A Scottish university spin-out company is aiming to tackle the growing worldwide threat of ransomware attacks.

MemCrypt, a startup at Edinburgh Napier University, has appointed a leading tech entrepreneur as chief executive in a bid to develop an ‘innovative’ solution to the rising tide of monetary cybercrime.

Peter Jaco, who co-founded the Scottish Tech Army, takes the reins as the business steps up plans to launch products to help customers and technology partners combat the threat posed by cyber criminals.

Jaco joins chief technology officer Dr Peter McLaren on the management team and the university’s Professor Bill Buchanan will continue to support as the company’s Chief Scientist while Dr Owen Lo will take the role of technology lead.

Ransomware – malware that encrypts files, giving the attacker scope to demand a ransom to restore access – is increasingly becoming the attack of choice for cyber criminals as it has a high chance of financial return coupled with a low chance of detection, and the threat is increasing daily. Recent high-profile attacks in Scotland have targeted the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), Aspire, a homeless charity in Glasgow and the University of the Highlands and Islands.

MemCrypt, which follows earlier Edinburgh Napier cybersecurity ventures ZoneFox, Symphonic Software and Cyan Forensics in making the leap from research lab to the market, built early traction through its pre-launch involvement with Innovate UK’s CyberASAP programme accelerator. 

In terms of how the product works, it is designed to sis on a customer’s network, and detect a ransomware attack in real time, offering immediate recovery of the data with no ransom paid. The platform will then collate ransomware data from these attacks and create, as a ‘world first’,  an anonymous and encrypted ransomware information feed for corporations, the insurance industry, police forces and government agencies who will benefit from having up to date ransomware attack intelligence

MemCrypt also benefited from intensive, hands-on support, guidance and advice through Scottish Enterprise’s High-Growth Spinout Programme as it developed its value proposition, business plan and investment strategy. It also secured via the programme early-stage grant funding and, more recently, a substantial six-figure investment in the form of a ‘convertible loan note’.

Jaco has worked in the UK SME start-up industry for over 20 years as CEO, non-executive director, advisor, and chair, supporting companies including Becrypt, Digital Shadows, Immense and CyberOwl. He is also a member of the Industry Advisory Board for the Department of Culture, Media and Sports funded London based cyber security accelerator, The London Office for Rapid Cybersecurity Advancement (LORCA) and serves as a board advisor to the Scottish Government’s Digital Directorate’s CivTech GovTech innovation programme. He is also a member of the Scottish Cyber Innovation Hub advisory group managed by ScotlandIS Cyber, Scotland’s Cyber cluster.

He said: “I am delighted to join the MemCrypt team to help bring some truly innovative technology to market to help organisations across all sectors address the growing threat of ransomware.

“It is a privilege to work with Bill Buchanan and the Edinburgh Napier team to launch their fourth cyber security spin-out. We welcome the financial support of Scottish Enterprise which will help us to establish the company, build our first product demonstrators and accelerate our market engagement.”

Victoria Carmichael, director of strategic investments at Scottish Enterprise, said: “Edinburgh Napier has a track record of producing successful cybersecurity spinouts. We’ve backed MemCrypt and its predecessors with advice and investment and believe the company is poised to repeat that success under Pete’s leadership.

“Scotland’s spin-outs and start-ups will make a huge contribution to the country’s economic recovery. Having created a package of early-stage support to prevent their development being derailed by the pandemic, Scottish Enterprise continues to play a leading role in helping them fulfil their potential.”

Fiona Mason, head of business engagement and IP commercialisation at the University, said: “I’m delighted to see this level of support being given by Scottish Enterprise to one of our newest spin-outs. We value the recognition that SE has given and look forward to supporting the team as the company develops further.”