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[whitespace] CIA Seal Taking The Money

In-Q-Tel has made 10 investments to date, mostly in companies developing Internet security products

By Jonathan Vankin

Science Applications International Corp.

A sprawling, San Diego-based research company, SAIC works on a staggering variety of projects. They've even helped design faster yachts for racing in the America's Cup. But In-Q-Tel is interested in a software package known as NetEraser, which protects Internet-connected computers against denial-of-service attacks, of the type that briefly crippled Yahoo!, Amazon.com, Excite and several other major sites early in 2000. While that security function is as useful for the CIA as it is for Yahoo!, NetEraser's other function is of greater use to the government's high-tech spies. NetEraser can disguise a computer's IP address, allowing agents to crack into foreign computers without leaving that telltale "cia.gov" address in the server's log. NetEraser both keeps unwanted visitors out of the CIA's computers and allows Agency spies to poke around in foreign computer systems undetected.

Of course, CIA agents would not use NetEraser to infiltrate computers in the United States, because that would be illegal.

In-Q-Tel has also backed SAIC's development of "Latent Semantic Indexing" search tools, which can search large amounts of data using only the meanings of words and phrases, rather than exact matches.

Investment: $3 million

Open GIS Consortium

A group of companies that collaborate on ways to make various geographical data sources work together, Open GIS partnered with In-Q-Tel on the "Web Mapping Testbed" project. The idea is to, as quickly as possible, come up with open standards for presenting geographical info on the web. Presumably, this would allow agents to know exactly what type of terrain and climate they'll be encountering when they undertake assignments in the "field." With main headquarters in Wayland, Mass., Open GIS is a group of numerous companies dedicated to making differing software packages and computer systems compatible when it comes to processing geographical info. This is important to the CIA (as it is to any government agency which finds itself stuck with a lot of older-model computers).

Investment: $1.1 million


Though the website for this San Jose firm declares rather ominously that "details about our company are top secret right now," In-Q-Tel's material says that MediaSnap is developing a sophisticated "digital rights management" package. That's good news for Metallica and Dr. Dre, who would be able to guard their tunes against the hair-raising dangers of free downloading. But it's also useful for the CIA, which would have good reason to protect its digitized documents with encryption, watermarking, authentication and other tools that keep them off unauthorized hard drives.

Investment: $1.25 million


This three-year-old La Jolla firm develops wireless sensor networks. Of all In-Q-Tel's investments, this one seems to have the spookiest Big Brother applications. Wireless sensors could be used to track, well, almost anything you can plant a wireless sensor on. Legitimate uses mentioned in the company's own press material include gas leak alerts and "tracking patients' health through remote monitoring devices." When he assumed the CEO position last November, Graviton chief Solomon Trujillo said, "Wireless sensor networks are destined to become, in effect, the nervous system of our engineered world."

Investment: $1 million


At www.safeweb.com, this Oakland-based computer-privacy firm lets anyone use its site for free to surf the web in privacy. By typing a URL into the form on SafeWeb's home page, you disguise your own IP address and, in effect, make yourself invisible as you poke around online. SafeWeb also blocks cookies, the tiny data files that many websites deposit onto your hard drive that relay all sorts of information back to whoever wants to spy on you. The CIA's use for this type of technology is rather self-evident. The problem is, some countries that may be targets of American online spying--such as Saudi Arabia--block access to their sites from SafeWeb. That's why In-Q-Tel invested in SafeWeb's new software package, Triangle Boy. The software's main function is "spoofing," in other words, making one IP address look like a different one--giving agents (or anyone who uses Triangle Boy) a way around the anti-SafeWeb restrictions.

Investment: $1 million


In-Q-Tel's investment in this Virginia company, formerly known as ICSA, is another example of the CIA's keen interest in online security. TrueSecure's ICSA Labs division comes up with security standards and performs certification for almost every anti-virus or network firewall product on the market. TrueSecure also specializes in cryptography and anti-hacker measures.

Investment: $500,000

Twisted Systems

Despite the company's colorful, Dee Snider-influenced moniker, this appears to be In-Q-Tel's most mundane venture to date. There is nothing particularly "Twisted" about groupware such as the company's primary project, Traction. Essentially, it's a groupware collaboration tool that allows all of the members of an organization to access a single website that contains bulletins, correspondence and other assorted information. For an organization such as the CIA, which handles a staggering amount of information, the ability to put it all in one place would be, obviously, quite useful.

Investment: $350,000


Founded by former CIA cryptography chief Edward Scheidt, TecSec develops Scheidt's Constructive Key Management system, an encryption product that has been approved for export by the U.S. government even though it is seven times stronger than export restrictions are supposed to allow. The reason: CKM allows companies using the system to recover the encrypted data. The system is already in use by the U.S. Postal Service as well as several other government agencies and defense contractors.

Investment: $55,000


Ever been surfing the web and you just get lost? You just saw an interesting piece of information buried deep inside a site you can't remember, and that Global History file is miles long. The Virginia-based company Browse3D has created a three-dimensional (surprise, surprise) viewing environment that lets web surfers keep track of where they have been and where they are in the vast metaphorical territory known as cyberspace.

Investment: Not revealed due to contractual obligations


In-Q-Tel continues to pump public dollars into the local, northern Virginia economy by investing in the Fairfax-based company SRA, which is working on a software package called Analyst Workbench. The program converts documents to XML, which is not Vince McMahon's version of HTML, but a highly flexible markup language, created in 1997, that can handle not only traditional webpages but graphics, mathematical equations, E-commerce transactions--almost anything.

Investment: Not revealed due to contractual obligations

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From the March 29-April 4, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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