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James Wooldridge, Deseret News
Twins Tom Gay, left, and Jon Gay, co-chief technology officers for Monarx, talk to Jayson Valadez, vice president of engineering, at his desk in the Monarx office in downtown Salt Lake City on Monday, June 11, 2018. The company developed new digital security tools protecting systems against malicious intruders.

SALT LAKE CITY — In the quest to keep digital systems safe from intrusion, the standard security strategy has been to create a virtual fortress — constructing cybersecurity "walls" to keep the would-be cyber invaders outside the keep.

Now, a Salt Lake City-based security startup, Monarx, has innovated an application that turns that approach on its head.

Its innovative strategy works even if a system's bridge is dropped and gates are open, dispensing with preventive barriers in favor of creating a digital environment in which a hacker is simply unable to activate the intrusive code. The startup's strategic approach also enables the owners of the targeted system to "watch" illegal entries and more easily identify from whence they come.

“It is a true prevention solution," said Jon Gay, Monarx co-founder and inventor of the technology. "We can see the intruder deposit the malicious code, we can see the hacker try and activate it, and we can tell the system administrator exactly how the file entered the system, without ever allowing the hacker to damage anything.”

The global cybersecurity market is one that's been growing at a radical clip, expanding by a factor of 35x in just over a decade from $3.4 billion in 2004 to over $120 billion in 2017, according to industry website CyberSecurity Ventures.

The growth has been fueled both by the increasing volume of malicious attacks — think malware, ransomware, phishing scams and socially-engineered intrusions — as well as a plethora of new devices that create new entry points for bad actors and their wares.

For now, Monarx is focused on securing content management system applications, though long-term plans call for expanding beyond current parameters.

"Open source has traditionally been underserved by the security market," said Monarx co-founder Brian Karney. "WordPress, Magento and other CMS applications have an especially difficult time with these intrusions because of their diverse community of plugins and other third-party add-ons. It’s where we have seen a lot of early interest and it’s a huge global community.”

Monarx CEO Matt Hoffman said just that slice of the cybersecurity pie represents hundreds of millions in addressable market.

"Right now, open-source CMS is a $300 million global opportunity," Hoffman said. "That's all we're going to concentrate on for the next year."

One thing likely to help Hoffman and his team stay focused on their product is a recently announced $3.4 million seed funding round, led by local venture capital concern Pelion Venture Partners with participation by Cottonwood Heights-based Kickstart Seed Fund.

Kickstart partner Curt Roberts told the Deseret News his firm was attracted to investing in Monarx both for its innovative approach to addressing cybersecurity issues as well as their previous work with Hoffman, who Roberts described as a serial success story.

"We've backed Matt before and consider him an extremely insightful and capable entrepreneur," Roberts said. "When Matt decides something is a really big idea, we pay attention."

Roberts said Kickstart had asked Hoffman to help troubleshoot a company they were involved with that had great potential but had "started to go sour." Roberts said there was little hope that Kickstart's investment could even be recouped, but thanks to Hoffman, an unexpected U-turn took place,

"It was not at all clear to us that the company could even make it," Roberts said. "But Matt came in and not only turned it around but was successful in selling it for a great outcome for all involved.

"It only served to underscore our experience that amazing founders can do much more with average ideas than average founders can do with amazing ideas."

Hoffman, however, is quick to defer to the technology innovators and his team as the key to both Monarx's current success and continued advancement on achieving its product and client goals.

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"John and Tom (Gay) were able to identify and solve a problem in a way that no one else had thought of," Hoffman said. "We've built a team around that idea and, with this new funding, are well situated to keep moving Monarx forward on application security issues."

Joining Pelion and Kickstart in backing Monarx were serial product entrepreneur Jeremy Andrus, formerly of Skullcandy and current CEO of Traeger Grills, and Aaron Skonnard, co-founder and CEO of the newly public tech education giant Pluralsight.