Security in Cyberspace

Features
Photo Credit: Phil Jones

Photo Credit: Phil Jones

A local cybersecurity expert is in the business of helping good triumph over evil in computer networks

It’s never a good idea to tug on Superman’s cape – even in cyberspace. Computer hackers who dare to toy with all that’s right with the virtual world just might run into their own kryptonite in the form of Security Onion Solutions.

Founded by Evans resident Doug Burks in 2014, the cybersecurity business peels back the layers of computer networks for clients. They range from the U.S. government and U.S. military branches to multi-billion-dollar utility companies and the healthcare, banking and financial industries.

“We’re fighting good versus evil,” says Burks. “I’m trying to do my part to help the good guys in their fight against evil.”

Computer Power
Burks got his first computer and learned to program at age 7. “Computers have always been my thing,” he says. “As a kid, you’re always told what to do. But I learned when I was a kid that I could tell the computer what to do. When you give a kid that kind of power, it’s addicting.”

Another epiphany came when he read The Cuckoo’s Egg by Clifford Stoll in middle school. The book recounts the true story of a computer invasion by a German hacker who sold information to the Soviet KGB in the 1980s.

“I didn’t enjoy reading at all, but I stayed up all night reading that book,” says Burks. “It really resonated with me. It got me excited about computers and security.”

When he graduated from Evans High School in 1995, he knew he wanted to attend Augusta State University to study computer science. Burks, who worked in the school’s co-op program and held fulltime positions during college, graduated from Augusta State in 2005. He worked in cybersecurity for several years before starting his own company.

“In the early days of hacking, the Internet was the wild, wild West,” says Burks. “Then it went to digital graffiti, and now it is big business. People make a living by breaking into networks.”

Security Onion is a collection of free software, which can be used for network security monitoring and intrusion detection. It has been downloaded 450,000 times worldwide. “A free and open source of software is a tremendous advantage for the user,” says Burks. “The software works right out of the box, and it’s infinitely customizable.”

Offering multiple layers of security and monitoring, Security Onion helps information technology and cybersecurity professionals track network traffic and gives clients alerts, contextual data and additional information about suspicious activity.

“It allows you to tell the story of what the bad guy did,” says Burks. “It can uncover how a hacker broke into a system, what he did while he was inside the network and what he took. It acts like a secondary camera for your network. It gives you information to reconstruct the crime.”

Center of the Cybersecurity Universe
Burks provides professional services such as installation and conducts training classes across the country, including a cybersecurity conference at Augusta University in September. In 2010 Burks received the Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) Security Expert Certification (GSE), which is the most prestigious credential in the IT security industry. He was the 24th of the 180-plus people in the world who have achieved the designation to date.

He also is working with the university and local community to show the world the cybersecurity skills that the area has to offer.

“It has been amazing to see the transformation of the Augusta area through the years,” says Burks. “I’m blessed that all of this cybersecurity stuff is right here in my backyard.”

For instance, a groundbreaking ceremony for the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center at the Augusta University Riverfront Campus, formerly Augusta Golf and Gardens, was held in June. The university’s Cyber Institute opened in September 2016 on the Summerville campus.

The U.S. Cyber Command at Fort Gordon, which is expected to bring thousands of jobs to the area, broke ground on its new facilities at Fort Gordon last year. 

“Fort Gordon is the hub of everything that is happening now. This is going to be a snowball effect,” Burks says. “Cybersecurity as a whole grows so fast, and it changes so dynamically.”