PNNL moves cybersecurity software and a novel disinfecting system beyond the lab

cybersecurity
Cybersecurity software developed at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory learns about a company to better protect it. Called CHAMPION, the software can reason like an analyst to determine if network activity is suspicious. It then issues an alert in near-real-time. PNNL Shawn Hampton (left), Champion Technology Company's Ryan Hohimer (right) and their teams received an R&D 100 and FLC Award for developing this technology.

Software that helps cybersecurity analysts prevent hacks and a microbial disinfecting system that kills with an activated salt spray are two of the latest innovations Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has successfully commercialized with the help of business partners.

Due to the unique paths the development teams took to get the technology from Department of Energy lab to the private sector, the Federal Laboratory Consortium has honored the two teams made up of lab and commercial business staff with 2016 Excellence in Technology Transfer awards. The consortium is a nationwide network that encourages federal laboratories to transfer laboratory-developed, taxpayer-funded technologies to commercial markets.

PNNL has earned a total of 83 such awards since the program began in 1984 — far more than any other national laboratory. The 2016 awards will be presented April 27 in Chicago, Illinois, at the consortium’s annual meeting.

Software “CHAMPIONs” cybersecurity experts

If you’re a hacker aimed at stealing credit card information from a retail company and you want to evade detection, you hide in massive amounts of network data. Analysts have the know-how to sort through this digital mess to find hackers, but they often identify attacks too late. Analytical software developed at PNNL and licensed to Champion Technology Company Inc. can help find these and other threats in near-real-time. That’s because the software, called Columnar Hierarchical Auto-associative Memory Processing in Ontological Networks — or CHAMPION, has the knowledge to sort through data like an analyst, but on a much greater scale.

Scientists designed CHAMPION to use human analysts and historical data to learn about the company it’s protecting. Starting with advanced Semantic Web technologies, which translate human knowledge into something that’s machine readable, CHAMPION then uses descriptive logic to reason whether activity is suspicious. For example, if a retail company’s HVAC data back-up account tries to access the point-of-sale system, CHAMPION could use historical data to conclude that this is unusual. Once identified, the software alerts an analyst of the suspicious activity — in time to potentially thwart an attack.

Sorting through data can consume up to 40 percent of an analyst’s day. By streamlining these tasks, CHAMPION can save money and free analysts to focus on higher-priority tasks. And cybersecurity isn’t CHAMPION’s only trick. Change its diet of knowledge and the software can learn to analyze financial services or health care data.

This technology transfer involved a unique collaboration between PNNL and Early X, a non-profit education foundation spun out from Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management. In this effort, a group of MBA students and diverse business executives identified 70 market opportunities for CHAMPION. This groundwork led to the start of Champion Technology Company Inc.

The team receiving an FLC Award for CHAMPION includes: PNNL’s Shawn Hampton and Kannan Krishnaswami; Champion Technology Company’s Ryan Hohimer; and former PNNL staff John McEntire, Frank Greitzer and Matthew Love.

Killing pathogens with a fine, salty mist

Watertech Equipment and Sales LLC of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, developed this initial prototype of the Micro Aerosol Disinfecting System, which is based on PNNL research and development. Image courtesy of Watertech Equipment and Sales LLC
Watertech Equipment and Sales LLC of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, developed this initial prototype of the Micro Aerosol Disinfecting System, which is based on PNNL research and development.
Image courtesy of Watertech Equipment and Sales LLC

Microbestiny bits of life such as bacteria, viruses and mold — can wreak havoc on our bodies by causing sickness and even death. Ranging from staph infections to Ebola, many microbe-caused ailments can now be prevented with the Micro Aerosol Disinfecting System.

The system turns a simple table salt solution into a fine mist containing natural molecules that disinfect an entire room. Tests have shown the system can kill at least 99.9999 percent of health-harming microbes. It could be used to disinfect hospitals, gymnasiums, schools and other enclosed spaces. It’s far more effective, easier to apply and less expensive than other disinfection methods.

It works by running an electrical current through a diluted salt solution, which creates super-reactive molecules, ions, and free radicals that have exceptionally strong disinfecting properties. A device then turns the activated solution into a micro aerosol mist, which is released into a room. The aerosol’s microscopic droplets disinfect the air and every surface. Its activated molecules destroy microbes inside a treated room within minutes to a few hours, depending on a room’s size and the amount of pathogens present.

Watertech Equipment and Sales LLC of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, licensed the Micro Aerosol Disinfecting System from PNNL. PNNL initially developed a prototype of the technology through a now-concluded DOE program that supported former weapons scientists in non-weapons research and development across the former Soviet Union. The technology was further developed with internal PNNL funding and support from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which attracted Watertech’s attention.

The award recognizes PNNL’s extensive development and testing of the technology using internal funding to advance the technology to the point that Watertech licensed the technology just eight months after initially visiting with PNNL.

Watertech has adapted the system into an easy-to-deploy product to be sold for various uses, including hospital and clinical disinfection, mold remediation, and supporting the agricultural and food processing industries. The team recognized for transferring this process includes: PNNL’s Evguenia Rainina, Ron Thomas and Derek Maughan, as well as Watertech’s Glenn Barrett, Keith Johnson and Eric Frische.

For more information on technology transfer programs at PNNL, visit their website.