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[] Time 14.10.02 Ready For Battle. The ex-soldiers who run AIT take Internet security seriously,

October 14, 2002
Ready For Battle
The ex-soldiers who run AIT take Internet security seriously. Very
By Daniel Eisenberg
The security guards patrolling the lobby of Advanced Internet
(AIT) in Fayetteville, N.C., are the first giveaway. In place of the
standard-issue dark suit and tie, they are decked out in military garb,
including black caps, fatigues and combat boots, with 9mm Berettas
to their side. Getting past them to work is a lot like getting on a
these days: every employee as well as every visitor has to go through a
metal detector and then get searched by a guard using an electronic hand
If the tight security at AIT sounds more MP than M.B.A., there's a good
reason. The private company ? which provides Web-hosting services
through resellers, maintaining 180,000 Web domains for 32,000 clients,
including Microsoft ? was founded in 1996 by ce o Clarence Briggs, 42, a

tightly wound, 13-year veteran of the Army who served in Panama and the
Gulf War before a knee injury ended his career. More than 80% of AIT's
employees also have military backgrounds, including a number who joined
right after a stint at nearby Fort Bragg. Seven of the eight senior
executives have had top-secret security clearances, and the chief of
security used to work on Air Force One.
While he has made a smooth transition to the corporate world, Briggs, a
brash, combative native of Rhode Island, is still sticking to his guns ?

literally. "If you come to do damage," he barks, "expect that damage
be done to you." Briggs' concern is more with computer hackers and
corporate saboteurs and spies than with terrorists ? AIT's security
measures long predate Sept. 11--but for all potential foes, he has
the same discipline, tactics and training that he learned as a major in
82nd Airborne Division. New hires have to go through two weeks of AIT's
brand of basic training, and employees wear color-coded badges to denote

their rank (black for corporate officers, red for managers, blue for
technicians). In an era when security and accountability are foremost in

the mind of corporate America, AIT takes both to a whole new level.
Though still a relatively small player in the fiercely competitive
Web-hosting business, AIT is faring better than a lot of its bigger,
cash-strapped rivals such as Exodus and Digex. Without the help of any
venture-capital financing ? which Briggs has compared to making a "deal
with the devil"--AIT claims to be profitable and says about half its new

customers came over from its competitors. One of the fastest growing
companies over the past five years, AIT should pull in about $30 million
revenue this year, up 50% from 2001.
Nowhere are AIT's defenses more on display than at its 25,000-sq.-ft.
center, packed with server computers that are the lifeblood of the
The building is made of reinforced 8-in. concrete cinder blocks,
by sandbags and a 6-ft.-high chain-link, barbed-wire-topped fence. In
anyone should ever penetrate those barriers, AIT keeps an arsenal of
weapons, including shotguns, in a storage room nearby. Any security
triggers a bevy of alarms and a lock-down mode. (So far, the only
threat has been the possibility of looting during a hurricane.)
When it comes to virtual intruders, AIT doesn't shy away from battle
either. If necessary, Briggs boasts without elaborating, AIT will
a team of private investigators to track down and send a message to the
hackers. "I've got no qualms about going to the folks that have
transgressed," says Briggs, a balding, broad-shouldered former college
wrestler ? with the puffy ears to prove it ? who has been known on
to put a colleague in a headlock in the company gym during competitive
early-morning workouts.
Security isn't the only part of AIT's business that reflects Briggs'
military background. Around a long conference table, in the shadow of a
framed poster showing soldiers crawling through a trench, employees
mock war games, playing the role of customers and rivals to get a jump
one another. Memos are short and packed with military-like acronyms.
ipl meeting is set for 1400 hours today," reads one, referring to a 2
gathering to discuss the implemental priority list, otherwise known as
budget. For the few employees who haven't done a tour of duty in the
forces, it can sometimes be hard to keep up. "I cannot stand the
time. I'm always the one that, when they say 2100 hours, has to ask,
time is that?'" says Michael Roberts, 26, vice president of the hosting
division, whose only combat experience is as a second-degree black belt
Moving up the corporate ladder can be just as challenging. Briggs likes
rotate employees to increase accountability, but he doesn't promote
without subjecting that person to a grueling interrogation ? usually in
office, where commemorative battle plaques decorate the walls and
books like Sun Tzu's The Art of War crowd the bookshelves. Loosely
on a military promotion hearing, AIT's staff reviews can also be
intimidating. A three-officer panel (Briggs and two others) grills the
candidate for as long as two hours on a range of questions, from the
difference between a leader and a manager to the employee's current
list. Challenged to defend themselves for major screw-ups, employees
to sound like grunts on the spot in basic training, delivering succinct,

no-nonsense replies like: "Approximately six hours after I performed
action, we were able to reverse it and mitigate downtime."
In many respects, of course, AIT isn't much different from countless
companies trying to weather the bursting of the tech bubble. The small
collection of abstract modern art that adorns the lobby could have come
straight from any corporate decorator's catalog. Most of the day-to-day
conversations would sound more at home in the computer lab than an Army
barracks. And like any serious start-up, the company focuses primarily
growth, not combat. AIT is looking into the possibility of providing
security consulting services and vulnerability assessments to other
companies as well as to the government. Who better to protect Uncle Sam,

after all, than Clarence Briggs' battle-tested soldiers?

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