Purdue NE startup wins top tech prize from the Venture Club of Indiana

Arvind Sundaram

Earlier this month, Purdue-based startup Covert Defenses garnered the top prize of $10,000 in the digital tech category at the 2024 Innovation Showcase pitch competition hosted by the Venture Club of Indiana. Arvind Sundaram, co-founder and a Purdue alum (BSNE ’19, PhD NE ’22), pitched the patented self-healing Covert Cognizance platform to an audience of investors and budding entrepreneurs in Indiana’s successful startup ecosystem.

Covert Cognizance is designed to ensure zero-downtime operation of control systems even if they are compromised, thanks to its unique self-healing capability. Sundaram said that the core challenge of dealing with ransomware and data spoofing attacks today was that it cost far more to take systems offline than simply pay the ransom – a “lose-lose” situation.

Covert Cognizance is a paradigm shift in cybersecurity, distinguishing itself in both its deterministic approach to intrusion detection and silent proactive approach to recovery. “We work in an environment where we cannot afford false positives,” Sundaram said. “We need to be sure of a cyberattack and recover stealthily without alerting our adversaries despite the compromise.”

The platform supports both commercial and military applications as a “last line of defense,” ranging from protecting manufacturing plants and oil and gas pipelines from ransomware attacks to enabling drone swarm operations in cyber-contested environments. The Covert Defenses team also envisions offensive use cases including deception, covert communication and reconnaissance.

Covert Defenses has strong ties to Purdue University and was founded by Hany Abdel-Khalik, professor of nuclear engineering. The technology was disclosed and patented through the Purdue Innovates Office of Technology Commercialization (USP 10,942,500). The team believes that the pitch competition will create awareness of the platform capabilities among industrial control system vendors and defense stakeholders, with the objective of identifying pilot partners and transitioning the technology into these industry verticals.

Arvind Sundaram and Hany Abdel-Khalik