CIA Tech Incubator In-Q-Tel Invests in StreamBase

The U.S. intelligence community needs real-time surveillance and alerting capabilities, so this VC angel is investing in high-volume event processing and analysis technology.

In-Q-Tel, the investment firm set up by the Central Intelligence Agency to identify and back cutting-edge technologies, this week announced it would invest in StreamBase, a company that specializes in high-performance, complex-event processing. The deal represents a vote of confidence in the technology and a coup for StreamBase that will like open doors within the intelligence community.

Complex-event processing detects patterns in high-volume transaction streams in real time, and it has been pioneered in financial services, telecom, networking, e-Business and intelligence applications. The idea is to process information and alert users about activities before the data even hits the data store.

"The two big challenges are coping with the volume and velocity of information as it's streaming," says Troy M. Pearsall, executive vice president of technology initiatives at In-Q-Tel. "It's important to be able to examine the data and see the patters as they're coming toward you rather than after the fact."

Potential intelligence and military applications of the technology include surveillance and alerting, monitoring network traffic, message queues or e-mail, for instance. "It's not uncommon for enterprise networks to monitor IP logs at 50,000 transactions per second," says Bill Hobbib, vice president, marketing at StreamBase. "If you have hackers trying to get into the network, for example, those records are very well structured, and you could immediately take action by, for example, shutting a port or locking a user out of the network if you see suspicious activity."

The combination of real-time and historical analysis can be particularly insightful, according to Hobbib, and the company uses StreamSQL, a SQL-like stream-analysis query language it has developed and is promoting as a standard, to do just that.

"It's important to look at synthesizing real-time as well as historical information because if I see event A it could be very important to know that I've historically seen event B three seconds after such an event," says Pearsall.

In-Q-Tel does not get involved in government technology procurement, but in addition to providing and organizing funding, it "helps provide access to Intelligence Community partners," says Pearsall. "We do extreme due diligence on the companies we invest in, and we have a firm belief in the technologies and companies we back."