Sarasota native formed a vision that changed the internet

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SARASOTA - During the holidays, many of us return to our roots by visiting our hometowns. One Sarasota native came back to spend Thanksgiving with his family; but Chris Klaus seems to see the future more than he spends time in the past.

The number of ways we rely on the internet cannot be counted -- getting supplies to troops in Afghanistan, getting electricity to our homes, getting payments to our banks.

“There's a soft underbelly to the entire operation, because if you can bring down the network, you lose all logistics and command and control,” says Chris Klaus.

Before most of us heard of the internet, Chris was using it while a student at Sarasota High School, even if it took him time to understand it. “How is this possible? I'm on this network and I'm able to chat with people in Australia, and I'm not getting a phone bill? Is this legal?”

By the time he went to college at Georgia Tech in the early 1990’s, he realized the potential for people to try to hack into these networks and do damage. He devised software that could reveal a system's vulnerabilities, and -- at first -- gave it away. “I actually had someone tell me, 'hey, have you thought about commercializing it?' So I'm sitting in math class trying to calculate 'if I charged $1 for every vulnerability this thing would find,’ I immediately figured out there could be a huge opportunity here.”

His company, Internet Security Systems, quickly outgrew his college dorm room, and Chris quit school to serve as its CEO. Customers included NASA and clients around the world, until 1996, when IBM bought the company -- for $1.3 billion.

“Not that I was trying to get rich, but can I grow a business that supports this vision that I have on how to protect people's networks?”

He has moved on to a new vision -- and a new company – Kaneva, where people can visit virtual worlds, play video games, and even create their own. “We're going to help the builders, the builders will build the content for the people who don't want to build -- they just want to play games. What we're trying to do is build a community.”

A community that he says will change education. In virtual worlds, you could learn to run a business, do surgery, or drive a car -- all without harm to yourself, or anyone else. “If you can drive a virtual car, you can drive a real car.”

And you can start in Sarasota, and build a vision that helps change the world.

Although Chris never graduated from Georgia Tech, he did donate money to the school for a computer science building that now bears his name.