Chattanooga's Conversant Group growing amid data breaches – Chattanooga Times Free Press

A Chattanooga-based information technology infrastructure and security consulting company has expanded its offerings to help businesses quickly recover from data breaches.
Conversant Group has started sister firm Fenix24, which company co-founder and Chief Executive Officer John Anthony Smith calls “an emergency room” for entities that have suffered a breach.
“If you don't recognize the risks, threat actors can destroy it all,” Smith said in a recent interview in the company's offices in downtown Chattanooga's Southside.
According to Conversant, actions such as deploying forensics tools, rebuilding remote access, identifying key infrastructure and re-establishing corporate communications such as email begin immediately when Fenix24 is hired to fight the breaches.
“We work alongside lawyers, ransomware negotiators and data forensics,” Smith said.
He said criminal groups, which he calls “terrorists,” often operate from nations such as Russia, China and North Korea and countries not friendly to America. Smith said the groups have elevated their activity against America's private and public sectors.
“They target our infrastructure,” he said. “They target our businesses.”
Smith said the attacks usually are not drive-by breaches.
“Most of these things are targeted. They're making so much money,” he said. “They need to be punished to the highest extent of the law.”
Also, Smith said, the groups are likely sharing information they illegally glean with the governments in the countries where they're operating.
Conversant was started in 2009 and has grown into a national brand, Smith said. Fenix24 focuses exclusively on providing what the company terms “disaster recovery services.”
“We're an army for hire,” the company official said. “Organizations (that suffer breaches) are not staffed to rebuild overnight.
Mark Grazman, Conversant president and co-founder of Fenix24, said its data recovery and restoration team sees each incident as a mission.
“They are experienced in restoring networks and focused on the speed of the recovery,” he said in a statement. “Fenix24 ensures timely and effective resolution of critical systems and leaves customers more secure than when they started working with us.”
Smith, 41, grew up in Marion County, Tennessee, studied computer science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and graduated from Covenant College with a business management degree.
He said he started his first company in IT consulting at 16 years old and then followed it up with two more, including Conversant when he was 29.
“It was born out of my passion to keep companies safe,” the company CEO said.
Smith said the federal government has made it illegal to pay ransom to some groups, making it more critical for companies to protect their backup systems.
Conversant cited the Sophos' State of Ransomware 2021 report, which showed the cost of an attack has more than doubled from $760,000 in 2020 to $1.85 million in 2021, with complex recovery processes playing a key factor in the soaring price.
Smith said Conversant has about 70 employees now and plans to more than double that number within a year. While both companies are growing, Fenix24 is helping drive a lot of that expansion, he said.
“The pace of growth is increasing drastically,” Smith said. Fenix24 is working with an Israeli company, Palo Alto, which does breach investigations, and Conversant has plans for other major relationships in the future, Smith said.
Conversant intends to expand its operations to the former Grant's Auto Glass site near its Cowart Street headquarters, where it expects to put up a four-story structure, he said.
The new facility, which is slated to take a couple years before completion, will hold about 35,000 square feet, Smith said.
Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.
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