Northwest Austin tech start-up creates ‘cyber warriors’

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, speaks at the Aug. 20 announcement of SparkCognitions’ new program, Project Ares. Kara Nuzback

A Northwest Austin tech company is paving the way for a new kind of cyberwarfare training that could aid national security.

SparkCognition specializes in cognitive computing software. At the company’s new office on Braker Lane, President and CEO Amir Husain said cybersecurity breaches are getting larger in scale. Hackers can control cars on roadways and destroy oil pipelines, he said.

“Security is no longer about somebody stealing your credit card,” he said.

Husain introduced the company’s newest program, created in partnership with Colorado-based Circadence, called Project Ares. The cybersecurity training program operates like a video game to create what Husain calls “cyber warriors.”

Project Ares allows the user or trainee to pick a mission to complete; each mission is broken into specific objectives. An avatar instructor answers trainees’ questions and can intervene in missions to change the difficulty level.

Project Ares tracks trainees’ progress and identifies specific areas where each individual excels.

“Software is becoming smarter and smarter and beginning to make decisions on its own,” Husain said.

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, spoke at SparkCognition’s Aug. 20 announcement. McCaul said the U.S. faces cyberwarfare attacks regularly.

“It’s the current state of warfare today—we have kinetic attacks, and we have cyber attacks,” he said. “This is a serious issue, and the threat is not going to get any better.”

Cyber attacks have the power to shut down power grids and derail planes, he said. The U.S. previously only had to worry about cyber attacks from major world powers such as Russia and China, but as Jihadists increase their cyber capabilities, the threat of attacks on national security loom even larger, he said.

Of Project Ares, McCaul said, “This will help us tremendously with our defensive capability.”

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