IP protection startup Inquisitive Systems gets £500,000 to battle APTs

ZoneFox offers realtime IP monitoring

Promising Scottish security startup Inquisitive Systems has been handed £500,000 ($750,000) by angel investors to boost development of its innovative ZoneFox system designed to protect firms from the threat of having sensitive IP assets stolen by hackers.

Spun out in 2010 from Edinburgh's Napier University, the latest round has come from the Archangel syndicate, building on top of previous tranches from Scottish Enterprise, which invested £100,000, and £60,000 from seed investors.

The faith being shown by investors appears to be based on the belief that with targeted attacks, Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs), and economic digital warfare now established threats, ZoneFox is a technology that has matured at precisely the right moment.

Using a Windows or Linux PC agent that works in real time, ZoneFox monitors access to unstructured data (i.e. files), comparing that to defined security policies using a SaaS-based engine.

The trick is working out what is unusual or illegal, for instance when a files is copied from one location to another, offering alerts that can acted upon as well as forensic reporting later on.

"There are a huge array of database protection systems but nothing for unstructured data," confirmed co-founder and chief executive, Dr Jamie Graves, whose seed partner for the project was respected computer scientist, Professor Bill Buchanan.

Having aimed the system at the electronics industry to start with, Inquisitive Systems planned to use the new money to market ZoneFox to other sectors that have similar IP protection problems, including manufacturing and pharmaceuticals.

Underlining the complexity of IP data protection, the firm has uncovered a particular anxiety around protecting data belonging to third parties and partners, often a necessary if risky exchange for complex supply chains.

"The investment that we've received will allow us to launch ZoneFox to market more aggressively and start to build our pipeline and customer base, offering our solution at a strongly competitive price point," said Graves.

"It [the investment] will also be utilised to further develop the product to become a Software as a Service (SaaS) solution, which will put us in a position where we can offer ZoneFox as a market leading data security product to businesses of all sizes, in all geographies and across all sectors."

UK-based security startups that get this far remain rarities and despite a recent upsurge in interest in the potential of university spin-outs, the number of success stories is small.

A notable exception was Oxford-based database protection startup Secerno, founded in 2006 and sold to Oracle barely four years later for a sizable but undisclosed sum.

Now Inquisitive hopes it can do for unstructured data protection what Secerno managed in the parallel field of database monitoring.

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