Natural language processing (NLP) — the branch of AI that helps computers understand and manipulate human language — might not seem naturally applicable to cybersecurity, but as it turns out, the benefits can be enormous. Just ask Dhananjay Sampath. He’s the cofounder of Armorblox, a cybersecurity startup that emerged from stealth today with $16.5 million in venture capital backing led by General Catalyst, along with Microsoft chairman John Thompson, former U.S. chief data scientist DJ Patil, Google vice president of security engineering Gerhard Eschelbeck, and other individual investors. The San Francisco startup’s technology, which it plans to showcase at the upcoming RSA Conference in March, taps NLP to analyze sensitive information in emails and documents and to protect against data- and identity-related attacks.

Email messages and files have become top attack vectors for stealing data, Sampath says, and some evidence backs up his claim. A recent Trend Micro survey found that 91 percent of cyberattacks begin with a “spear phishing” email, or a personalized and highly targeted email with malicious file attachments and links to malware. And in the second quarter of 2018, researchers at Kaspersky Lab logged more than 1,744,244 malicious installation packages, up 421,666 packages from the previous quarter.

“Our mission is to reduce time-consuming workflows for security professionals across detection, incident response, and compliance,” Sampath said. “Armorblox combines deep learning and natural language to analyze enterprise data from emails, documents, and other enterprise apps … We’re excited to bring the Armorblox NLU platform to market and empower employees to better protect company data.”

What Armorblox has developed, then, is an NLP engine that derives insights from enterprise communications and data. It offers policy recommendations by learning over time what’s mission-critical for a given organization, and in the event of a potential or attempted breach, it automatically sends alerts to the relevant people and teams.

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Differentiation will be crucial if Armorblox hopes to stand out in the $5.3 billion cybersecurity market, which is expected to be worth $248.26 billion by 2023. Sampath isn’t naming too many of the company’s customers just yet, but he revealed that Samsung’s Harman brand is an early adopter of its platform.

“Armorblox is using NLU to solve the number one challenge for CSOs: the human layer,” Harman chief information security officer Maurice Stebila said. “By applying NLU, Armorblox is able to address a whole new layer of security that has been inaccessible to other security solutions: the content and context of communications. This has been the biggest challenge and attack vector because hackers know that they can exploit this weakness.”

Sampath started Armorblox in 2017 with Anand Raghavan, Arjun Sambamoorthy, and Chetan Anand, founders or early employees at Netskope, ThoughtSpot, and StackRox. The company is headquartered in Sunnyvale, California.

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