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In our defence

After almost seven years working in the intelligence sector, Alberto Pelliccione launched Reaqta, a start-up which is being hailed as a game changer in cybersecurity.

In March 2014, you left Hacking Team, the Italian government spyware provider, to set up Reaqta in Malta. What inspired your decision?

When I joined Hacking Team, our division was a start-up. There were just three or four people working on the project. It was very exciting – we were immersed in research and development and were managing to discover new techniques three to five years ahead of the general public.

Then in 2012, the company began to change dramatically. Research and communication with other teams were being constantly hindered, clients were becoming progressively more borderline, and the whole structure was becoming increasingly more opaque.

I had wanted to be an entrepreneur in a software company since I was 15 years old, so I took the opportunity and decided to set up Reaqta. I had a long experience in intelligence operations and on top of that, the cybersecurity industry was failing at protecting companies and people. It seemed a good moment to come out with a brand new concept.

Why did you choose Malta as a base for Reaqta?

Research and development takes a long time. We knew that we would need around 15 months to develop our product and a further 18 to 24 months to start getting some revenue. Malta provides a favourable environment for start-ups: the cost of living is sensibly lower to what we were used to in Milan, taxation is more favourable than in Italy, and there are plenty of investment opportunities, incentives and support initiatives for start-ups.

What do you think of the local start-up scene?

Malta’s start-up scene is fairly young, with the first important milestone being the launch of the Takeoff Business Incubator at the University of Malta in 2014. Since then, the number of meet-ups and events has increased and the start-up scene is experiencing fast growth.

I feel that Malta has the potential to become the European Silicon Valley. However, for this to happen, a number of issues need to be addressed, including the speed of access to infrastructures and the capacity to attract and retain talent from continental Europe. Moreover, taxation for both start-ups and investors has to be kept low in order to maintain competitiveness.

The added value that a start-up gives to the economy is innovation

In your opinion, what support does a start-up need and is this being provided locally?

Launching a start-up means stepping out of your comfort zone. Moreover, you need to take care of everything, from location, connectivity and hardware to legal, financial and accounting support, patent attorneys and mentors. Some of this support can be sourced locally and in this regard, having an incubator helps. However, for other forms of support, you have to rely on external sources – this can prove to be expensive in terms of time and money.

What added value does a start-up give to the economy?

The obvious example is Silicon Valley in California, US, which is one of the richest grounds in the world for innovation.

The added value that a start-up gives to the economy is innovation. A start-up, due to a pathological lack of money, and therefore time, and the absence of lengthy decisional processes is potentially a very fast innovator. Ultimately, it is innovation that drives the economy.

In the space of a few months, you’ve gone from launching a start-up to being interviewed by Forbes magazine. What has the journey been like?

It’s been the proverbial rollercoaster ride. Hopefully this is just the beginning of a tough but steady ride. However, the game is risky and the outcome uncertain. The only certainty is that it doesn’t matter how hard you work, it never seems to be enough. You just have to keep calm and accept uncertainty and hard work as part of the game.

What was the market’s reaction to Reaqta?

Reaqta looked at cybersecurity in a whole new light. We launched our solution a few monthsago and the feedback has been overwhelming.

During several pilot runs we were spotting malwares earlier than industry-leading products. These pilots resulted in millions of dollars in savings. Moreover, we have visited several industry trade shows and have been named one of the hottest start-ups, including by the renowned Cybertech in Israel.

I also remember some people from IBM Research stopping by our booth and telling us that we were selling snake oil. We invited them to use our system and after one hour, they remarked that in one year, we had done what they had failed to achieve after investing years of research and millions of dollars. That was a huge validation.

We firmly believe that our product will change the way we think about security, moving away from the current paradigms towards more advanced and thorough autonomous behaviour based approach.

How do you plan to develop your tool further and what does the future of Reaqta hold?

Cyber attacks are increasing at an alarming rate. The reason is that such acts are highly lucrative. Criminals are targeting enterprises and individuals to steal personal and financial data and selling it.

Our aim is to expand our solution to cover all areas, from PCs to servers as well as mobile phones. This will allow us to protect all points, using our behaviour based security technology. Moreover, we believe that a high level of data security should be affordable, even for smaller companies. Artificial intelligence is already shaping our lives in ways people don’t even notice and it will go a long way to allow us to achieve this goal: security decisions will be taken in autonomy and instantly shared with every other connected device.

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