Lifetime of Achievement: Poppy Gustafsson

We honour Poppy Gustafsson, CEO at Darktrace, for her dedication to improving the cyber threat landscape and her work to create global security solutions

Ten years ago, Darktrace was founded in the UK with the goal of using AI to detect and neutralise cyber threats. Since then, under Poppy Gustafsson’s leadership, the company has experienced huge growth and global expansion, resulting in it being listed on the London Stock Exchange from 2021. 

A mathematician and cyber defence expert, she was named CEO of the Year at the 2021 Digital Masters Awards and Tech CEO of the Year at the UK Tech Awards 2021. In 2019, she — along with Darktrace CTO Jack Stockdale — was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to cybersecurity.

Building a global cybersecurity company in the UK

Gustafsson has led Darktrace to achieve a wide variety of accolades, such as being named Europe’s 9th ‘Fastest Growing European Company’ by The Financial Times, as well as ‘Fastest Growing Super Scale-up’ by Tech Tour

The company works to deliver cybersecurity AI by delivering complete AI-powered solutions in its mission to rid the world of cyber disruption. Currently, its software protects thousands of customers worldwide from threats including ransomware, cloud vulnerabilities and software-as-a-service (SaaS) attacks.

The cybersecurity sector has become increasingly important, particularly in the wake of the  COVID-19 pandemic, which sparked an unprecedented number of cyber attacks. Remote and hybrid workers continue to be targeted by elaborate scams and hacks as ‘bad actors’ work to steal and compromise value information.

Viewing AI as one of the most powerful tools available to modern businesses, Gustafsson has worked hard with her team to ensure that Darktrace’s self-learning AI is more than capable of detecting, responding to and investigating cyber threats. However, she recognises that the cyber landscape now calls for more - with proactive defence strategies that ensure that threats are limited before they even reach an organisation’s desk.

Darktrace has expanded its R&D team in recent years and doubled its development team so that the company could work on multiple projects simultaneously. Gustafsson told The Times: “We believe there are over 150,000 companies that could benefit from our AI — and we have the right team and skills in place to ensure we can go after the market opportunity that they represent.”

Protecting the world from increased digital threat

Darktrace is a world leader in autonomous cyber AI, having created one of the first, at-scale deployments of AI for enterprises. Developed by mathematicians Gustafsson, Stockdale and fellow founders Dave Palmer, Emily Orton and Nicole Eagan, the company uses self-learning AI algorithms to detect and neutralise cyber threats across the cloud, IoT and industrial control systems and requires minimal set-up. 

Darktrace AI also protects against previously-unknown vulnerabilities including ransomware, data loss and insider threats. Headquartered in Cambridge, UK, the company has more than 4,700 customers worldwide.

Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute in 2022, Gustafsson herself called for a dedicated cyber task force designed to enforce accountability, citing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a turning point in cyber warfare and the global cyber threat landscape. She shared valuable Darktrace data that showed a huge uptick in global attacks on critical national infrastructure, with a 90% increase in high priority security incidents in Europe during the week of the invasion.

During her speech, she emphasised the importance of a “whole of society approach” to cyber security, stating: “There is a shocking tolerance for cyber attacks and that has to change. Organisations that are custodians of valuable, private data can not be allowed to let that data fall into criminal hands through negligence and face no consequences.”

Darktrace has since released Darktrace HEAL, which launched in July 2023, and aims to use AI to understand business data to ensure readiness to recover from an active cyberattack. It works closely with organisations to ensure that their technology is as prepared as it can be and also help them to recover quickly to limit business impact. With Gustafsson at the helm, it looks as though the company will be prepared to tackle future cyber threats whenever they arise.


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