Vectra AI picks up $130M at a $1.2B valuation for its network approach to threat detection and response

Cybersecurity nightmares like the SolarWinds hack highlight how malicious hackers continue to exploit vulnerabilities in software and apps to do their dirty work. Today a startup that’s built a platform to help organizations protect themselves from this by running threat detection and response at the network level is announcing a big round of funding to continue its growth.

Vectra AI, which provides a cloud-based service that uses artificial intelligence technology to monitor both on-premise and cloud-based networks for intrusions, has closed a round of $130 million at a post-money valuation of $1.2 billion.

The challenge that Vectra is looking to address is that applications — and the people who use them — will continue to be weak links in a company’s security set-up, not least because malicious hackers are continually finding new ways to piece together small movements within them to build, lay and finally use their traps. While there will continue to be an interesting, and mostly effective, game of cat-and-mouse around those applications, a service that works at the network layer is essential as an alternative line of defense, one that can find those traps before they are used.

“Think about where the cloud is. We are in the wild west,” Hitesh Sheth, Vectra’s CEO, said in an interview. “The attack surface is so broad and attacks happen at such a rapid rate that the security concerns have never been higher at the enterprise. That is driving a lot of what we are doing.”

Sheth said that the funding will be used in two areas. First, to continue expanding its technology to meet the demands of an ever-growing threat landscape — it also has a team of researchers who work across the business to detect new activity and build algorithms to respond to it. And second, for acquisitions to bring in new technology and potentially more customers.

(Indeed, there has been a proliferation of AI-based cybersecurity startups in recent years, in areas like digital forensics, application security and specific sectors like SMBs, all of which complement the platform that Vectra has built, so you could imagine a number of interesting targets.)

The funding is being led by funds managed by Blackstone Growth, with unnamed existing investors participating (past backers include Accel, Khosla and TCV, among other financial and strategic investors). Vectra today largely focuses on enterprises, highly demanding ones with lots at stake to lose. Blackstone was initially a customer of Vectra’s, using the company’s flagship Cognito platform, Viral Patel — the senior MD who led the investment for the firm — pointed out to me.

The company has built some specific products that have been very prescient in anticipating vulnerabilities in specific applications and services. While it said that sales of its Cognito platform grew 100% last year, Cognito Detect for Microsoft Office 365 (a separate product) sales grew over 700%. Coincidentally, Microsoft’s cloud apps have faced a wave of malicious threats. Sheth said that implementing Cognito (or indeed other network security protection) “could have prevented the SolarWinds hack” for those using it.

“Through our experience as a client of Vectra, we’ve been highly impressed by their world-class technology and exceptional team,” 
John Stecher, CTO at Blackstone, said in a statement. “They have exactly the types of tools that technology leaders need to separate the signal from the noise in defending their organizations from increasingly sophisticated cyber threats. We’re excited to back Vectra and Hitesh as a strategic partner in the years ahead supporting their continued growth.”

Looking ahead, Sheth said that endpoint security will not be a focus for the moment because “in cloud there is so much open territory”. Instead it partners with the likes of CrowdStrike, SentinelOne, Carbon Black and others.

In terms of what is emerging as a stronger entry point, social media is increasingly coming to the fore, he said. “Social media tends to be an effective vector to get in and will remain to be for some time,” he said, with people impersonating others and suggesting conversations over encrypted services like WhatsApp. “The moment you move to encryption and exchange any documents, it’s game over.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Vectra lands $100M Series E investment for AI-driven network security

Vectra, a seven-year old company that helps customers detect intrusions at the network level, whether in the cloud or on premises, announced a $100 million Series E funding round today led by TCV. Existing investors including Khosla Ventures and Accel also participated in the round, which brings the total raised to over $200 million, according to the company.

As company CEO Hitesh Sheth explained, there are two primary types of intrusion detection. The first is end point detection and the second is his company’s area of coverage, network detection and response or NDR.  He says that by adding a layer of artificial intelligence, it improves the overall results.

“One of the keys to our success has been applying AI to network traffic, the networking side of NDR, to look for the signal in the noise. And we can do this across the entire infrastructure, from the data center to the cloud all the way into end user traffic including IoT,” he explained.

He said that as companies move their data to the cloud, they are looking for ways to ensure the security of their most valuable data assets, and he says his company’s NDR solution can provide that. In fact, securing the cloud side of the equation is one of the primary investment focuses for this round.

Tim McAdam from lead investor TVC, says that the AI piece is a real differentiator for Vectra and one that attracted his firm to invest in the company. He said that while he realized that AI is an overused term these days, after talking to 30 customers he heard over and over again that Vectra’s AI-driven solution was a differentiator over competing products. “All of them have decided to standardize on the Vectra Cognito because to a person, they spoke of the efficacy and the reduction of their threat vectors as a result of standardizing on Vectra,” McAdam told TechCrunch.

The company was founded in 2012 and currently has 240. That is expected to double in the year to 18 months with this funding.


By Ron Miller