The Monday Interview: The smart way to fight cybercrime

Cybercrime is worth trillions of euro and Cork-based Smarttech247 is at the coalface of the battle against the online underworld. Pádraig Hoare speaks with chief executive Ronan Murphy.

There is a new type of soldier needed to fight the most modern of modern warfare, according to the founder and chief executive of Cork-based cybersecurity firm Smarttech247.

Smarttech247 chief executive Ronan Murphy at its security operations centre at Cork Airport Business Park. ‘It was about 2012 that people started taking an interest. A few high-profile cyber breaches took place and as those breaches became known, more people started paying attention to it.’ Pic: Larry Cummins

Ronan Murphy’s firm has around 100 of these veterans, with offices in Cork, Bucharest, and Krakow. It is a 24-hour fight, according to Mr Murphy.

“We’re like the guys in the trenches with the bayonets, we’re at the coalface of this at every level in terms of protecting organisations,” he says.

“It is where the new wars are being fought, you could say, at all levels. What we see here on a daily basis in terms of attacks is incredible.”

Europol, the EU-wide police network, has warned the global impact of cybercrime has risen to €2.5 trillion, making it “more profitable than the global trade in marijuana, cocaine, and heroin combined”.

A survey last year by British IT research firm Juniper found criminal data breaches will cost businesses a total of €7 trillion over the next five years, due to higher levels of internet connectivity and inadequate enterprise-wide security.

It found that SMEs were particularly at risk from cyber attacks.

Mr Murphy says: “What it means is that the bad guys are innovating and they are getting better. The bad guys have access to a trillion-dollar market that is not regulated — it is far bigger than the global drugs trade.”

He warns: “Therefore nation states, organised crime gangs, and individual hackers are honing their skills and ability to compromise data, compromise companies, absolutely anything they can.

“We are seeing it here in Ireland, we are seeing it in Europe, and we are seeing it globally.”

While there is no need for mass hysteria among everyday users and small business, who can take basic steps like so-called password hygiene — putting time and effort into protecting passwords — the threat of cybercrime means bigger firms had to get better, according to Mr Murphy.

High-profile breaches like the one that affected global consumer credit giant Equifax compromised 145m users and caused massive reputational damage to the firm that is still reverberating today.

He says the more companies that invest in technology, in software, and in the cloud, the more gaps appear in terms of security.

It becomes easier to get compromised, to lose data, and have those types of challenges.

The incoming EU data privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), on May 25 is a good measure, but SMEs and multinationals need to be aware of the scale of it.

“If you take a standard company, only 10% of data on your network is structured. What I mean by structured is that you know where it is and how it is indexed, and how you can get it back and call it up. 

"But if you look at all the data on your Samsung phone or your iPad or your laptop, or on your servers or your email or applications, documents, or pictures — that data is unstructured,” says Mr Murphy.

That means the only way you can find data is to search for it because it’s completely unstructured, meaning it is not referenceable in any given application. The problem organisations face with GDPR is that they have to have to see this so-called unstructured data.

“That’s 90% of it, so it is a phenomenal challenge. A lot of the technology we are building here at Smarttech247 is the first of its kind globally and is designed to fix that problem, to give them visibility into pictures, into documents, emails, and the rest,” says Mr Murphy.

It is a far cry from the early days of Smarttech247 when, as Mr Murphy explains, it was a struggle to make people aware of the challenges. Now with 100 employees in Cork, Bucharest, and Krakow, he has ambitions to turn it into a 2,000-strong firm.

“I moved into cybersecurity on a full scale around 2010, and it was way too early. For the first two years, it was quite painful. We were working out of a small office on the Monahan Rd in Cork and it was knocking on doors where people had no interest in what we were doing.

“It was about 2012 that people started taking an interest. A few high-profile cyber breaches took place and as those breaches became known, more people started paying attention to it.

“We had spent two or three years trying to promote cybersecurity and it was very much a case of being in the right place at the right time, coupled with persistence and perseverance. It was very difficult for the first few years but we stuck with it.

“One of the interesting things about cybersecurity is that you see established IT companies branching into the area as an aside. 

"Be careful what you wish for is my advice because cybersecurity is all or nothing, it is all-encompassing. The level of quality control, focus, and resourcing is insane,” he says.

People with exceptional maths skills will be in high demand as the firm grows, according to Mr Murphy.


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