Veteran-Owned Stronghold Cyber Security Fights Today’s Digital Wars from Adams County
By Karen Hendricks
Jason McNew says his military background provided the perfect training for his current field, cybersecurity. “Veterans are security minded by nature…it’s a mindset,” he says.
The war on cybercrime is escalating at alarming rates. Damage by cybercrime is projected to hit $6 trillion annually by 2021, up from $3 trillion in 2015. Meantime, cybersecurity spending is expected to pass the $1 trillion mark over the next five years, all according to Reuters.
Opportunities—that’s what led McNew to his career in cybersecurity. As a member of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, he had the opportunity to serve a volunteer tour at the White House Communications Agency. That led to a 10-year IT position at Camp David, which he considers the foundation of his career. Today, at the age of 44, he and his wife Genevieve own and operate Stronghold Cyber Security, consulting with businesses around the globe from a home base in Aspers, Adams County.
Risk, Ransoms, and Resources
Founded in the summer of 2017, Stronghold Cyber Security and the McNews are quickly making a name for themselves as industry experts able to help businesses and organizations protect themselves from cybercriminals.
“From a business perspective, we got into it at the right time,” says McNew. In addition to his experience at nearby Camp David, McNew earned a master’s degree in cybersecurity from Penn State University.
“Basically, we manage strategic cyber risk. Companies bring us in, we assess what their risk is, qualify the risk, and we make recommendations to reduce that risk,” says McNew.
What is at risk exactly and who are these cyber criminals? McNew says today’s cyber thieves are very creative and sophisticated.
“A lot of the time, they’re based in China or Eastern Europe…and financially driven. They steal large quantities of information—credentials, credit card information, personal information—information that can be monetized for selling on the dark web. Or, they make the information inaccessible to you, using ransomware, demanding a ransom in order to give it back to you,” McNew says.
Most of McNew’s work is done remotely from his home office in Adams County, where he assists clients in Texas, Florida, New York, London, and Paris, to name a few locations. He says the biggest challenge most companies face in the war on cybercrime is resources, or lack of funding devoted to cybersecurity. While many companies know they should do more to protect their computer systems from hackers, many simply put it off because it’s not budgeted or they don’t know where to start.
Putting a Lock on Leaks
Tony Fanning hired McNew in the fall of 2017 to meet cybersecurity regulations required of government contractors. Fanning is president of Flex-Cell, a Lancaster-based precision machine shop that annually produces $10 million worth of medical devices used in spinal fusions as well as electronic communications hardware.
“Because we work for military defense contractors,” says Fanning, “we have documents and specs on hand that we don’t want to get into the wrong hands such as international bad actors.”
Fanning says the government’s cybersecurity requirements are “complex and rigid,” but McNew delivered a “thorough” cybersecurity plan.
“Overall, it was a good experience for something we were dreading, and he really made it fun for us,” Fanning says. “Jason is very knowledgeable, efficient, and organized.”
Sometimes, McNew performs what is called “penetration testing.” It’s when companies hire him to see if he can break into their network. How successful is he?
During one recent case, “We tricked 20 percent of hedge fund managers to give us their passwords—and one of those people was the CFO,” McNew says. He says “getting to people—that’s what attackers do.”
McNew has been quoted in Forbes and other national publications as a cybersecurity expert. In March of 2018, he was a featured speaker at the American Bar Association’s annual Tech Show in Chicago. He presented two sessions to lawyers—one on modern network design and another on how firms can protect themselves from ransomware attacks.
Attorney Nerino Petro of Rockford, Ill., who serves on the conference’s planning board, invited McNew to speak.
“The way he comes across, he puts [cybersecurity]in a way people can understand,” Petro says of McNew. “He’s down to earth; there’s a lot of the military in him, in his mannerisms and the way he discusses things.”
Petro says attorneys, like all service providers today, possess sensitive and valuable information—clients’ “digital assets.”
“We’re entrusting our most confidential and critical information to these digital systems, and if they’re not protected, we might as well leave our doors unlocked with our wallet lying out in the open,” says Petro. He says McNew’s presentations helped attendees grasp how legal firms can take “reasonable steps” against hackers.
“I’ve dealt with a number of security-based computer folks over the years, and based upon my interaction with Jason, he’s in the top five of the folks I’ve interacted with in over 20 years,” Petro says.
Fighting Firewalls and Cybercrimes from Behind Log Walls
Ironically, Stronghold Cyber Security and the McNews’ cutting-edge home-based business operate from a log home whose cornerstone bears the date of 1760. McNew says Genevieve has done extensive research into the home’s history and they believe it to be the third-oldest home in Adams County. The family chose to live in Adams County during McNew’s stint at Camp David, moving here in 2006.
“It’s a fantastic place to live and raise kids…people have blue-collar values, and I’m a blue-collar guy at heart. People here are the salt of the earth,” says McNew. Both he and his wife hail from Pennsylvania—he’s from Wilkes-Barre and Genevieve is from the Pittsburgh area. The couple has four children—two boys and two girls.
McNew says Genevieve doesn’t receive enough credit for her role in the business.
“My wife is extremely smart and stubborn,” he says. “Marriage has its stresses as it is, with kids, but we created this business from nothing and became cash-flow positive in nine months flat which is a remarkable achievement. She does all the marketing—meaning she catches the fish and I cook the fish.”
Getting Down to Brass Tacks The Stats on Veteran-Owned Businesses
About 2.4 million businesses, or 9 percent of all American businesses, are owned by veterans
Veteran-owned businesses generate $1.2 trillion
Veteran-owned businesses employ nearly 6 million Americans
Veterans are 45 percent more likely to be self-employed than non-veterans
(Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, 2007, and U.S. Small Business Association)
Aiming for Victory Business Tips for Veterans
The most critical step in starting a business, whether you’re a veteran or not, is creating a business plan, says Cheryl Young, a business consultant with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Shippensburg University which serves Adams, Cumberland, Franklin, and York Counties.
“The number one thing I say is ‘plan,’” says Young. “Write a business plan, creating reasonable financial projections, doing research on the competition, looking at the industry, market, demographics, and really thinking things through.”
Services at Shippensburg’s SBDC, including assistance with business plans, are free and available to the public.
Young says there are numerous resources available specifically for veterans. Boots to Business is a two-day workshop held regularly throughout Pennsylvania. It’s designed to help veterans transition from the military to entrepreneurship.
The SBA Express Loan helps veterans finance their businesses with quick turnaround times and decent interest rates.
A percentage of federal contracts are set aside for service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses. The SBDA can guide service-disabled veterans through the eligibility process.
Additionally, Jason McNew says he formed his business LLC, Stronghold Cyber Security, at no cost—a benefit extended to veterans in Pennsylvania.