Founder Profile: Francesco Trama

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Don’t ever tell an Army man he can’t stop a country from invading someone’s inbox.
 
Francesco Trama, who spent 12 years in the U.S. Army and was a network engineer for 20 years, knows networks inside and out and has seen plenty of so-called smart firewall systems, but none that could fundamentally stop a specific country issue with spam or accurately report the origin of the problem.
 
In 2011, Trama founded Viper Network Systems and has quickly grown the company to a major player in network security, particularly for clients with a global presence. The 10-person company in West Mifflin has increased both staff and revenue while penetrating a variety of sectors that include employment, distribution, aeronautical, local townships and police, retail and financial and its geographic reach extends from Mexico to Kazakhstan to Australia. Already in 2013, Viper has surpassed last year’s total for reseller sign-up.
 
What was the inspiration behind Viper Network Systems?
I was a Network Engineer/Administrator/Consultant to 20 years. I built networks from the ground up. I have fought the fight with firewalls, IPS/IDS, spam, and lazy admins for as far back as I can remember.  Banging the same drum day in and day out, I always said there had to be a better way.  I worked feverishly on reducing unwanted traffic and yet things still got through, or I’d inadvertently block something legitimate.  I would create and maintain all these smart firewall systems with every bell and whistle, yet none of them could fundamentally stop a specific country issue or accurately tell me the origin of my problem.
It was very frustrating and in fact, I still get frustrated when I think about how it used to be. Anyway, I never gave up. I scoured the Internet for years looking for a solution, trying many things and each failed. One day, I happened to be on a project with a sharp programmer and remember blurting out my frustration to him.  With his programming genius, and my years of practical network administration and engineering, we created something that is admin friendly, practical, powerful, and useful. We basically came up with a new layer of security.
 
What was the biggest challenge in getting Viper Network Systems off the ground? 
The network security mindset that country filtering is a simple on and off “switch.” This was the biggest challenge we had and still have today. Up to the day PacketViper launched, country filtering was impractical. It was true; I lived it. Slowly and methodically we started talking to technicians, school students, resellers, trade shows, radio, and social media. It turned into a snowball and soon the word got out we do per port country filtering.
 
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome, personally or professionally? 
I call them the old dogs of network security.  These folks seem to always look at you as if you are out of your league, which can be very intimidating.  Personally speaking, they have even made me question myself and our motivation.  Then, I have remind myself I am a professional with more years in network infrastructure, design, and security than those barking we are off base.
 
The funny thing is I always get the same arguments from these old dogs, and as soon as I mention we can filter each country by port, the argument typically subsides. Sometimes, however we come across old Network security dogs who doesn’t believe it and I mute them with a simple sentence.  
 
So why should a business accept network traffic from a country they know for a fact they will never do business?
I guess its old school thinking that because you are connected to the Internet you have to allow all traffic to open ports? I can’t personally fathom that thinking, and whole-heartedly disagree. In fact it’s silly. The internet is dangerous arena, and now that our personal information is available, Business should be able to specifically say who comes to their web, mail, VPN, FTP, and the other 65,000-plus network ports. 
 
How can we stimulate small business to be an engine for job creation? 
Exposure. Help them get the word out about their business.  If they have a viable product, then help them reach their targets. So many small businesses fail, even with a good idea, because of exposure.  Have news organizations, radio talk shows spot light different business once a week like the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s TechVibe Radio. We were on TechRadio and I think that simple, no cost spot boosted what we did. Small businesses love exposure. The news stations win with more exposure, and the business equally wins. It’s a win-win. Every now and then I see a small business spotlight. Why not more frequently? 
 
What key partnerships in your region or state have helped Viper Network Systems grow?
Pittsburgh Technology Council, surrounding Chambers of Commerce, trade reps from our state, and our resellers bringing the word to other businesses. 
 
What advantages does being in your region hold for entrepreneurs?
Pittsburgh offers enormous business networking advantages. I can’t count on how many user groups, meet-n-greets, and breakfasts I have been to. There is amazing collaboration between business here, and an out-of-the-way willingness to help each other grow.  I think it’s a Pittsburgh thing, like our sports. I can’t speak for other cities, but we (Viper) could not have accomplished all we’ve had without Pittsburgh’s support mechanisms.   
 
What’s the big differentiator for Viper Network Systems? 
Our products are much different than what is offered today. Today some firewalls (small group) offer country blocking, but it’s on or off.  This method is not very practical, and not very useful for global businesses.  PacketViper is capable of filtering the entire country or by port.  This means a customer is capable of allowing only web traffic from China, while at same time denying Spain from web traffic.  Our product gives the customer much more flexibility and tailors traffic to their network.  
 
We also offer GNLs (Global Network Lists), dossiers of small, or large active business networks around the world, which customers can quickly click and filter. For instance, if a customer is blocking many countries, but wants to insure Microsoft is freely accessible, they can quickly click on the Microsoft GNL, enter the ports they want to allow and save.
 
Our lists contain many different network types such as known spammers, botnet, proxy, and vulnerable/compromised networks and systems. We track and manage tens of millions of global IP addresses using these GNL’s. Our list gives the customer more granularity for country filtering. These are very popular with our customers. PacketViper is an appliance, downloadable software, or can be deployed into a VM environment. Not many offer this. 
 
Our real-time logs are also patent unique to Viper Network Systems. PacketViper provide real time logging with a twist. A customer can simply click on a log entry, and view the complete details of the IP, its associated networks, country, city, ISP, network speed, along with many other things. Should a customer choose, they can click and block the associated networks, or just the IP. We call this insta-block net check and is a favorite for administrators.  
 
There are many other features administrators have at their deposal, such as customer rules and groups, triggers, tarpits, honeypots to lure malicious traffic, CIA country details, DMZ, staid routing, log exporting and importing. Although these are available in a variety of products, none contain them all. We have PacketVipers around the world, called honeypots. They are strategically placed globally as sacrificial lambs for the sole purpose of getting attacked. Each evening we collect the attack data, package it up, and upload to our customers. In this respect, we thank the attackers for doing our job. Currently an admin would have to go to many different sites to see trending malicious IP data.  We, on the other hand, have built this stealth network so our customers are prepared nightly. The web of honeypots we have built around the world has inadvertently provided us with new insights and visions, which will only help the future of network security.
 
What’s next for Viper Network Systems?
There are several other technologies and products we will be making available to the public shortly. Aside from the additional features to our current version, PV-050 will be made available as small profile SOHO appliance design. This unit is attractively priced to capture the 1-25 employee markets.  
 
We’ll also be offering a CBL service (Country Black lists) DNS service, which is much different than what is offered on the market today. Our CBL service will quickly integrate into current devices such as Spam Filters, Firewalls, and mail appliances that support RBL. Customers will able to be purchase this as a monthly service. Customers can log into their portal, build a specific country block list, and then receive a custom DNS RBL address which they plug into their devices. This is a more targeted approach than what is offered today. 
 
Other products and services we plan to launch at the end of the year, we are keeping close to the chest. 
— by Joe Petrucci


http://www.vipernetworksystems.com/
920 Irwin Run Rd. West Mifflin, PA 15122

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