U.S military taps data-sleuthing tools

The government's drive to search computer networks and databases for clues about terrorist threats is boosting the business prospects of a start-up spun out of Xerox Parc.

Alorie Gilbert Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Alorie Gilbert
writes about software, spy chips and the high-tech workplace.
Alorie Gilbert
2 min read
The U.S. government's drive to search computer networks and databases for clues about terrorist threats has boosted the business prospects of a software start-up spun out of Xerox Parc.

Inxight Software, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., has inked numerous contracts with the Department of Defense and its contractors as well as with Lawrence Livermore National Lab over the past year, said David Spenhoff, vice president of marketing at Inxight.

The privately held company, which makes information search and retrieval software, plans to announce its growing military business on Monday. The surge of business, Spenhoff said, is a result of the government's interest in intelligence-gathering tools after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Inxight's software is designed to search many kinds of digital content--including electronic text documents, PowerPoint slides, online news feeds, Web pages, intranets and e-mail systems--for desired information. Think of search engine Google, only for combing through an organization's private computer networks rather than the entire Web, Spenhoff said.

"In the government market it's being used to help intelligence analysts pinpoint vital information to predict and forestall future acts of terrorism by sifting through vast amounts of data," he said.

The company is secretive about the details of its military projects and won't name most of the agencies that are using its software, citing security reasons. A representative at Lawrence Livermore in Livermore, Calif., would say only that it's using Inxight to deal with classified information in intelligence databases.

Inxight is open, however, about its efforts to court the Defense Department for a contract related to the controversial Total Information Awareness project run by Adm. John Poindexter.

"I think we'll be looking to be part of whatever they are chartered to do," Spenhoff said.

The software works by creating a "meta-text repository" that categorizes electronic content and produces abstracts, noting key names, words and phrases. People conduct searches within the repository, which reads 23 languages, and can then retrieve the requested content from wherever it resides on the network, he said.

Competitors include Verity and Autonomy.

Inxight also has created a prototype of a more advanced search tool designed to understand relationships between key search terms and narrow results accordingly. For instance, a person could run a query specifically for weapons transactions between North Korea and a specific set of countries.

Military contracts accounted for a quarter of Inxight's $12 million in revenue last year, Spenhoff said. The company also sells its systems to the private sector, with an emphasis on pharmaceutical and media companies.

Inxight expects its government business to reach $6 million this year, an amount that is just a drop in the bucket for the American government. The Department of Defense has requested $26.3 billion for information technology funding for 2003, and the government expects to spend $2.9 billion on IT projects related to homeland security this year.