AI security startup Darktrace’s CEO defeats buzzword bingo with trust and transparency

It takes a lot of trust to allow a company to come in and install a mystery box on their network to monitor for threats. It’s like inviting in a security guard to sit in your living room to make sure nobody breaks in.

Yet that’s exactly what Darktrace does. (The box, not the security guard.)

The Cambridge U.K.-founded company, now with a second headquarters in San Francisco, assumes that any network can be breached. Instead of looking at the perimeter of a network, Darktrace uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to scan and identify security weaknesses and malicious traffic inside a company’s network.

Traditional network monitoring typically uses signature-based threat detection of matching against known malicious files, but can be easily modified to evade detection. Instead, Darktrace builds up a profile of the network to understand what the baseline “normal” looks like so it can spot and identify potential issues, like large amounts of data exfiltration or suspect devices.

But how do you win over those who see a sea of meaningless buzzwords? How can you differentiate between the smoke and mirrors and the real deal?

“No one wants the black box making decisions without them knowing what it’s doing,” said Nicole Eagan, Darktrace’s co-founder and chief executive, in a call with TechCrunch.

“So, let them have visibility,” she said.

Darktrace’s founders have roots in the U.K. and U.S. intelligence, where they took what they knew of the cybersecurity threats to the private sector to where the new battleground opened up. In the past half-decade of its existence, the company has gained major clients on its roster — from telcos to banks, tech giants and car makers — supported by 900 staff in over 40 offices around the world.

About a quarter of its customers are in financial services, said Eagan. But it takes a lot for the heavily regulated companies to trust a mystery device on a company’s network where the data and security, like financial services, is highly regulated.