Interning at a hospital technology department after their freshman year at East Stroudsburg University, Zach Waldman and Nick Neely got tired of having to stop projects to go fix the computers of employees who had accidently downloaded malware while clicking on ads.
“All the time we would get issues where people would say ‘my computer is slow, my computer is messed up,’” Neely said. “It would have saved me so much time at work if I could have told someone, ‘Click the reset button.”
It was then the two computer security majors began thinking about inventing a software product that would prevent the malware from infecting computers. They started a company, Falchion Systems, in 2016 and created a software product they call Bulwark that will disable malware with a reset button.
“A lot of people have anti-virus software because it’s pretty well known that the Internet is a dangerous place if you’re not careful,” Waldman said. “But anti-virus software is not very good at catching something you deliberately downloaded because you’re baited into downloading it, like the ads that will pop up.”
With Bulwark, even if a computer user downloads harmful malware, it won’t infect the operating system. That includes so-called “ransomware” in which hackers encrypt a computer user’s hard drive and hold it ransom until they are paid a fee.
“Whenever you close your session, all that is going to be gone,” Waldman said. “To put simply, it’s a more secure way to browse the Internet.”
With the help of the ESU Innovation Center, Neely and Waldman are entering their business plan for Falchion in Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education Business Plan Competition, which has a top prize of $10,000 prize. They have entries for other business competitions in the works.
Now juniors, Neely and Waldman turned to Keith Modzelewski, director of ESU’s Business Accelerator and Entrepeneurship, for advice in how to get funding to launch the product and how to run a successful business.
“Keith has been incredibly helpful,” Waldman said. “He has a lot of expertise.”
“The big issue for us is how to adequately explain our product to people who don’t have an IT background,” Waldman said. “For business plan competitions, we’re pitching to people who have no experience in that so we can’t just walk up and start dumping computer jargon on them.”
After they practice their presentation, Modzelewski half-jokingly asks them: “Would your grandmother understand what you just told me?”
In November, Neely and Waldman got office space in the Business Accelerator. Modzelewski says their product could advance the cyber security field because it can protect operating systems in ways that current anti-malware software cannot.
Plus, Modzelewski has great confidence in the students’ abilities, adding that both are extremely smart high achievers, but also open to coaching and mentoring.
“They are hungry to seek out every opportunity they can,” Modzelewski said.
As Neely and Waldman were working on their invention they consulted Mike Jochen, Ph.D., associate professor of computer science and worked on publishing a paper on the issue with Computer Science Professor Haklin Kimm, Ph.D. Last fall at a computer security conference in Orlando, FL, they gave a well-received presentation on Bulwark.
Waldman and Neely, both of Mechanicsburg, PA, have known each other since middle school and started doing IT consulting in their high school senior year. In addition to computer security, Waldman is majoring in computer science and minoring in math.
The students are working with Modzelewski on entering the tecBRIDGE Business Plan Competition, which ESU graduate student Blaise Delfino won last year with his product Fader Plugs. The winners receive $100,000 in cash and in-kind services. Neely and Waldman are looking at other opportunities, including with the national organization, VentureWell, which promotes entrepreneurship, and the National Science Foundation.
Waldman interned for IBM last year and will be interning for Lockheed Martin this summer. Neely interned for University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Pinnacle in 2016 and 2017.