GCHQ spies train digital elite to keep our data safe

By Toni Sekinah 11 January 2017

Forget James Bond - these are the new businesses keeping Britain secure.

The UK government is determined to foster a “world-class cybersecurity industry and workforce” announcing a £1.9bn investment last November.

With the breach of 6m Three Mobile customers’ data last year and the reputational damage TalkTalk has suffered since it was hacked in 2015, this comes as no surprise.

Wayra partnership

As part of this initiative GCHQ has partnered with Telefónica’s business accelerator, Wayra, to support a new cohort of cybersecurity startups.

Each budding business will receive a £5,000 Wayra grant as well as access to GCHQ and Telefónica expertise and access to workspace.

It will be based in Cheltenham, in a custom-built site near the infamous ‘Doughnut’, and will be supported by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, GCHQ and Wayra.

We spoke to 5 business founders from the new cohort to find out why they want to be involved…

Daniel Ng, CEO of CyberOwl

CyberOwl is like an early warning system for cyber attacks.

Its software uses mathematical formulas to monitor and track the progress of attacks, giving the would-be victim more time to put up a good defence or protect themselves.

CEO Daniel Ng used to be a business adviser working with defense and security companies.

Having advised other companies on the topic, Ng thought it was time to put his money where his mouth is and do it himself.

Ng hopes CyberOwl will encourage security experts to be take a more proactive, rather than reactive, position when it come to cyber security.

“There are very few organisations that have to deal with the scale and uncertainty of information like GCHQ,” he told The Memo. “They’re also at the forefront of active defence strategy.”

“Taking action in the early stages of an attack [is critical], before the actor achieves their goal, and CyberOwl is specifically positioned for this.”

Giorgos Georgopoulos, MD at Futurescaper

When it comes to cyber crime, analysts and decision makers need to use data to discuss and figure out a plan of action.

Futurescaper is an online platform that helps to make these conversations faster, cheaper, and more effective.

“When decision makers face complexity and uncertainty – as is always the case in security – there’s a risk that fear takes over and reactions become overly simplistic and ultimately ineffective,” said Georgopoulos.

“We hope our tools can help remove that fear and lead to better intelligence and decisions that make our world safer.”

The team applied to work with GCHQ because of its unrivalled pool of talent and expertise.

“We’re excited to share in their understanding of the challenge,” said Georgopoulos.

Ankur Modi, CEO at StatusToday

StatusToday uses artificial intelligence to help employers look at the digital footprints of their staff, getting a comprehensive view of what they are up to and so protect themselves against insider attacks and mistakes.

Modi is a data scientist but before helping set up StatusToday he was a project manager and software engineer at Microsoft. With a background in human psychology he understood that the future of artificial intelligence would be centred around humans.

“StatusToday was founded with that vision in mind. A human centric AI to understand human behaviour,” he said.

Modi sees people as an organisation’s most valuable asset, and yet its biggest liability, so for him understanding people and the way they behave is the key to making change in the workplace.

Working with GCHQ, Modi says, is both an honour and a humbling experience.

“GCHQ is an organisation at the leading edge of technology, facing some of the biggest challenges known to national defence,” he said.