Armed with $180M in VC funding, cybersecurity firm Darktrace expands to Ottawa

Cybersecurity

As cybersecurity threats spread like the flu, an international firm claiming to be the cure has expanded its operations to Ottawa.

Darktrace, which opened its first Canadian location roughly a year ago in Toronto, said today that it has added offices in Vancouver and Ottawa. Six employees currently work in the firm’s Ottawa offices, housed in the business suites of the Chateau Laurier.

“If you want to make your presence felt, why not go and establish yourself in a worldwide, recognized, Canadian landmark?” says David Masson, head of Darktrace Canada, in an interview with OBJ.

The cybersecurity firm launched out of the University of Cambridge in 2013, and today has a second headquarters in San Francisco and more than 30 other locations and 600 employees worldwide. The Wall Street Journal called it a tech company to watch in 2017, the World Economic Forum named it a tech pioneer in 2015. The firm has raised a total of roughly $180 million through multiple venture capital financing rounds in recent years.

Its client list includes the likes of T-Mobile, DirecTV, the Scottish government and the City of Las Vegas, as well as Canadian customers such as Pizza Pizza, TRJ Télécom, and Equitable Bank.

After finding initial success in its Toronto outpost, Mr. Masson says the firm recognized the need to expand beyond Ontario. The Vancouver office gives the Darktrace a western base, and he says Ottawa was chosen for the federal government, the bilingual workforce and the city’s proximity to target markets east of Ontario, namely Quebec and New Brunswick.

Cyber immune systems

The mathematicians behind Darktrace were challenged to create an artificial intelligence that could detect cyber threats by mimicking the human body’s immune system.

Mr. Masson says the brilliance of our bodies’ design allows antibodies to identify any abnormalities and go to work fixing it without necessarily needing to understand the nature of the invasion.

“The human immune system has this innate understanding of self. It knows what is me, what is not me.”

Most cyber defense systems have traditionally been comprised of legacy products that are limited to defend against attacks they’ve either seen before or are able to anticipate.

“That’s only good up to a point,” Mr. Masson says. Today’s cyber landscape is under a much more sophisticated and constant threat than the early days of the world wide web.

“It’s not enough, and it’s not been enough for some time,” he adds.

“The scale of threat is so big in terms of quantity and so big in terms of sophistication… and attacks are moving at such a pace...human beings cannot keep up with it.”

Darktrace’s AI identifies the “pattern of life” in a network, and is able to fire off alerts about any discrepancies. The software knows through observation and analysis what activities are common to a network, and which are foreign or invasive.

Once the threat is identified, it can be contained and a customer can decide how to best resolve it without disrupting that “pattern of life.”

Why do we need an artificial intelligence to do this? Mr. Masson says the sheer quantity of attacks, especially recently against large enterprises such as Equifax, is too much for the human mind alone to follow.

“The scale of threat is so big in terms of quantity and so big in terms of sophistication… and attacks are moving at such a pace...human beings cannot keep up with it.”

AI is watching for us, Mr. Masson says, and points us in the right direction.