NCSC For Startups: meet our members

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ENCLAVE: ZERO TRUST NETWORK ACCESS

Enclave helps organisations take a Zero Trust approach by using overlaying networks that make private systems invisible to the public internet until defined trust standards have been met.

It’s on a mission to make security more convenient for organisations.

 

THE CHALLENGE

 

There are millions of private systems that are exposed to the public internet for anyone, anywhere to connect to. And they are under frequent attack by malicious attackers.

This challenge has become even more widespread as more organisations move to the cloud and more devices and critical national infrastructure connects to the internet.

By design, VPN servers allow anyone to connect to the gateways in private networks. This means that whether a user is authenticated or not, they could exploit vulnerabilities and access files – including authentication credentials or the privileges needed to run secondary exploits aimed at accessing a root shell.

 

“The default architecture of the internet is connect then authenticate, which is not a robust approach to security”

– David Notley, CEO, Enclave

 

THE INNOVATION

 

Enclave is a deeptech solution that’s making it easier for organisations to manage their virtual private networks (VPN) over the public internet. It’s raised over £1m in investment and its users include banks, managed services providers and a ride-hiring company.

The startup’s patented Zero Trust Network Access only allows connections to be made once the request has been authenticated.

Enclave is still a VPN that enables end-to-end, encrypted connectivity. But rather than taking a connect, then authenticate approach, it requires authentication first. This makes private networks effectively invisible to the public.

It creates an overlay network so organisations can establish secure, private Zero Trust connections without making changes to their underlying network infrastructure. This means organisations can avoid spending time on the complex and error-prone configuration of multiple aspects of their network infrastructure.

The startup has received £500,000 in investment, has been awarded £175,000 in Innovate UK SMART grants and has recently submitted additional patent applications.

 

WHY NCSC FOR STARTUPS?

 

As Enclave builds its user base and refines its product features, functionality and benefits, it wants to collaborate with the government to achieve a compelling product-market fit. It would benefit from guidance on validating its approach and identifying early adopter use cases.

As more organisations recognise the need to adopt a Zero Trust approach to network security, cyber startups outside of the UK are rising to the challenge. Enclave wants to work with the UK government to become a globally significant Zero Trust solution that can be used by UK-based companies.

PORGiESOFT: HELPING EMPLOYEES STOP ONLINE FRAUD IN ITS TRACKS

PORGiESOFT wants to be the Grammarly of cyber fraud detection. Its SenseText product uses AI to calculate a fraud risk score, providing a second opinion on suspicious emails.

THE CHALLENGE

 

After seeing how cyber fraud and ransomware was becoming a growing problem for business during the pandemic, this edtech startup used its underlying machine learning and natural language processing technology to develop a cyber fraud detection assistant for employees.

 

THE INNOVATION

 

PORGiESOFT is on a mission to make everyday cyber fraud detection tasks easier by building SenseText: a machine learning product capable of adapting and carrying out routine tasks quickly.

SenseText is powered by the company’s natural language processing technology and is designed to run hundreds of automated checks on suspicious emails and text messages that have bypassed a company’s firewalls. It provides employees with a second opinion in the form of a fraud risk rating on a scale on 0-250 so they can carry out transactions with more confidence.

Using natural language processing, the AI is being trained to better understand the content of an email. Machine learning algorithms combined with customer data helps the AI to learn more about and adapt to the tactics used by fraudsters to dupe people online.

To pivot into cyber from edtech, PORGiESOFT started by feeding its machine publicly available cyber fraud data and created an initial set of rules based on training data that the team gathered. The machine compared and learned from emails by analysing words and synonyms and only shortlisting words that it predicts might show some intent of fraud. It picks up on commonalities like certain calls to action such as “click here” or “urgent”.

The company has used a federated and therefore decentralised approach to its machine learning, which it believes will offer organisations a more tailored solution that minimises false positives that a purely global approach might produce.

Based in Cambridge and founded in 2018, its AI products are used in the edtech sector in developing countries. Having been bootstrapped, it is now seeking external investment.

“We thought, what if instead of education-related data, we fed the machine data about cyber fraud?”
– George Brown, founder, PORGiESOFT

 

WHY NCSC FOR STARTUPS?

 

PORGiESOFT wants to develop and enhance its technology before bringing on its first cybersecurity customers.

