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Russian cybersecurity firm Group-IB to move global HQ to Singapore

The Business Times by CLAUDIA CHONG

Singapore

MOSCOW-BASED firm Group-IB has spent close to a decade fighting and investigating cybercrime in countries all over the world. Now, the company is training its sights on Singapore as the catalyst for an expansion into South-east Asia.

In fact, Group-IB is so confident of Singapore's potential that by the end of this year, the city will be where the new global headquarters is based, founder and chief executive Ilya Sachkov told The Business Times in an exclusive interview.

The company is in the midst of moving its intellectual property to Singapore, and the plan is to have 90 staff - comprising 15 from Moscow and the rest hired locally - here in two years' time.

"Lack of administrative barriers, tax incentives, a favourable investment climate and a strategy for creating a vibrant cybersecurity ecosystem - these are just some of the reasons why we at Group-IB have chosen Singapore as a platform for our international business development," said Mr Sachkov.

He added that Singapore provides strong opportunities for Group-IB's technical development.

"Over the last 15 years, we have been building an international infrastructure designed to investigate cybercrime around the world. Singapore offers an atmosphere of political neutrality and technologically skilled professionals, which is exactly what is needed for managing this infrastructure," he said.

Group-IB, which specialises in forensic investigations into cybercrime and prevention of cyberattacks, began its expansion into South-east Asia three years ago. The firm said that its clients include the Siam Commercial Bank, state-owned Krung Thai Bank (KTB), three of the 10 largest banks in Singapore as well as two departments within Singapore government institutions.

It declined to reveal other clients because of strict non-disclosure agreements.

The company declined to reveal revenue and profit figures, but said that revenue lifted 62 per cent in the last financial year, with international revenue rising almost 50 per cent. South-east Asia already contributes to more than 30 per cent of that international revenue.

Asked about concerns from clients that may arise about Russia being regarded as dangerous and unpredictable, Mr Sachkov points to the firm's proven track record of successful investigation cases, and the fact that it is already operating in 60 countries.

Last year, the firm signed a data-sharing agreement with Interpol for both parties to supply each other with threat intelligence. Group-IB also became a partner of Europol in 2015, and is a permanent member of the World Economic Forum.

"Our solution and products have been recognised by global independent market research companies including Gartner, Forrester and IDC - and those are indicators of a brand you can trust your security infrastructure to," said Mr Sachkov.

One of Group-IB's main products is a real-time Threat Intelligence technology that is integrated into the company's cyber threats "early warning system". It predicts attacks before they are made, based on data analysis and latest trends in the cyber criminal world.

Just last week, the firm launched its Secure Bank product for the global market, which provides real-time fraud protection of online payments. To date, Secure Bank has processed an average of 9.5 million sessions per day.

Clients also have access to a full range of security services, from audit and consultation to tailored products and attack simulations.

Mr Sachkov said that although Singapore is one of the most protected countries in the world, it understands more about security technologies than it does about its adversaries' behaviour.

Furthermore, while attacks can be monitored easily within the country, cyber crime is a global phenomenon. This means that extensive infrastructure in different countries is required to track hacker activities.

"These things, we will bring to Singapore - knowledge about the enemy and access to our unique technical infrastructure which we have been building for 15 years," said Mr Sachkov. Group-IB has developed a database of more than 100,000 criminal profiles dating back to 2003, when it began digging into the criminal underground.

Besides financial and governmental institutions, the firm is aiming to bag clients in the utilities sector - a frequent target for criminals.

It is also targeting to hit a 100 per cent year-on-year growth in international revenue once it announces a new technology in Singapore next year. The new technology will offer a different perspective on cyber detection methods and reduce costs for organisations.

As it moves its headquarters to Singapore, the biggest challenge for Group-IB is finding talent - which is why the firm has decided that if they can't find it, they will help to make it.

The company plans to partner with universities in Singapore to launch training workshops, lectures, cybersecurity labs and joint cybersecurity academic programmes.

Developing talent from universities is a strategy that is close to Mr Sachkov's heart - he founded Group-IB with a group of friends while in university in 2003.

That said, he is absolutely clear about the kind of people he would like to hire. They should have technical knowledge, and they must hate crime.

"Cybersecurity is now a very hyped up thing; people like cybersecurity not because they hate crime. We need people who hate crime and have a huge technical expertise and huge willpower to know more and more things," said Mr Sachkov.

"That is the perfect combination for us."