Ceterus (copy)

Ceterus chief executive Levi Morehouse pitches his company's technology-focused model of accounting at the Dig South conference. The company says it has raised $10 million in investments. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

The Charleston accounting startup Ceterus has booked $10 million in new investments, marking the biggest financing round closed by a local software company in years.

The last time a Charleston-based software company landed a bigger block of investments was in 2015, when the health care technology firm PokitDok raised $34 million.

When that blockbuster deal was announced, Ceterus didn't yet exist. Founder Levi Morehouse didn't file incorporation papers until two weeks later.

In the years since, Ceterus has emerged as one of the Lowcountry's fastest-growing tech startups.

It has hired just over 130 employees, Morehouse says, and it will keep growing with its new funding, though it hasn't decided how much. All told, it has raised slightly more than $20 million.

The company is tech-heavy, but its concept is relatively simple. The idea is to simplify bookkeeping for franchise businesses by pulling together data from cash-register systems and payroll services and crunching the numbers automatically. By targeting chain businesses, the company's software can also tell store owners how they're performing.

Morehouse says Ceterus has grander ambitions, though: It wants to rethink what accounting means to small businesses.

It recently released a tool, for instance, that projects how much cash on hand businesses will have a month out. The aim is to keep business owners from getting in a jam when its bills come due.

The latest investment round, led by Richmond, Va.-based Harbert Growth Partners, is intended to continue that work, Morehouse says. The company plans to try using artificial intelligence to conduct more sophisticated data analysis and identify trends that help firms run more efficiently, like what causes business to peak.

Even so, Morehouse says, those features are a ways out from being launched.

Gone phishing

There was a tinge of irony when a cybersecurity startup in Charleston last year uncovered a state-sponsored scheme to steal research from American universities: The enormous attack didn't target a single school in South Carolina.

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That was then, says Crane Hassold, director of threat intelligence at PhishLabs. The Iranian scheme found a Palmetto State target after all.

Hassold, who stumbled onto the massive hacking ring late last year, says the University of South Carolina was targeted shortly after federal authorities raised alarms about the scheme.

USC was hardly alone: Over the last five years, Iranian hackers targeted hundreds of universities around the world with spoof email campaigns. Their aim was to get access to library resources, which they sold for cheap. They also appeared to be searching for proprietary research.

Unlike the years-long scheme, the attack on USC was taken down quickly. Hassold says he reported it quickly and the spoofing attack was offline before much damage could be done.

The Iranian scheme, which cost universities more than $3 billion, came to light last month when the U.S. Department of Justice filed charges against nine people, essentially cutting off their ability to leave the country without risking extradition. The Treasury Department issued sanctions freezing their assets and blocking them from doing business with Americans. 

The Justice Department says the campaign by was conducted by the Mabna Institute, a company founded to carry out the attack. And it says the scene was run at the behest of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary group that answers to the nation's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei.

Reach Thad Moore at 843-937-5703. Follow him on Twitter @thadmoore.