Australia needs to build its sovereign capability in cybersecurity through increased training and utilisation of machine learning to counter growing threats to private companies and government agencies. That’s the warning from Mohan Koo, the founder of global cybersecurity specialist DTEX Systems, which has its Australian base at Lot Fourteen in Adelaide, his home town.
Mohan founded DTEX Systems in 2000 in Silicon Valley, where it now has about 75 employees. It also has a base in the United Kingdom with 5 people.
Earlier this year, DTEX Systems moved into Lot Fourteen where it is co-located with the Australian Cyber Collaboration Centre (A3C). The company’s local office has eight staff, working as technicians, analysts and investigators – and Mohan is keen to at least double that number in 2021.
He is planning to achieve that by training data scientists through a combination of on-the-job experience with DTEX Systems and formal learning in conjunction with A3C.
He is also in talks with another Lot Fourteen neighbour, the Australian Institute of Machine Learning (AIML), to explore how artificial intelligence and machine learning could be utilised to analyse vast quantities of data.
Mohan said instances of cyber security attacks on private and public sector entities around the world had increased enormously in 2020, partly due to increased espionage activity and because of the opportunities created for cyber crime by the huge numbers of people working from home.
“Business has gone up exponentially in the last six months and our revenue has gone up 300 percent,” he said.
“What was happening in cyber security even a year ago is completely outdated. The unique thing about DTEX Systems is that we approach cyber security through the human lens.
“We’re looking at how humans and their behaviour create vulnerabilities that outside attackers – criminals or nation state actors – can take advantage of and find ways into our companies and our government agencies to steal trade secrets and citizen data.
“One of the things we are studying very hard is how has the move to working from home changed people’s behaviour and how has that affected the risks facing our companies and government.
“To take just one example, we are seeing more recreational internet surfing on corporate devices.
“Many websites have malware planted into them, so when people go to those sites, the malware infects their corporate laptops. We call that ‘drive-by downloads’.
“Then when you connect by a VPN to the corporate network, there’s opportunities for that malware to jump across the network into other machines, into servers and that’s where we get ransomware attacks.
Mohan said Australian cyber security companies and professionals are well trusted on the global scene.
“What’s very important for Australia right now is to develop our sovereign capability so that we can look after ourselves,” he said.
“I’m very focused on developing that sovereign capability and building our industry here.”
Mohan said people who would be suitable to train as cyber security data scientists could come from diverse backgrounds, such as human resources, behavioural science, defence, and general information technology.
“We are looking at people with the right attitude and aptitude and with a very analytical mindset,” Mohan said. “The training would be heavily focused on detection and investigating insider threats.”
“The biggest problem with cybersecurity today is that there are just not enough skilled people. The more data that is collected, the more ‘eyes on glass’ you need but if you can use artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze that data faster, it reduces the need to continually add more people to the equation.
“So, we’re working with AIML on how we can utilise data more effectively and to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to find patterns from data science.
Mohan said being a part of Lot Fourteen is helping the DTEX Systems team to gain insights into sectors strongly represented in the precinct, including defence and space.
“From a research and development perspective, we gain an understanding of where their industries are going and we have the ability to support their growth by baking in cybersecurity and privacy by design,” he said.
“Silicon Valley is great because you do have that bleeding edge mentality but its uber competitive.
“We do have a very similar work ethic here in Australia, people do like to get the job done, but because we have more flexibility and less pressure coming from all sides, we can be that more creative and put more effort into thinking outside the square.
“That’s what being co-located with A3C at Lot Fourteen does for us. It gives us a trusted roof by which we can partner with other trusted organisations and then that enables us to be much more open, because we’re open in a trusted environment.
“For the employees, being at Lot Fourteen is fantastic. They have a vibrant working environment, they are mixing with people from all kinds of organisations that are all pushing the parcel on what can be done from a technology perspective. This is where the ideas are being generated and the rubber is really hitting the road.
“It’s a really cool place to work.”