The Binary Security story: A cybersecurity startup run out of Darwin

Stewart Stacey is putting the Northern Territory on the Australian cybersecurity map.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor
Image: Binary Security

Stewart Stacey has an extensive CV. He took a scholarship with the Department of Defence instead of finishing year 12, spent a number of years with government in "pseudo IT guy" roles, including at ATSIC, which prior to abolition, was the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Commission.

Stacey then opened Darwin's first internet cafes and started his own internet company, Territory Internet Services. At the same time, he consulted with the Northern Territory government, acting as a "drop in IT manager" at multiple agencies.

He was then appointed to lead the build of the United Nations (UN) network in Darwin, which Stacey described as a fairly large network across five different buildings. The project began after the East Timorese voted for independence in 1999 and the subsequent retaliation from Indonesia-aligned militia, with Stacey heading over to Dili while Australian troops were still on the ground to perform work for NGOs, like the World Health Organization, World Food Program, and the UN directly.

Following further Defence contracting, including with the Royal Australian Air Force, securing Darwin's Apple Store as a client for a new IT venture, and returning from the United States for a role as an IT manager at a gym, Stacey did a stint in mining, where he was responsible for the build of a AU$6 million optic fibre network in the NT for the territory's electricity generator.

He told ZDNet this also included the build of two data centres.

In 2017, Stacey decided it was time to launch Binary Security.

He said his experience left him capable of not only "all things IT" but also gave him the skills to run the operational and business side of tech. But to him, starting up Binary Security was about much more.

"Through dealing with the Northern Territory government, and all of my suppliers, all the key contracts that I had, I never once came across another Indigenous person, not once," he said. "When you work for the government, you don't have the ability -- unless you work in HR, or you're a decision maker for the enterprise -- I didn't have the ability to put on Indigenous trainees or do anything to sort of promote Indigenous participation in IT."

Going out on his own gave Stacey that ability.

"It's something that I've been wanting to do for quite a long time ... there is a stereotype for Indigenous people. In their employment, they're sort of more focused on agricultural roles -- land, sea-based, ranger based, that's where a lot of the money goes to," he said. "And that's all important, that shouldn't change … [but] there's very little when it comes to the other end of the stick, within the high-tech fields."

See also: Australia isn't buying local cyber and the rest of the world might soon follow

The value proposition for Binary Security is recognising there's a business that provides the same service as mainstream cybersecurity companies, but by using Binary Security, by default, it's an investment in, and promotion of, Indigenous participation in high-tech fields.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has put Stacey's expansion plans on hold, moving forward he is planning on taking on six interns per year, with hopes to not only bridge the Indigenous gap but also address the lagging participation rates of women in tech too.

He is also setting up a security operations centre in Darwin, with plans for one in Sydney as well that will have a training centre attached. The centres will focus on preparing security analysts and also providing basic IT skills for Indigenous people to be prepped to move into the industry.

"I hope that's going to act like a beacon to draw people in," he said.

One of the very few Indigenous owned and Indigenous operated businesses involved in cybersecurity, Binary Security boasts clients in government, enterprise, and small business.

Despite his CV, Stewart still faced struggles as not only a startup in a region in Australia that isn't synonymous with innovation, but being an Indigenous one.

"There's some good things and some not so good things, for example ... governments are expected to spend money with an Indigenous organisation, and it's actually part of the tendering process," Stacey explained. "Entities tend to go out and pick an Indigenous company just to tick a box on a form … the intention is good to start getting Indigenous companies involved … but then you are looked at as just a tick box.

"We can actually do the work as good as anybody else.

"But, you have to start somewhere, so I think taking advantage of those situations and just doing a good job and let your work speak for itself."


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