Coinbase buys blockchain intelligence startup to boost security and new asset discovery

Coinbase, the world’s most valuable crypto company, is gearing up to add more cryptocurrencies to its exchange thanks to its latest acquisition.

We already know the firm wants to a glut of new crypto assets, but today it announced it has snapped up blockchain intelligence startup Neutrino in an undisclosed deal that seemed destined to help further that goal.

Based in Italy, Neutrino helps map blockchain networks, and in particular crypto token transactions, to pull in information and insight. With the rise of thefts, that includes a major focus on services for law enforcement agencies to track stolen digital assets while it also includes tracking ransomware and analyzing ‘darknets.’ Other solutions include tracking services for investment and finance companies to help find rising tokens and assets, an area Coinbase could clearly capitalize on.

The company and its eight staff will relocate to Coinbase’s London office from where they will continue to service clients whilst becoming part of the Coinbase business. Initially, the startup’s primary remit will be security and theft-prevention but further down the line its smarts and technology will put to discovering and analyzing new asset listings for Coinbase.

“By analyzing data on public blockchains, Neutrino will help us prevent theft of funds from peoples’ accounts, investigate ransomware attacks, and identify bad actors. It will also help us bring more cryptocurrencies and features to more people while helping ensure compliance with local laws and regulations,” Coinbase’s engineering director Varun Srinivasan wrote in a brief blog post announcing the deal.

Srinivasan added that Neutrino’s technology is “the best we’ve encountered in this space.”

Coinbase has raised more than $500 million from investors, including its most recent $300 million Series E round in October that gave it a valuation of $8 billion. The purchase of Neutrino is its eleventh acquisition to date, according to Crunchbase. Most of those deals have tended to be talent-led deals as Coinbase seeks to suck up more expertise and engineering skills to support its growing business.

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

Senseon raises $6.4M to tackle cybersecurity threats with an AI ‘triangulation’ approach

Darktrace helped pave the way for using artificial intelligence to combat malicious hacking and enterprise security breaches. Now a new UK startup founded by an ex-Darktrace executive has raised some funding to take the use of AI in cybersecurity to the next level.

Senseon, which has pioneered a new model that it calls “AI triangulation” — simultaneously applying artificial intelligence algorithms to oversee, monitor and defend an organization’s network appliances, endpoints, and ‘investigator bots’ covering multiple microservices — has raised $6.4 million in seed funding.

David Atkinson — the startup’s CEO and founder who had previously been the commercial director for Darktrace and before that helped pioneer new cybersecurity techniques as an operative at the UK’s Ministry of Defense — said that Senseon will use the funding to continue to expand its business both in Europe and the US. 

The deal was co-led by MMC Ventures and Mark Weatherford, who is chief cyber security strategist at vArmour (which itself raised money in recent weeks) and previously Deputy Under Secretary for Cybersecurity, U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Others in the round included Amadeus Capital Partners, Crane Venture Partners and CyLon, a security startup incubator in London.

As Atkinson describes it, triangulation was an analytics concept first introduced by the CIA in the US, a method of bringing together multiple vectors of information to unearth inconsistencies in a data set (you can read more on triangulation in this CIA publication). He saw an opportunity to build a platform that took the same kind of approach to enterprise security.

There are a number of companies that are using AI-based techniques to help defend against breaches — in addition to Darktrace, there is Hexadite, a remediation specialist acquired by Microsoft, Amazon’s working in the field, and many others. In fact I think you’d be hard-pressed to find any IT security company today that doesn’t claim to or actually use AI in its approach.

Atkinson claims, however, that many AI-based solutions — and many other IT security products — take siloed, single-point approaches to defending a network. That is to say, you have network appliance security products, endpoint security, perhaps security for individual microservices so on.

But while many of these work well, you don’t always get those different services speaking to each other. And that doesn’t reflect the shape that the most sophisticated security breaches are taking today:

As cybersecurity breaches  and identified vulnerabilities continue to grow in frequency and scope — with hundreds of millions of individuals’ and organizations’ data potentially exposed in the process, systems disabled, and more — we’re seeing an increasing amount of sophistication on the part of the attackers.

Yes, those malicious actors employ artificial intelligence. But — as described in this 2019 paper on the state of cybersecurity from Symantec — they are also taking advantage of bigger “surface areas” with growing networks of connected objects all up for grabs; and they are tackling new frontiers like infiltrating data in transport and cloud-based systems. (In terms of examples of new frontiers, mobile networks, biometric data, gaming networks, public clouds, and new card skimming techniques are some of the specific areas that Experian calls out.)

