Mass. company’s Web detective used in movie ‘Untraceable’
Imagine a world where everything — the news, the banks, weapons systems — is digital. And picture the pandemonium that would ensue should someone bring it all down.
It happens, it has happened and it will continue to happen. It happened in Estonia last year. On a smaller scale, it is happening all around us every day.
“We’re just trying to stay ahead of these guys,” says Rich Person, CEO of Newburyport-based DNSstuff.com. “This is unfortunately only going to get worse.”
The forensics technology generated from Water Street in the DNSstuff.com offices and other locations across the country has been pushed into the spotlight with the premier this week of the Sony Pictures film “Untraceable.” The tagline of the film is, “A cyber killer has finally found the perfect accomplice: You.”
As outrageous as it may seem from the trailer, the scenario depicted in the film is realistic, say Person and company CFO Charlie Stefanidakis. It’s as simple as pie for an Internet bad guy to steal your Web address (your IP address) and use it for his or her own devices. These are not usually good.
“It’s how computers all over the world communicate,” Person says about an Internet Protocol address. “Here’s the rub — this is a public system, the phone book of the Internet. It’s a public system, it is accessible.”
If by mistake or by intention just one number in the 10-digit IP address is changed, havoc can — and usually does — follow. That is where the DNSstuff.com application comes in. It has the technology to monitor these numbers for its customers; checking and re-checking to make sure the IP address remains secure. And that’s not the only thing they do.
The application used in the movie is called Vector Trace, and it will find the cyber criminal by establishing a visual of all the activity by a network of bad guys, in cyber terms a botnet, and identifying the vector where all the information is being sent. Vector Trace is not yet available to the public.
Tracking down sinister Internet types sound complicated? Well, it is and it isn’t, depending on what it is they are up to. The vector stuff is complicated, and takes a lot of time — in the movie, the time frame actually required was compressed.
Other tracking Web applications are more immeditate. The Secret Service one day showed up on Stefanidakis’ doorstep in Newbury and wanted the data — as in right now — to find someone who had sent a death threat to a presidential candidate. DNSstuff.com also works with the CIA, the FBI and International Criminal Police Organization — INTERPOL, to track down cyber criminals, including sexual predators.
“It was accurate enough to find them,” Person says about the data gathered using the e-mail address on the death threat.
Individuals who are concerned about an e-mail they have received can go on DNSstuff.com and use the Whois? lookup feature. It may or may not tell you where the e-mail came from, but at the very least it will probably give a person enough information to go to their Internet service provider and have them follow up.
The two men of DNSstuff.com joined forces after Stefanidakis, who owned an anti-spam, virus fighting company called Declude in Cambridge, met up with Person.
“I needed more leadership at the top, participation in the sales and marketing space,” he says. “I knew Rich, I invited him to dinner.”
Person had been commuting from Newburyport to Manhattan, where he was the CEO of a software company that analyzed online behavior.
“I decided three years was enough of that kind of startup mode,” Person says. “What Charlie was doing here was intriguing.”
Add in Scott Perry, who was “tinkering with the concept of DNSstuff,” says Stefanidakis, and Declude started shifting its resources to DNSstuff.
DNSstuff.com is a Web-based application that empowers users to test, resolve and configure their DNS, or domain name system, and network using a set of 15 tools. The men expect the company to double in size in the next six to eight months. They hope to be able to remain here.
“Our technology is used by 80 percent of Fortune 1000 companies and every security agency in the world,” Stefanidakis says. “And local law enforcement.”
They get 1.5 million to 2 million hits on the Web site per month, and it’s not unusual for them to get a subpoena from the FBI asking for data. It was, however, unusual for the Secret Service to show up on Stefanidakis’ doorstep.