Funding is flowing into a new era of cyber-security start-ups

Cybercrime surged in 2020 as businesses went online and employees worked from home. Fortunately, a new class of tech start-ups are emerging to tackle the problem. 

The dramatic shift towards remote ways of working may be the single biggest consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic for businesses. Despite being forced upon us, we are seeing the benefits: businesses embracing remote working are seeing productivity gains and cost savings, while employees are enjoying a flexible work-life balance, and most are not missing the daily commute.

But making such a seismic shift in working patterns and behaviours over such a short period brings risks – and the sudden shift online has provided fertile ground for opportunistic cyber criminals.

According to recent research commissioned by Telstra, nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) of large companies in Europe say that the number of cyberattacks experienced by their organisation increased in 2020. 

More than four in ten (45 per cent) respondents report an increase in the volume ofattacks on supply chains, whilst other attack vectors on the rise include phishing (44 per cent saw an increase), fake contact tracing apps and calls (43 per cent), and ransomware (43 per cent) – all attacks that can inflict major damage on an organisation’s security and reputation.

Cyber criminals even seized on fear and confusion around Covid-19 as a theme for their activities. CrowdStrike concluded in its 2021 Global Threat Report that the pandemic had provided “valuable subject matter” for cyber criminals, which used COVID-19 themes in their phishing attacks. The healthcare sector was a particular target as a result.

AI-Driven Solutions

As a tech-focused VC firm, Telstra Ventures has been required to understand the changing nature of the cyber security threat – and the new approaches emerging to combat it. 

What we’re seeing is the emergence of a new breed of start-ups providing innovative new AI-driven cyber security solutions. 

These solutions are helping classify company data, managing access rights, encrypting the right data at the right time, and putting governance policies in place. The companies that will win here will automate as much of this process as possible, so they don’t slow down a company or its workforce. 

For example, companies are now able to proactively shift the potential impact ofcybercrime by taking out specialist cyber-insurance. An interesting company to watch in this space is Corvus Insurance, (a Telstra Ventures portfolio company) that offers abroker-focused approach and uses AI to predict and prevent loss due to cybercrime. 

Another portfolio company is CloudKnox, a cloud infrastructure management platform that manages permissions and access within an organisation – regardless oftheir location. While an identity – be that a human or a machine – should only have the permissions needed to do its job, CloudKnox research found that in most organisations 95 per cent of privileged identities were grossly over-permissioned, astate that could leave an organisation’s cloud infrastructure significantly exposed.

When dealing with a remote workforce, another area of concern is mobile devices. Increasingly, people are using the same device for both personal and business purposes. Another portfolio company, Zimperium, a specialist in mobile device and app security, believes that enterprises must look beyond conventional IT security tools to protect against today’s advanced mobile threats. According to the firm, the number of reported cyber-attacks targeting mobile devices has more than doubled every six months for the last three years. And with remote work and bring your own device (BYOD) practices becoming a permanent fixture, the attack surface for an enterprise is on pace to grow exponentially.

Double-Digit Investment Growth  

Funding into these types of firms has risen significantly. In a recent Telstra Ventures study, we found that the number of VC investments into ‘cloud, network and security’ start-ups rose by 21 per cent in 2020 – only the health tech sector saw a greater increase (up 24 per cent). 

This growth highlights a notable trend – tech innovation did not slow down during this period. In fact, in many cases, it accelerated because of COVID, and the consequences of people and businesses being forced into lockdown. CISOs looking to protect their organisations in volatile times will need to embrace these latest innovations to securely reap the benefits of remote and flexible working. 

Marcus Bartram, is General Partner at Telstra Ventures. Telstra Ventures invests in market-leading, high growth technology companies with exceptional products and leaders. Committed to supporting groundbreaking, high-growth technology businesses, Telstra Ventures offers synergy revenues to its portfolio companies and financial returns to its limited partners. Since 2011, it has invested in 70 companies and has offices in San Francisco, Sydney and Shanghai.

Featured image: ©Kras99