Senseon’s antidote has been to build a new platform that “emulates how analysts think,” said Atkinson. Looking at an enterprise’s network appliance, an endpoint, and microservices in the cloud, the Senseon platform “has an autonomous conversation” using the source data, before it presents a conclusion, threat, warning or even breach alert to the organization’s security team.

“We have an ability to take observations and compare that to hypothetical scenarios. When we tell you something, it has a rich context,” he said. Single-point alternatives essentially can create “blind spots that hackers and manoeuvre around. Relying on single-source intelligence is like tying one hand behind your back.”

After Senseon compiles its data, it sends out alerts to security teams in a remediation service. Interestingly, while the platform’s aim is to identify malicious activity in a network, another consequence of what it’s doing is to help organizations identify “false positives” that are not actually threats, to cut down on time and money that get wasted on investigating those.

“Organisations of all sizes need to get better at keeping pace with emerging threats, but more importantly, identifying the attacks that require intervention,” said Mina Samaan of MMC Ventures in a statement. “Senseon’s technology directly addresses this challenge by using reinforcement learning AI techniques to help over-burdened security teams better understand anomalous behaviour through a single holistic platform.”

Although Senseon is only announcing seed funding today, the company has actually been around since 2017 and already has customers, primarily in the finance and legal industries (it would only give out one customer reference, the law firm of Harbottle & Lewis).

German government unlikely to make quick decision on Huawei: source

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Amazon is reportedly merging its China import unit with NetEase

You’d be forgiven for not knowing Amazon has operated in China for more than a decade, but perhaps not for much longer. The company is reportedly in talks to merge its China-based import business with local peer Kaola, the cross-border shopping platform run by Chinese internet behemoth NetEase, Caijing reported (link in Chinese) on Tuesday.

The deal, which NetEase initiated and will occur through a stock swap, had been signed at the end of 2018 but negotiations had been difficult, sources told Caijing.

The timing of the marriage is interesting since Amazon recently snagged a deal with Western Union to better serve unbaked shoppers across Asia (which did not include mainland China). Amazon also connects Chinese sellers to consumers worldwide, and just last week, WorldFirst, a London-based payments firm that relies heavily on working with Amazon small and medium-sized merchants, got bought by Alibaba, a direct rival to Amazon. 

According to Caijing, the NetEase merger won’t affect Amazon’s export-led unit.

NetEase Kaola declined to comment on the matter. Amazon China cannot be immediately reached for comments.

Amazon entered China in 2004 after it bought out local book-selling business Joyo for $75 million. In 2014, it started offering an overseas shopping service to capture Chinese consumers’ growing appetite for imported goods. Since then the titan has devised various marketing gimmicks — including its annual Black Friday campaign — to lure shoppers, but the business was never able to establish a commanding position in China where big guns like Alibaba and JD.com dominate.

According to research firm iResearch, Amazon held less than 1 percent of the Chinese commerce market in 2016. Within the arena of imports, Amazon China claimed about 6 percent share by the second quarter of 2018, while Alibaba’s Tmall Global took the lead at 29 percent, per data from research company Analysys. NetEase Kaola and JD.com trailed behind at 22.6 percent and 13.7 percent, respectively.

Despite a weak presence in China, Amazon’s massive global reach could be a coveted asset for its local rivals. “Netease needs to procure more inventory and it’s hard because they don’t do marketing as well as Alibaba overseas,” Ivy Shen, vice president with Shenzhen-based cross-border ecommerce startup Azoya, told TechCrunch.

“Kaola is also opening more offline stores so it might need more capital to expand, and Amazon can provide that capital. The cross-border market isn’t big enough for Amazon, but offline retail could be,” added Shen.

NetEase is best-known as China’s second-largest game publisher after Tencent, but its success dates back to the PC-era where it ran a popular news portal and email business. The Hangzhou-based company has over the years been re-inventing itself, leaping into a broad range of ventures including music streaming, a segment that rivals Tencent’s QQ Music; comics, which it sold to Bilibili, an anime streaming business backed by Tencent and Alibaba; and ecommerce, a unit that has driven much of its growth recently and contributed about 27 percent of its overall revenues during the latest quarter.

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