Wednesday 11 January 2017 5:47 am

The spy who accelerated me: Meet the 7 startups fighting cybercrime with GCHQ

Britain’s spymasters have selected seven startups to work “behind the wire” with the intelligence service in a bid to fight the growing threat of cyber attacks against UK business.

A digital identification system which is secured via cryptographic technology and a system which uses neural networks to protect banks from being hacked are just two of the startups which will spend three months being hot-housed by GCHQ and Telefonica’s Wayra accelerator, in the first scheme of its kind in the UK.

A 30-strong long list was whittled down to the seven successful startups, chosen for their potential ability to solve the real world problems facing business today. It comes as part of major plans to foster greater collaboration in the fight against cybercrime between the private and public sector.

Read more: Tyrie calls for national cyber centre to ensure finance is "high priority"

“Cyber security is increasingly important as more and more goes online. The majority of big businesses already understand how important cyber security is, but it’s clear it needs to up its game on cyber security,“ said Matt Hancock, digital minister at the department of culture media and sport which is also supporting the programme.

“Clearly there’s more to do, hence ensuring the government effort is not just on national security, but also focused on strong ecosystem and products to help business. Our view is to ensure the expertise of government alongside the entrepreneurialism of startups and academics to get the best possible solution."

The programme is part of the government’s plans to invest £1.9bn in cyber security over the next five years and efforts to help grow a world leading homegrown cyber security market currently worth £22bn a year.

It is also GCHQ’s first step in opening up what is “a fairly secretive organisation behind barbed wire” to innovation, said Chris Ensor, deputy director for cyber skills and growth at the agency.

“It’s an organic journey – through wanting to work outside of the constraints of GCHQ and with industry. It’s still early days, we’ve never worked this closely before [with startups]. It’s quite a new experience,” he said.

"We’ve always got things to learn and certainly innovative small companies bring an agile way of working."

It’s hoped the initial intake of startups, which will receive access to GCHQ's tech and intelligence expertise as well as office space at the new Cheltenham Innovation Centre and mentoring, will be expanded in future with the next cohort joining the accelerator for nine months, said Ensor.

As for the current cohort of startups, he said that while not all may be fully prepared to go to market by the end of the programme, some may continue working with GCHQ beyond the three months or may be introduced to partners or venture capitalists.

The seven startups joining the first GCHQ Wayra cyber accelerator

StartupWhat they do
CounterCraftA counterintelligence company, protects large organisations with a cybersecurity deception platform, fooling their adversaries with decoy computers, false data and fake identities.
Cyberowla breakthrough early-warning system for cyber attacks, incorporating advanced security analytics and heuristic methods.
Cybersmarta platform that helps companies and individuals achieve compliance with cyber security standards and guidelines quickly and easily.
FuturescaperA collective intelligence platform that provides data visualisations in order to make sense of complex, uncertain, or volatile issues.
Spherical DefenceAn intrusion detection system specific to banking APIs, that uses neural networks and pattern matching to detect hacking attempts
Status TodayProvides an AI-powered intelligence platform to understand human behaviour in the workplace, boosting security against insider attacks and detecting inadvertent mistakes
VerimuchmeA digital wallet and exchange platform to secure, verify and re-use personal information. Through ID-based crypto-technology, individuals and enterprises are linked to personal information that can be shared digitally over and over again