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Anti-Phishing Firm INKY Raises $20 Million

Additional Funding Brings Total Amount Raised by Phishing Protection Firm to $31.6 Million

College Park, MD-based phish prevention firm INKY has raised $20 million in a Series B funding round led by Insight Partners. The money will be used to consolidate recent growth and expand the company and its platform into the global market.

INKY was founded in 2008 by Dave Baggett (CEO) and Simon Smith (COO). The firm brings artificial intelligence in the form of machine learning and computer vision technology to the recognition and handling of phishing emails. Since the same social engineering methods are used for all criminal scams, INKY can be thought of as an anti-scam or forged email detection system. Forged email detection is probably more accurate, but lacks the marketing pizazz of 'anti-phishing'.

"Phishing continues to plague companies of all sizes and remains the primary vector by which attackers steal money, intellectual property, and personally identifiable information," comments Matt Gatto, managing director at Insight Partners. "Despite the ever-increasing volume of phishing scams, incumbent vendors cannot solve this problem. INKY's sophisticated machine learning-based approach to identifying phishing attacks provides enterprises with an effective weapon against phishing."

For standard phishing attacks, INKY checks the validity of the sending domain, and scans the email body for indications of malicious intent. It has also introduced a novel element of computer vision analysis to check the validity of any company logos included in the email. While criminals could simply copy and paste genuine logos from source, there remain subtle indications of forgery detectable in a bit analysis. Furthermore, criminals frequently just create a quick and dirty false logo designed simply to engender trust from the target. These are easily detectable by INKY's vision analysis.

Standard, or 'spray and pray' phishing scams are relatively easy to detect by many existing systems. This is because the same Bayesian rules perfected to detect spam many years ago are still applicable: the number of misspellings, spurious punctuation, grammatical errors etcetera can give a quick and accurate indication of a scam.

The growing use of spear-phishing cannot be detected so simply. Spear-phishing relies on a better-quality email that is harder to recognize. Here INKY makes increased use of its AI and machine-learning algorithms. There have been suggestions that spear-phishing does not provide a sufficiently large pool of data from which machine learning can accurately learn. There may be some validity to this if the machine learning is intended to learn global generic rules suitable for any spear-phish.

INKY takes a slightly different approach. Since a fundamental element of a spear-phish is the generation of trust in the source, INKY focuses its analysis on that source -- whether a domain or an individual. It learns what can be expected from the source to the target by analyzing previous 'good' emails. It can then determine whether the content of a new email looks good or phishy; that is, whether this specific email from this specific source is likely to be genuine or a forgery based on experience.

This analysis is performed before the target receives the email. Incoming emails are rendered in the cloud to provide an exact pixel-by-pixel image of what will be received by the recipient. The analysis of the source, content and any graphics occurs here, delaying delivery by only a second for each email.

INKY does not automatically block suspect forgeries -- instead, it adds a color-coded banner to the email, providing warnings, recommendations and policy guidance for the end user. It even adds a single-click 'report email' link that allows users to immediately report a suspect phish even if working remotely via their mobile phone. This adds a learning point for the user, who will question why a particular mail is considered suspect.

The timing of the investment could not be better for INKY. The firm started closing deals with large enterprises, including two insurance companies, at the end of 2020. "We have a big pipeline of enterprise deals right now. "This will let us build out a team to close these deals, and build a customer satisfaction team to keep our customers happy long term," Baggett told SecurityWeek. "This Series B funding gives us the resources we need to serve the incredible demand we're seeing from enterprise customers in particular, and will allow us to expand our go-to-market efforts globally," said Baggett. "We're excited to continue to invest in innovative new ways to protect companies of all sizes from email-borne threats of all kinds. INKY has seen phishing attacks more than double since the COVID-19 pandemic began, creating an even more urgent need for us to deploy our solution globally and at scale."

INKY launched its AI-based anti spear-phishing product in October 2018. This Series B funding adds to Series A funding rounds closed in June 2018 ($5.6 million) and November 2019 ($6 million), bringing the total raised to date to $31.6 million.

Related: Iranian Hackers Update Spear-Phishing Techniques in Recent Campaign 

Related: Europol on Methodology Behind Successful Spear Phishing Attacks 

Related: Researchers Devise Hopeful Defense Against Credential Spear Phishing Attacks 

Related: Barracuda Launches AI-based Spear Phishing Detection

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Kevin Townsend is a Senior Contributor at SecurityWeek. He has been writing about high tech issues since before the birth of Microsoft. For the last 15 years he has specialized in information security; and has had many thousands of articles published in dozens of different magazines – from The Times and the Financial Times to current and long-gone computer magazines.