10 security start-ups keeping emails safe from phishing

27 Jan 2017

The rise of phishing scams warrants added data protection and security software. Image: wk1003mike/Shutterstock

As phishing attacks have risen, so too has the backing of email security start-ups.

In 2006, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe introduced Data Protection Day to the calendar, marking out 28 January as a day to raise awareness of data protection and inform citizens of their rights and of good practices.

While this kind of awareness campaigning can inform users on why and how their personal data is managed and processed by faceless software programmes, data awareness must also take into account the responsibility of the user in protecting information. This is most apparent in the case of phishing scams, which have been the undoing of many a massive corporation and political organisation in recent times.

User awareness will help the cause of data protection, but human error will always pose a risk. And so, to counter the rampant scamming, we can turn to security software to help.

This month, 10 email security start-ups were singled out by CB Insights as ‘ones to watch in 2017’. The shortlist was derived from CB Insights data and a predictive algorithm called Mosaic, which is funded by the US National Science Foundation.

Mosaic uses machine learning and advanced language processing to determine a company’s health based on obvious signals such as financial strength and market viability, as well as non-traditional signals such as momentum. This spread of data offers a better measure of emerging companies with less historic data to go on.

That said, the companies below range from early-stage start-ups to more established brands stepping up from funding round to funding round. All have raised at least $1m, and each and every one of them obtained funding in the last year – a testament to their current relevance.

We wanted to know more about these need-to-know companies, and here’s what we found.

Ionic Security

Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Ionic Security is a data security start-up that has already attracted some significant investors. Founded by Adam Ghetti in 2011, the start-up helps employees of major companies protect their personal data, but also that of the company, using a specifically tailored dashboard.

In its five years, Ionic Security has accumulated $122m in funding, most recently with a $45m Series D investment in July 2016 led by funders including Amazon and Goldman Sachs. Previous investors include Google Ventures and other major VC firms like Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, allowing the company to double in size to more than 200 employees.


In 2011, Rohyt Belani and Aaron Higbee came together to launch PhishMe, a Virginia start-up that saw the rapid rise in the number of phishing attempts made against both the general public and companies in particular. PhishMe clients are provided a set of tools to help employees spot malicious phishing emails, and also to help flag them immediately with a relevant cybersecurity team.

The company had its largest funding round to date in July of 2016 when it raised $42.5m as part of an investment led by Paladin Capital Group, to help it expand its range of products and research.

Agari Data

Having raised almost $44m across four funding rounds to date, California-based Agari Data’s main product is its Agari Email Trust Platform.

Founded in 2009, Agari’s early years saw it join the likes of PayPal, LinkedIn, Google and Yahoo as a member of the Domain-based Message Authentication Reporting and Conformance protocol.

Founded by Patrick Peterson and Ammar Hanafi, some of the company’s notable investors include First Round Capital, Battery Ventures and Alloy Ventures. Agari was a recipient of the JPMorgan Chase Hall of Innovation Award (2013) and is a finalist in Info Security PG’s Global Excellence Awards this year.


Washington-based Virtru provides encryption-as-a-service. The Virtru plug-in gives users the ability to manage who has access to sensitive data in emails, be that through receiving, reviewing or retaining content.

The company was founded by John and Will Ackerly, the latter a former NSA security architect. With almost $40m raised to date, the service is aimed at providing a simple, almost invisible level of security. Users download the software and it encrypts their email, allowing only the designated recipient access to view the contents.


Founded in 2010 by Stu Sjouwerman, KnowBe4 offers security awareness training for employees as well as phishing tests to check the security of organisations. Its major pull is its chief hacking officer, Kevin Mitnick, who is considered one of the world’s most-wanted hackers. The company introduced ‘Kevin Mitnick Security Awareness Training’, which condensed his 30 years of hacking experience into 30 minutes of online training for employees.

Over the last few years, KnowBe4 has had continuous blowout quarter-end results, with year-over-year sales increases of approximately 300pc. As of January 2017, they have more than 8,000 enterprise accounts.


Emailage is a risk assessment company with products and solutions to make everyday transactions easier, more efficient and more secure. Founded by Rei Carvalho in 2012, the company was named as one of America’s most promising companies by Forbes in 2015.

Emailage bases its risk assessments solely on email addresses, identifying fraud risks for organisations in real time.

While it’s based in Arizona, the company also has offices in Brazil and the UK. Plans are to expand to key locations around the world having secured €5.67m Series A funding in April 2016.


Based in Tel Aviv, Votiro was founded in 2009 by Aviv Grafi and Itay Glick. The company focuses on software that protects organisations from external cyberattacks by analysing every object in a file. Customers include defence organisations, banks, pharma companies, hospitals and utility companies.

The company’s core technology is focused on zero-day exploit discovery in document formats. With Votiro solutions, all incoming files and email messages undergo an active cleansing process that neutralises unknown exploits without having to rely on signatures.

Last summer, Votiro raised $4m in a Series A round led by Redfield Asset Management.


Based in Belmont, Massachusetts, GreatHorn was founded in 2015 by Kevin O’Brien and Raymond Wallace. The company focuses on cybersecurity for cloud communications infrastructure.

GreatHorn focuses on two converging trends: the rapid adoption of cloud infrastructure for core business services, like email, as well as the increase in data breaches through spear-phishing attacks. The company’s product can be integrated into platforms like Office 365.

GreatHorn has raised $2.2m in seed funding led by FF Venture Capital and SoftTech VC, with participation from Techstars Ventures, RR Ventures, Zelkova Ventures, V1.vc and investor Walter Winshall.


Israeli start-up IronScales offers a simple way for employees to report phishing emails, triggering an immediate response that removes the offending email from all inboxes within the company. The programme then uses machine learning to learn from each attack, ensuring that, once detected, a phishing scam will never be able breach any computer on the IronScales network.

Founded by CEO Eyal Benishti in 2013, the start-up was incubated at 8200 EISP in 2015. In January 2016, it netted $1.5m in seed funding. Earlier this month, it was announced that IronScales’ annual revenue had increased 302pc year-on-year.


MailControl is a US-based start-up designed to provide an anti-spymail solution for businesses.

Spymail uses hidden tracking codes to get a range of information, from where you opened an email to details of devices and browsers. It can even track who an email is forwarded to. MailControl sits between an enterprise email server and inboxes, disabling those tracking codes in incoming mail, protecting a company – and its clients and customers – from being compromised.

Founded in Chicago in 2015 by CEO Paul Everton, MailControl raised $1m in seed funding last year.

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