Written by Andrew Seale

Cybersecurity is one of the most sophisticated and evolving threats to emerge in the 21st century and Toronto has arisen as an important voice in the conversation of how to overcome these challenges – how to shore up our defenses; how to protect our private data; and where to go next.

While Canada was recently named the fourth largest cybersecurity hub in the world, a large portion of that innovation is happening right here along the stretch of Highway 401 known as the Toronto-Waterloo corridor, a high-tech super cluster peppered with information technology startups and companies tackling some of the biggest questions posed by the cyber threats ahead.

RANK Software founder and CEO, Niranjan Mayya

“There are some big players here,” says Niranjan Mayya, who left Blackberry in to launch RANK Software, an enterprise grade analytics and visualization platform for cyber-security incident response offering everything from malware analysis to email screening in 2013.

The Toronto-based startup recently announced a partnership with Lockheed Martin Canada to create innovative cyber security solutions for future Canadian and international defense programs.

But identity security has also proven to be an industry where Toronto tech firms excel.

Toronto-based SecureKey Concierge has put “Privacy by Design” into action, a critical prong of cybersecurity given the sheer volume of data breaches – 5.9 billion data records lost or stolen since 2013, 84.3 million of those in Canada alone – according to the Data Breach Index.

SecureKey founder and CEO, Greg Wolfond

SecureKey Concierge is looking to shore up authentication, letting Canadians use their online banking credentials to log into public and private sector websites.

“People are looking at Canada as kind of the showplace of the world for how you do identity security well with privacy for citizens,” says the company founder Greg Wolfond, who launched the company in Toronto in 2008 and has grown to offices in Boston, Washington D.C., and San Francisco.

The company has seen major support in Toronto and across Canada including the country’s major banks – which invested $27 million in October 2016 to build out the federated authentication service – the public sector and the telecommunications sector.

“I think what we get here more than a lot of other places in the world is this whole spirit of collaboration,” adds Wolfond. “I mean, you wouldn’t see in other countries all the banks, all the tel-cos, all the provinces working together on a solution that actually makes it better for citizens – everyone would try to do their own thing… we're lucky.”

Biometric startups – which provide authentication based on human characteristics like facial recognition and fingerprints – have also gained traction in the city. Rob Douglas, founder and CEO of BioConnect, an identity and access management, relocated his headquarters from Oakville to Toronto in 2014, hoping to tap into the sprawling startup ecosystem and the droves of talent here.

Biometrics has often been hailed as a vital part of the battle against fraud, a major component of cybersecurity further complicated by the sheer number of cards, fobs and number-letter passwords we carry around.

“This is the way society has recognized who we are,” he says. “There’s something like $3.7 trillion worth of fraud that exist in our economic system because we don’t know who people are, people can actually masquerade as something they're not.”

BioConnect, which has grown to more than 60 employees, is hoping to make the world a little more secure through biometrics. And he’s hoping to lead the way from Toronto.

“We're competing on the world stage and we're able to do that by leveraging the ecosystem here and the talent that exists here,” he says.

Mayya agrees saying that the cybersecurity sphere is only getting stronger in Toronto.

“We have goals of making Rank to be a significant player in the cybersecurity space,” he says. “Toronto is one of the safest cities in the world, we are steps away from the US market, we have a fantastic availability of talent (and) a very qualified immigrant population – every key point you make is a resounding ‘yes’ in terms of what Toronto has to offer.”

StartUp Spotlight on: Toronto's Cybersecurity Sector

We start this series with a deep dive into biometrics at BioConnect. Check back to learn about another Toronto-based cybersecurity company that is leading the global push toward a safe, reliable digital world.