U-M Spinout Virta Labs Awarded $750K for Healthcare Security Tech

Virta Laboratories, the healthcare security startup spun out of the University of Michigan, today announced it has received a $750,000 small business innovation research [SBIR] grant from the federal government to expand its commercialization efforts. This is Virta Labs’ second SBIR grant; it snagged a smaller, phase one award in 2015.

Established in 2014, Virta Labs focuses on early malware and anomaly detection in healthcare environments by non-intrusively measuring the power consumption patterns of the machines being protected, said company co-founder Kevin Fu. Virta Labs helps hospitals and medical device manufacturers measure and visualize their exposure to cybersecurity risks without interrupting clinical workflow.

The company’s lead product, currently undergoing beta testing, is the PowerGuard power outlet. “The PowerGuard constantly analyzes minute changes in a piece of equipment’s power consumption to detect unusual behavior, spotting costly problems or breaches quickly,” Fu said. “Think of it as a thermometer for digital threats—it detects when something looks awry, like ransomware or malware.”

For instance, if hackers are attempting to breach a hospital’s network through malware, it “lights the power line up like a Christmas tree,” Fu explained. After Virta Labs unleashes its algorithms and detects an anomaly, it can then “interface with existing products” to shut a potential cyber attack down. “We help hospitals measure and visualize risk without interrupting workflow, which is extremely important.”

Fu described cyber attacks in healthcare settings as a growing concern. Just last month, Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center paid a $17,000 ransom to recover from a week-long attack against its IT systems.  Cyber attacks have also recently disrupted hospitals in Germany and Australia, where a pathology lab in Melbourne resorted to manually processing blood samples after malware infected clinical systems, Fu said. The American Hospital Association has published guidelines for how hospitals can protect against threats, but Fu said part of the problem is that many hospitals don’t know the extent of their vulnerabilities.

Fu said there are three pieces of advice he gives to hospitals to protect against hackers: know your risk of cyber attack, deploy appropriate security controls that match the risks identified, and measure the effectiveness of security controls over time. “Some hospitals are much better than others, but too many are completely unprepared for cyber threats,” he added.

Fu said Virta Labs plans to use its latest SBIR grant to extend product lines and increase the PowerGuard’s protection capabilities from individual components to “entire hospital ecosystems.” The company, which has fewer than 10 employees, is based in Ann Arbor and is funded by angel investors and government grants.

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