Got ID?

Marc Maiffret, 21, & Firas Bushnaq, 34: eEye Digital Security

Marc Maiffret leads a colorful life. His office walls are dark blue. His hair color varies between black and green. He helped discover the infamous Code Red worm that stormed the Internet in 2001. It's all fitting for the 21-year-old "chief hacking officer" of eEye Digital Security. After all, his teenage hacker handle was "Chameleon."

With the help of co-founder, co-CEO and chief technology officer Firas Bushnaq, Maiffret turned his hacking hobby into a legitimate business. Introduced to Bushnaq by a friend, Maiffret took on hacking-related security work for Bushnaq's e-business solutions provider company, eCompany. They saw a bright future in security and launched Aliso Viejo, California-based eEye in 1998, with funding from eCompany. Not bad for a then-17-year-old who dreaded going to school and turned to nonmalicious exploratory hacking out of sheer boredom.

Maiffret hasn't been bored since. Security is a hot issue today, and eEye provides advanced network security software to the tune of millions in yearly sales. "The thing I'm happy about is that my biggest passion in life, hacking and security, is something that actually makes for a good business," says Maiffret.

You can hear the enthusiasm and Southern California flavor in his voice when you talk to Maiffret. But the young entrepreneur also shows a maturity you'd expect from someone twice his age when he talks about eEye's five branch offices and 50 employees. "You feel the weight of 50 families depending on you," he says. "It can be a scary thing, but at the same time it's a really great feeling to have that much weight on my back."

eEye has separated itself from competitors not only with the strength of award-winning technology, but also with research. Their discovery of vulnerabilities in Microsoft's software products is largely responsible for the current push of "trustworthy computing." That work has helped Maiffret make the leap from being on the wrong side of FBI scrutiny as an at-home hacker to being a trusted FBI consultant.

"It's inspiring that some kid [who] didn't even finish high school actually worked hard enough and believed enough to get where I am today," he says. The color Maiffret and eEye are seeing now is a green light to go for a bright future.

Success Secrets

What has been your greatest accomplishment?
Marc Maiffret: Over the last year, just being where we are. All of our products have won awards and beaten out companies that have been around for [many] years and have much larger marketing budgets. We're profitable, which a lot of other security start-ups aren't.

What sets eEye apart from the competition?
Maiffret: The technology. There are core pieces to the security puzzle: antivirus, intrusion protection, firewall. A lot of these things haven't changed in five years, some in 10. We wanted to get in on security and truly innovate. With [our products], we've definitely gone the extra mile and innovated within the technology.

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This article was originally published in the November 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Got ID?.

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