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In previous articles on startups I highlighted some companies doing some new and exciting things in Big Data and Cloud computing. Today's innovative startup focus will be on cybersecurity startups.

Needless to say, cybersecurity is one of the top concerns - if not the top concern - of enterprise IT specialists and even the US Government. It seems like almost every day we are hearing about a major new hack, and no organization is immune from it. Even the US Department of Defense and major American defense firms have been the targets of successful Chinese hacking attacks (although one US company Mandiant caught a Chinese Army hacking unit red handed). Here are two cybersecurity startups that seem to be making unique approaches in the industry:

Cylance Aims to Prevent a 'Cyber 9-11', Recently Raised $15 Million

One thing that has become increasingly clear is that the critical infrastructure of the United States - power grids, dams etc. - is much more vulnerable than many may realize. Even the head of the US National Security Agency - yes, the same NSA with the worldwide cyber spying network - has admitted that US infrastructure is highly vulnerable to a cyberattack. Think about, for example, what would happen if a cyberattack managed to knock out a chunk of the US electricity grid; there would be mass chaos as we would be essentially transported back to the 19th century.

One company that focuses on protecting the country's infrastructure - everything from our grid to embedded systems such as those seen in medical devices - is infosec startup Cylance. It seems like many cybersecurity startups are focused more on smaller cyber attacks, whereas what differentiates Cylance in my opinion is this focus on the greatest threats to the US's security - essentially a cyber 9-11 attack. Cylance uses massive amounts of data to to implement it's so-called 'Presponse' approach to cybersecurity, which it describes as using "algorithmic intelligence and technology to be truly predictive and preventive against advanced threats." 

Cylance has been a bit coy about who their customers are, but they did just raise $15 Million from noted Silicon Valley VC Khosla Ventures with participation by Fairhaven Capital as well.

CrowdStrike Emerges From Beta With It's Controversial 'Active Defense' Strategy

Crowdstrike is a well funded cybersecurity startup - they recently raised $26 from Warburg Pincus - and they have created a good amount of controversy in the infosec industry. Crowdstrike's new 'Falcon' platform emphasizes a so-called "Active Defense" strategy, in juxtaposition to what it deems to be expensive and easily surmountable.

Crowdstrike describes Active Defense as a  "strategy that instead focuses on raising costs and risks to the adversary and attempts to deter their activities."  CrowdStrike's strategy is to try to exploit weaknesses in the attackers profile, using decoys, deception and other stealth maneuvers to collect cyber intelligence and bring hackers hackers into the open so their actual identities can be known and their attacks studied. They may also use deception techniques to trick attackers into stealing false information for example. 

So far so good - there is certainly an argument to be made that traditional cybersecurity methods are not working. Where Crowdstrike has generated enormous controversy, however, is in regards to the question of whether it's Active Defense' strategy actually crosses the line into full-scale cyber counter offensives, which in industry terminology is called "hack-backs", which is actually a kind of cyber vigilantism and is illegal under US law. Crowdstrike's CTO Dimitri Alperovitch states very clearly in a recent company blog post that it does not engage in hack-back strategies: "Active Defense is NOT about "hack-back", retaliation, or vigilantism. At CrowdStrike, we are fundamentally against these tactics and believe they can be counterproductive, as well as potentially illegal."

My own conclusion is that because Crowdstrike has 1) become so visible in the industry; and 2) that their President and Co-Founder Shawn Henry is a former Executive Director of the FBI who was closely involved in the Bureau's cybersecurity activities for many years, that it seems far-fetched the company would go as far as to engage in hack-backs. What is undoubtedly true though is that Crowdstrike is pushing the envelope with it's new 'Active Defense' approach to cybersecurity - and given the frequency and severity of cyberattacks against the United States, this is not a bad thing after all. 

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