The Hackers and the Suits: A Made-for-Media Story

"Quick, call casting! Order up some pinstriped business types to play the straight men. Grab a few antiestablishment types to add dramatic tension. And rustle up some solid supporting types as the white-glove financial backers."

Sounds loony enough to be TV, but it's the real-life script for AtStake, a newly minted Netco that knows how to put together a media-friendly business. As reported in news outlets this morning, AtStake plans to announce today that it's opening for business as a security consultancy specializing in e-commerce.

But what's getting AtStake ink is its odd-couple union of mainstream computer execs and Lopht Heavy Industries, an organization of freelance hackers. To make the story juicier, AtStake is getting a $10 million investment from Battery Ventures, the Boston-based venture-capital firm that backed the red-hot Akamai Technologies.

At the core of AtStake will be an R&D effort led by a Lopht member and uber-hacker who likes to be called "Mudge," according to the Wall Street Journal. On board as chairman will be ex-Compaq and Digital exec John Rando.

The VP of marketing will be ex-Forrester Research analyst Ted Julian.

But far more interesting to the press is the participation of the eight Lopht members, who gained fame by breaking into computer systems and then publicizing their exploits and the flaws that made them possible. The Boston Globe described Lopht as a "once bitterly criticized" troupe that had since morphed into a "hacker think tank." But Lopht has crafted an image that's more media-ready than are the images of many Fortune 500 companies. MSNBC's Brock Meeks pointed out that one press report dubbed the group's members as the "rock stars" of hackerdom and that the Senate allowed them to use their handles when testifying before a committee on Net security. MSNBC even ran a glossy of Mudge with a desk lamp as a halo.

While Mudge tends his carefully cultivated image, other members of AtStake do the biz speak. "We think it's time for somebody to emerge as the 'pure play' vendor, the go-to guy, who can meet all their requirements both from an architecture perspective, an evaluation perspective, an assessments perspective and then go implement it," Battery general partner Tom Crotty told MSNBC. Meeks sniffed code-speak for an IPO, and reported that Crotty didn't back away from the analogy. Sounds like AtStake wants to be the breakout hit of the season.

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