Combining technology and business, Stevens alumnus Ram Pemmaraju (B.E. 1984) embodies the Stevens ideal of cross-disciplinary innovation. From the invention of keystroke encryption to his current position as head of his own computer security company, Pemmaraju has blended his expertise in computer science and business management to succeed in both worlds.
Pemmaraju was initially drawn to Stevens because of its strong focus on engineering. But certain classes and opportunities led him down a different path. An Electrical Engineering class introduced him to microprocessors. Then, his senior project "revolved around programming a PDP-8 using switches on the front panel. That made me interested in computers,” says Pemmaraju.
Due to connections made at Stevens, Pemmaraju was able to hit the ground running in his new field. A relationship started at Stevens led to his first job after graduation – a position with Codenoll, a fiber optic startup company based in New York.
Pemmaraju's next venture was launching his own company, Computer Security Systems.
"That business was started by me and two other graduates from Stevens and employed a number of students from Stevens," he said.
This first foray into owning a business allowed Pemmaraju to assume the roles of both businessman and engineer, laying the foundation for future ventures, including the development of keystroke encryption.
During his time with Computer Security Systems, Pemmaraju gained experience with cybersecurity through building and selling data encryption and access control systems.
"This background helped me with coming up with keystroke encryption as well as out-of-band authentication, which is widely used in securing access to computers," Pemmaraju said.
Keystroke encryption is an essential part of cybersecurity, used widely. CIO Magazine recently lauded the technology in an article titled "9 Unheralded Technology Innovations."
"The software is used by several million people, typically as a component of another security suite or identity theft package," said Pemmaraju.
The technology is available for PC and Mac, as well as Android and iPhone operating systems in the growing smartphone market.
Pemmaraju's passion shines through when he discusses his work with keystroke encryption and cybersecurity.
"Cyber crime has become an epidemic plaguing government and businesses,” he said. “The attacker lures the victim to download malware via phishing or compromised web sites. The malware typically contains a keylogger, which grabs everything you type. This can be passwords, credit card numbers or anything else of value which can lead to the attacker stealing money or corporate and government secrets. The existing defenses such as anti-virus software and firewalls are unable to prevent this, hence the large number of data breaches.”
Keystroke encryption is an elegant answer to this multifaceted problem.
"The best solution is to encrypt everything you type and transport the encrypted keys in a pathway hidden from the malware," said Pemmaraju. "The benefit is the reduction of data breaches and password theft, making the internet safe to use.”
He continues to develop secure technologies at his current company, Strikeforce Technologies. Pemmaraju started the business in 2002 with a few others. Even then, Stevens continued to play a role in Pemmaraju's associations.
"My first technical hire was a Stevens graduate," he said.
Since its inception, the business has expanded to include the core team in New Jersey, offshore development in India and distribution in England, Nigeria, Australia and Dubai. Pemmaraju considers keystroke encryption part of his company's claim to fame. The second part of their specialization is out-of-band authentication. Strikeforce Technologies also offers security software for smartphones using iPhone or Android mobile platforms.
As a small cap public company, Strikeforce Technologies faces different hurdles than a private company.
"[It] has its challenges," Pemmaraju admits.
However, he is perfectly suited to handle the intricacies of a computer-based business. Pemmaraju's dual background in business and technology allow him to evaluate market demands and cybersecurity needs in order to prepare for the future of online security.
"My current plan is to stay in the computer security industry as there is a lot of growth and I can leverage my background effectively," said Pemmaraju. "Fortunately, we are in an industry which is growing rapidly and we have the right products to capitalize on this opportunity."
Pemmaraju currently lives in Old Bridge, N.J. with his wife and two children.