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Darktrace wants to be the torchbearer for AI-powered cyber defence: a look at its history, key members, and major achievements

In this series of we feature the most promising AI companies in the world: where do they come from, what have they achieved and what are their plans for the future. In this episode, we are looking at Darktrace, a British information technology company headquartered in Cambridge, England, that specialises in cyber defence.

Darktrace was founded as a collaboration between the British intelligence agencies and Invoke Capital in 2013. At the time of Darktrace’s formation, Invoke Capital was owned by Mike Lynch, who co-founded Autonomy, which sold to Hewlett-Packard in 2011. The transaction between Autonomy and HP led to accusations of fraud and to a legal fight over extraditing him to the United States.

The key management personnel at Darktrace were recruited from Autonomy and Invoke Capital provided 15 of Darktrace’s 40 staff members by the end of 2013. While its founding was shadowed by Autonomy and the deal with HP, the startup has managed to put that behind and has emerged as a leader in the world of autonomous cyber artificial intelligence.

For years, cyber defence has been a reactive one, wherein the defence kicked in only after the attack took place. Companies like Darktrace technically rewrote the playbook to make it an AI-powered one wherein the in-progress attack is interrupted within seconds. Today, almost every organisation has a cybersecurity team looking for threat vectors and trying to stop attacks even before they take place.

Darktrace: a brief history

Since its founding in 2013, Darktrace has operated under the cloud of Autonomy, co-founded by Mike Lynch. Lynch sold Autonomy to HP for $11.7B, but within a year, HP wrote off $8.8B of Autonomy’s value. HP claimed it wrote off that value due to “serious accounting improprieties” and “outright misrepresentations” by the previous management.

Lynch said it was because of the way HP ran Autonomy and there was even a legal fight over extraditing Lynch to the United States. The dust settled when HP sold its Autonomy assets, as part of a wider deal, to the British software company Micro Focus in 2017.

Even though it was founded in 2013, Darktrace became a household name in the cyber defence industry when it caused an internet and media sensation with a white paper detailing a hack of a casino’s fish tank in 2017. The hack of the casino’s fish tank was caught by the company’s Network Immune System.

Darktrace listed on the London Stock Exchange with a market value of £2.5B in April 2021 and it rated the potential liability relating to the fallout of the action against Lynch as “low risk.”

It is the first company with at scale deployment of AI in cyber security, and has since pioneered the idea of autonomous response technology. The cyber defence technology offered by Darktrace is created by mathematicians where the platform uses machine learning and AI algorithms to neutralise cyber threats across diverse digital avenues, including the cloud and networks, IoT, and industrial control systems.

The reason Darktrace’s tech is much hyped in the cyber defence industry is because it quickly identifies threats that have breached a system. It also detects threats exploiting previously unknown vulnerabilities, and insider threat. Darktrace does all this with minimal setup and currently serves over 6,800 customers in over 11 countries. It employs more than 2,000 people around the globe.

Darktrace: key members

  • Gordon Hurst (Chairman)
  • Poppy Gustafsson OBE (Chief Executive Officer)
  • Cathy Graham (Chief Financial Officer)
  • Jack Stockdale OBE (Chief Technology Officer)
  • Eloy Avila (Chief Technology Officer, Americas)
  • Nicole Eagan (Chief Strategy Officer, AI Officer)
  • Emily Orton (Chief Marketing Officer)
  • Nick Trim (Chief Operations Officer)
  • Mike Beck (Global CISO)
  • Dave Palmer (Chief Product Officer)
  • James Sporle (General Counsel)
  • Al Martin (SVP, Customer Success)

Darktrace: timeline of major events since its founding

  1. 2013: Darktrace was founded in Cambridge, England
  2. 2017: Darktrace publishes a white paper detailing a hack of a casino’s fish tank
  3. 2021: Darktrace lists on the London Stock Exchange
  4. 2021: Darktrace becomes official AI cyber security partner of the McLaren F1 team and Arrow McLaren SP team
  5. 2022: Darktrace acquires Cybersprint, an attack surface management company

Darktrace: AI security powerhouse or another acquisition target

Since its founding and listing on the London Stock Exchange, Darktrace has been a suitor for major acquisitions. There have been rumours that Darktrace can become an acquisition target for a big tech company. Microsoft and Google, with security offerings at larger scale, have been mentioned as possible bidders for the British cyber security company.

Analysts believe that Darktrace is a value to big tech companies mainly because of the customers and the team it brings to the table. Its footprint in the UK, which contributes a large percentage of its revenue, could be another major reason for a potential bidder looking to expand their footprint in the post-Brexit UK.

Cyber security companies don’t get established at the same pace as a fintech company or a software company because of the difficulty in hiring talent. Darktrace as a company offers talent, customers, and an established business function.

While this can be a distraction, Darktrace has continued to focus on what it does best: build AI-powered cybersecurity tools. The company has openly admitted that it is expanding to proactive security AI with the development of AI-powered security offering that includes attack prevention.

The proactive security AI capabilities will join the company’s detection and response technologies, reports VentureBeat. The easiest way to think about this is to look at the feature as an offensive area to the defensive nature of the company’s detection and response technologies.

There are now smaller startups like Hadrian building autonomous proactive security solutions. It was only natural for Darktrace to jump into this field. The days of being able to detect and respond to a cyber threat are no longer seen as effective. Hence, cyber security companies are turning to AI and machine learning to counter sophisticated threats.

With its self-learning AI technology, Darktrace knows a customer’s digital estate inside and out. The British company says this knowledge allows it to proactively tell a customer how the channel can be compromised. It will then feed this knowledge back to the detection and response side of its product to create a safety layer.

The future of Darktrace is essentially a continuous feedback loop powered by AI that can gain insights into possible threat vectors and create a safety layer before it is exploited in the wild.

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