A new project based in Madison aims to root out software vulnerabilities that can leave the door open for viruses, website hacking or other forms of cybercrime, estimated as a $100 billion industry.

The SWAMP, or the Software Assurance Marketplace, is a collaboration of the private, nonprofit Morgridge Institute for Research along with UW-Madison, Indiana University and the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

Armed with a $23.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the SWAMP is offering its services — for free — to companies, software developers and consumers.

The goal is to improve software security, said Miron Livny, the SWAMP’s director and chief technology officer.

“The assumption is that in order to accomplish that, we have to offer better tools to find the security defects in software and we have to increase or expand the adoption or the usage of these tools,” Livny said.

The SWAMP has not designed its own security tools, but it has amassed those already available for public use, called open source software, and is making them available to the public. They can identify potential leaks or weaknesses in the software that might let scammers either take over a computer or program it to make mischief or commit fraud.

“The idea is that if you have a piece of software and you want to run it against the tools, you can bring (upload) it to the SWAMP and we will keep everything that you do confidential,” Livny said.

With security breaches over the holidays for retailers such as Target and Neiman Marcus, and more recent breaches involving several major hotel chains, Internet security has become a pressing concern, Livny added.

“This is a national issue. We all recognize how vulnerable our software is,” Livny said.

The SWAMP project has created 27 jobs, including 22 full-time positions in Madison, project manager Patrick Beyer said.

He said the federal grant will keep it operating for at least five years. After that, “it is our hope that based on the value we provide, we will continue to receive government support,” Beyer said.

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