Startup founded by U-M assoc. professor gets NSF grant

Healthcare security company Virta Laboratories, Inc. has received a $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

Kevin Fu in suit and tie Enlarge
Professor Kevin Fu

Co-founded by U-M associate professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Kevin Fu, U-M engineering alum Denis Foo Kune and computer science engineer Ben Ransford, Virta Labs developed the PowerGuard™, a plug-in device that detects anomalies in medical devices by analyzing their power consumption. The company plans to use the federal grant to extend its product lines and provide more holistic security offerings that span both hardware and software. Virta Labs received a Phase I grant from the same program in 2015.

“The recent rash of ransomware attacks at hospitals around the world shows that cybersecurity isn’t a problem that can be solved piece by piece,” Fu said. “Hospitals need to complete the security circle with comprehensive risk management, and this grant will help us play a role in that.”

The federal funding arrives at Virta Labs as hospitals around the world have been disrupted by ransomware. Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center paid a $17,000 ransom in February of this year to recover from a week-long attack against its hospital IT systems. Malware has also disrupted hospitals in California, Kentucky, West Virginia, Germany and Australia.

Virta Labs co-founder Dr. Ben Ransford says the new grant will help the company develop tools that hospitals can use to help prevent attacks like the ones in recent months. He said the hardware and software tools will help hospitals keep patient data safe without disrupting workflow or requiring major changes to policies and processes.

“Healthcare organizations are thinking seriously about security, but the best security tools were not designed for the unique challenges of healthcare,” Ransford said. “Our mission is to provide clear, continuous visibility into cybersecurity risk without interrupting clinical workflow. The SBIR grant is both validation and a clear message to us: go solve these problems.”

About Virta Labs

Virta Labs provides solutions to measure and visualize exposure to cybersecurity risks for healthcare delivery organizations that must ensure continuity of operations despite cybersecurity threats. Its flagship product, the patent-pending PowerGuard™ execution monitor, identifies runtime anomalies in medical devices without software changes or interruption to clinical workflow. The PowerGuardTM system provides an independent indicator of compromise for difficult-to-protect devices. Products in the Virta Labs’ portfolio extend this approach to the entire network.

About the SBIR Program

The NSF’s SBIR program is a $160 million program funding domestic small businesses to transform scientific discovery into societal and economic benefit by catalyzing private sector commercialization of technological innovations. The competitive program is awards-based and meant to stimulate high-tech innovation in the United States.