| Business

Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Irwin native among 'white hat' hackers hired to protect computer networks

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

On the Grid

From the shale fields to the cooling towers, Trib Total Media covers the energy industry in Western Pennsylvania and beyond. For the latest news and views on gas, coal, electricity and more, check out On the Grid today.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Growing up in Irwin, Adam Cecchetti says he never hacked into a cellphone, a website or a company's software for malicious reasons.

Now living in Seattle, he spends almost every moment trying to defeat those people who do. He and two partners formed a company called Déjà vu Security that large corporations can hire to break into computer systems before the bad guys get there.

“Some people hack for political reasons, some hack for financial reasons, some hack for activism,” Cecchetti, 31, told the Tribune-Review. “Before folks can use a bug for whatever their reason that may not be on the up and up, we hack the device, and we hack the software.”

Cecchetti represents a breed of computer experts that has risen to fight computer attackers bent on disruption, theft and even destruction.

The Trib's ongoing “Cyber Rattling: The Next Threat” series has reported about how online attacks — such as ones against PNC Bank and other U.S. banks — are part of an ongoing international war over information systems. Attackers are becoming more sophisticated as they seek to trigger computer incidents.

Cyber attacks are costing corporations — and consumers — a lot. In a six-year span starting in 2005, data breaches in 33 countries, including the United States, cost the firms involved more than $156 billion, according to the nonprofit Digital Forensics Association.

Every second, in various parts of the world, there are 18 cybercrime victims — about 1.6 million a day — according to a 2012 Norton by Symantec study.

For the white hats, their unique skill at finding where a program is vulnerable and how to close the digital doors that the black hats use to penetrate a website is worth $120,000 to $130,000 a year, said Chad Thunberg, chief operating officer at Leviathan Security Group , a 20-person firm in Seattle.

“Companies are being attacked by bad people, and if they want to defend themselves, they have to attract these scarce people,” he said. “There are maybe 1,000 individuals of this nature in the world. They have this unique hacker mind-set.”

While malicious hackers have to find just one glitch to get inside a machine or software program, defenders must try to close up every hole. Cecchetti said his company works to identify and close as many openings as it can find.

“It's a bit of a game of cat-and-mouse with security,” he said. “One hundred percent defense is impossible. … We're raising the bar so it's more difficult or not worth the hackers' time.”

Cecchetti said he became interested in computers as a student at Greensburg Central Catholic High School, where he graduated in 1999, writing software for games and building websites. He pursued a computer science degree from Latrobe's St. Vincent College in 2003, where he also did some systems administration work.

Then at Carnegie Mellon University, he earned a master's degree in information networking from the school of Electrical and Computer Engineering in 2005. Hired by Amazon to protect its systems from hackers, he moved to Seattle after graduation.

His parents, Thomas and Dawn, remain in Western Pennsylvania, having moved to Slippery Rock, and Cecchetti said he still catches Steelers games on TV. But he has no plans to boomerang back.

“I will always be a Pittsburgh boy, but Seattle's kind of my hometown now,” he said.

The Seattle Times contributed to this story. Andrew Conte is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7835 or

Add Andrew Conte to your Google+ circles.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.




Show commenting policy

Most-Read Business Headlines

  1. CMU showcases its lengthy list of fledgling companies at venture event
  2. Other segments nudge Alcoa to slim profit
  3. Rice, Gulfport team on Utica shale pipeline system
  4. Fed insight gives stocks room to run; S&P 500 regains 2,000 mark
  5. Energy efficiency goes mainstream with help of regulations, demand
  6. Eat’n Park sells Cura division that serves hospitals and senior living
  7. Bear sharpens claws on ‘old Pittsburgh’
  8. Alcoa supplying parts for military jets under $1.1B pact with Lockheed Martin
  9. Power plants challenged by carbon capture and storage
  10. Finding balance key to PNC Capital Markets chief’s success
  11. Stocks rally to erase morning slide ahead of government jobs report