Will Ackerly, 35
Ackerly was once a whiz kid in the National Security Agency (for a time using his technical skills in Iraq to help the American military track terrorists). Like Edward Snowden, he was disturbed by the extent of the NSA’s spying on regular citizens. Unlike Snowden, Ackerly didn’t leak the agency’s secrets. Instead, the lifelong tinkerer—as a child, he rewired a switch in the family basement to disable a light on his parents’ phone system so he could conceal his excessive modem use—invented a technology that can protect your email and data from anyone bent on stealing it, whether a criminal hacker or a government snoop. Ackerly’s company, Virtru, launched a web plug-in based on what he dubbed the TDF in 2014 and now has thousands of clients. Many are in the healthcare realm, and state and federal government entities have even begun using the technology, newly aware of their own vulnerabilities. Virtru also offers a free version that individuals can download and use on, say, their Gmail.
For more on Ackerly, read our cover story: “Could this ex-NSA hotshot protect your email from hacking?”