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The Race to Find Profits in Securing Email

Email Security Competition Heats Up

NEWS ANALYSIS --  More than 17 years after Bill Gates’s famous declaration that the spam problem was close to being solved for good, the corporate inbox continues to be a lucrative target for malicious hackers.  Now, a wave of well-funded email security startups are emerging to take another stab at securing the entry point for almost all major cyber attacks.

Email security specialists Armorblox on Thursday announced a new $30 million venture capital funding round, joining a growing list of well-heeled startups taking a stab addressing one of cybersecurity’s most difficult problems: keeping malicious hackers out of corporate mailboxes.

Armorblox, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., has now banked a total of $46.5 million to position itself nicely to continue to shave away at market share from incumbents like Proofpoint, Mimecast and Forcepoint.

The company says it will use the new funding to build out its engineering and data science teams and double down on its bet that the magic of machine learning can effectively address the kinds of targeted email attacks that hit businesses of all sizes.

Armorblox sells a platform that connects over APIs and analyzes thousands of signals to understand the context of email communications. Security teams can use the data from the platform to block targeted phishing attacks, protect sensitive PII and PCI, and automate remediation of user-reported email threats. 

While the overuse of “ML/AI” buzzwords can ruin any attempt at properly discussing ML/AI capabilities, Armorblox CEO DJ Sampath is bullish on leveraging natural language understanding, deep learning, traditional machine learning, and detection techniques to organize signals across identity, behavior and language. “If legacy email protection controls are padlocks, think of Armorblox as a fingerprint scanner,” he said.

Sampath believes this approach also helps with the tricky problem of remediation where defenders walk the tightrope between safety and employee productivity.

He is betting that “context-aware threat detection” will be much more reliable and efficient than today’s collection of threat deeds, metadata and one-shot detection tools built into incumbent email security offerings. 

With cybersecurity-related spending hitting astronomical numbers and massive security data lakes now providing revenues for tech companies, Armorblox has bigger ambitions in a data-centric, post-pandemic, work-from-home world.

Sampath isn’t shy about his company’s aspirations to find treasure in use-cases beyond cybersecurity: “We believe that the ability to create a single system that can combine a universal understanding of all content and a proper catalog of contextualized interactions with the data can serve a variety of purposes far beyond just detecting cases of intellectual property misuse over email or business email compromise scenarios.”

Armorblox isn’t alone with heady big-data ambitions but it will be a long slog against dozens of well-funded startups, entrenched incumbents and headwinds from the cloud email providers themselves -- Microsoft (Office 365/Teams), Google (GSuite/VirusTotal/GCloud).

Microsoft and Google provide the developer APIs that allow “inside-out” security technologies to bake detection and other logic into email traffic flows but, as is clear lately, the bigger tech vendors have their own cybersecurity business ambitions.  

Another early-stage email security play worth watching is Material Security, a company that came out of stealth last June with $22 million in funding from Andreessen Horowitz and a roster of CISOs publicly backing its clever approach to integrate two-factor authentication to attachment recovery.

Material Security, the brainchild of ex-Dropbox engineers Ryan Noon, Abhishek Agrawal and Chris Park, offers security teams the ability to redact sensitive content in email -- even older archived mail -- and make them available only after a two-factor verification step. This lets the company market in the leak prevention, ATO (account takeover), phishing herd immunity and other visibility and admin controls.

Separately, a wide range of companies have received funding to play in the multi-billion dollar email security pond. These include Agari ($85 million raised), Valimail ($84 million raised), Area 1 ($82 million raised), Abnormal ($74 million), Avanan ($41 million),  Inky ($32 million), and GreatHorn ($22 million). 

Industry watchers expect the email security market to reach $6 billion by 2024, driven mostly by the rapid COVID-related digital transformation. 

Related Stories:

• Pre-Emptive Anti-Phishing Firm Area 1 Security Raises $25 Million

• Abnormal Security Raises $50 Million

• Avanan Raises $25 Million in Series B Funding

• Email Security Firm GreatHorn Raises $13 Million

• FireEye Adds New Features to Email Security Product

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Ryan Naraine is Editor-at-Large at SecurityWeek and host of the popular Security Conversations podcast series. Ryan is a journalist and cybersecurity strategist with more than 20 years experience covering IT security and technology trends. He is a regular speaker at cybersecurity conferences around the world. Ryan has built security engagement programs at major global brands, including Intel Corp., Bishop Fox and Kaspersky GReAT. He is a co-founder of Threatpost and the global SAS conference series. Ryan's career as a journalist includes bylines at major technology publications including Ziff Davis eWEEK, CBS Interactive's ZDNet, PCMag and PC World. Follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanaraine.