Former intel officials take new approach to cyber-defense

COLORADO SPRINGS -- The revelation this week that hackers broke into the personal e-mail accounts of two of the nation's top national security officials has put new focus on the importance of cyber security.

CBS correspondent Mark Strassmann reports that Root9b, a company created by former national security professionals is taking a new approach to cyber-defense.

At the company's headquarters in Colorado Springs, Root9b workers pore over what looks like a jumble of computer code that's actually a crime scene - someone has broken into the cyber-system of a Fortune 100 company. Finding -- and stopping -- whoever's behind the cyber-burglary in progress "is a cyber knife-fight," Root9b employee Mike Morrison said.

Morrison calls the search for cyber-criminals "the hunt."

"The adversary does not know about him yet," Morrison said as a Root9b employee targeted the cyber-burglar.

Root9b is a different kind of cyber-security company.

"Our folks are seasoned operators from the Department of Defense that understand the adversary," CEO Eric Hipkins said.

Like Hipkins, most of Root9b's cyber-sleuths used to work at the National Security Agency.

They're former military intelligence professionals who became experts in classified cyber-space and cryptology.

Hipkins cited the professional backgrounds of his employees, saying, "we have a clear understanding of how the adversary operates, their tactics, techniques, and procedures and capabilities required to eradicate them from the network."

Asked what's at stake, and Hipkins said, "I would say everything's at stake. Reputation, valuation to your customers, and the overall health of your organization."

Hackers embarrassed Sony Pictures last year, releasing personal emails, salary information and movies.

Two months earlier, 56 million of Home Depot's credit card accounts were compromised. And a security breach in 2013 cost Target more than $1 billion.

Root9b has both public and private clients, none of which they'll identify. But experts say organizations everywhere are under cyber-attack, 24/7.

"They are able to bypass the security products that have been installed in the network at hundreds of million of dollars," Hipkins said.

His company essentially spots burglaries in process and stops them.

Here's what's really different. On average, it takes a company nine months to discover a hacker, and at least another seven months to remove them. Root9b goes after the hackers in real time.

The hackers could be anyone from state-sponsored terror groups to teenagers with time on their hands.

At Root9b, that's the focus: the people doing the hacking, not the machines.

John Harbaugh is the chief operating officer at Root9b, and he says, "Cyber is not a government problem to solve."

He left the NSA after 25 years and said it was frustrating that the "bad guys" are "always ahead and getting away."

"This is a battle -- air, land, sea and cyber," said Hipkins. "And I think the commercial markets are quickly realizing that they happen to be ground zero at this war, this cyber war."

In this particular battle, the "hunt" was successful. The adversaries were caught and removed from the system.

But chances are, they'll be back.