Cyan Forensics set up technology to help governments fight child sex abuse and terrorism in 2016. The product is used by the Home Office and police forces across the UK. CEO Ian Stevenson says the products can also be applied in the field of counter-terrorism and by social media and cloud companies to find and remove harmful content online.
Name: Ian Stevenson
WHAT IS THE BUSINESS CALLED?
WHERE IS IT BASED?
WHY DID YOU SET UP THE BUSINESS?
I HAVE been working in tech companies for more than 20 years. I always planned to lead one some day. I met [business partner] Bruce Ramsay through a project at Edinburgh Napier University. I really liked Bruce. There is a sense of purpose behind the business because it helps reduce terrorism and paedophiles.
We used to do a lot of face-to-face events but due to Covid we’ve had to adapt to a more virtual environment.
WHAT IS YOUR TARGET MARKET?
WE started by focusing on law enforcement. We provide software that helps them find suspects on computers – crimes that involve electronic content such as child abuse images. We provide a USB stick that is like a digital breathalyser and tells you if there are images of children.
We have found about 400 images of children per month. It used to take months to look at all the images and you would have to release someone on bail. There is a high risk of suicide in these suspects. Police officers can now make decisions about safeguarding kids or suspects in danger to themselves. We have secured a national contract with the Home Office.
The technology lets social media sites and messaging apps stop material from spreading. People are becoming more aware of cyber security but they tend to ignore people who sit behind screens. There’s a growing awareness of bullying, hate speech and child abuse. I would like the technology to be like anti-virus software which protects the computer owner from harmful content.
HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM COMPETING BUSINESSES?
THERE are lots of different forensics software out there. We’re not trying to replace that. We want to put tools in the hands of frontline staff to let them make decisions.
Our technology’s strong point is speed and simplicity. We can train anyone to use it. We have advantages of being a young company so we have relatively recent infrastructure.
IS SCOTLAND A GOOD PLACE FOR THIS TYPE OF BUSINESS?
ABSOLUTELY. We have so many great universities here so we produce a steady flow of mixed talent. It’s a great place to live which helps attract people. I live in Edinburgh and can be in London or other places in the world in a few hours, we have a great technology ecosystem and the Scottish Government is supportive of that.
It’s nice to be in a sector which brings together a lot of Scottish values – artificial intelligence, science, technology and sociology. Scotland is the right place to do it.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT RUNNING THE BUSINESS?
THERE is a sense of satisfaction when we hear stories of frontline users and feedback to see the difference it makes. It has directly resulted in arrests and safeguarding of kids.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN RUNNING THE BUSINESS?
WE’RE a small company so everyone has to get all jobs done between them.
WHERE DO YOU HOPE THE BUSINESS WILL BE IN 10 YEARS’ TIME?
WE have already made great progress in law enforcement. At the moment if you went to a car dealership you can’t buy a car with no seatbelts. This isn’t true of the online world. You can buy a device and access child abuse content in minutes.
We’re at the heart of the online safety sector. We want people to be automatically blocked against child abuse content because it is blocked at every level.
Lots of different companies solve different pieces of the puzzle. We’re providing the first line of defence in harmful content – we’re world leading in that.
We have 13 full-time staff, a rise from 12. We would aim to have more than that in the next 10 years.
Source: The National