Cyber Start-Up Company of the Year Talks Phishing Defense

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The recent inaugural Infosecurity North America featured a pitching contest for start-up companies to a judging panel of venture capitalists.

The winner was phishing protection solution provider Inky. The company said that it produces the Phish Fence which is built on machine learning technologies and protects users from so-called 'deep sea' phishing emails that use clever tricks and realistic looking branding elements to fool both users and traditional mail protection software.

CEO Dave Baggett said that winning “Cyber Start-up Company of the Year validates the work the team has been putting in to develop Inky Phish Fence“. He talked to Infosecurity about some of the key areas driving interest in the business and sector.

Phishing is not a new concept, why has it got so dramatically worse in recent years?
It's an ongoing arms race, and we've seen an increase in the sophistication of the attacks - so many more phishing scams are getting through traditional email protection software. These newer 'deep sea' phishing attacks use clever tricks to simultaneously hide from mail protection software and look very convincing to users - even users who have had phishing awareness training. 

These attacks will take an exact email from, say, American Express and change the subject line from "American Expresss " to "Arnerican Express ". Note the replacement of lower case M in the name with lower case RN to hide from software that matches against brand names without being obvious to the user, and the use of a newly registered, plausible-sounding domain name. There's a whole catalog of tricks like this attackers are using to fool both the humans and the computers.

Phishing attacks continue to succeed and are costing businesses millions of dollars, do you think this is a reason for companies like Inky gaining approval from the VCs?
Yes, it's widely understood now that phishing is the number one attack vector for wire fraud, identify theft and installation of malware. It's also a deceptively hard problem that requires machine learning to solve, so VCs recognize that a defensible position can be established in this area by a capable startup.

From your dealings with the VCs both at the show and generally, are they looking for products that consider human behavior like yours?
To some extent. I think it's more accurate to say they are looking for security products that address major problems and use machine learning to do so - in other words, software solutions that combine human-level understanding with the infallibility of software. Computers never get tired and don't miss even very subtle details, but training them to 'see' an email like a human does, for example, is quite hard!

Where does a company like Inky go next with this accolade, what are your next steps?
All startups build their market share one customer at a time, and accolades like this help immensely in both getting the word out and establishing credibility. They also help with fundraising, though we're in the somewhat unusual position of not really needing to raise money since our founders can self-fund the company given our previous exit (ITA Software, sold to Google in 2011).
Inky is really entering the 'go-to-market' phase where the solution is built and the challenge shifts from a purely technical one (solve the problem) to a business one (ramp up sales rapidly and manage the company's growth intelligently).

The venture capitalists who judged the competition included: Greg Dracon, Partner at 406 Ventures, Rick Grinnell, Founder and Managing Partner at Glasswing Ventures, and Mark Hatfield, Partner & Founder, Ten Eleven Ventures.

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