SecurityBrief Australia logo
Australia's leading source of cybersecurity and cyber-attack news
Story image

Interview: The Aussie security firm fighting cyber deception from the inside out

Thu 19 Oct 2017
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Matthew Wilson is a technology entrepreneur — founder of the M5 Network Security, an award-winning cybersecurity firm sold to Northrop Grumman in 2012. In 2016, Matthew co-founded Penten — a cybersecurity project centred around innovation, mobile security and cyber deception technologies.  

“The big challenge in cyber defence is that an attacker only needs one successful vector of approach while a defender needs to be worried about all possible outcomes. It is a systemic problem. Over the last 10 years, we have seen the implementation of really good sensor systems that provide visibility to what is going on within a network. The problem has been the ability to wade through the millions of daily alerts to find the things that are actually worth investigating. In all of the major recent breaches, the information to identify it was there, it was just buried in the security operations queue.”

Penten’s main commercial focus since its founding has been the enablement of Defence and government to adopt mobile technology within their workflow through the creation of AltoCrypt Stik — an encryption solution that shields mobile devices from directly ‘touching’ the internet. Penten has also been developing cyber deception technology to organisations without the resources traditionally needed to operate such infrastructure.

MitchelLake’s Robin Block sat down with Matthew to gain insight into the challenges government and companies face in protecting their data and understand how Penten is changing the Australian cybersecurity landscape.

What is cyber deception and why is it critical to data security — how is Penten contributing to this technology base?

Matthew: Cyber deception is simply the creation of network assets or data aimed to fool and trap an intruder. ‘Honeypots’ are a form of cyber deception that have been used for a long time. These are enticing network assets or environments that contain no genuine information.

They are incredibly useful because they not only often thwart an attack, they allow an attacker to be observed. This allows teams to track their strategies, techniques and potentially glean what information they are looking for — all of which helps in tracing attribution and improving prevention techniques.

The challenge with honeypots is that they take a lot of expertise and computing resources to be effectively implemented. You generally have to run them from a cloud environment separate from your actual network and place breadcrumbs throughout your real environment. You need people to build the environment, update and manage the environment, along with the capability to invest in the computing resources required to host it. The reality is that many organisations don’t have these capabilities.

Our goal has been to create comparably secure systems that can be put to use by organisations and teams with far fewer resources. Rather than looking at how to track someone in a fake environment, we have been looking at how to protect the data itself. This has led to the development of a new capability called deception.ai led by Penten founder Ben Whitham and its first product called TrapDocs.

This system uses machine learning to create and constantly update fake files capable of deceiving intruders and malicious insiders. Because most people manage their data through direct searches — individuals know exactly where their data is and go straight to that point — these files act as beacons to anyone who is inappropriately searching through the system. If one is disturbed it will trigger the highest priority alert to the cyber team — allowing them to respond immediately. If the file is taken, it will send out a signal if it is ever re-connected to the Internet.

This deception and security system importantly focuses on both insider threats and external breaches. A human can create a fake file, but they can't do so at the scale and change cycles needed. Users will get to know what a particular file is under more static circumstances. Our files will often only be there for hours or days before moved or refreshed. Our ability to accomplish this has been dependent on the adoption of machine learning technology. It is a needed piece of security from our perspective. We are just about to start customer trials with a view to launch the product at the beginning of next year.

What are your expansion priorities and do you think there is a shortage of skilled cybersecurity professionals in Australia?

Matthew: Most of the Penten team have worked together before. After 20 years in the industry, you tend to initially hire people you know. That has lead to a very collaborative culture that we aim to keep as we expand. Focusing on creative people was a priority in our initial hires. We also completely orientate ourselves around the support of engineering outcomes. Much of the reason for our success is our ability to solve new problems — it’s in our DNA. We have more ideas than we currently have the capability to execute.

