While Taiwan is synonymous with hardware expertise, there’s another sphere in which Taiwan has immense strength, one that you might not expect: cyber security.
As with the two other countries at the cutting-edge of cyber security, the United States and Israel, Taiwan’s requirement for the highest sophistication in the security domain is borne of necessity. Attacks originating from China are frequent, with the National Security Bureau’s website receiving a reported 10,000 attacks per day last year. Taiwanese organizations, with a front row seat to emerging threats, have to be on the leading edge. These attacks focus not only on stealing information, but also on sabotaging infrastructure, specifically targeting transportation and financial networks.
As a result, Taiwan has a strong private industry in security services. From this environment, Lucent Sky has emerged, providing state-of-the-art solutions to cyber security problems for the global market. Lucent Sky’s product, CLEAR, goes through a website’s source code, finds and fixes problems that hackers can exploit, and then delivers the secured source code back to the user for deployment.
The company demonstrates the innovation that comes from years of experience in the Taiwan security landscape. Working as security consultants before creating the company, the founders, Jim Liu and Scott Wu, examined source code for penetration or vulnerabilities, addressing each problem one at a time. With the average website containing 500 to 2000 vulnerabilities, one project could take anywhere from days to months to complete, a very time-consuming and draining process just asking for a technological solution.
Dissatisfied with methods such as black box testing and static code analysis, which identified vulnerabilities but did nothing to secure an application, the team created an integrated, automatic security solution that can identify and automatically fix twelve types of vulnerabilities in a company’s source code, freeing up time to allow the engineers to work on the hardest problems.
The commercial potential of this product was immediately obvious, and became Lucent Sky’s product, CLEAR. Lucent Sky offers enterprise and developer versions of the software, and has been able to land big clients including the departments within the Taiwan government and military, along with a Fortune Global 500 and a Forbes Global 2000 company, both located in Asia (unfortunately the companies cannot be identified, as most companies would rather not draw attention to the vulnerabilities that they all invariably have).
Liu says that there are various motivations for cyber attacks originating from the mainland. Chinese hackers can be separated into two general buckets. One fits the profile of the hacker familiar the world over, pronounced heike in Chinese, which translates to ‘dark guest’. It refers to those looking to disrupt operations for no ideological reason. The second is the so-called ‘red hacker’, patriotic hackers, who use their skills to support the state by attacking high value targets in the government and the military, along with, surprisingly, gaming companies. The damage they inflict includes data theft, installation of malicious software, and denial of service attacks.
The solution Lucent Sky has created has paid dividends for the organizations using it. In the eight months that Lucent Sky has existed, its product had mitigated over 49,000 vulnerabilities, saved 34,000 programming hours, and saved clients approximately US$2 million dollars.
It is no surprise this technology emerged from Taiwan. Experiencing threats three to six months in advance of the rest of the world requires a world-class ability to deal with new precedents in cyber attacks. In Foreign Policy magazine, Dan Blumenthal, the Director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said that Taiwan could even become a center for cyber defense, “as its understanding of Chinese language, culture, business networks, and political landscape makes it invaluable in the fight against cyber attacks.”
There has been public awareness recently of attacks on prominent companies and government organizations across the globe, the most notorious of which being the New York Times earlier this year. This is a particular problem for Taiwan. Complicated political issues with the mainland make the island a priority target for attacks originating from China. Taiwan’s National Security Bureau director Tsai Der-sheng has warned that these attacks are the most serious threat to the defense of the island, and that the scope of the attacks has been widening as they’ve transitioned from attacking political and military organizations to targeting technology and corporate entities.
Lucent Sky’s early success provides a lesson to other Taiwanese entrepreneurs. There has been serious discussion about how to grow a startup scene in Taiwan. The ambitious should look to the immediate foreground for opportunities. What strengths and expertise exists here and now? Forget me-too applications and concentrate on what opportunities can be generated right now, with the resources and needs that already exist on the island, waiting to be leveraged and can delivered to a global market.