Startup Spotlight: Rubica defends against digital boogeymen with its team of cyber ops


Frances Dewing, CEO of cybersecurity startup Rubica. (Rubica Photo)

“I try not to be a fear monger,” says Frances Dewing, CEO of Seattle-based cybersecurity startup Rubica. But then again, there are plenty of reasons to fear the cyber boogeyman.

Cybercrime is $600 billion a year industry, according to one study, and Dewing says the criminals, many of whom are part of organized crime, are increasingly targeting individuals. They’re an easier mark than corporations that have been mounting stronger digital defenses.

“Rubica’s mission is to protect individuals’ ‘digital rights’ and ultimately reduce the incidence of cybercrime. We are the only solution that is powerful enough to protect a world-class corporation, but designed specifically to provide security and privacy for individuals,” said Dewing.

Dewing gave the example of criminals hacking a wealthy person’s email account, then making authentic sounding requests to transfer large sums of money from banks or investment holdings into the hands of criminals.

“This is not credit card fraud,” she said. “This is theft of data and finances.”

Rubica began as a research-and-design project focused on advanced cybersecurity within Concentric Advisors, a company the provides physical and digital security to prominent and high-net-worth families. In 2016, Concentric spun out its cyber division to become Rubica. The company employees 25 people and has a second office in San Francisco. It began selling its product in 2017.

Dewing said that while Norton Antivirus and LifeLock can offer a measure of protection, those companies can’t match Rubica and its employment of “human cyber analysts.” With new threats coming so quickly, software and machine learning tools alone are weak defense systems.

“With our Rubica app, you have your own personal cyber-ops team 24/7 keeping you secure through a private network, actively blocking unknown threats,” she said.

For entertainment, the Rubica team likes to tackle fictitious threats, solving time-constrained puzzles contrived by escape rooms. The exercise is team building — as well as revealing.

“You learn so much about peoples’ communication style and problem solving,” Dewing said. “It’s always very eye-opening to see how people work together — or don’t work together.”

We caught up with Dewing for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Keep reading for her answers to our questioniare.

Rubica team photo of some of the actual humans safe guarding their customers’ security. (Rubica Photo)

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “Rubica provides a solution to protect individuals and their families from cyber attacks. Once our app is running on your devices, our 24/7 team of U.S.-based, highly trained cyber security experts work behind the scenes to keep you and your information secure and private. Through one app, you are protected by our stack of security tools and human experts anywhere in the world, all the time, from all of your devices.”

Inspiration hit us when: “We saw the tsunami of cybercrime coming and the lack of resources available to individuals. Individuals are an irresistible and easy target for cybercrime due to the asymmetry between the sophisticated tools cybercriminals have and the traditional ineffective security solutions used by individuals (i.e. antivirus). Individuals are now the unit of attack for cybercrime, regardless of whether the cybercriminal is going after corporate or personal assets. We saw the need for people to have access to enterprise-level protection, but something simple and holistic enough for even a non-technical user.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “To date, Rubica has raised more than $13 million from both angel investors and venture capital firms, with the most recent Series A round finalized in March 2018. An advanced security stack is expensive to build, so outside capital was necessary. We are fortunate and proud to have top name investors believe in what we do and why we do it, and we are proud of the fact that they use our product as well.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Our team. Putting humans on the frontlines is the only way to defend against modern cybercrime. We do not believe security can be fully automated or solved by a magic algorithm. The key is putting smart tools in the hands of smart people, to make their contextual threat-hunting efficient and scalable. Companies that aren’t addressing the human component of cybercrime and cybersecurity will always be outmatched.”

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Starting by offering our service to clients at the top of the economic pyramid. These clients not only suffer the most from cybercrime (i.e. personal losses frequently up to $1 million), but they are also targets for new and emerging attacks (i.e. zero day exploits, new and sophisticated malware). By protecting these clients first, we have the most advanced and specific data set of threats against individuals and how to defend against them.”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “When we initially launched, in our effort to absorb the complexities of cybersecurity and not overwhelm users with data and notifications, we made the user interface very simple and only alerted customers if their action is needed on a security issue. However, our customers have told us they want more insight into the things that we do each day behind the scenes to proactively keep them safe, so we are correcting this by adding more detail, data, visuals and controls into the user interface.”

Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “For the sake of our client and investor confidentiality, we decline to answer :).”

Our favorite team-building activity is: “Escape rooms!”

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “A candidate that brings a diverse perspective and questioning mind. We value innovation and adaptiveness — and diversity and innovation go hand in hand. Diverse teams result in better decisions by challenging the status quo, challenging each other, and thinking outside the box so that innovative ideas emerge. We have to continually expect the unexpected and look for the unknown. So for us, diversity is an imperative in order to innovate and stay ahead of emerging threat trends.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Invest in your team by creating opportunities for them to succeed in their career goals. It helps build a strong team that is passionate about the mission and eager to grow into their roles. Try not to micromanage. Hire smart, driven people and give them true responsibility and latitude to be creative and make decisions.”

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