Facebook, Amazon Snap Up Boston Cybersecurity Startups Confirm, Sqrrl

Xconomy Boston — 

Facebook and Amazon are turning to Boston tech companies to beef up their cybersecurity capabilities.

Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) has acquired Confirm.io, while Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) has purchased Sqrrl, according to posts on the two Boston-area security startups’ respective websites. Terms weren’t disclosed for either deal. An unspecified number of Confirm employees are joining Facebook’s local office, while Sqrrl will become part of Amazon Web Services.

Both West Coast tech giants have been investing more heavily in cybersecurity in recent months.

In October, a Facebook executive said that the company planned to double its 10,000-person team working on “safety and security,” according to a CNBC report. The announcement was made during a public Senate hearing on Capitol Hill, as Facebook faced scrutiny from Congress over growing evidence that Russian entities used the social media platform to interfere with the U.S. presidential election in 2016. This week, Facebook unveiled new steps it’s taking to try and prevent “bad actors,” who hide behind false names, from spreading fake and incendiary political stories through the social network’s news feed to influence voters.

The Confirm acquisition could potentially help Facebook with those efforts. The three-year-old startup developed software that integrates with mobile and Web apps and helps authenticate users’ identities (based on driver’s licenses and IDs) via computer vision and machine learning technologies.

Confirm’s products will be “wound down” as it gets absorbed by Menlo Park, CA-based Facebook, Confirm said on its website. The startup had raised at least $4 million from investors, including Accomplice, Cava Capital, Rho Ventures, and Zelkova Ventures. Its co-founders include Walt Doyle, who is perhaps best known for running Where, which was acquired by PayPal in 2011.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s acquisition of Sqrrl is the latest in a string of cybersecurity moves by the Seattle-based company. Amazon Web Services (AWS), the retail giant’s cloud computing business, introduced a managed threat detection service in November, GuardDuty, that uses machine learning. The service already counts General Electric, Netflix, and Autodesk among its customers, according to a press release. And AWS reportedly acquired San Diego-based security startup Harvest.ai a year ago, whose offerings incorporated artificial intelligence technologies.

The Sqrrl acquisition is meant to enhance Amazon’s A.I.-enabled security capabilities. Sqrrl developed “threat hunting” software that uses machine learning algorithms and other analytics techniques to find and visualize connections between data that might indicate unusual activity. The goal is to detect cyber threats that other tools might have missed, and more efficiently investigate red flags.

The company was founded in 2012 in the Washington, DC, area, and it later moved to Cambridge, MA. Sqrrl raised at least $28.5 million from investors, including Spring Lake Equity Partners, Matrix Partners, Rally Ventures, and Accomplice. As of June 2017, it employed about 50 people and planned to grow to at least 75 employees by the end of last year, the company told Xconomy at the time.

In the post on Sqrrl’s website, CEO Mark Terenzoni wrote that “for now, it is business as usual at Sqrrl.”

“We will continue to work with customers to provide advanced threat hunting capabilities,” Terenzoni wrote. “And, over time, we’ll work with AWS to do even more on your behalf.”

[Disclosure: The author’s significant other works for Amazon in Boston.—Eds.]