Israeli Minerva Labs wins CyBox cyber security competition with preventative solution
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Minerva Labs getting Cybertech's competition award. Photo credit: Gabriel Avner / Geektime

Minerva Labs getting Cybertech's competition award. Photo credit: Gabriel Avner / Geektime

Rather than just identify and deal with cyber attackers, Israeli Minerva Labs tries to prevent them from entering systems entirely

On the second and final day of the Tel Aviv Cybertech convention for cyber security, local Israeli startup Minerva Labs walked away with the prize for the Most Innovative Cyber Startup.

Moderated by FortyTwo Cyber Security’s Menny Barzilay, the competition included five Israeli cyber security startups that each took the stage to give five-minute pitches on their company’s solutions to the judges.

Taking part in the competition with Minerva Labs were four other finalists: Solebit LABS, IntSights, Deep Instinct, and Sixgill. Interestingly, each of the companies appeared to have significantly different products on offer, drawing from a wide range of talents throughout the cyber security spectrum.

Barzilay opened the event with a series of lame programmer jokes aimed at gauging the geek factor of the crowd. The fact he drew few laughs signaled the general non-techie nature of the audience. While his jokes may have fallen flat, he succeeded in setting the mood for a lively and enjoyable session.

The contest was judged by Morgan Stanley’s CISO Jerry Brady, Partner at JVP Cyber Labs Yoav Tzruya, Arik Kleinstein of Glilot Capital Partners, VP of Business Development Alon Kantor from Check Point, and Ronen Siman Tov of IBM.

Representing Minerva Labs was Co-Founder and CEO Eddy Bobritsky, who explained how his company’s Minerva Armor product is able to neutralize viruses before they are able to launch their harmful payloads.

He started his pitch by discussing Minerva’s philosophy that the detection and response paradigm is vulnerable, telling the crowd that, “If you keep using the same techniques, the attackers will stay a step ahead.”

Their product is based on the concept that detection methods like behavioral and signature analysis are not up to snuff when it comes to fighting more complex attacks. Additionally, they said that once a virus has been detected, the damage has already been done. Bobritsky told Geektime that they believe in prevention and not chasing after viruses.

With this in mind, Minerva Labs has developed a solution that they claim prevents viruses to reach the stage where they become an active threat.

Bobritsky explained that nearly all attacks enter a network through evasion techniques that include not going live while in a forensic environment, remaining dormant until it can execute its code undetected.

“A 2012 study by Qualys Inc tested 4 million samples of malware and found that more than 80% are using evasion techniques,” Bobritsky told Geektime, adding, “That means that the $60 billion cyber security industry was only providing solutions to 20% of the cases at the time.”

As a counter, Minerva Labs’ product tricks the virus into thinking that it is constantly under a forensic inspection.

After finishing his pitch with over a minute left on the clock, the judges challenged Bobritsky, asking him how he handles viruses that do not engage in evasion techniques. He responded that his solution should be used as a layer in coordination with other security products, in a way expressing the fact that no one solution covers 100% of security needs.

In a post victory conversation with Geektime, Bobritsky said that, “We welcome Glilot Capital’s support to arrange this competition. It’s very important for the cyber industry, especially as Israel is a key factor in the cybersecurity space. Competitions like this help to motivate young entrepreneurs to join in the innovation that is driving the industry forward. We appreciate the honor of participating and being the first team to take home the trophy from the first cyber contest. Hopefully this will continue as an annual event in future years.”

Along with their counter virus product, Minerva Labs offers solutions to ransomware that they claim are effective in remediating the damage caused by attacks like Cryptolocker, Cryptowall, and others.

Bobritsky told Geektime that they are headed off now to Berlin for a competition through the Hub:Raum accelerator before returning to Israel to continue work on their product.

Photo credit: Gabriel Avner / Geektime

Photo credit: Gabriel Avner / Geektime

Minerva Labs was co-founded in October 2014 by Bobritsky, CTO Erez Breiman, and VP of Research Omri Moyal. They have received funding in a round that was led by Stage One Venture Capital along with a number of other private investors.

They are now planning on opening a new funding round sometime during the first half of the year.

My take

When Barzilay took the stage nearly an hour after the final pitch to announce the winner, he declared Minerva the victor to little fanfare and no explanation as to how the judges arrived at their decision to pick them over the others.

As an observer from the audience, it appeared as though the judges were able either to find fault or offered direct questions on the technology with each of the entries, making it difficult to pick up on a clear winner based on their pitches and responses.

The inclusion of the startup competition underlined one of the constant themes that ran throughout the convention. While the biggest booths were stationed by companies like IBM, Cyberbit, CyberArk, Check Point, and a host of others, they were greatly outnumbered by the startups that were spread throughout the hall.

Speaker after speaker drove home the point that governments and the industry are looking to startups to bring new ideas and fresh innovation to the sector, helping to keep the good guys ahead of the hackers. Whether they are potential acquisitions for the major players or will one day become big companies in their own right, the startups have cemented themselves as an integral part of this sector.

Minerva Labs has brought together a very talented team that is driven to alter the course of the cyber security industry. Their products serve as force multipliers for enterprises looking to strengthen their cyber security solutions tool kit.

The other competitors all brought compelling ideas to the table, engaging with deep learning and getting inside the minds of hackers to prevent future attacks. Hopefully we will still see great things from all of these innovators, and an even stronger cadre of companies at next year’s competition.

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Gabriel Avner

About Gabriel Avner

Gabriel has an unhealthy obsession with new messaging apps, social media and pretty much anything coming out of Apple. An experienced security and conflict consultant, he has written for The Diplomatic Club, the Marine War College, and covers military affairs with TLV1 radio. He mostly enjoys reading articles wherever his ADD leads him to and training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. EEED 44D4 B8F4 24BE F77E 2DEA 0243 CBD1 3F7C F4B6

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