Portsmouth’s Atom Group works against menacing internet – News – seacoastonline.com

PORTSMOUTH The internet is an increasingly menacing place. Within that environment, its not enough to create software, then build protections from attack around it, according to Jason Sgro, senior partner at the Atom Group. Software needs to have the protections built into it as the software is built, he said.

“You can’t build software without security. We fundamentally reject the idea that you can build software and then hire somebody to secure it,” said Sgro, who is also Atom’s chief of strategy. “You have to build it with security in mind. That’s the only way that you build security ecosystems. Digging moats around things is never going to work, you’ll forever be in an endless loop of digging moats, and somebody will always find a way across.”

Atom (www.theAtomgroup.com) is a Portsmouth-based company with three principles as part of its business mission: Software, security and leadership.

Its founder, Tom Herer, created it as a web development and applications company in 2007, located originally at 110 Brewery Lane in Portsmouth’s West End.

“During that time it was kind of like the heyday of web development,” Sgro said, noting Atom “built a team of tremendous software talent here.” “As the commercial viability of website building kind of went away, they were forced to really retool and decide what they wanted to be when they grew up.”

Sgro and fellow senior partner Matt Chepeleff, its chief of products, took over the company four years ago and are taking it to the next level. Both are graduates of Northeastern; Sgro in 2005 and Chepeleff in 2008.

“His specialization is software and mine is information security,” he said. “That’s where you get software and security from – we each run a practice. What we figured out was there’s a natural dovetail between developing good software, building technology that is trustworthy.”

“The business that we’re really in is helping leaders of companies modernize their infrastructures, create new software applications in securing their companies,” he added. “A lot of times, in terms of modernization, which is a lot of the work we do, the most insecure elements of their company are their old software. Their old infrastructure, ends up being the most insecure. So our security practice will say: Hey, that’s your most insecure piece and the software practice can fix that problem. That’s where we’ve now grown into.”

The leadership part of Atom’s mission is to help support the growth and technology of New Hampshire businesses. There’s venture capital out there available, and Sgro and his team are eager to help start-ups.

“We’ve tooled our company to go into those startups and really help build first iteration products, understand the speed, capital requirements, financial requirements of building something for the first time and on someone else’s dime,” Sgro said.

Running a company isn’t what it used to be because of the inherent risks now associated with putting all kinds of data online, from financial transactions to health information.

“A lot of the risk evaluation models that even worked five or 10 years ago don’t work now because the risks have really changed,” Sgro said. “The speed at which change is happening in our companies and the ecosystems is accelerating to the point where it’s like driving a car: You were driving a car at 60 now you’re driving a car at 120. Everything’s a blur. Part of the leadership is updating those mental tools and those managerial tools, those risk management tools to pick out risks when they’re coming at you in a blur, because that’s the speed that things are happening at now.”

Sgro is also the cybersecurity and IT operations advisor to the New Hampshire Legislature, dozens of police departments (including Portsmouth), school districts, and municipalities.

That gives him a lot of insight to how even state systems are vulnerable to attack and compromise. One flaw, according to Sgro, is how information regarding a student’s Individual Education Plan is kept. An IEP is a program developed to ensure a child with an identified disability who is attending an elementary or secondary educational institution receives specialized instruction and related services.

“They’re shared in general and stored in a very insecure way,” Sgro said. “So we’re able to come in and we’re working on a software program right now that could be given out to every school district in the state to take care of that one security flaw, handle the communication between the parent and the educator, and the storage and the maintenance of IEPs.”

Among its extensive list of clients include IBM, Progressive, Yamaha, Mitre, Bank of America, Intuit, Unitil, Tufts Health Plan, Dartmouth, ConocoPhillips, and many more.

It was, after several months of vetting, accepted as an approved vendor for the state of Massachusetts, meaning it is now eligible to bid on state contracts there.

Atom moved from Brewery Lane across the street to 33 Jewell Court about four years ago, intent on staying in the West End. At the time it started in the neighborhood, rent there was comparatively cheap to downtown. Now, commercial and residential development is everywhere.

“They’re building a downtown around us now,” Sgro said. “It’s fantastic. We have restaurants, many clients, traditional marketing agencies – we love the ecosystem here. So long as I own the company, we will never move out of Portsmouth.”

It employs about 25 people, who know how to work hard and who know the importance of work-life balance.

“We’re kind of East Coast startup culture where we’re disciplined and focused, but we have a little bit of a West Coast benefits package – unlimited vacation, unlimited work from home,” Sgro said.

Like many technology companies in the state, it can be difficult for Atom to find qualified hires for open positions. Fortunately, according to Sgro, his turnover is very low. For a software developer at Atom the work is more than just about writing code.

“Our software developers are fairly unique in that every member of this company is client facing, and that’s one of the principal things that I think is really important,” Sgro said.

“We’re done with the type of software developer that sits in a corner and you can’t talk to them because they got their headphones on. That’s not us,” he added. “Everybody in here has a little bit of business consultant in them. They’re genuinely curious about our clients’ issues. A lot of them work on site sometimes with clients.”

Sgro sees a future where online security concerns continue to grow.

“I think that the security concerns are going to get worse. I think that, in terms of privacy, we’re headed for a rocky decade,” he said. “What we consider big hacks right now or are only the beginning of the world we’re headed into.”


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