“There won’t be a more passionate advocate” for Australian security innovation, new ACSGN head vows

Helping startups build trust with commercial markets is crucial for larger success: former Atlassian CISO

A recent high-profile win for Australian security stalwart MailGuard – which was last month designated as a ‘critical’ security partner by Microsoft – is the kind of recognition that Australia’s burgeoning community of innovative startups deserve to see more of, the head of the country’s new cybersecurity commercialisation arm has said as he gears up to hit the ground running.

Craig Davies, for years the CISO of local success story Atlassian, has long been an active member – and promoter – of the Australian security community and told CSO Australia that he jumped at the offer to be appointed as CEO of the newly hatched Australian Cyber Security Growth Network (ACSGN).

”The development of a vibrant industry here in Australia really matters to me,” he said. “We’ve got pockets of people doing great stuff – but to pull together and make a really vibrant industry, and to create real economic benefits for Australia – there has never really been a co-ordinated effort to do something.”

The ACSGN, which was announced this week by minister assisting the prime minister for cyber security Dan Tehan and minister for industry, innovation and science Greg Hunt, has been established as part of the $1.1b National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) to help local startups tap into a global cyber security market that Tehan said grow from $US74.5b ($A98.8b) in 2015 to $US170b ($A225b) by 2020.

“There’s a lot of money sitting on the table around cybersecurity in the next few years,” Davies said, noting that he and his team of five or six people would be trying “a whole range of things to push the industry forward. We are really good at innovation, but I think Australia should get a bigger piece of this.”

As the ACSGN’s CEO, Davies will be responsible for managing $31.9m in allocated funding through 2019/20 – and he will hit the ground running on 2 January after departing from Atlassian this week.

While he has cherished his time at the well-regarded company – which in recent years has outgrown the moniker ‘startup’ and become a worldwide leader in its market segment – Davies is enthusiastic about his next step.

“It dovetails with a lot of the things that I’m passionate about within the startup scene,” he said, noting that a key goal would be to help innovative startups overcome obstacles to Australian markets that often stem from their relatively small size.

“The really important thing for the industry is that they’re now going to know someone who can facilitate them into various projects,” he explained. “We need to build that confidence within businesses and government departments to say that ‘it’s OK to use this for a period of time’.”

The funding of the ACSGN reflects the significant exposure given to Australia’s security startup scene, which has been fostering a number of innovative technology firms hoping to make it big here and abroad.

This year’s Spark Festival in Sydney, for example – which was, coincidentally, sponsored by Atlassian – featured nine such companies ranging from security framework The Security Artist and secure-messaging firm FASSKey to encryption firm IOKeeper, threat-modelling firm Elttam, and others.

Sam Crowther, CEO of Spark Festival winner Kasada, also presented at this month’s Cyber in Business conference Innovation & Startup Showcase with five other security contenders – including MailGuard, BankVault, Secure Code Warrior, Entersoft, and CyberInc (which has just launched its ANZ headquarters in Melbourne) – to highlight their innovation to a range of attendees and potential investors.

Building these sorts of relationships will be a key part of ACSGN’s work, Davies said. “We’re looking at how to provide legitimacy to these startups so that people can feel comfortable doing prototyping and proofs of concept with them,” he explained.