founder getting funding, she is acutely aware how rare that is, and part of the reason she wanted to publicize this funding round was to show other women who are thinking about starting a company that it’s possible, even if it remains difficult.

She plans to grow the company to about six people in the next 12 months, and Breen says that she thinks deeply about how to build a diverse organization. She says that starts with her investors, and includes considering diversity in terms of gender, race and age. She believes that it’s crucial to start with the earliest employees, and she actively recruits diverse candidates.

“I write a lot of cold emails, particularly around hiring and that’s partly because with job listings it’s all inbound and you can’t necessarily guarantee that that is going to be diverse. And so by writing cold emails and really following up with those people and having those conversations, I have found a way of actually making sure that I’m talking to people from different perspectives,” she said.

As she looks ahead to 2021, she’s thinking about the best approach to office versus remote and she says it will probably be mostly remote with some in-person. “I’m really balancing at this point in time, how do we really make the connections, and make them strong and genuine with a lot of trust and do that with balancing some elements of remote, knowing that is where the industry is going and if you’re going to be a company and in a post-2020 world, you probably need to adopt to some element of remote working,” she said.


Perigee infrastructure security solution from former NSA employee moves into public beta

Perigee founder Mollie Breen used to work for NSA where she built a security solution to help protect the agency’s critical infrastructure. She spent the last two years at Harvard Business School talking to Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) and fine-tuning that idea she started at NSA into a commercial product.

Today, the solution that she built moves into public beta and will compete at TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield with other startups for $100,000 and the Disrupt Cup.

Perigree helps protect things like heating and cooling systems or elevators that may lack patches or true security, yet are connected to the network in a very real way. It learns what normal behavior looks like from an operations system when it interacts with the network, such as what systems it interacts with and which individual employees tend to access it. It can then determine when something seems awry and stop an anomalous activity before it reaches the network. Without a solution like the one Breen has built, these systems would be vulnerable to attack.

Perigee is a cloud-based platform that creates a custom firewall for every device on your network,” Breen told TechCrunch. “It learns each device‚Äôs unique behavior, the quirks of its operational environment and how it interacts with other devices to prevent malicious and abnormal usage while providing analytics to boost performance.”

Perigee HVAC fan dashboard view

Image Credits: Perigee

One of the key aspects of her solution is that it doesn’t require an agent, a small piece of software on the device, to make it work. Breen says this is especially important since that approach doesn’t scale across thousands of devices and can also introduce bugs from the agent itself. What’s more, it can use up precious resources on these devices if they can even support a software agent.

“Our sweet spot is that we can protect those thousands of devices by learning those nuances and we can do that really quickly, scaling up to thousands of devices with our generalized model because we take this agentless-based approach,” she said.

By creating these custom firewalls, her company is able to place security in front of the device preventing a hacker from using it as a vehicle to get on the network.

“One thing that makes us fundamentally different from other companies out there is that we sit in front of all of these devices as a shield,” she said. That essentially stops an attack before it reaches the device.

While Breen acknowledges that her approach can add a small bit of latency, it’s a tradeoff that CISOs have told her they are willing to make to protect these kinds of operational systems from possible attacks. Her system is also providing real-time status updates on how these devices are operating, giving them centralized device visibility. If there are issues found, the software recommends corrective action.

It’s still very early for her company, which Breen founded last year. She has raised an undisclosed amount of pre-seed capital. While Perigee is pre-revenue with just one employee, she is looking to add paying customers and begin growing the company as she moves into a wider public beta.

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