There is a real shortage of cybersecurity skills in Australia. However, we have to remember that this is also an area that has grown rapidly in the last few years. This has really been on the back of enterprises coming to understand the nature and extent of the threat they face. The skill shortage is real, however, universities have responded. UNSW has 300 advanced degree level students that are going to graduate over the next three years. Simply the emergence of cybersecurity specific degrees is an exciting change.

The other thing that has to be understood about cyber is that it is not all technical. We recognise the need to pull people from outside technical fields because we need people that excel in communication, understand psychology and can help other companies embrace the cultural changes that are needed in tandem with technology to create truly layered security. If you don't have a good hygiene base from a cyber perspective, then you are spending your entire time trying to capture a bucket of sand in your hands.

Our secure wifi solution for government AltoCrypt Stik is our focus for expansion. Built in collaboration with a UK firm Amiosec, AltoCrypt Stik introduces computing mobility to Defence and government users. The specific focus for its creation was to support the Australian, UK and New Zealand governments to use mobile technology — improving their workflow and efficiency.

This is critical for the government because the use of mobile technology not only allows for higher productivity, the reliance on secure desktops and physical notepads creates a recruitment issue with a younger generation that has grown up in a mobile and multi-tasking world. The office coffee shop and breakroom have become legitimate workspaces in enterprise and AltoCrypt Stik enables government users to enjoy the same flexibility. Our technology allows for the utilisation of laptops and Windows tablet technologies for even the most secretive of files. This of critical importance to the Defence Department, but is also technology we are looking to make available to CEOs from all types of sectors.

What do you see in the future for cybersecurity and the future for Penten — is there an ‘end game’ for you?

Matthew: One of the biggest challenges facing the entire cyber industry are quantum computers. Most encryption centres around the simple principle that prime numbers are very easy to calculate one way, and very difficult another. The computational capabilities of quantum computers simply breaks down that difficulty barrier.

Vikram Sharma and QuintessenceLabs are going to change the World. They are looking at ways to make existing encryption technology more resilient to quantum computing by the application of vast amounts of random number generation. Perfecting this technology is an absolute necessity because quantum computers are closer than people think — there are commercial quantum computers right now, they are just small, expensive and there are few of them.

One thing I love about the Australian tech space is that it is very collaborative. It hasn’t always been that way, but all of the young Australian companies work with each other. Part of the reason for that is that within this space, small companies generally only focus on a specific issue and don’t try to provide solutions to every problem a client may have they — specialise.

This opens the door to very effective partnerships. The space is so eager to grow that you tend not to compete against other Australian companies — you tend to be able to complement each other. Pooling solutions allows small companies to solve more problems, creating a more compelling offer.

Our focus with Penten is to create new things. We want to develop a kind of perpetual creation engine. I expect some of the elements that come out of Penten to grow their own wings — so to speak. However, our focus is to stay focused on the new. Our plan is to enable others to support the broader use implementation of our technologies. At the moment, we are doing all of our integration ourselves. However, we want to build a channel that is able to support the delivery of our products and allows us to continue to focus on the creation and support of new technologies.

Article by Robin Block, MitchelLake.

