Nathaniel Fick, CEO, Endgame Systems. (CNAS)
Endgame Systems is a secretive cyber company with an intriguing specialty. The firm’s chief product, software called Bonesaw, is a “cyber targeting application” that tracks servers and routers worldwide, mapping the hardware attached to the Web.
These are the access points through which the National Security Agency, Cyber Command and other U.S. agencies, could launch operations against adversaries and threats.
In February 2011, Endgame was briefly caught up in scandal. The anti-authoritarian group Anonymous hacked into a firm called HBGary Federal and dug up documents and emails showing some companies had discussed a dirty-tricks campaign against activist organizations. Endgame Systems became embroiled when a capabilities briefing showed up in one of the Anonymous hacks.
Endgame quickly stepped into the shadows, shutting itself to public view.
In what may be a dramatic sign of the times, that’s changing, with the introduction of an extraordinary new pick for a chief executive officer for Endgame.
Four years ago, the HBO series “Generation Kill,” based on a book of the same name, dramatized the experiences of a Marine reconnaissance platoon during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Leading the platoon with thoughtful determination was a young Marine reconnaissance lieutenant named Nathaniel Fick.
Before Iraq, the real-life Fick had helicoptered into Afghanistan during the initial U.S. operations there. He was part of the generation forged by the military actions of the past decade. He left the Marines and after getting a graduate degree at Harvard Business School headed an influential think tank, the Center for a New American Security. That put him in the circles of the national security elite, giving him access to the inside-the-Beltway intellectuals, writers and officials who guide policy.
With this background, his appointment to the helm of Endgame is significant. This is the new world of policy and of defense contracting. It is a place that can make even the invasion of Iraq seem morally clear: cyberwar.
“I spent my first five years out of college participating — at a junior level — in the events of our time,” he says, referring to the early days in Afghanistan and Iraq. “And it ends up setting the bar high for what you find meaningful later.”
Fick declined to discuss the specifics of Endgame’s capabilities and cyber tools because he’s new to the company and because of sensitivities of the technology. But he says he got involved through his role at the Bessemer Venture Partners investment firm, where he is an operating partner.
“Endgame is the only cyber company that I’m aware of,” he says, “that has the backing of top-tier venture capital firms.”
Fick acknowledges that most defense sectors are due for belt-tightening, speaking as much as the think tank head he was as the defense contractor he is becoming.
“The defense budget is going to be under pressure, and it should be,” he says. “In many cases, the rampant excesses of the last decade are completely unsustainable.”
But there’s opportunity still, he says. “I think there are areas that will continue to grow.”
Endgame’s Bonesaw is marketed to U.S. intelligence agencies and large companies. It doesn’t hide its offensive capabilities as a tool for launching cyber weapons.
Marketing documents say “the Bonesaw platform provides a complete environment for intelligence analysts and mission planners to take a holistic approach to target discovery, reducing the time to create actionable intelligence and operational plans from days to minutes.”
“Bonesaw is the ability to map, basically every device connected to the Internet and what hardware and software it is,” says a company official who requested anonymity. The official points out that the firm doesn’t launch offensive cyber ops, it just helps.
Endgame’s next product is more advanced than Bonesaw. The application, called Velocity, is to provide access to this mapped-out Internet in real time as hardware is added and deleted, making cyber targeting more immediate, and increasingly laying bare the Internet.
This story appears in the January-February issue of C4ISR Journal.