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VP of cyber security company Malwarebytes: How one ferry trip to Tallinn led to forming its largest engineering center here

“InvEST insights” explores how American cybersecurity firm Malwarebytes that first set foot in Estonia around ten years ago, now develops most of the company's main products, which are used by millions of people around the world, in Estonia.

Fernando Francisco, Vice President of Malwarebytes, says that in the past ten years it has become easier to hire new talent either from Estonia or from abroad to work in Estonia. Francisco sees that one of its reasons lies behind the Estonian digital society is a success story spoken about all around the world.

One ferry trip led to the largest engineering center

But why did Malwarebytes initially expand into Estonia? Francisco describes a meeting he once had when the company was looking for new places where to open an office. Back then he lived in Finland and told his co-workers that he would hop on the ferry and take a quick trip to go explore Tallinn.

“I remember coming here and meeting a few people and companies. I got a good briefing about what could be achieved here. When I started to interview the first candidates – from the very first moment I saw that we had done the right thing,” described Francisco.

Fernando Francisco was born in Portugal and he got his Master’s degree in Finland where he also laid the foundation for his professional career. Prior to joining Malwarebytes in 2011, he had already worked in the same field in other cybersecurity companies.

At first, the company didn’t have a proper office in Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia, so they met the candidates at a lobby of an office building. Proper office rooms were opened in 2016 and now they occupy two floors of a building located next to the harbour.

Looking at the rate the team in Estonia grows, Francisco sees the possibility that they would need a third floor soon. Malwarebytes Mac and mobile products were built from the start in the Tallinn office. Estonia is Malwarebytes largest engineering center.

When Malwarebytes was founded, the most well known competitors were McAfee and Symantec. Although Francisco was not at Malwarebytes when it was founded, he knows the reason behind its creation – the competitors’ products were failing to protect the user.

Malwarebytes decided to develop technologies that disrupt the thinking of how an antivirus should work. Compared to other antivirus software, Malwarebytes doesn’t rely on samples from malware to remove them from user’s devices. Nowadays, Malwarebytes offers many different products against different types of cyberthreats. The client base is split about 50:50 between enterprise and private customers.

“I want to grow the teams here. As we are growing as a company and adding new products, we had location strategy discussions and decided to double down in Tallinn and now we have done it,” said Francisco.

For those, who have seen Tenet movie from Christopher Nolan, the “InvEST insights” interview location in Tallinn may appear familiar.

Estonia is free of paperwork and bureaucracy

Having offices in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, Francisco sees that the talent here is much more cost effective. He said that the wages in Estonia are smaller but the quality of the talent is higher.

“In Silicon Valley, you are competing with Google, Facebook, Apple, and everyone else. It became so expensive to hire talent. When you are not paying high wages you don’t get the best talent in Silicon Valley. I am confident we will find the talent we are looking for in Estonia. If not, we will look from the neighboring talent pool in Russia, Sweden, Finland, etc,” said Francisco.

Malwarebytes has also had some co-operation with the two main universities, the University of Tartu and Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech), that produce the talent they are so eagerly hunting for.

Ease of business as an advantage

Asked why a company of any size would consider expanding to Estonia, Francisco sees ease of business as the number one reason. To describe doing business in Estonia, he says, it’s something comparable to just a click of a button.

“You should consider moving here because Estonia is the right place for any size of business. You come here and you can start your business the next day. It’s free of paperwork and bureaucracy. You can just kick the ground running from day one. The ease of doing business is very important, you can focus on your business not on the noise surrounding it,” Francisco described.

In the past years, he has been contacted by a few US companies that are looking to expand their teams outside the states. Due to his praise, some of them have already successfully moved over here.

Staying a step ahead of the attackers

Malwarebytes sees that the simplest, most effective, and easiest to deploy cyber attack – and thus something that Malwarebytes has to help its customers deal with – is a phishing attack. Phishing is a type of social engineering attack often used to steal usernames, passwords, and credit card numbers. It occurs when an attacker, masquerading as a trusted entity, dupes a victim into opening an email, instant message, or text message and the victim opens an attached file or clicks on a link that is infected with malware.

Following that, ransomware attacks would be the second most popular attacks at the moment. Ransomware attacks might start off similar to a phishing attack, the attacker tries to masquerade themselves as a trusted entity and when they have been successful they use special software to encrypt the victim’s files. To decrypt the files the attacker asks for a sum of money normally in the form of a cryptocurrency to make it harder to identify the attacker afterward.

There have been many ransomware attacks in recent years that have seen big press coverage. The latest one being a ransomware attack targeting an American technology company Garmin. Just days before the attack Malwarebytes was the first cybersecurity company to bring attention to WastedLocker, the malware used during the attack.

Wish to know more about cybersecurity in Estonia? Read more here or send Invest Estonia a request for e-Consulting to be assigned a personal advisor who will help you with your business plan in Estonia.

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