Google app

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has made its first major play in cyber security, with a new product to allow companies to analyse huge amounts of internal data.

Chronicle, an Alphabet subsidiary, said on Monday that it was launching Backstory, a platform where companies can hold security data in their own private cloud and search “instantly” for threats and potential breaches. 

The company said it would use Google’s underlying technology and computing power to hold client data going back years, where other services typically store up to 30 days’ worth of information. 

The move sees Alphabet entering a crowded and fragmented cyber security marketplace, inhabited by large technology companies such as Microsoft and Cisco, standalone groups such as Symantec, McAfee and Palo Alto Networks, and a long list of start-ups. 

Cyber attacks are nevertheless common as hackers become increasingly sophisticated and hostile state cyber activity rises.

Chronicle co-founders Mike Wiacek and Stephen Gillett
Chronicle co-founders Mike Wiacek and Stephen Gillett

Chronicle began in 2016 as one of the “moon shot” projects run by X, Alphabet’s secretive research and development arm, before being spun out into a standalone business unit at the beginning of 2018. 

It is part of Alphabet’s so-called “other bets” — operations beyond the core Google unit — which include self-driving cars unit Waymo and life sciences division Verily. 

When Chronicle spun out of X, it took with it VirusTotal, a malware tracing tool that Google bought in 2012. Backstory will cross-reference clients’ data against the VirusTotal database, as well as public threat intelligence feeds and its own threats lists.

Stephen Gillett, Chronicle’s chief executive and co-founder, said that being part of Alphabet meant access to “a nearly unlimited amount of computing [and] a very, very cost-effective technical infrastructure”.

Mr Gillett, formerly the chief operating officer of Symantec, said Chronicle would charge companies for Backstory based on the number of employees they have, rather than the volume of security data they stored. He declined to disclose the price of the product. 

Chronicle co-founder and chief security officer Mike Wiacek, previously a longtime engineer on Google’s security team, said that the platform was not yet leveraging sophisticated machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies, but had plans to do so.

Michael Farrell, co-director of the Institute for Information Security & Privacy at Georgia Tech, said Alphabet’s move comes at a time of growing demand for threat intelligence technology, particularly among mid-size and smaller companies with less internal resources dedicated to cyber security. 

“An appropriately priced solution would be very attractive to market segments that have been underserved by other threat intelligence providers, especially with the scale and performance that Google can offer,” he said. 

“But all of the best tools, techniques and user experience is not impactful unless the company has the data to feed it with and in the right format,” he added.

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