Security innovator Finjan returns as security investor

California-based company, itself a pioneer in the cyber field, sees Israel as the source of new tech successes

Phil Hartstein, CEO of Finjan (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Phil Hartstein, CEO of Finjan (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Finjan, a one-time IT security leader, survives to this day as an investor in new tech start-ups.

Often, when a tech company gets bought out, the company — along with its culture and identity — get “swallowed up” by its new owner, with its name just a memory.

Many think that happened to Finjan, one of the most influential companies in the cyber-security industry. But Finjan is still around, in a much more modest form, and investing in new cyber-security technologies, said president Phil Hartstein.

“Finjan began the trend of developing security based on behavior security, instead of traditional signature-based security, which in its day was very innovative,” said Hartstein. “The next step in the evolution of security is going to be behavior-based technologies, which examine the effects a piece of code has on a system in order to determine its threat level.”

Founded in Israel in 1996, Finjan developed some of the basic building blocks of the modern computer security industry, including the security sandbox, a “sanitary” area of computing resources where suspicious programs or messages can be opened and examined to see if they are malware or legitimate files. Sandboxes are a basic feature of nearly every modern anti-virus and firewall system, with incoming code first sent to a sandbox to be analyzed and compared to known malware. If the code checks out, it moves on to the “live” system; if it does not, it is disposed of appropriately.

In 2009, UK-based M86 Security bought Finjan. Finjan sold M86 its main security products, including an application that includes a sandbox and other security measures. The company retained numerous patents that had been licensed to other companies. The deal with M86 precludes Finjan from developing new technologies directly, but doesn’t prevent Finjan (now called Finjan Holdings) from investing in companies with new technologies. The companies reportedly earn over $100 million a year in licensing fees.

Finjan Holdings has an office in California, but Hartstein and the Finjan team come back to Israel to seek new technologies. “We have partnered with Jerusalem Venture Partners in its new investment fund dedicated to cyber-security,” said Hartstein. “We believe that the technologies being developed at JVP’s incubator in Beersheba will be the leaders in developing new security systems. We are strategic partners in the JVP fund, with funded companies having access to our experience and our intellectual property.”

Some companies receiving money from JVP’s fund will be part of the cyber-security incubator the company set up in Beersheba. Companies will be able to remain in the incubator up to 24 months, with JVP mentors guiding them in their tech and business development.

Each company in the JVP Cyber Labs incubator is expected to receive a government-issued risk-free loan and will be incubated for a period of 18 to 24 months until graduation. JVP is using its network of partners in the networking, security, critical infrastructure and finance fields to bring together a select group of strategic partners to collaborate on company building and share business, technological and technical insights regarding roadmap and validation of these companies and their go-to-market strategies, technologies and approaches.

There are several areas Finjan plans to invest in. “With all the time and money put into protecting data in enterprises, one area we find very challenging is ‘bring your own device,’ where employees bring in their smartphones and tablets and integrate them into their work process.” These devices are not as secure as company servers, said Hartstein, and new technologies being developed in Israel “will enable users to easily and painlessly integrate their devices into networks.”

Cloud security is another growth opportunity for cyber-security companies. “The cloud became a scalable service but did not contemplate security structure. At Finjan, our security systems were designed for network-attached storage. We found the cloud very risky.” Now, the cloud is here, and here to stay, and Hartstein is pleased to see how Finjan’s behavior-based security ideas are now being integrated in systems to protect data in the cloud. “This is another area we believe Israel will be very helpful in.”

Finjan has changed from a firm on the cutting edge of developing new cyber-security technologies to one that just invests in them. For Hartstein, it will always be a technology company. “It’s true that we aren’t in the limelight and we don’t make headlines, but so much of modern cyber-security is based on the work we did,” said Hartstein. “I get a very positive feeling when I look at the cyber-security scene today.”

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