Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

Knoxville Business News Tennessee Mountain Scenery Background
March 26, 2023 | Tom Ballard

New Knoxville-based start-up licenses cybersecurity technology from ORNL

Penguin Mustache was co-founded by former ORNL scientist Jared M. Smith, the technology’s creator, and his business partner, entrepreneur Brandon Bruce, to create an offering named the platform. 

A technology developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and used by the U.S. Naval Information Warfare Systems Command (NAVWAR) to test the capabilities of commercial security tools has been licensed to a new Knoxville-based cybersecurity start-up.

Penguin Mustache was co-founded by former ORNL scientist Jared M. Smith, the technology’s creator, and his business partner, entrepreneur Brandon Bruce, to create an offering named the platform. Smith, who worked in ORNL’s Cyber Resilience and Intelligence Division for six years, created the technology — the adversarial malware input generator, or AMIGO — at the request of the Department of Defense.

AMIGO was created as the evaluation tool for a challenge issued by NAVWAR for artificial intelligence (AI) applications that autonomously detect and quarantine cybersecurity threats. NAVWAR is an operations unit within the U.S. Navy that focuses on secure communications and networks.

Drawing on more than 35 million malware samples — some publicly available and others never before seen — AMIGO generates optimally evasive malware in tandem with the training information needed for a security system to detect it in the future.

In the news release announcing the license, Smith likened the process to vaccine development. “It’s as if we generated a million virus variants and a million vaccines to protect against them — we can collapse that into one vaccine and inoculate everyone. They’re protected against the threat, but also all the natural evolutions of the threat going forward.”

For Bruce, himself a serial entrepreneur, it’s an important technology to commercialize. “Bad actors are already using artificial intelligence to advance their attacks,” he said. “As open AI tools improve, attempts to penetrate security systems will increase in volume and sophistication.”

And, how about the unique name of the start-up? The playful name is a riff on the problem of a small mutation enabling a virus to evade existing defenses — a penguin disguised with a mustache, the Co-Founders said.

Like what you've read?

Forward to a friend!

Don’t Miss Out on the Southeast’s Latest Entrepreneurial, Business, & Tech News!

Sign-up to get the Teknovation Newsletter in your inbox each morning!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

No, thanks!