Discover more from Startup Pirate by Alex Alexakis
Building a Better Internet
How the internet works with Code BGP, hiring product teams, marketing insights, funding news, jobs, events, and more
Happy Friday 👋 Welcome to Hunting Greek Unicorns #49! I’m Alex, a product guy turned VC, and every two weeks I send out a newsletter with everything you need to know about Greek startups. Join 3,391 readers by subscribing here:
Building a Better Internet
We have become increasingly dependent on the Internet (if not addicted to some extent). We use it in almost everything we do. The pandemic accelerated this and I bet you all feel at least a bit more Internet natives than before COVID-19 hit. Given how much of our personal and professional lives take place online nowadays, we just want the Internet to do what the Internet is supposed to do, like every other utility; work 24/7, safe, fast, worldwide access. Yet, the reality is somewhat different.
This week, we unfold the black box of how the Internet works and take a look at a team trying to build a better Internet. Let’s get to it!
The Glue That Holds The Internet Together
The Internet is a global network of computers connected with each other at various locations around the world. Computers that are connected to computers that are connected to other computers, connected to other computers. A network of networks.
Every time you text a friend via Whatsapp, iMessage, Signal or any other IM app, your message is translated into electronic signals, transmitted over the Internet and then re-assembled into its original form on your friend’s phone. I took a course on Computer Networks more than a decade ago, so I had to brush up my memory on the details, but in a nutshell, this process involves data divided up into chunks (known as packets), which are assigned specific metadata at the beginning of their journey and then travel across multiple hops to reach their destination.
Now the fun part begins… At the moment, there are over 78,000 networks that make up the Internet! These are Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and large organizations around the world that operate their own networks such as tech companies, universities, government agencies and scientific institutions. How do packets find their way inside this gigantic network? Thanks to the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) or the postal service of the Internet. So each of these 78,000 networks, called autonomous systems (ASes), is like a town's post office. Mail goes from post office to post office until it reaches the right town. Similarly, data packets cross the Internet by hopping from AS to AS until they reach the one that contains their destination. When they do, the town's post office… errr the AS will deliver the packets within its network to the right device. How come these packets don’t get lost or take too long to reach their destination given the tens of thousands of networks they could travel to? BGP looks at all of the available paths and picks the best route.
The Internet is literally a network of networks, and it’s bound together by BGP; the glue that keeps the Internet together. BGP has been in use on the Internet since 1994. Think about it as a mechanism that helps every AS route the packets it receives to the right neighbouring AS (externally), but also within its network if that’s where the final destination is (internally). To make things interesting, the structure of the Internet is constantly updated with new ASes popping up and existing ASes becoming unavailable. Hence, information on possible routes is constantly exchanged between ASes with every AS announcing changes to its neighbouring ASes and their neighbouring ASes to their own neighbouring ASes and so on and so forth, until eventually every change is communicated to the whole Internet. For the system to work properly, the routing information shared among ASes cannot contain lies or errors that might cause a packet to go off track – or get lost altogether. And this is where things get messy.
Routing Issues, Routing Issues Everywhere
Remember Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram going down last October? Well, an incorrect update on their BGP configurations introduced during routine maintenance caused an outage for 6 hours. This left billions of users unable to access the platforms and millions of companies without the means to run operations. There are other famous incidents caused by mistakes at the BGP level. In the past, an ISP accidentally told the entire Internet to route its traffic to its service, creating a one-day crisis where many people across the world weren’t able to access some of the Internet. Similarly, another country’s ISP accidentally banned YouTube worldwide for several hours, after trying to do so only for its users. Malicious attacks are a frequent phenomenon too. In 2018, hackers were able to hijack requests for Amazon and steal over $100,000 worth of cryptocurrency. Amazon wasn’t hacked, but traffic meant for it ended up somewhere else. Much like if someone were to change the signs on a stretch of freeway and reroute automobile traffic onto incorrect exits. Cisco reported almost two thousand BGP incidents in Q1 2021 alone.
Why do issues happen so frequently? Because the Internet is built on the assumption that interconnected networks are telling the truth about the changes that happen on their networks. Hence, an error or attack (called BGP hijack) is nearly impossible to stop (or at least was - more on that later). Back to our freeway example, imagine if no one was watching the signs, and the only way to tell if they had been maliciously changed was by observing that lots of automobiles were ending up in the wrong neighbourhoods. To make things worse, the majority of configuration updates are processed manually or via custom scripts from the network administrators. The bottom line is the following: Internet traffic routing is a process very prone to errors and bad actors and this results in significant costs or even taking down parts of the network. Clearly, the current way of doing things doesn’t work. With the whole world moving online and increasingly relying on the Internet, such incidents cause massive disruptions. We need a better Internet!
Code BGP To The Rescue
Back in December 2018, Fontas Dimitropoulos, Vasileios Kotronis and Lefteris Manassakis were doing research on Network Operations at the University of Crete. They had spent years studying how the Internet works as PhD students at Georgia Tech and ETH Zurich, and later on as researchers. Fontas, a university professor, was also leading the Internet Security group at the University of Crete. Alongside a team from UC San Diego, they decided to release an open-source tool to monitor, detect, and mitigate BGP hijacks. ARTEMIS (Automatic and Real-Time dEtection and MItigation System) was born. Fontas told me that:
With ARTEMIS we were the first in the research and industrial worlds to show that identifying and stopping BGP hijacks can be done in just a few seconds instead of hours or days that it used to take before. We monitor network changes across the Internet from 1000s of BGP feeds, detect BGP hijacks, and provide network operators with the option to mitigate them in real-time. Issues are detected as soon as they occur and incidents can be neutralized at their birth, before they propagate across the Internet.
