Ashley Madison hack pays off for Cork-based cyber security company

A Cork company has reaped the benefits of such high-profile cases as the Ashley Madison cyber-theft, writes Trish Dromey.

Since hackers stole and released the confidential details of sex cheats from the Ashley Madison website, business has been booming for Cork-based cyber security company Smarttech.

“Ashley Madison was one of a number of high-profile breaches in recent years, which shows how naïve people are with regard to their data security and how vulnerable companies are to cybercrime.” said company founder and CEO Ronan Murphy, explaining that the increase in cybercrime in the past two years has led to very strong growth for his company.

Smarttech has been offering a cyber security consultancy service since 2012 and now has over 300 clients, among them a number of global companies in a range of industry sectors including healthcare, retail and education.

According to Mr Murphy, in the digital age companies need to understand there is very little they can do to prevent a determined hacker from getting access to their systems.

“What companies need to do is adopt a different mindset in relation to security and employ a data monitoring service to ensure that cyber criminals are immediately detected and stopped from stealing critical data.”

Ronan Murphy
Ronan Murphy

In 2014 Smarttech invested over €1m in setting up a Security Operations Centre (SOC) where analysts monitor data for its customers 24 /7, 365 days a year. The use of network behavioural analysis software, which detects anomalous behaviour, allows the company to monitor vast quantities of data across global sites.

Mr Murphy claims there is now a global spread of cyber attacks using ransomware for extortion. “We get multiple calls per week from large and small companies which have had their data encrypted by hackers who are demanding payment for its release.” This malware epidemy is being driven by organised crime gangs in Eastern Europe, Japan and China, he said, adding that companies, which have not adequately backed up their data, have little option but to pay.

“There are also more serious threats where hackers are looking to steal intellectual property, financial information and credit card details — called Advanced Persistent Threats, or APTs, and these are now happening every day of the week.”

To help customers deal with cyber threats, Smarttech offers a range of products and services including next generation firewalls, anti-virus and breach detection systems .“We also install monitoring technology and our monitoring service now accounts for 70% of our business” said Mr Murphy.

Smarttech started as an IT consultancy firm and moved into the cyber security space in early 2012. “We realised that traditional types of security, like anti-virus and basic firewalls were no longer effective. We spent time developing solutions that addressed the more complex nature of the cyber landscape,” said Mr Murphy, explaining that the company partnered with the likes of IBM and Trend Micro, and has used their products to develop solutions for its customers.

“The opening of the 24 /7 SOC in 2013 was a strategic investment for Smarttech. We were one of the first companies in Europe with this offering,” said Mr Murphy, adding that it allowed him to target some of the largest companies in Ireland and the UK.

The first major monitoring contract was with the Royal College of Surgeons in 2013. “Now our customers include some of the largest healthcare organisations and utility providers in Ireland and the UK as well as government agencies.”

Mr Murphy said turnover has grown by 50% per year since 2012 and he is expecting growth of well over 100% this year. The company employed an additional 15 staff last year bringing the number up to 35 and expects to double it this year.

Over the last two years the company has opened offices in Belfast, Dublin and London. The UK accounts for 30% of sales but is expected to become the company’s largest market within three years. Operating in a cyber security market now estimated to be worth $170bn (€150bn) a year, Mr Murphy sees vast scope for growth and is targeting sales of €20m within three years.


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