A group of software experts in Birmingham are hoping to become ‘ethical hackers’ to hunt down holes in the security net for companies.
Xiphos Research Labs, based in the Jewellery Quarter, was founded by the computer defence experts of a number of international corporations.
And they are now looking to create their own computer programming language to build systems that are hacker-proof.
Director and co-founder Michael Kemp and about half a dozen collaborators in the UK and the US started Xiphos in December last year. They had all met at an international conference on computer security. There are now five people working for the firm in Birmingham and two more in the US.
The team had all formerly worked as security consultants in large corporations like KPMG and Ernst & Young, but decided to take their skills outside to look for holes in the security net.
The digital gamekeepers-turned-poachers have created a project called Crossbow that searches systems for security issues and can then be set to exploit them. The team has also started working on developing its own coding language from the ground up, which they said would mean they could run more secure software.
And as well as the software packages, the developers are looking to offer specialist security consulting services, which involves trying to break into other companies’ applications and networks to find weak spots.
They are aiming to take on large international software companies in winning custom with security firms, and eventually dealing with businesses directly.
Mr Kemp said: “From an ethical hacking point of view, what we wanted to do is offer a high level penetration testing service. But the ultimate goal was basically to rewrite the rulebook.
“What we wanted to do is to get our own coding language, so we can be secure from the ground up. Because we have our own language set we can write our own resources, and get it to a far higher level in relation to security.
"I can, in all honesty, say that potentially we have not only an industry-redefining product with Crossbow, but are sat on potentially the most secure operating system in the world.
“There are lots and lots of other security systems out there, but we have developed this not just to tell people what holes there are there, but it also exploits those holes.”
The operating system is due to launch within a year, he said, but there was more research to be done.
He said hacking through security had led to one of the worst fraud cases of recent times. In 2007 hackers stole information from at least 45 million cards used by customers of the chain that owns TK Maxx. The estimated total cost of the security breach to the firm was put as high as £800 million.
And Mr Kemp said he hoped Xiphos could be the solution for a growing number of companies in the future.
He said: “Just as Apple and Microsoft had to face IBM back in the seventies, we now have to face those companies, plus Google, plus all the computer security companies.
‘‘We are very new, very small, but also don’t like to be shoved around. Our primary motivator is to hopefully make the world of computing more secure.”