Monitoring the enemy within:
Wine and ale were flowing and opera singer Ciara Harvie, best known as a contestant on TV talent show The Voice, was entertaining the guests. Jamie Graves was throwing a party and he wanted to put on a bit of a show.
Graves appeared sporting a hipster’s beard, though the dark grey suit and turquoise tie added some traditional formality to the occasion (as the corporate colours of Daily Business he could have been our mascot).
This was the official opening of the new Edinburgh offices of ZoneFox, the cybersecurity company that some speak about in the same ambitious terms as Skyscanner, FreeAgent and Nucleus which have helped put the city firmly on the tech map.
“We’re starting to look at geography. We are a UK focused company and we’re looking overseas to expand the business,” says Graves.
He speaks with the confidence of a young entrepreneur who has learned a lot in a short space of time. He studied for a Phd in digital forensics at Napier University where he forged a partnership with professor Bill Buchanan to launch an information security software company.
It gave birth to the ZoneFox product, which helps protect business-critical assets from malicious and accidental threats from within a company. In short, it monitors employee behaviour to watch for abnormal activity.
He emphasises that the software is tracing behaviour and not content produced in individual messages and documents.
“We are not looking at what people say to each other, just looking at patterns of behaviour that don’t follow the norm.”
Graves occupies a world inhabited by people who speak a strange tongue but are dealing with problems that are becoming ever more familiar to the general population, the most fundamental being the theft of intellectual property.
As he explains: “We dealt with an automotive company where an employee was starting to look at various files that were beyond his domain. Some time later he indicated he was leaving and we found he was about to take information he’d gathered from the company.”
This is a typical scenario: disgruntled employees stealing software and IP or customer files and using them to set up their own business. In the more menacing cases – thankfully rare – employees could be bribed or even placed by a third party to unlock a company’s innermost secrets.
He says a lot of activity is reasonably innocent, such as an office worker sending a file via a platform such as Dropbox or Skype that can be intercepted.
“Cybersecurity is a hot sector just now, and things like artificial intelligence are big topics. But there has been more focus on hackers breaking in from outside. We need to keep a focus on those from within trying to do damage.”
The company has benefited from two big funding rounds, the first raising £650,000 and the second £3.6 million from Archangels, the Scottish Investment Bank and TriCap. It now employs 33 technicians and other staff at its new Torphichen Street offices.
It moved from the Codebase incubator a couple of months ago and Graves cannot praise the facility enough for helping the company get started, but Graves says fast growth prompted a need to seek new premises.
“We were the classic start-up, a spin-out from university, but the project is now ready for the big time.
“We were quickly bursting at the seams at Codebase. We’ve added 10 staff since we moved here.”
Like most technology companies, ZoneFox has drawn staff from the steady flow of talent through the universities, particularly Edinburgh university. He is concerned by the potential restrictions on recruiting EU nationals following the Brexit vote.
“Brexit will become more of a issue.” he says. “It is a barrier to growth that we can do without. If we are looking to become a digital leader we need that frictionless ability to hire people.”
Educated: Edinburgh Napier University (1st class honours, Networks and Distributed Systems, PhD in digital forensics), Cambridge Judge Business School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (entrepreneurship development programme)
Career highlights: co-founder and CEO of Inquisitive Systems; founder and CEO ZoneFox
If you could meet any three people from the past or present who would they be?
Elon Musk (technology entrepreneur), Noam Chomsky (American linguist), and Frank Zappa (radical rock musician)
What frustrates you?
I wish we could grow the company faster