The Technovore: Auburn’s Lyon hacks way to Internet defenderBy: Andrew DiLuccia, Managing Editor
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It never ceases to amaze me how many interesting people call the foothills home.
Artists, war vets, mechanical geniuses, self-made entrepreneurs and many more contribute to the stew that makes this area such a unique and somewhat eclectic community.
I found another one of those exceptional personalities recently. While possibly well known to some in the community, I recently had the pleasure myself to come across Auburnite, Barrett Lyon.
That last name has some fairly deep ties to area, but more importantly, for those in the tech world, he’s what I would consider one of the key players of the Internet age.
Lyon’s work in Internet security, mapping, streaming technology and more has taken him the world over, helping government groups, such as the FBI, and large corporations protect their interests and bringing international cyber criminals to justice. He’s helped some of the more prominent names in streaming services, such as YouTube, reach their potential, and he’s been interviewed by everyone from Wired magazine to National Public Radio to the New York Times, CNN and more.
He says he’s raised nearly $40 million in venture capital over the course of creating several tech startups, which he builds up, makes successful and then moves on. He told people he would map out the Internet in a day, which he was told couldn’t be done, and it’s now a piece of artwork that hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and is featured in numerous textbooks and publications.
I forgot to mention, he’s done all this and battled dyslexia.
At 34 and married with one stepdaughter, Lyon credits his start down his current career path to the school system here in Auburn. His passion for computers and programming began at E.V. Cain School where his teacher taught him and his classmates how to hack a Commodore 64 computer and do some programming.
Unlike most boys in the seventh grade, it wasn’t the gaming side of computers that intrigued him, it was the programming. That interest grew at Placer High where he and his classmates ran a server and started to create hosting sites and message boards.
“Ever since then I’ve been on a conquest for more bandwidth,” he said.
After high school, a security firm in the Midwest asked him to come out and work on protecting a client’s information from digital attacks – a natural fit for someone who did some hacking of his own. However, Lyon quit tech cold turkey after this stint and went to Sacramento State where he competed on the rowing team.
But he didn’t stay away long. Thanks to the offer of a beach house in Southern California, he returned to tech, getting paid to hack clients to exploit their system flaws.
During his technological adventures Lyon has created multiple patents (not just in security) that are used in part to protect organizations from online attacks called denial of service. Hackers use these types of attacks to flood a company’s website and bring it to its knees.
Currently Lyon is on to his seventh company, headquartered in Menlo Park, but he still calls Auburn home. Two days a week he’s down in the Bay Area for work, but only stays one night, thanks to his form of commute – airplane. Lyon flies down on a Tuesday and comes back on a Wednesday, allowing him time with his family and to be in the community he loves.
“The quality of life is better here,” he said. “(In) the Bay Area you can have a similar quality of life, but it will cost you 10 times as much. I had to figure out a way to do it, and the Auburn Airport did it.”
Lyon’s passion for his hometown is so strong that he hopes one day that he can create a tech startup here where he can leave his planes in the hangar — at least for work-related reasons.
“There’s a hidden tech community here,” he said. “One of these days I’d like to slow down and see what happens here.”
When it comes to the world of technology Lyon has some very unique perspectives. As a man who knows and has worked with some of the fathers of the Internet, he sees the successes and the shortfalls that plague our country’s network.
“The Internet protocols we use today are almost 30 years old,” Lyon said. “We can put a man on the moon and build a space station, but we can’t make an Internet free of cyber attacks?”
He sees a lag between countries that have been “plugged in” for a while, and those that have recently joined the digital age. Understanding the technology in developing countries and providing better security practices and education will be key to creating a safer, more secure World Wide Web.
To combat the security problems facing the Internet, Lyon says broadband and the Web need to be treated the same way we approach the electrical grid – a necessary tool for everyday life that must be maintained, protected and continually improved.
“We can prevent all these bad things from happening,” Lyon said. “The president needs to have the ‘we’re going to the moon’ speech for the Internet,” in regard to a directive making the Internet more secure.
It’s a unique time for us digitally as the use of mobile technology and the dependence on the Internet increases for so many. As Lyon says, soon our homes and appliances, if they aren’t already, will be hooked up to the Web.
So it’s good to know, that right here in Auburn, we have a person that’s working to make sure our ever-growing digital world is a convenient and safe one.
Reach Andrew DiLuccia at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Andrew_AJCity.