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Nuclear physicist wages war on hackers

West Midlands businesses are being blackmailed by gangs of organised cyber criminals who are charging monthly fees for them to access their own databases.

Dr Lucy Zybert with her husband Richard
Dr Lucy Zybert with her husband Richard

A former CERN nuclear physicist is taking the battle to the hackers after creating an IT security system for small businesses.

The Post reported last month that West Midlands businesses are being blackmailed by gangs of organised cyber criminals who are charging monthly fees for them to access their own databases.

Dr Richard Zybert, a former University of Birmingham academic who spent four years working at the Swiss atomic research facility CERN, has secured a £200,000 investment from a customer towards his security system tailored for SMEs.

He said small businesses are particularly under threat from hackers, and yet the market only aims its products at larger firms.

“This has been a problem for a long time,” he said. “It used to be kids but it is not any more, it is now a professional operation.”

He added: “When you think what you have to do to keep your data safe, you have to make sure that you have access to it and you have to make sure people who shouldn’t don’t have access.

“How do you set up a system that gives you both of these?

“For a big enterprise it is simple – you pay a quarter of a million pounds to get a system.

“SMEs are told to go to Google and put everything in a cloud and pray.

“So we produce an application that the SME can get in the office and it does everything you need from there.”

Zybert Computing has a range of products from servers to gateways which Dr Zybert says allow fluid use and instantaneous disaster recovery.

The system works by using a key that opens up access to an encrypted tunnel back to the office computer, so in effect the data never leaves the office.

It also enables people working at various locations to work on the same system.

It costs between £3,000 and £5,000 and Dr Zybert said he had sold almost 300 machines without a salesman – although he is now taking one on.

He said: “The hole in the market for security in these companies has been there for a long time because nobody provides SMEs with a system.

“Our system takes a very comprehensive approach.”

The Post revealed in November that West Midlands Police have revealed shadowy hacker gangs have forced firms to hand over regular payments after breaching IT security systems before demanding payment for encryption codes.

The authorities are now so concerned that they are devoting more resources to tackle it.

Graham Alcock works as a consultant at Zybert, having originally purchased a system while working for the government, agreed that hacking was a major concern for modern businesses.

He said: “If someone comes into the office and steals the machine then there’s nothing they can do with it – it is completely secure.

“And a study in Texas showed that 80 per cent of businesses that lose their data go bust as a result.”

Dr Zybert spent 25 years as a nuclear physicist, mostly working out of Birmingham University.

It led him to work on ground-breaking technology such as the new super-fast servers, and he opted to go into business, with his company now based at the Longbridge Technology Park.

He said: “I spent a lot of time at CERN doing computing for the international group doing physics experiments.

“In this environment all physicists have to do some manual jobs and my job was creating the computer for the experiment.

“Then I began to realise that most of the really sophisticated computing solutions developed never got anywhere near the market because people spend years developing stuff and then they do an experiment and go on to something else.

“There was obviously a strong market for this and when government funding for science went down in the 90s my wife and I decided it was enough and got out of physics.”

 
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