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Synack

Company stage
Late stage, Private

Total funding
$112.5 million

Design lead
2018

Founded in 2013, Synack is a crowdsourced security platform that utilizes ethical hacking and proprietary scanning technology to find vulnerabilities within a company’s systems. Synack’s highly selective Red Team brings together the world’s best security researchers and puts their hacking skills to work to make companies more resistant to security attacks. Synack was founded by former NSA and US Department of Defense technical security experts, Jay Kaplan and Mark Kuhr, who have raised $112.5 million from investors including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Microsoft, and Google Ventures. Named a CNBC Disruptor 50 four times and winner of the Fortress Cyber Security award, Synack combines human and artificial intelligence to consistently deliver security without compromise.

Objectives

01

Create an intuitive workflow
for ethical hackers

The process in which the Red Team members find, claim, research, submit fixes for, and then patch security vulnerabilities is incredibly complex. The challenge was to design an app that made all of this logical and instinctual, as each hacker is trying to work as efficiently as possible.

02

Appeal to a
divergent audience

As a two-sided marketplace, Synack needed a new site that would speak to both senior security executives, as well as the ethical hackers who come to explore Synack’s Red Team product.

03

Gamify the experience

Raised on Call of Duty and Halo, ethical hackers respond to video game-style concepts, and I convinced the Synack team to create a user flow filled with badges, leaderboards, points, and levels in order to draw them in.

04

Nail the look and feel

Synack wanted to define a visual style that double-clicked on their status as a premium and exclusive brand, but also had the sleek, futuristic feel that would help define them as cutting-edge.

05

Simplify the information architecture

The original Synack website had a navigation with six top-level verticals. The revamped site needed to simplify, in order to lead prospective clients and researchers quickly into the funnel.

The design process

Synack hoped to present their security solutions to customers as an immersive, cinematic experience, referencing fluid digital animations from movies like The Matrix or Minority Report. Running with that prompt, I looked deeper at classic sci-fi cultural touchstones like Blade Runner, Avatar, and Halo, and also dug into the world of VFX Tumblr accounts and video game designers.

Making security vulnerabilites cinematic

The Synack team aspired to turn a decentralized and solitary process into something cinematic and epic, like a Mission Impossible movie meets Joseph Cambell’s Hero’s Journey. Their vision for the site involved creating an interactive, digital animation that would bring users into a new mindspace. The result is a simulation that allows people to feel like they are a movie director or gamer controlling the action, directing teams of ethical hackers to hunt for vulnerabilities and patch fixes.

Simplifying a complex user flow

When a researcher is accepted into Synack’s Red Team, they select from a list of targets, which is made up of anonymous companies that have hired Synack. Within each target, there are two types of work researchers can pursue; more senior hackers can go on a freeform, open-ended hunt for “vulns” (vulnerabilities), while more inexperienced hackers can knock off a series of “missions,” a punch list of tasks to stress test specific elements of a client’s app. After a mission or vuln is completed, the researcher must submit the report to Synack’s Mission Ops Team, who verify and double-check the work in a thread with the hacker. If it is accepted, then the hacker deploys a patch—and get paid.

Appealing to multiple hacker cohorts

Within the ethical hacker community, there are a handful of groups. More experienced hunter-style researchers are looking for larger bounties with bigger payoffs that require serious puzzle-solving skills; rookie hackers are often QA testers attempting to just get started in the world of bug bounties, and need some small wins to encourage them to keep improving. The designs for the Red Team dashboards needed to motivate both cohorts, while making all users feel like they are doing something momentous and critical.

Most of Synack’s competitors look like dull HR platforms. My approach was to meet the varying groups on their level, using concepts and visuals that would relate to them, such as code names, badges, leaderboards, and imagery from the gaming industry.

March '21: Since the new Synack.com went live, more than a few notable competitors have followed Synack's approach with updated versions of their own products.

Attracting the best talent

One of Synack’s core value props is the skills and exclusivity of their Red Team, a highly-vetted squadron of ethical hackers. To help sell clients on the pro quality—and to attract elite hackers themselves—we created an animation to show how their process (skills assessment, video interview, background check) narrows the acceptance rate down to 12%. As a way of celebrating the most elite hackers and reinforce community, we also decided to show off the “SRT Member of the Month,” complete with an anonymized portrait and personal bio.