When the Air Force assigned him to handle computer security at the Pentagon, Kevin Mandia ’92 had no idea his first job out of college would lead him to found his own company. Today, he is president and chief executive officer of Mandiant Intelligent Information Security and an internationally recognized expert in the field.
“I’m not sure if I liked it first and got good at it, or got good at it and liked it because of that,” says Mandia, a computer science graduate. “I think I actually got good at it first and recognized I had a passion for it as well.”
He went on to build a computer forensics and investigations group for Foundstone, a security consulting company, then decided in February 2004 to start his own business. After nearly three years, Mandiant has a team of 35 people. The company holds security clearances and does both commercial and government work.
“We help organizations handle unlawful or unauthorized intrusions in a discreet manner,” explains Mandia. “We solve problems.”
Many of Mandiant’s specialists have experience as U.S. counterintelligence agents, Department of Defense computer security specialists, computer programmers, law enforcement officers, specialized security consultants, forensic examiners, and expert witnesses for the U.S. Department of Justice.
“Almost every case you read about in the papers has a computer forensics side to it,” he says. “These guys are rocket scientists, literally. You should see them – they could build airplanes. For what we do for a living, the guys who are the best hackers in the world are still the good guys. They’re real smart, clean-cut guys, and we have a lot of them, a lot of ex-military guys with exceptional experience,” Mandia says. “We made [intrusion response] a niche; a lot of other companies don’t look at response as their main thing.”
As Mandia explains, computer intrusions are more pervasive than many people think. Water lines, transportation systems, and most businesses rely on computers, and someone needs only a user name and password from an online shopping account to steal an individual’s identity. Russian organized crime targets American consumers, and Mandia has seen cases where people have lost nearly $100,000 before realizing what happened.
“The bottom line is, your identity is kept on computers now,” says Mandia. “Crime goes where money goes; crime goes online because the money is online. This is the first time a guy committing a crime can be 2,000 miles away. The bad guys are doing more sophisticated stuff, so we have to constantly improve.”
Mandia has conducted computer intrusion classes for the FBI, CIA, NASA, Postal Service, and State Department. He also teaches graduate courses at George Washington University, where he received a master’s in forensic science. He is co-author of Incident Response: Performing Computer Forensics, and Incident Response: Investigating Computer Crime, as well as articles for The International Journal of Cyber Crime and Secure Computing Magazine. He has been featured on CNN’s “Talkback Live,” as well as news programs on NBC and Fox.
His undergraduate years taught Mandia to handle fast-paced and high-pressure situations.
“When I came out of Lafayette, nothing could rattle me anymore,” he says. “I would deal with guys from MIT who got rattled when things got hard. I became a more well-rounded guy at Lafayette.”
He is proud to be part of a network of alumni who maintain friendships and support each other nearly 15 years after graduation.
“I think we [students] merged closer than people at other colleges. We definitely have a close-knit group. We had a lot more camaraderie here. I’m probably still in touch with 30 or 40 Lafayette grads. [They] have been very good to me. We all do what we can to make sure each others’ ventures are successful. It’s been really good to keep that unity.”