It’s looking for technical guidance, good sources of relevant data and insights that will help the startup train its AI to detect threats more effectively.

It would benefit from guidance on:

• the most reliable sources of threat intelligence and publicly available cyber fraud data
• how to use the technology on text messages
• the biggest challenges businesses face when it comes to preventing online fraud
• best practice when it comes to securing cybersecurity source code and best practices beyond obfuscation

It also wants to gather more financial data on the value of individual fraudulent transactions. This will give the machine a new set of datapoints, enable it to spot new patterns and help it determine whether an email could be fraudulent.

REBELLION DEFENCE: AUTOMATING PENETRATION TESTING FOR THE DEFENCE SECTOR

Rebellion Defence is a British-American software company building AI products exclusively for the defence sector and national security purposes.

Its SECURE solution helps organisations look ahead, focus their resources and proactively defend their systems and networks.

THE CHALLENGE

 

The defence sector and critical national infrastructure is vulnerable to threats, including state-sponsored threats such as ransomware and malware.

Rebellion Defence believes that relying on compliance checklists and sporadic Red Team tests (where a group plays the role of a bad actor to learn about vulnerabilities) isn’t good enough to counter sophisticated attacks.

The startup believes that human intelligence needs to be augmented and supported by automation and AI.

 

THE INNOVATION

 

Rebellion Defence’s SECURE product uses machine learning, predictive analysis, sensor data and AI-powered tools to scan networks continually for vulnerabilities and to identify what could happen in real life if a security gap were exploited.

Although it is possible for human teams to exploit a network as an adversary would for security purposes, organisations often find themselves paying for this repeatedly – and it still doesn’t happen regularly enough.

 

“We practise transparency by default. We believe that a global ecosystem of digital defence companies will be critical to national security.”

– Oliver Lewis, co-founder, Rebellion Defence

 

SECURE enables organisations to gain insights into their security posture and understand what’s happening throughout the network in near real time. Its analysis helps users prioritise remediation and make more informed decisions.

The technology has been developed using known hacker toolkits and adversarial-type attacks to test networks and track vulnerabilities. It’s interoperable, so it can connect with existing hardware and software.

The software is designed to be capable of maturing as adversaries do. Recognising the need for agility, Rebellion Defence draws on machine learning to find new ways of simulating compromising networks, systems and software at scale in ways humans would overlook.

Launched in 2019, the startup has raised over $73m in investment from a Seed round followed by a Series A round. The founding team includes Chris Lynch, who established Defence Digital Services within the US Department of Defense (DoD), Nicole Camarillo, who served as the chief strategist for US Army Cyber Command, and Oliver Lewis, who served as the deputy director of Government Digital Service. Rebellion Defence’s board of directors includes Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google.

WHY NCSC FOR STARTUPS?

 

Rebellion Defence believes that software superiority will provide nation states with a national security advantage. But while SECURE has gained early traction in the US market, the startup is finding it challenging to connect with the UK’s defence sector.

As SECURE is at an early stage of the product development cycle, Rebellion Defence would benefit from guidance from the UK government on adapting it to suit British defence networks. It also wants to understand the accreditation that it would need to deploy its software in a national security scenario.

The startup believes in open collaboration and is keen to learn about how SECURE could complement existing products being used in the UK’s defence sector. It also wants to play a supportive role in the UK’s cyber innovation ecosystem by sharing its knowledge with the NCSC and cyber startups that want to scale.

METERIAN: SECURING APPS THAT RELY ON OPEN-SOURCE SOFTWARE

Using automation, Meterian secures open source software by building a scalable and sustainable line of defence for apps. It wants to empower time-pressured developers to become the first line of defence for security.

THE CHALLENGE

 

Leaps in technology are enabled by developers tapping into open source software and they tend to rely heavily on external components rather than coding everything from scratch.

But this can also introduce vulnerabilities into the software that underpins the critical functionality of applications that businesses and customers rely on. These components often shapeshift rapidly as developers adapt and incorporate them, which introduces risks that could be exploited.

 

THE INNOVATION

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Meterian’s AI-powered invisible security platform secures software applications that depend on open source software.

After CEO Vivian Dufour’s data was leaked in breaches involving Yahoo, Equifax, and EasyJet, she joined forces with chief technology officer Bruno Bossola to help businesses secure the software at the heart of applications.