Some of the largest network operators in the world took notice and added ARTEMIS to their arsenal to protect their networks.
These network operators are among the organisations that make the Internet work. Taking good care of their networks means taking good care of the Internet. But in order to do so, they needed more than what an open-source tool could offer. Fontas, Lefteris and Vasileios decided to use their learnings from ARTEMIS and take their efforts to the next level. In March 2021, they started Code BGP.
BGP is one of the hardest protocols to master and operate. It has been a subject of extensive research literature and, despite this, its operations have not changed significantly since its beginning. It requires deep expertise in this area to build innovative solutions, which are pioneering research-wise and can be put into practice immediately in today's networks. This is where our approach resides. We aim to make BGP fun to work with and easy to use, therefore simplifying operations, reducing costs for managing networks and minimizing service disruptions.
That’s how they introduced Code BGP in their inauguration post in June 2021, right after raising their first investment of $1.5m from Marathon Venture Capital. The team started building a one-stop-shop for BGP monitoring; a SaaS platform every network would need to prevent and manage errors and attacks on the spot, detect misconfigurations and increase visibility across the whole Internet. On the latter, Fontas, the company’s co-founder & CEO, explained that:
It’s important to help organisations “see” beyond their own infrastructure. Increase their visibility on the networks that they are connected to and how they receive and send traffic. We bring situational awareness to organizations relying on the Internet for their business.
In almost a year of operations, Code BGP has reached a team of 9 with its product in beta version and is currently tested by some of the most prominent ISPs, enterprises, academic and government networks, financial institutions and more, around the world.
BGP comes from a time when the Internet was much smaller and everyone knew everyone. Now that the Internet has exploded in growth, hijacks, both malicious and inadvertent, have required countless hours of pain-staking manual intervention and deep knowledge of BGP and the global routing table to diagnose—keeping your routes secure in this landscape almost seems like a sisyphean task.
BGP is a key component of how the Internet works, yet amidst a time when the Internet is becoming more and more of a necessity for societies to operate, it’s clear that we need better tools to navigate it and avoid massive disruptions caused by errors or malicious attacks. Code BGP enters the scene with exactly that promise: to give the required means to those that rely on the Internet for their services, to have better visibility into the underlying networks and faster incident resolution. And towards that end, build a better Internet.
Looking for your next opportunity? Check out job postings from Greek startups in Greece, abroad, and remotely. Company information is also available.
Vivante Health raised $16m in Series A round for its digestive health solution empowering people through personalized, comprehensive care.
Consumer hardware startup, Nothing, raised a $70m Series B round bringing total funding up to $144m since it was founded in late 2020.
EV chargers startup based in Thessaloniki, MC Chargers, was acquired (majority stake) by a Greek industrial company.
The teams that made it to the next round of NBG Business Seeds startup competition were announced, here.
Researchers including a team from the Department of Informatics of the Athens University of Economics and Business introduced Ithaca, the first deep neural network that can restore, place, and date ancient texts through collaboration between AI and historians.
Tourism & travel startup competition Idea Platform of CapsuleT is accepting applications until the 21st of March.
Interesting Reads & Podcasts
Hiring challenges and how to build a high performing product team from Babis Makrynikolas, VP of Product & Pricing at Blueground, here.
Panagiotis Vourtsis and Katerina Miliaraki, from Orfium, on creating the company’s Design System, here.
An interview with Panos Papadopoulos, Partner at Marathon Venture Capital, on the importance of the Greeks In Tech network across the globe.
A podcast with George Yanakeas, founder & CEO of Maya Insights, on building an all-in-one business analytics platform, insights for online marketing activities, and more.
Sofia Michili, Senior Product Manager at Hotjar, on prioritizing business outcomes that a product should achieve with Opportunity Solution Trees, here
Breaking into Technical Product Management, a new course introduced by Marily Nika, AI Product Lead at Google.
At the intersection of no-code and web3 with Alex Letsas, MBA candidate at MIT, here.
A new newsletter on frontend development, Jamstack and web3 from Nikos Papageorgiou, Front End Software Engineer at Viva Wallet.
An introduction to fashion tech and NFTs by Andronikos Koulis, Head Of Research & Development at RareCandy3D.
“Open Coffee Athens #107” by Open Coffee Athens on Mar 18
“Innovation in Western Greece” by NBG Business Seeds on Mar 18
“Dapr for .NET and Github Copilot” by Thessaloniki .NET Meetup on Mar 18
“Leading a Global Technology Company” by Hellenic Innovation Network on Mar 23
“Machine Learning in embedded devices in 2022” by GDG Athens on Mar 31
Hot Southeast Europe Deals
Getir | Turkish on-demand delivery raised $768m Series E round at $11.8b valuation
Insider | Turkish marketing platform raised $121m
Elrond | Blockchain company from Romania acquired Twispay, getting the approval to issue electronic money
Tenyks | Bulgarian-founded AI startup announced a $3.4m seed round
InspectHOA | Bulgarian home inspection startup raised $3.1m
How did you like this week’s Hunting Greek Unicorns? Your feedback helps me make this great.
You can also follow me on Twitter!
Thanks for reading and see you in two weeks 👋