At the age of 10 Max Niebylski, was running a revenue-generating Minecraft server company. When his business fell victim to a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack, he set out to find a solution.
He learned to navigate the dark web and find a way to counter the web-paralysing tool, created in 1974, ironically by another teenager as a prank, that has plagued websites for decades and cost organisations millions.
During a DDoS attack the server is bombarded with so many useless requests, reducing its capability to serve genuine users and bringing the site down. There are solutions on the market to counter the attacks, but Niebylski, now 19, believes that Gladius, the blockchain startup that he co founded, offers a more effective solution.
Growing up in a family where education was everything, his curiosity for learning knew no bounds. “I hopped from subject to subject, but always ended up coming back to tech,” he says. “From the age of 10 knew I wanted to be a tech entrepreneur. My dreams came to fruition when I decided to drop out of college, much to my parent’s surprise, and pursue Gladius full time.”
After experiencing cyber attacks on his own Minecraft server nine years earlier he had made it his quest to learn why his server was being shut down every few days, and how he could stop the attacks. To most people the dark web is a mysterious and baffling place, but evidently not to a young Niebylski. He’d been given his first desktop computer at eight and was instantly drawn to the flashy video games. When he became bored with the games, rather than move on to other forms of entertainment, he decided to modify them and taught himself to program.
He says: “All of the quality game modification tutorials were about designing custom hacks, and those were always found on the more hidden parts of the web. Spending my free evenings on theses websites sparked my interest in cybersecurity and blockchain technologies.”
It was during the summer of 2017, his freshman year at the University of Maryland, that Niebylski and a couple of his friends founded Gladius.
“We had tried to launch a fitness app, but as soon we published it, we started getting hit with DDoS attacks,” he says. “When we really looked at products and services to mitigate the attacks we found that solutions were largely centralised and the service providers were paying a lot of money for power, space, cooling and infrastructure. I thought, ‘I can run game servers and mine crypto-currencies in a distributed manner, why not fight DDoS attacks the same way?’”
The Gladius DDoS software platform aggregates unused bandwidth from consumers, effectively renting internet bandwidth from them during downtime, while they sleep or while they are at work, and making that bandwidth instantly available to any participating company to defend against inbound DDoS attacks.
The Ethereum blockchain on which Gladius is built presented the founders with some of their biggest challenges. “Modern blockchain tech was only a few years old at this point, so we’ve had to be very agile when programming in all of these brand new development languages that would change and break our software on a weekly basis,” says Niebylski.
While most early stage tech startups secure funding from friends and family, angel investors and venture capitalists, in December 2017 Niebylski went down the ICO route, raising $20 million from the token sale.
“This enabled us to seek like-minded individuals who were willing to pay for early access to our product,” says Niebylski. “The benefits of this approach included retention of our equity and access to a large number of contributors who wanted to help test and evaluate the product to ensure its viability.”
The Washington, D.C.-based company is currently in open beta, its website open to anyone around the world with high speed internet connection and spare computing power to start earning money protecting websites. Over 1000 people in 80 different countries are currently testing the solution.
Niebylski, who now works with a team of 14, says: “We are aiming to be EBITDA positive by 2020 and cash flow positive by 2021, and both are achievable outcomes. Our main focus is tackling the largest problems of security providers with the aim of being more scalable economical, and vendor and equipment agnostic than existing solutions.”
Hackers are becoming increasingly more sophisticated and more damaging to business. According to Kaspersky’s ‘IT Security Risks Survey 2017’, the financial implications of reacting to a DDoS attack for enterprises jumped from $1.6 million in 2016 to $2.3 million in 2017. For small to medium sized businesses the number jumped from $106,000 in 2016 to $123,000 in 2017. These represent annual increases of 43.7% and 16.0% respectively.
“To effectively address this problem, we need to tear down walls and collaborate,” says Niebylski. ‘The solution will look more like what the hackers use and less like today’s offerings. We need an open source solution that can install on a variety of hardware components or operating systems, run over any service provider network, and offer companies better automation, transparency, and security while leveling the economic playing field!”