The startup is on a mission to make cybersecurity more affordable and accessible, and to make the lives of developers easier.

Meterian’s software is interoperable, agnostic to the source version control system and compatible with any critical infrastructure system.

The platform is designed to work invisibly in the background. Users can set it up in less than five minutes and integrate it into their infrastructure and workflows within an hour.

The software, which has been developed using an extensive database of information about vulnerabilities, is then able to continually scan for threats. It can automatically address threats and provide actionable insights to show developers where the vulnerabilities in their code could lie or which threats they should prioritise.

The company is:

• backed by investors from Amadeus Capital, CyLon, and SFC Capital

• a 2019 Digital Catapult Platinum Nominee

• one of techUK’s Cyber Innovation Den 2019 finalists

 

WHY NCSC FOR STARTUPS?

 

Meterian’s technology is used by IT professionals in the insurance, financial services and retail sectors. It now wants to enable any software developer, regardless of their preferred programming tools, to benefit from automated security that helps them comply with legislation and protect the end user. Ultimately, it wants to empower developers to become a proactive line of defence against cyber attacks.

To do this, Meterian is designing its solution to be even more accessible for developers and removing any friction. The startup wants to tap into the NCSC’s vulnerability management expertise to:

• iterate and further develop its technology

• experiment in a safe environment

It wants to embed best practice and industry standards into its solution at an early stage of the product development lifecycle and receive feedback.

 

“We’re keen to experiment in a safe environment, try things and allow for the possibility of failure in a way that’s not possible in the public space”

Bruno Bossola, chief technology officer, Meterian

EXALENS: SECURING SME MANUFACTURERS

Exalens equips SME manufacturers with advanced cybersecurity that tends to be reserved for large enterprises.

It does this through its threat detection and response solution and cyber-physical AI – both of which don’t require an in-house security expert.

THE CHALLENGE

 

Physical infrastructure and hardware is increasingly being connected to the internet – and this is introducing virtual vulnerabilities.

Exalens believes that traditional security controls and vulnerability management tools aren’t enough to protect manufacturing companies from attacks that could cause safety issues or affect a long supply chain.

At the same time, SME manufacturers struggle to afford the tools and expertise that would enable them to detect and respond to threats. Existing tools tend to be expensive and aren’t tailored to the environment an SME is operating in.

On top of this, Exalens believes that security often takes a backseat in manufacturing because it’s seen as something that creates delays.

“The SME market is hugely under-served but, because of digital transformation, they are also starting to face the problems enterprise IT have been dealing with such as phishing and ransomware”

– Dr Ryan Heartfield, head of cybersecurity research and innovation, Exalens

 

Exalens’ Digital Companion acts as a virtual in-house security analyst that’s able to sense, track and respond to cyber-physical threats automatically and integrate into an SME’s unique environment.

It can automatically spot infected endpoints, secure them and let operational engineers know about the threat before it becomes a safety incident.

Since most SMEs won’t have their own security analyst, Exalens has codified and automated the workflows an analyst would use. Its aim is to make this level of protection as easy for SME manufacturers to use as most consumer-facing antivirus solutions.

The startup doesn’t believe there can be a silver bullet in cyber and isn’t boxed in to a static, rigid architecture. Instead, its threat fabric automatically and dynamically stitches together different threat detection and response workflows. It uses a combination of algorithms, heuristics and machine learning techniques based on the type of behaviour a system is exhibiting.

For example, if machine learning is required to help define an aspect of threat behaviour, it will be used. But if a rule is sufficient to capture the right information, it might not be.

Founded by a team of cybersecurity researchers in 2015, the startup has fuelled its growth with over EUR 4m in European grant funding.

 

WHY NCSC FOR STARTUPS?

 

Exalens is keen to tailor and iterate its minimum viable product based on insights from the NCSC into cybersecurity breaches in industrial control systems.

The startup wants to connect with stakeholders in the industry to validate its technology. It would also benefit from the NCSC reviewing its technology and
advising on:

• how it can achieve a close product-market fit
• whether a feature is scalable
• what aspects of threat detection it should prioritise

 

“We don’t want to launch an amorphous technology beast onto the market, we want to test each feature, get feedback and tailor as we go along”

– Dr Ryan Heartfield, head of cybersecurity research and innovation, Exalens

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