Related stories
Top stories
Story image
Tech job moves
Tech job moves - Bitdefender, Cohesity, Fortinet & MODIFI
We round up all job appointments from June 27-30, 2022, in one place to keep you updated with the latest from across the tech industries.
Story image
Artificial Intelligence
Juniper study reveals top AI trends in APAC region
Juniper's research shows an increase in enterprise artificial intelligence adoption over the last 12 months is yielding tangible benefits to organisations.
Story image
Research
New study reveals 51% of employees using unauthorised apps
The research shows that 92% of employees and managers in large enterprises want full control over applications, but they don't have it.
Story image
State Library of Victoria
State Library of Victoria entrusts Oracle support and security to Rimini Street
“Our finance team are very happy with the support and security that Rimini Street provides, which keeps our assets and our customers secure."
Story image
Cloudera
Overcoming hybrid and multi-cloud challenges to drive innovation
Driven by improvements in technology, financial services companies have advanced both internal and external systems and processes, with the likes of digitisation, personalisation and risk management redefining the industry.
Story image
Internet of Things
ManageEngine wins big in IDC MarketScape assessment
ManageEngine's Endpoint Central service has been recognised as a leader by IDC MarketScape in several categories including Internet of Things device deployments and UEM software for SMEs.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Ingram Micro launches vendor-backed security program
Ingram Micro has unveiled a new program intended to give resellers the effective offerings their customers need to stay safe in the evolving threat landscape.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Email threats spike 101%, remains a top attack vector
"Each year we see innovation in the threat landscape, but each year email remains a major threat to organisations."
Story image
Oracle Cloud
Commvault, Oracle to deliver Metallic Data Management as a Service
"We are excited to partner with Commvault and enable our customers to restore and recover their most mission-critical cloud data."
Story image
Manufacturing
Sternum joins NXP, collaborates on IoT security and observability
Sternum has announced it has joined the software partner community of NXP Semiconductors, a manufacturer of and large marketplace for embedded controllers.
Story image
Cybersecurity
FIDO Alliance releases guidelines for optimising UX with FIDO Security Keys
The new guidelines aim to accelerate multi-factor authentication deployment and adoption with FIDO security keys.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Zero trust security adoption rises 27% in just two years
A survey of WAN managers has revealed that multi-factor authentication and single sign-on are the top zero trust features implemented.
Story image
Amazon Web Services / AWS
Zscaler, AWS accelerate onramp to the cloud with zero trust
Zscaler has announced an extension to its relationship with Amazon Web Services, as well as innovations built on Zscaler's Zero Trust architecture.
Story image
INTERPOL
Hundreds arrested, millions seized in global INTERPOL investigation
A two-month-long investigation by INTERPOL this year involved 76 countries and clamped down on organised crime groups behind telecommunications and social engineering scams.
Story image
MSP
Video: 10 Minute IT Jams - An update from CyberArk
Olly Stimpson joins us today to discuss the importance of MSP programmes and how MSP partners are experiencing success with CyberArk.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Video: 10 Minute IT Jams - An update from CrowdStrike
Scott Jarkoff joins us today to discuss current trends in the cyber threat landscape, and the reporting work CrowdStrike is doing to prevent further cyber harm.
Story image
Collaboration
IT and security team collaboration crucial to data security
Many IT and security decision makers are not collaborating as effectively as possible to address growing cyber threats.
Story image
Digital Transformation
Cybersecurity priorities for digital leaders navigating digital transformation
In recent years, Asia-Pacific has especially been a hotspot for cyberattacks, and as we continue into 2022, it’s evident that the problem is becoming more significant.
Story image
Internet of Things
Domino's Pizza: A blueprint for secure enterprise IoT deployment
Increasingly, organisations are embracing smart technologies to underpin innovations that can enhance safety and productivity in every part of our lives, from industrial systems, utilities, and building management to various forms of business enablement.
Story image
SaaS
Varonis strengthens security capabilities for AWS and S3
Varonis has strengthened and expanded its cloud and security capabilities, with a critical aim of improving safety and boosting data visibility in Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3).
Story image
Cybersecurity
Vulnerable APIs costing businesses billions every year
Large companies are particularly vulnerable to the security risks associated with exposed or unprotected APIs as they accelerate digital transformation.  
Story image
Compliance
Stock security features inadequate in face of rising risk
"Organisations must proactively find ways of identifying unseen vulnerabilities and should take a diligent, holistic approach to cybersecurity."
