Mirox Cyber Security chief Rajesh Babu says awareness about cyber security has increased among the companies in Kerala. Photo: TikTalk Newsletter
“My dream is to develop Kerala as a cybersecurity hub and attract big names in the sector to set up shop right here, in Trivandrum.”
When Mirox Cyber Security & Technology CEO Rajesh Babu says this, it almost sounds like a pipe dream.
In a place where the safety of computers and networks is still not a priority and even reputed entities are known to opt for pirated software, wishing for an ecosystem to develop a cybersecurity nerve centre could seem like a pie-in-the-sky plan. But Rajesh Babu, or RB as he is known to colleagues, is not daunted by such thoughts, as he has fought the odds throughout his journey.
In the early 2000s, when no one was willing to even listen to cybersecurity talks, RB was already advocating for it. “I would personally go to firms and pitch the need for cybersecurity, but very few were willing to spend time or money on such things then. Now it has changed, and companies are aware of the need for safety,” says RB.
He says Mirox became the first Kerala company to earn the Computer Emergency Rescue Team India (Cert-In) grade from the Indian government in 2014. That meant Mirox became one of the government-certified cybersecurity firms with the capability of delicate security investigations and forensics.
RB, who is in his mid-40s, says he was interested in hardware assembling and repair long before Mirox was incorporated as a startup in 2009. “Even while I was a student at Aptech Computer Education Centre, I would disassemble the hardware to learn about it. That developed my interest in cybersecurity.”
After graduating from SN College in Trivandrum, RB chose computers as his subject of interest. This led to his first job in the technology sector when he joined Dcom Networks System, which was helping some of the biggest names in Technopark to set up shop. Setting up large computer systems provided RB with more on-the-job experience, further fuelling his curiosity about cybersecurity.
RB says the number of people with expertise in cybersecurity in those days was so rare that clients from other parts of the country used to get in touch with him for help. “I was doing it on a personal level and earning some money, but the idea of launching that as a business never occurred to me then.”
The odd jobs RB picked up increased his visibility in the cybersecurity world, and soon some official security agencies also started tapping his expertise. That was when the idea of branching out as a cybersecurity startup started taking shape.
The first thing the Mirox founder set out to do was to develop a team that was needed to provide cybersecurity services. RB says this led to the first Certified Ethical Hacking (CEH) course he organised in Kerala in 2008.
“Now CEH is well-known and popular. But when I started, I had to go to colleges and companies to explain it, and very few showed interest. We managed to get about two dozen students for the course, but the majority were from outside the state,” says RB.
With a team and space in Technopark, Mirox was on its way by 2009, but it faced all the challenges that startup founders are familiar with. RB says it took some convincing before the idea of a cybersecurity startup was accepted and given the nod to operate from the incubation centre in Technopark.
More troubles followed, such as the inability to align with a firm they initially tied up with, trouble with a partner RB brought in, unsympathetic officialdom, and lack of interest in cybersecurity among private and public companies.
“At one point Mirox was saddled with so much debt that all we were earning was used up to repay the debts. I sold almost every possession I had including my car to survive. Those were really low days and some days I left home without any money in my pocket. But I never turned to my family or relatives for help. If I had, they would have asked me to shut down this company. Only my mother knew my real situation,” says RB about the tough days.
The business slowdown caused by the pandemic and the social distancing measures also added to the company’s woes. “But at no point did I think of giving all up. I was always keen to build up something here in Kerala and in my mind, cyber security for organisations, especially government entities, was a top priority. So going elsewhere and starting a new chapter never entered my mind despite the hardships,” says RB.
He says even during the tough days, Mirox used to deliver quality service and their reputation in the field remains solid. This confidence they built up among the clients brought in an unexpected break when a 2019 survey on top cyber security firms in India listed Mirox as one. US-based Research and Markets organisation then absorbed the survey report, pitching Mirox into an international orbit.
The reputation Mirox earned among clients such as the IT Mission and Kerala police has helped turn the tide, and being recognised as one of the top cybersecurity firms in India has enabled the company to acquire clients abroad as well.
According to the CEO of Mirox, the company has left troubled waters behind and earned around 1 crore rupees in revenue last year, with almost two dozen permanent and contracted personnel. Mirox now has over a hundred satisfied clients, including government departments, corporate firms, and foreign companies, he added.
Looking to the future, RB plans to restart ethical hacker training and open the field of cybersecurity to more people as digitisation increases. RB also notes that the breath-taking speed at which artificial intelligence programs are being churned out is worrying all cybersecurity experts, as they bring in a lot of unwanted elements into cyberspace. The Mirox boss suggests that the Kerala government should create an ecosystem to develop a cybersecurity centre as the need for such services will skyrocket soon.
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