Cloud-computing security startup Threat Stack names new CEO

Brian Ahern. (Courtesy Threat Stack)
Brian Ahern. (Courtesy Threat Stack)

Threat Stack, a growing digital security company based in Cambridge, has hired its third chief executive as it seeks to add more customers in the cloud-computing sector.

Brian Ahern, formerly the founder and CEO of Foxborough-based security company Industrial Defender, is Threat Stack’s new boss. He replaces Doug Cahill, who was brought on as CEO last year.

At Industrial Defender, Ahern built a company that helped owners of oil refineries, electric power plants, and other industrial facilities identify and thwart cyberattacks against the software controlling their complicated systems. The company was acquired by Lockheed Martin last year.

Threat Stack, Ahern said, fills a very similar niche. But instead of electric grids and gas turbines, the startup is helping to protect software running on servers rented from Amazon Web Services — a widespread trend typically known as cloud computing.

“A lot of us are familiar with putting pictures and music and documents up into the cloud,” Ahern said. But increasingly, providers are moving more of their applications and critical data into the public cloud, he said.

Security tools to protect all of that important information are making the migration as well.

Ahern said the most prominent competitor in the market is Houston-based Alert Logic, which lists customers like Rosetta Stone and Time Inc. and operates across a half-dozen cloud computing platforms from companies like Microsoft, Google, and IBM in addition to Amazon.

Threat Stack hopes to stand apart from competitors in a few ways, including the fact that it’s built from the ground up to operate in the AWS system. That’s opposed to some established companies that are trying to attack the problem by moving their software from a customer-owned datacenter model into the public cloud, Ahern said.

“The other providers in the market really have started with a datacenter-centric solution and now are trying to morph that technology base into the cloud, which isn’t easy,” he said. “We were designed natively to run in the cloud.”

Threat Stack watches the patterns of who is trying to access a customer’s system online, and analyzes the typical network behavior to spot new security risks. So if Joe from the sales department only logs into his workstation during work hours, and his profile is suddenly online in the middle of the night and trying to get into the payroll system, Threat Stack’s software can spot it right away, Ahern said.

Because Threat Stack is also storing all of the data it collects, customers can rewind a suspicious pattern of network traffic and try to find out what an attacker was doing.

“We can do playbacks like a DVR,” he said. “You can go back in time and see what was happening in one of your environments.”

Threat Stack just launched publicly in November and now has about 45 paying customers. The company has about 25 employees and may grow to about 50 by the year’s end, Ahern said.

That growth should come without having to raise more venture investment this year, Ahern said. Threat Stack has raised about $9 million in total from venture capital firms FKA Atlas and .406 Ventures.

It’s not unusual for startups to go through executive changes as they grow, but Threat Stack’s turnover has been pretty rapid since its founding in late 2012. Co-founder Dustin Webber served as the company’s original CEO before Cahill was hired as an interim leader in early 2014.

Webber is now listed as chief technical officer at another network security startup, Critical Stack. Threat Stack co-founder Jen Andre is “no longer an employee,” but retains a seat on the company’s board, Ahern said. “She continues to be an adviser to me and company on technical direction and strategy,” he said.

For her part, Andre said Ahern is “a great guy with both security chops and leadership experience. We are pumped to have recruited him, he will take Threat Stack to the next level.”

Threat Stack’s top technical leaders — CTO Sam Bisbee and engineering vice president Chris Gervais — remain on board. Ahern is also adding more executives, including vice presidents in charge of product management and sales.