Entrepreneur Robin Sommer
“Deep down in my heart, I am a scientist”
Computers and informatics have been fascinating TUM Alumni Robin Sommer since he was a teenager. Today he is the co-founder of a highly successful software company that helps to uncover security vulnerabilities and prevent hacker attacks.
For Dr. Robin Sommer, bringing added value to society with his work is a particular incentive. Currently, he is achieving this by working in his own software company Corelight. The analyser Zeek, whose further development took place here, helps government organisations, international companies and universities to detect security vulnerabilities and hacker attacks in their computer networks.
Already at Saarland University as a doctoral student, Robin Sommer was able to make remarkable contributions to the framework of programming. When his doctoral supervisor, Professor Dr. Anja Feldmann, was called to TUM in Munich in 2002, he did not hesitate and followed her. “TUM is internationally very visible”, he says about his decision. “Whoever does research here is quickly being noticed.”
TUM is internationally very visible. Whoever does research here is quickly being noticed.
In 2005 Robin Sommer completed his doctorate in Informatics at TUM. His dissertation provided valuable insights into the detection and exposure of attacks targeting computer systems or computer networks. With his thoughts on the practicability of such systems even in challenging environments, he again provided valuable input for the network security monitor Zeek. In addition to second referee TUM Alumni and software expert Professor Dr. Manfred Broy , TUM also called in Berkeley Professor Dr. Vern Paxson, who had originally developed the programme in 1995.
As soon as Robin Sommer had successfully completed his doctorate, he was invited to join Vern Paxson’s research group at the International Computer Science Institute in Berkeley. In order to make the software, which had previously only been available to specialists, available to a broader user group in the US research and education sector, the National Science Foundation had contributed seven million US dollars. Robin Sommer led the team driving this effort, and managed to quickly transform the software from a pure research platform to a standard tool for protecting academic networks.
Starting a company was never on Robin Sommer’s mind at that time, as he was very pleased to be able to do research and programming on his exciting long-term project in California. However, it was only a matter of time before the groundbreaking potential of the software would attract governmental organisations and large corporations. The demand for a commercial product grew. And so the logical next step was the founding of his own start-up in 2013. The passionate scientist was now an entrepreneur and supplied a number of Fortune 50 companies with the security software. “Having my research being practically applied like this now is a great reward”, Robin Sommer says. “But deep down in my heart, I’m a scientist.”
Meanwhile Robin Sommer and his family have returned to Munich. Here, too, he continues to develop his company in an area that is particularly close to his heart. He now heads the company’s Open Source Team, focussing on further developing the free software, which remains the heart of all Corelight products. He encourages programmers around the world to contribute ideas and code to Zeek and share their knowledge at community events and workshops. In this way, the software can continue to evolve and improve its ability to prevent criminal activity in cyberspace.
Dr. Robin Sommer
Doctorate Informatics 2005
In 2001 Robin Sommer graduated in Informatics and Mathematics from Paderborn University. He was a research assistant at Saarland University from 2001 to 2002. Together with his doctoral supervisor, Professor Dr. Anja Feldmann, he moved to TUM in Munich in 2002 and completed his doctorate on network monitoring in 2005.
Since then, he has continued his research on this highly topical subject at the International Computer Science Institute in Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Together with his mentor Vern Paxson and Seth Hall, Robin created the start-up Corelight in 2013, which is based in San Francisco.
As a proven expert, Robin Sommer has held leading positions and served on programme and steering committees for renowned conferences such as the IEEE Symposium on Security & Privacy or the International Symposium on Research in Attacks, Intrusions and Defenses. Whenever Robin Sommer is not pursuing his favourite hobby – programming, he enjoys spending his free time in the mountains.