Washington has always been a government town. But in recent years, the economic pinch of sequestration and other federal cutbacks has many local business leaders wondering where the next source of revenue will come from.
Many see cybersecurity as a possible path away from government dependency, hoping that experts from the region’s intelligence community can find ways to sell their expertise to multi-national corporations that want to shore up their data.
Darktrace, a Britain-based cybersecurity company that tries to spot internal threats by applying big data analysis to employees’ behavioral patterns, is one of the upstarts seeking to turn the region’s indigenous intelligence know-how into a commercial operation.
The company announced Wednesday that it closed a $22.5 million round of financing from Summit Partners, a prominent venture capital firm. The company says it will use the capital to continue expanding its international footprint, hiring sales and marketing people to help broaden its customer base.
Last month, the young firm opened a cyber operations center in Columbia, Md., to give it closer proximity to the wealth of talent sitting next door at the National Security Agency.
“We’re taking the know-how that people from government agencies like the FBI, CIA and NSA have, and helping people in the commercial private sector to identify threats,” chief executive Nicole Eagan said.
Eagan said the company’s plan is to approximate the so-called five eyes of the international spy community — a collaboration of government intelligence agencies from New Zealand, Australia, Britain, the United States and Canada — and sell it to the private sector. Right now Darktrace has offices in all five locations.
“When you start to realize that cyber is a global problem, a cyber-threat can originate in one part of the world and culminate in another part of the work,” Eagan said.
The company employs about 100 people, but its workforce is spread across 16 cities on four continents, with plans to expand into Latin America.
The company was founded two years ago by a union of Cambridge mathematicians and NSA veterans, with the help of close to $10 million in seed funding from Invoke Capital, a British venture capital firm backed by Mike Lynch, founder of British IT company Autonomy.
Darktrace is one of many firms trying to spot data breaches in real time. The company’s Enterprise Immune System technology uses complex mathematical algorithms to take a behavioral “fingerprint” of each company’s day-to-day operations, created from seemingly mundane details such as when particular people tend to log in to certain systems and what they do there, where they work from and from what computer they log in.
When something looks out of the ordinary, the company is notified in real time, and management gets a weekly update on the biggest threats it needs to worry about.
“What Darktrace offers is an intelligent platform which learns what normal behavior is, and picks out what is unusual,” said Dan Raywood, an information security analyst at IT consultancy 451 Research.
After spending a few years honing its product with early testers that included BT Group, a British telecommunications corporation, the company said it is done with research and development and is now focusing its efforts on getting to market.
Today, Darktrace works with more than 100 corporations worldwide. It takes on customers by offering them a 30-day free trial, after which they are asked to commit to a three- or four-year contract. The company said more than 80 percent of the companies that try the free trial sign a contract. Darktrace declined to provide details of its financial performance.
The company is operating in a crowded field with new firms popping up every day.
“Whilst not totally unique, Darktrace has an interesting proposition at a time when spotting the anomaly is a key trend,” Raywood said.