Cybersecurity firm Octiga addresses the elephant in the room for SMEs

14 Oct 2019

Octiga director Dr Robert McFeely. Image: Octiga

Our Start-up of the Week is Octiga, a Galway-based start-up that plans to bring quick and simple cybersecurity to SMEs.

Donegal native Dr Robert McFeely has a decade of experience in web-based software services across multiple domains, including IT infrastructure, IoT, fleet telematics and the education sector. An experienced software developer and product manager, he also holds a doctorate in software-based signal processing.

McFeely is now the director of Octiga, a business based in the PorterShed in Galway, which was set up by his colleague, Sash Vasilevski.

Vasilevski, who currently lives in Australia where he runs a cybersecurity consultancy, brings 15 years of experience in information security to the business.

Explaining what Octiga is all about in a nutshell, McFeely told “It’s an easy-to-use cybersecurity SaaS platform that completely removes the need for consultants or in-house expertise.

“We empower SMEs to achieve robust, automated and affordable cybersecurity. We understand that the threats are spread across many areas of the client’s IT systems and come in many shapes and sizes. However, only a few fundamental touches are required in each area to massively reduce risk exposure.”

The service aims to provide a comprehensive approach for the systems, processes and people that comprise a business, he added.

The market

While working for a variety of companies, McFeely said there was one thing that each organisation experienced at one point or another – a security incident.

“In one damaging incident, a hijacked email (which had a poor, easy-to-guess password) sent thousands of spam messages about ‘getting to know hot girls near you’. Then, I once had to email a company that I had long left, to tell them to remove me as an admin for their Office 365 exchange. It happens all the time.”

He noted that we’re really only aware of the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this kind of sloppiness, which can now get businesses in trouble. “The modern business world will no longer accept an SME’s late apologies to their clients and the data commissioner.”

‘Our main goal is to bring all of the companies, for which cybersecurity is an afterthought, to a safe harbour where they can forget about us and do their business without risks’

Octiga recognises that there are many simple steps a business can take to protect itself, its data, its clients and its employees. From password management and sharing policies to the introduction of multi-factor authentication – a small change can make a big difference.

“The list goes on, but knowledge comes at a premium,” McFeely said. “But let’s face it – who cares when there are widgets to be sold?”

The company isn’t interested in being the “heavily funded, ‘black ops’ type of company that’s tackling highly technical cybersecurity verticals for large businesses,” he added. Instead, Octiga aims to address the elephant in the room – the fact that most small to medium enterprises have little or no basic cybersecurity standing.

“Why? Because they don’t know how, they don’t think it will happen to them and they can’t afford the consultants,”McFeely said. “If we can give this insecure market an easy entry to a more secure world, then everybody wins.”

The product

Octiga’s initial product focuses on Office 365, which McFeely described as the linchpin of many SMEs. Covering email, data sharing, file storage, communication and organisation, the software suite can also be a big area of concern, he added.

“Office 365 has known weaknesses when used in the most common configuration. Such weaknesses are reported often in the media. Using Office 365 securely is possible, but the knowledge, time and resources to configure, monitor and remediate security issues is prohibitive and usually only achievable in part.”

Unlike the black ops-style infosec work McFeely joked about earlier, Octiga was not created to do anything glamorous.

“It’s not sexy. We use guided configuration, monitoring and breach remediation to complete the picture. Then, the clients can forget about IT security again and our system will handle it and tell them when there is an issue.”

Octiga’s products and services are accessible through an automated online web app, where the customer can authorise against their cloud instance, enabling the start-up to make a connection. “Then we do our magic,” McFeely added.

That magic involves Octiga’s “super-secret” machine API, which can fully configure almost every aspect of the Office 365 cloud ecosystem by distilling and exposing the coding interfaces normally only used by cybersecurity consultants and IT engineers.

The company has also gained some valuable experience working in Galway’s PorterShed.

“I had thought these places were fortresses of the brave, brilliant and brutally focused, where people rode in on fixie bikes and said things like ‘disrupt the market’ or ‘dare to dream big’,” McFeely said.

“What I found, in reality, was a lot of very down to earth, friendly, helpful and modest people who are there because they think a bit differently and are just brave enough to try it.”

What lays ahead for Octiga?

“Besides global domination, our main goal is to bring all of the companies, for which cybersecurity is an afterthought, to a safe harbour where they can forget about us and do their business without risks,” McFeely said.

The company has tested its prototypes and hopes to get a batch of alpha customers running soon. Seeking funding isn’t a massive priority right now, but Octiga is open to discussions. McFeely added that the business is looking towards an early-2020 launch.

“This will be a free version to get us really learning, building our confidence and the customer’s confidence. We will follow this with a recurring revenue model.”

When asked what advice or wisdom he’d impart on other self-starters, McFeely said: “I’m not sure I’m a self-starter. We all stand on the shoulders of others. Even if you don’t know it.

“However, for the sake of answering the question, I’d say: it takes a little bit of bravery – but don’t let bravery be your main driver. Not all dreams are equal and very few will give a return on investment. You hear about the success stories, but not the more common failures.

“Oh, and don’t invest your own cash.”

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Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic