A cybersecurity start-up from Edinburgh has gained global recognition at a high-profile ‘govtech’event in Paris.

Cyan Forensics, which came out of three years’ research at Edinburgh Napier University, won a pitch contest at the GovTech Summit last week.

Specialising in digital forensics, the company’s software can analyse devices in minutes to find child sex abuse material.

The pitch competition took place as part of the GovTech Summit, where political leaders and start-up founders from across Europe gathered in Paris to discuss the role of technology in society and how they can work together to improve the public sector. 

PitchGovTech is the largest ever startup pitch event dedicated to innovative technologies to advance the public sector. Organisations that took part came from fields as diverse as aerospace, agriculture, clean technology, construction, education, financial services, healthcare services, energy, robotics, security and software.

Cyan Forensics’ CEO Ian Stevenson said: “We are delighted to have won #PitchGovTech. Cyan Forensics’ goal is to use tech for good, building and selling transformative new technologies to help law enforcement, social media companies, and cloud providers find and block harmful content from paedophiles and terrorists. Images and videos shared online are the lifeblood of groups that represent a great threat to our society. Prosecuting people who access this content and even better, blocking it from circulating online, are vital for public safety.

“As well as this win, the last few months have been particularly exciting for us, seeing Cyan Forensics sign major agreements with the UK Home Office to make our product available to all police forces in the UK, the UK’s Child Abuse Image Database (CAID) to produce a Contraband Filter that connects to their national database of images, and an agreement with America’s National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) which is the first step in our tools being introduced in America.”

Cyan Forensics’ prize consists of $15k worth of Amazon Web Service (AWS) credits, a meeting with the UK Department for International Trade and a MacBook Pro. 

Digital evidence is vital to investigations into child sexual exploitation, but these investigations often take months due to delays. Delays are caused by backlogs of devices waiting to be searched and the amount of detailed work required to search each device. Cyan Forensics’ software quickly scans devices for any recognised content and can be used on the device before it enters the queue. It can also help to better inform officers on the ground if a suspect should be taken in for further questioning and a comprehensive digital search. This is far more serious an issue than just the financial and time cost to the police force. Quicker decisions mean that vulnerable children can be safeguarded faster, and suspects brought to justice sooner.

Cyan Forensics’ technology has been built by experts in digital forensics, originally off the back of three years of research and development with Edinburgh Napier University. The research involved CTO, Bruce Ramsay, who worked as a forensic analyst for Lothians and Borders Police and experienced the issues of forensic analysis firsthand. He was joined by CEO Ian Stevenson during the commercial phase of the research project, which resulted in the two spinning the company out and forming Cyan Forensics in 2016. 

Hundreds of start-ups from across the globe entered PitchGovTech hoping to be one of the ten finalist start-ups chosen to pitch against the clock for three minutes, followed by two minutes of Q&A by the judging panel. Competition was fierce, and only those taking on the public sector in extremely innovative and transformative ways made it through to pitch on the day.

Senior political leaders from across Europe in attendance included: French Digital Secretary Cedric O; Florence Parly, French Minister for the Armed Forces; Kersti Kaljulaid, President of Estonia; and Mircea Geoana, Deputy Secretary General, NATO. They were joined by start-up and tech sector leaders including Travis Vanderzanden, CEO of Bird; Cyril Lage CEO of Cap Collectif; and Robin Klein, Founding Partner at LocalGlobe.