by Heidi Smith
Just as many people don’t visit a doctor until they get sick, companies housing sensitive information often contact Townsend Security only after they’ve had a data breach. The Olympia-based business supports clients worldwide with secure encryption to protect health care records, credit card numbers and other essential data.
“The threats have changed over time,” says CEO Patrick Townsend. “Five years ago, you probably hadn’t heard of ransomware. Now, people are moving back and forth between the cloud and their data centers, and that information has to be protected. The kind of encryption work we do helps to protect against different types of risks.”
Two critical areas of focus are ransomware and hacks that target credit card data, social security numbers and other information. In the former case, a hacker will create an infection that infiltrates a company’s database, then scramble the data and demand a ransom to unlock it.
“They also take a copy of the data,” Townsend explains. “The threat is, ‘You’d better pay us because if you don’t, we’ll release it.’ Encryption is how we prevent hackers from being able to extort money. If they can’t use the data, then you don’t have to worry that they might expose it.”
In a recent case, a healthcare company employee lost a backup tape of healthcare records after a thief broke into their car. The thief stole the tape, and then there was the risk that those records would be exposed. “The data wasn’t encrypted, and that led to a lot of pain for that organization,” says Townsend.
As convenient as they are, credit and debit cards can also be a significant liability when it comes to security. Many retailers store card information to streamline the checkout process, but thousands of fraudulent purchases ensue if hackers gain access to that information. Townsend Security can encrypt that data so that it will appear as a scrambled mess that hackers won’t use.
As Townsend points out, sensitive data goes beyond credit cards. “It’s our email addresses, phone numbers and social security numbers. A great deal of information needs to be protected.”
After a first career as a Special Education teacher, Townsend developed an IT company in the San Francisco Bay Area that served clients like Apple, IBM and Pottery Barn. He and his wife moved to Europe for several years, then relocated to Washington State just as many tech companies were getting their start.
“It was a very lively, cloud-centric tech community in Seattle that included medical technology, space technology and telecommunications,” he recalls. “Once I got settled here, we slowly made a transition to software products focused on security and then into fully becoming a security company. That was the genesis of where we are today.”
From the start, he wanted to develop something different from the highly competitive, male-dominated tech culture so prevalent in Silicon Valley. The leadership team at Townsend Security is half women, and the business celebrates diversity in gender, race, ethnicity, political beliefs and spiritual beliefs. “We set out to create a business that was emotionally positive and healthy,” he says. “We have processes in place to help with things like conflict resolution, respect and communication.”
Community service is also part of the culture. One member of the company’s leadership team serves on the board at United Way of Thurston County. Other staff members support organizations focused on environmental sustainability, women’s health and children’s health and wellbeing.
“We’re working with software engineers who have a lot of choices about where they can live,” Townsend notes. “They tend to be involved in creating healthy communities and positive environments for themselves and their children to enjoy.” Staff is paid for a certain number of volunteer hours throughout the year.
COVID-19’s impact on the company has been mixed. On the one hand, clients dropped security projects as they scrambled to support a workforce suddenly working from home, and several vital industries suffered substantial economic hits. Townsend’s airline, transportation and hospitality clients found their budgets decimated.
Simultaneously, the move to home-based jobs meant a greater need for security in some cases, and as more online businesses sprung up, they also required support.
As technology continues to evolve, Townsend Security will grow with it to continue keeping client’s data safe, Townsend says. “Our focus is to keep pace with all the changes our clients are going through.”