Cybercrime is an expanding business. Time and again, criminal hackers succeed in even penetrating well-protected corporate networks and extracting confidential data. Traditional security solutions often do not offer sufficient security. This is where the Hamburg startup Tenzir comes in with their new secure software. It works like a flight recorder and continuously collects data. This allows the software not only to detect an attack at an early stage, but also allows enables the IT specialists to reconstruct cyber attacks.
Tenzir was founded in Hamburg in 2017 by Matthias Vallentin and Dominik Charousset. Dr. Matthias Vallentin is a computer scientist. After completing his master’s degree at the University of Munich, he spent several years researching cyber security at the University of Berkeley in California. During his research he came across the work of his Hamburg colleague Dominik Charousset, who was active in the same field. Vallentin established a professional contact and the two met at conferences. After five years of this long-distance scientific relationship, they decided to set up a joint venture. The third computer scientist in the group is Tobias Mayer. He studied in Erlangen and Berlin and then worked at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits in Erlangen, where he was preoccupied with coding. Matthias’ sister Julia, is a lawyer and is responsible for the company’s legal affairs, especially the data protection side.
The name ‘Tenzir’ is formed from the term ‘tensor’, a mathematical equation, and the abbreviation ‘IR’, which stands for ‘incident response’. Tenzir is currently testing its software in test environments at the CERN research centre in Geneva and at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.
What motivate you? What is the problem that you want to solve?
We want to improve the security of organizations with large IT infrastructures in a sustainable way. Nowadays, it takes several months before complex cyber attacks are detected. From the moment of the break-in up until detection, attackers have time to spread throughout the network and go deep into all levels, nest themselves in and install permanent back-doors. Then they strike at the most opportune moment as well as extract sensitive data from the machines they have infiltrated.
Today, the cybercrime business is all about profit: hackers are targeting organizations where they can capture data that they can monetize. These can be sensitive business documents, customer data or simply personal data. All of this meets the demands of the underground market.
Ideally, a firewall or virus scanner will sound the alarm as soon as the attacker enters a network. However, these systems are not able to detect attacks whose patterns they do not know. That’s why there are regular updates for anti-virus software.
Despite these precautions, time and again hackers manage to launch successful attacks. Why? This is due to there sometimes not being enough information about the attacker’s modus operandi in order to be able to stop it. This won’t be available until the next when it is too late.
This is exactly where we get involved. Tenzir is a flight recorder for digital activities. Our software logs security-related activity and allows us to compare new cyberthreats on the internet with data from the past. Therefore we are constantly shining new light on the past. This enables us to detect complex attacks which classic systems overlook, because they classified these communications as benign. As soon as the threat situation for an organization changes, we search through all the relevant activity within fractions of a second. This means that we can detect complex attacks early on in the initial phase before attackers are able to download sensitive data. At the same time, our flight recorder shortens the investigative work after an attack, as our forensic experts are able to evaluate our flight recorder at lightning speed.
What is the biggest obstacle that you have had to overcome?
Like most startups, we have had to grow out of that terrible start-up phase. We are still in the product development phase. We also have an extremely technical product and therefore we need more time than most to be able to develop our work. As yet, we do not have any sales. We have to change that, because we only have a limited amount of start-up capital. We will be able to approach investors with more confidence as soon as we get our first customers, and thereby be albe to safeguard our continued existence until the next stage of development.
However, we are confident that this balancing act will be successful. Our prototype is already in use in interesting test environments. This provides us with regular feedback and allows us to improve our product. In the months to come, we would like to increase the number of alpha testers and collaborations in order to be able to sell our product as a purchasable software as soon as possible.
What has been the best moment you have had with the startup?
At the end of 2018, we received the maximum funding from the InnoRampUp program at the IFB Hamburg. Aside from the financial support, this also brought publicity to the Hamburg region. We are now an active part of this start-up community and take part in relevant events where our cyber security expertise is in demand.
What can we expect from you next year?
In addition to a commercially available version of our software, we would like to triple the size of our team so that we can increase our sales with institutional investor capital by the end of 2020. Tenzir should become a profitable deep tech company within cyberspace. We are convinced of our approach and want to prove that cyber security need not be left exclusively to the hot spots in Silicon Valley and Israel, but that it works just as well in Germany.
What is your ultimate goal?
Our mission: To answer the toughest questions in cyber security by providing actionable insight in real time. We want to make the emotions, especially the scaremongering, navigable through solid data-driven technology. In doing so, we want to put people at the forefront again and provide them with the right tools. In this way, they can make the right decisions with a clear conscience – decisions that are also quantitatively substantiated, so that the entire Cyber Team can sleep peacefully at night.
Founders: Matthias Vallentin and Dominik Charousset
Year of foundation: 2017
Possible turnover: not yet
Ultimate goal: To answer the toughest questions about cyber security in real time by providing usable insights.
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