An Auckland startup - whose founder warns that AI will boost hackers - won the Rising Star category in the Partner Awards that accompanied AWS (Amazon Web Services) annual re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, which has attracted some 50,000 attendees from around the world.
“We’re proud to be bringing an AWS partner award home to New Zealand and to be recognised amongst the 100,000 partners who are part of the AWS partner network. We’re excited to continue building our relationship with AWS, working together to challenge the status quo when it comes to data security,” DataMasque founder and chief executive Grant de Leeuw told the Herald.
Another Kiwi firm, fintech Cogo, which helps its users track emissions-friendly spending, was a finalist in the same category.
In September, as his firm raised just under $3 million in a seed round (from an investor he met at an earlier AWS event) de Leeuw framed DataMasque as New Zealand’s first homegrown data security company.
The firm says its tech pulls the rug out from under global cyber criminals by replacing actual customer information with realistic-looking data that is fake.
Businesses have traditionally borrowed sensitive consumer data in its testing phase, creating an unnecessary vulnerability. This is something DataMasque has fixed by replacing customer data with “synthetic” alternatives, which serve the same purpose for a company without providing new fodder for “digital ram raiders”, as the firm puts it.
“We find sensitive data and replace it with realistic data that looks and acts like the real thing but is fully synthetic,” de Leeuw said.
The software firm was founded in mid-2021. Though small - with 12 staff - it rapidly acquired some big-name clients, including the Best Western hotel group, which includes 18 brands and 4700 hotels worldwide.’
DataMasque is taking advantage of global changes in the privacy space, much like First AML born out of global regulatory change in the AML space. The security standard ISO 27001 recently included data masking to its requirements for businesses, which has also helped the Auckland company to secure other major international clients such as Cohesity, and domestic and foreign government departments.
“DataMasque runs much faster than our internal solution, taking just two hours as opposed to six to eight previously,” said Joseph Landucci, director of technology management for Best Western, in a case study published by Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Resolution Life, the London-based multinational that owns AMP, is another hero customer.
DataMasque is also doing “quite a bit” for three government departments here (which de Leeuw can’t name publicly, but he shared their identity with the Herald and they are large and top-tier), plus two government agencies across the Tasman.
“AWS has been a fantastic partner for us. It’s been a very fruitful relationship,” de Leeuw said.
His startup has some services hosted on the Amazon service, but he’s primarily referring to its AWS Marketplace, which has proved an efficient vehicle for his company to reach global customers.
“Our opportunities are primarily coming in through AWS and Cohesity [a specialist platform for data security].”
DataMasque has also recently joined Microsoft’s Azure Marketplace.
Amazon also delivered DataMasque’s first outside investor - Australian venture capital firm OIF Ventures, which led the $2.7m raise. OIF now holds a 29.4 per cent stake, according to the Companies Office.
“OIF approached us. They’d heard about us through an AWS conference in Australia.”
It was a natural fit, given OIF (Our Innovation Fund) is something of a security specialist, with existing investments including Kasada, which protects against automated bot attacks, and XM Cyber, which offers “exposure management”.
Icehouse Ventures also supported the raise.
“It was important to the organisation that we had Kiwi money as well,” de Leeuw said. Icehouse now has a 3.7 per cent stake.
His company will use the $2.7m in part to double its staff numbers.
The founder sees rapid expansion ahead. The cybersecurity industry is growing at a rapid clip overall as threats escalate. De Leeuw said AI is increasing the risk, as it makes it easier for previously so-so hackers to put together the tools for more sophisticated attacks.
But, more specifically, opportunity has been created through the key global security standard ISO 27001 that was recently being updated to include mandatory data masking - with both the new requirement and the name used for it falling nicely into DataMasque’s hands.
De Leeuw said the Kiwi firm’s main competition is “usually people using sensitive customer data where they shouldn’t be”.
Many of those who’ve been winging it will now have to choose a solution. There are some 50,000 organisations accredited to the recently tightened ISO 27001 standard.
Chris Keall is an Auckland-based member of the Herald’s business team. He joined the Herald in 2018 and is the technology editor and a senior business writer.