Cybersecurity is perhaps more important than ever, yet its aesthetic hasn't changed much over the past two decades. That inspired Scott Chasin, the former CTO of security software firm McAfee, to start a new company.

"Most cybersecurity systems have the same interface as the cable modem in your house," he says. "That needed to change."

ProtectWise, which Chasin co-founded in 2014 in Denver with former McAfee exec Gene Stevens, completely reimagines the way cybersecurity software looks. Instead of staring at pie charts and seemingly infinite strings of characters, you're presented with something much more visual: a three-dimensional cityscape. Your company's entire network is laid out in front of you, and you can easily detect and observe abnormal behavior in real time--or rewind to see when and how an attack occurred.

To create the company's futuristic interface, Chasin recruited Jake Sargeant, a Hollywood designer who has worked on visual effects for CGI-intensive films like Tron: Legacy and Terminator Salvation. The team considered multiple layouts, including a series of constellations, but decided on a city grid for its familiar setup.

Within the ProtectWise software, each building's shape corresponds to the type of connection it represents, so a square base might symbolize a computer and a triangle a landline. The wider the building, the more bandwidth it can handle; the taller it is, the more traffic it's experiencing at that given moment.

"When you first set it up," Chasin says, "you approach it like you're a city planner, laying things out in whatever way makes the most sense for you." Different neighborhoods can represent different departments, so your sales team's network might sit just across town from your marketing unit. "Eventually," he says, "you become as familiar with it as the town or city you live in in real life."

Cybersecurity teams have so much data to analyze that it often takes weeks to notice an actual anomaly. According to a report from cybersecurity firm Mandiant, the average cyberattack isn't detected until about 146 days after it happens. ProtectWise's software, Chasin says, is able to cut through the noise. An artificial intelligence layer helps weed out false positives, making it easier to notice abnormalities in real time. And if clients do want to investigate events long after they happen, depending on their ProtectWise plan, they can rewind data from prior weeks, months, or years.

The company has gotten off to a fast start: Just two years after its inception, it was in charge of cybersecurity, along with the Santa Clara, California, police's Cybersecurity Task Force, for last year's Super Bowl at Levi's Stadium. ProtectWise says it helped detect 19 potential threats from a sea of data points during the event.

Employees can work with ProtectWise's software on a desktop or laptop, or wear virtual reality goggles to step right into the digital world. The 90-person company is also working to make its interface compatible with augmented reality so that, like something out of the HBO show Westworld, the city grid can appear as a hologram in the center of the room.

Chasin sees all this as helping to solve another problem. "One of the biggest challenges to cybersecurity isn't a technical one--it's a human resources one," he says. "The skill set requirements are way too high." He thinks the new interface will expand the talent pool, thanks to both its lower learning curve and its more interesting set of day-to-day tasks.

When it comes to keeping their networks secure, large companies often use more than 50 software programs, according to Joseph Steinberg, founder of SecureMySocial and an Inc. cybersecurity columnist. "You have firewalls, intrusion detection, anomaly detection, antivirus software--it spans the gamut," he says. "There's no one way one person is going to be an expert at all these different systems. That gives the criminals an advantage on you."

Chasin says that ProtectWise offers a catchall solution to cybersecurity. The company's software consolidates many of these tasks into one program, which he says makes fighting attacks that much easier.

The company has a good deal of work ahead of it to grab a big share of a cybersecurity market that's expected to top $200 billion by 2021, according to research firm Markets and Markets. While ProtectWise says its target audience is large firms--"Fortune 2000 types," Chasin says--security company FireEye already claims nearly half that list as customers.

Still, the startup does have momentum: ProtectWise has pulled in $67 million in VC funding from investors including Top Tier Capital and Trinity Ventures. While Chasin says he can't reveal most of its customers, he did say that Netflix and Motorola are two; many clients are large firms from a range of fields including energy, finance, media, and health care.

"We believe this kind of visualization is going to change how people consume data," Chasin says. "Visibility helps you manage your battlefield."

Published on: Jun 12, 2017