Story image
Identity and Access Management
Ping Identity launches corporate venture capital fund
Ping Identity has launched a corporate venture capital fund to foster innovative offerings for the identity security market.
Story image
Payroll
How New South Wales state departments achieved cloud migration success
State departments in New South Wales are heading to the cloud to achieve better workflow solutions, and one company is paving the way for their success.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Significant security concerns resulting from open source software ubiquity
"The risk is real, and the industry must work closely together in order to move away from poor open source or software supply chain security practices."
Story image
Enterprise Resource Planning / ERP
Five ways your ERP is letting you down and why its time for a change
Wiise explains while moving to a new system may seem daunting, the truth is that legacy systems could be holding your business back.
Story image
Network Security
Netskope announces zero trust network access updates
Customers can now apply zero trust principles across a range of hybrid work security needs, including SaaS, IaaS, private applications, and endpoint devices.
Story image
Ransomware
Secureworks reveals new information on BRONZE STARLIGHT threat group
New research from Secureworks has uncovered new information on the Chinese threat group BRONZE STARLIGHT and how they are using targeted ransomware to initiate complicated attacks.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Greater API usage raises concerns for protection - report
Radware has released its 2022 State of API Security report, which shows a rise in APIs, with 92% of the organisations surveyed significantly or somewhat increasing their usage.
Story image
WatchGuard Technologies
Ransomware volume doubled 2021 total by end of Q1 2022
Ransomware detections in the first quarter of this year doubled the total volume reported for 2021, according to a new report. 
Story image
Cybersecurity
Zscaler launches co-located data centres in Canberra and Auckland
The investment will offer public and private sector enterprises greater resilience in support of their zero trust cybersecurity posture.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Aqua Security, CIS create software supply chain security guide
Aqua Securityand the Center for Internet Security have together released the industry’s first formal guidelines for software supply chain security.
Story image
Vendor
Forescout reveals top vulnerabilities impacting OT vendors
Forescout’s Vedere Labs has disclosed OT: ICEFALL, naming 56 vulnerabilities affecting devices from 10 operational technology vendors.
Story image
Artificial Intelligence
Abnormal Security finds financial supply chain under threat
New research by Abnormal Security has found a rising trend in financial supply chain compromise as threat actors increasingly impersonate vendors.
Story image
10 Minute IT Jams
Video: 10 Minute IT Jams - An update from Rimini Street
Today we welcome back Daniel Benad, who is the GVP & regional GM for Oceania at Rimini Street.
Story image
Advent One
Advent One partners with US vulnerability management company
Advent One has partnered with New York based vulnerability management company, Vicarius to accentuate cybersecurity detection and response capabilities
Story image
Gartner
Gartner's top recommendations for security leaders
"Leaders now recognise that major disruption is only one crisis away. We can’t control it, but we can evolve our thinking, philosophy, program and architecture.”
Story image
Tech job moves
Tech job moves - ActiveCampaign, Arcserve, LogRhythm & Qlik
We round up all job appointments from June 17-22, 2022, in one place to keep you updated with the latest from across the tech industries.
Story image
Secure access service edge / SASE
Cloudflare adds new capabilities to zero trust SASE platform
New features for Cloudflare One include email security protection, data loss prevention tools, cloud access security broker, and private network discovery.
Story image
Cyber Criminal
Identity and access: the fight is on
Blue team defenders are used to protecting our data, applications, and users with access controls and other security mechanisms, which is why attacks like this are especially challenging when they target identity and access control systems.
Story image
Digital Transformation
What CISOs think about cyber security, visibility and cloud
Seeking to uncover the minds of CISOs and CIOs across Asia Pacific, my company recently asked Frost & Sullivan to take a snapshot of cloud adoption behaviour in the region.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Threat actors ramp up their social engineering attacks
As people get better at identifying potential threats in their inbox, threat actors must evolve their methods. Their new M.O? Social engineering.
Story image
API
Industry-first comprehensive risk-based API security enhances protection
Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) have become a crucial part of operating web and mobile application businesses and are causing significant economic growth in the digital sector.
Story image
Trend Micro
5G network projects driven by improving security and privacy
Trend Micro's new study reveals the prospect of improved security and privacy capabilities are the main motivations behind private 5G wireless network projects.