AeroDefense Founder on the Challenges of Marketing Counter-Drone Solutions
In this month’s SECURE Perspectives, Linda Ziemba discusses privacy risks, the challenge of being one of the few vendors to operate legal technology and more.
SECURE Perspectives is a monthly column by the Security Industry Association (SIA) profiling women in the security industry. This column is part of SIA’s Women in Security Forum, an initiative to support the participation of women in the security field through programs, networking and professional growth events and thought leadership opportunities.
For this edition of SECURE Perspectives, SIA spoke with Linda Ziemba, founder and CEO of AeroDefense.
SIA: How did you get into the security industry?
Linda Ziemba: My entry into the security industry happened by chance, though some might call it fate. In 2004 I was working in sales for a software company, and one day I cold-called the vice president of sales for a web security company. The conversation led to me being hired essentially on the spot because I was so intrigued by the subject matter and trajectory of the industry.
Several years later, in 2015, I saw the emergence of drones cause serious public safety concerns — one example being drones interfering with California firefighters. I thought to use Internet security techniques against these flying computers, and thus AeroDefense was born. Since then, drones have been used for good causes, too, but as technology improves, bad actors devise new ways to exploit it. I take great pride in the impact AeroDefense has on creating a safer environment.
How does your organization serve the industry?
AeroDefense provides a radio frequency-based drone detection system to assist organizations concerned about drone threats ranging from foolish accidents to criminal or terrorist attacks.
Our systems utilize a network of sensors with AeroDefense patented software to detect unauthorized drones and their pilots simultaneously. The technology is proven to operate effectively in urban environments with very heavy radio frequency (RF) saturation as well as remote areas, so we are able to serve a wide customer base.
What types of job functions do women fill in your company? Is there diversity of roles in your company, or do women gravitate toward certain job functions?
Women fill executive leadership and marketing roles at AeroDefense. I will add that a female intern developed our first user interface; since her boyfriend also worked for AeroDefense, she opted to find another opportunity upon graduation.
We are an engineering company at heart, so we would very much like to find female engineers to join the team, but they are fairly difficult to find.
With more and more data that shows diversity makes a better workforce, what opportunities do you see for women in the security industry? What impediments do you see for achieving this? What could remedy some of these impediments?
I tend to shy away from citing gender-based opportunities because women can do anything men can do, especially in the security industry. That being said, I believe gender diversity makes a significant difference in the areas of investigative services or product design. How one thinks to approach a problem or use a product makes a big difference in the outcome.
Impediments to gender diversity in tech start at childhood. Too often, little girls are given kitchen sets and dolls while little boys are given science kits and engineering toys. You never know what will capture a child’s fascination, but if girls don’t have the exposure to tech, they surely won’t choose that path.
What do you see as important trends in the industry?
Privacy risks. Connected devices present so many threat vectors for hackers — Ring doorbells, Alexa, Siri, Nest and connected automobiles, just to name a few examples. Thus far, security and forensic security have been afterthoughts. Who do you call if your Ring doorbell has been hacked or a drone crashes into your parked car? Your local police have certainly not been given tools to investigate such incidents.
More specifically, what trends are you seeing in your company’s space of counter-drone UAS solutions and drone detection?
Privacy is at risk here too. Many drone detection systems obtain information about a drone by demodulation of the command and control signal between the drone and the pilot’s ground station controller. Not only does this technique violate federal wiretapping laws, but it also risks the demodulation of other signals like WiFi or cell phone signals. Some systems with these capabilities are manufactured in countries considered to be enemies to the United States.
Put artificial intelligence and a weapon on a drone or a ground-based automated vehicle, and you have a formidable threat no one is ready to handle.
What are the top challenges your company has faced in the last year?
The biggest challenge has been getting an opportunity to explain to regulators, who characterize all RF systems as illegal, why and how AeroDefense operates legally.
There are 500 to 700 “counter-UAV” companies in the market. The types of companies range from big military contractors to small business resellers of other company’s products, sometimes reverse-engineered and white-labeled.
Numerous well-funded startups make the rounds to tests and trade shows, where they deliver bold claims based on the best possible test results obtained in wide open desert areas which cannot be replicated in realistic urban environments, which has unfortunately resulted in industry pundits characterizing the market as a bunch of snake oil salesmen.
AeroDefense took a very different approach to carefully develop a legal system that analyzes the RF spectrum physical environment to detect and locate drone signals. Last summer, our product was awarded the prestigious U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Support Anti-Terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies Act (SAFETY Act) Developmental Testing and Evaluation Designation, which requires legal deployment and operation. Currently, our system is the only one of its kind to have received any level of recognition from the SAFETY Act.
What are the biggest opportunities your company – and the industry – are seeing?
Drones currently present the biggest problems for both U.S. troops deployed in hostile countries and correctional facilities faced with airborne contraband delivery. We also see interest from a broad range of entities including power, oil and gas, stadiums, corporations and large property management companies, which indicates anticipated risks.
What do you hope the SIA Women in Security Forum can achieve for the security industry?
I hope the Women in Security Forum can foster a talent pool of women at all career stages from entry level to executive managers — smart, ambitious women who are passionate about security. The Women in Security Forum can help create awareness of new opportunities and teach women how to prepare for them.
What is your best advice for women in the industry?
Get technical – set up your own lab. Seek a mentor. Most of all, be curious, ask a lot of thoughtful questions and strive to venture outside of your comfort zone.
Who or what was the strongest influence in your career?
When I was in grade school oh so many years ago, the local small-town bank invited my class for a field trip to learn about banking. They showed us what their gigantic computer could do: print Mickey Mouse on green and white paper with holes on the sides! I was hooked. I knew if the computer could print Mickey, it could do amazing things. Ever since then, I’ve loved technology, especially computer technology.
How do you define success?
Happiness and health represent success to me. How you get those things is different for everyone. I happen to really enjoy work, especially with this team and market niche.
What would you say to new upcoming women in the industry?
Persist — when someone tells you “no,” figure out why they said it to possibly find a way to make it happen. It sounds very clichéd, but it is very valuable — learn from your mistakes. Ask questions — a lot of questions.
Learn today’s technology and yesterday’s technology, and always focus on what’s new. Almost all innovative new technologies — camera, computer, internet, drone — are quickly followed by malicious attempts. Stay in front of the curve until the machines take over. Then hide.
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