Cybersecurity expert Aviva Zacks chatted with Ryan Toohil, CTO and one of the founders of Intrusta Antivirus, to find out how his antivirus company stays ahead of hackers and competes in the antivirus industry.
SD: How did you get into cybersecurity?
RT: For 12 years, I worked in technology for a major web hosting company. We managed millions of domains, millions of websites, millions of email accounts, and at that scale, we ended up dealing with many security threats. As part of the day-to-day effort of securing and keeping a business secure, you start to notice how complex it is for end-users to keep themselves secure, not just with their website, but their desktop, their mobile phone, and their network traffic. So, I actually got into cybersecurity through my last role, dealing with trying to help secure small businesses online. After leaving, we started Intrusta. We have a passion for trying to make security a little bit simpler for everyday people.
DS: Who started Intrusta with you?
RT: There are four of us from our previous company. We’d worked in various roles at our previous company and enjoyed working together and really cover each other’s blind spots. Our CEO Hari Ravichandran is a tremendous, visionary business leader. He has been continually pushing us to go further and go faster than we thought we might be able to. Our head of finance, Blake Cunneen, is brilliant on the finance side and tests our new security features because he’s a great proxy for an everyday user. Our head of strategy, Hamed Saeed, makes sure that we keep all of our trains running on time, and that we’re delivering the right experience to our users. I’m focused on the technology side. That’s how we started, and I’m really pleased that we’ve been able to build up a really solid team in our office in Boston.
SD: What are the current cybersecurity issues that consumers should be concerned about?
RT: Unfortunately, it’s still common to browse the web and end up with malware. Many consumers are still on either unprotected Macs, unprotected PCs, or browsers that are vulnerable. Many users are still running older versions of Flash, which has a number of known exploits. We see hundreds of users on a daily basis who are still infected with viruses that we’re helping them clean up. That’s the baseline. But as you extend beyond that, I think that one of the more common security problems that people don’t think about is privacy and data leakage from their browser, Facebook history, Google search history, etc. If you’re not securing your data in the right way, a lot of information can get leaked about you as you traverse the Internet.
SD: How can leaked information be used to harm you?
RT: It can be used to defeat security questions; for example, in your bank account: a bad user knows your email, requests a password change, talks to a support agent after finding enough information about you that’s leaked onto the web or through different channels, and they’re able to convince the banks that they’re you. It’s important to not just make sure you have an antivirus program but to make sure you are securing your information to keep you from being socially engineered.
There was a great podcast about this happening a few months back where someone stole an iPhone and went into a cell phone store, convinced them that the phone was his and the user got a new SIM card. And once that has happened, if you don’t protect your data, use a password manager, have a different password for every site, and use an app as the second-factor authentication for your bank account or Google account, that can be devastating. You can lose your entire bank account, stock portfolio, or bitcoin account. This type of protection is incredibly meaningful and something that I don’t think a lot of consumers really pay enough attention to.
SD: How is Intrusta able to compete with the larger and more established antivirus companies?
RT: That is a very good question and one that we struggle with on a daily basis. The big players, like Norton and McAfee, are large companies, and they make a lot of money off the big enterprises and they don’t make as much from everyday consumers who are paying $50 to $100 a year. We really pride ourselves on two things. First, we want to make the product as simple and easy to use as possible. We’d prefer to use what we can glean from the user’s behavior to help make the decisions for them while still protecting their privacy by not building big shadow profiles of them.
And second, we pride ourselves on our customer support. You can call us, chat with us, email during our office hours. We have at least 12 hours of daily coverage where usually within 5 or 10 seconds, you’ll have a real human being on the phone helping you (and that’s soon expanding to 24 hours a day). Our team really goes the extra mile; they’ve been known to remote log in to help install or uninstall software that was causing problems, even if the user has decided they didn’t want to use our product. We deal with our customers who are not always the most technical, so offering a customer support member who is empathetic to their situation is very important. That, for us, is a differentiator.
When those customers are faced with a challenge—a virus, or malware, or their computer’s acting weird—we’re not going to make them wait for 12 hours to get an email response back or 6 hours to get a phone call. We’re there, we’ll pick up the call, and we’ll help them. In complicated cases, we’ve even had engineers jump on calls to help customers.
We try to treat our customers as if they’re a part of our family. That sounds cliché, but when you do have a problem that’s a high-stress situation for you, we want to be there with an empathetic ear, to help you solve that problem.