New cybersecurity tool lets companies Google their systems for hackers

The tech comes from Alphabet spin-off Chronicle.

Laura Hautala Former Senior Writer
Laura wrote about e-commerce and Amazon, and she occasionally covered cool science topics. Previously, she broke down cybersecurity and privacy issues for CNET readers. Laura is based in Tacoma, Washington, and was into sourdough before the pandemic.
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Laura Hautala
2 min read

Experts believe Russian hackers infiltrated the Democratic National Committee's computer networks in 2016 but the DNC didn't find out until too late. After all, it isn't like they could use something as simple as a search engine to scan the network for hackers.

Backstory, a new product unveiled Monday, aims to do just that. And it's hardly a surprise that Chronicle, the company behind Backstory, is using the search engine model: The cybersecurity company is building on Google's internal security tools.

"If the DNC had Backstory on their network, they would have been able to see this activity and they would have been able to stop it," said Mike Wiacek, chief security officer Chronicle, at a launch event.

Backstory came about when Wiacek and his Chronicle co-founders found a way to take Google's internal cybersecurity tools and make them available to other companies. Chronicle is a spin-off of X, the moonshot factory owned by Google-parent Alphabet.

The tool is the latest example of Google technology doing what it's best known for: storing and indexing petabytes of information, making it easy to search through quickly. The idea isn't a new concept in cybersecurity. But Chronicle clearly thinks it can do the job.

PACCAR, a company that designs and manufactures commercial vehicles, is an early customer of Chronicle.

"It gives us the ability to capture massive amounts of data and have the ability to search that really, really quickly," said Chuck Markarian, PACCAR's chief information security officer.

The new tool is also a sign that the cat-and-mouse game of finding and stopping hackers is a problem so complex that companies have to bring massive amounts of computing power to have a chance.

Backstory works by storing huge amounts of information provided by Chronicle's customers. The information is a record of everything that happens on company networks. That includes data like which websites a given computer connects to, whether it's ESPN.com or a website known for dealing out Russian malware.

Of course, Backstory and Google are related companies, and concerns about data privacy are bound to come up. But Chronicle co-founder Stephen Gillett said its "sister company" Google won't have access to data scanned by Backstory.

"We are distinct, we are different, and we are very proud of that," Gillett said.