ZingBox: Startup brings Cisco, Stanford pedigree to IoT security

Year-old company has already said no to a buyout

ZingBox, an Internet of Things security startup whose founders have ties to Cisco and Stanford University, is working on software that guards IoT devices from threats on the Internet.

may wang

May Wang

The year-old company’s focus is upgrading routers and gateways with intelligence to detect when IoT devices are behaving abnormally, indicating that they might be compromised, says May Wang, CTO of the company and a co-founder who spent 14 years at Cisco in its office of the CTO where she was a principal architect.

The problem of IoT security has to take three characteristics into account, she says:

  • There are a huge number of IoT devices and a great variety of types of IoT devices with different hardware and software. Eighty percent of them have security concerns.
  • Many of these devices are in mission-critical roles but have limited compute, memory, bandwidth and power so are unable to protect themselves.
  • These devices are connected online, putting them at high risk of compromise as they try to deal with critical missions.

The answer ZingBox has come up with takes a network perspective on security-as-a-service. It is an agent placed on routers and gateways that collects network data about traffic to and from these devices. The data is analyzed by ZingBox’s analysis engine, which evaluates threats, formulates responses and pushes security rules for the routers and gateways to enforce.

IoT devices run pretty much autonomously with very little human intervention, she says, and most talk machine-to-machine as they carry out one or two specific tasks, so the network traffic they generate is very predictable.

ZingBox has built a database of IoT device properties and behaviors which it uses to perform anomaly detection on live IoT traffic. The algorithm used to do this is trying to find the .1% of traffic that is anomalous.

Wang says it uses smart sub-sampling of the traffic rather than examining every single packet in order to streamline the analysis and at the same time keep the false positive rate low. That enables ZingBox scale to handle the enormous amounts of data that massive deployments of IoT devices can generate, she says.

With consumer IoT booming, ZingBox is designing its software to provide auto-protection for non-technical households to use it. “No IT expertise needed,” she says.

The goal is to deploy the software in existing devices by upgrading the software in routers and gateways to protect the data generated by the IoT devices connected to them.

Established in 2014 and backed by $2.3 million in angel investments, the company is just starting to shop around for institutional investors. The company has already had a buyout offer that it turned down because the founders think they have something big they want to keep developing on their own, Wang says. The company has about a dozen employees.

While at Cisco, Wang worked on a security algorithm used in Cisco switches. The company’s CEO Xu Zou has worked at Cisco, but also at Airespace, Asalea Networks, Aruba Networks and Aerohive Networks as a software engineer and executive. Like Wang, he holds a degree from Stanford University. The third co-founder, Jianlin Zeng, is vice president of engineering whose name is on several Aerohive Networks wireless patents from as far back as 2008 and as recent as 2014.

ZingBox has on its board NetScreen CEO Robert Thomas, Fortinet founder Ken Xie, and Eric Chen, managing director of venture firm Silver Lake Partners.

The company will rely on technical partners and integrators to help find customers since businesses are reluctant to try products from startups without some third party vouching for their credibility, Wang says.

The company says it is experimenting with pricing, but will base it either per device managed by a gateway or by the bandwidth of the connection it oversees.

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