Cybersecurity Startups Get a Boost from Industry Initiative

Two cybersecurity startups are going back to summer camp this month with a program backed by Highland Capital Partners, MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) and mentors from industry.

“So far, the response has been immensely positive. Security researchers have said that our existence has encouraged them to think harder about commercializing their products,” wrote CSAIL Ph.D student Jean Yang, who founded the project along with fellow student Frank Wang, on the project’s blog. “Successful security entrepreneurs and senior security people in industry have reached out to us to mentor companies, citing the challenges they faced in this space as a motivation. Our mentors include leading academics in security research, as well as veteran security experts including OKCupid founder Maxwell Krohn and executives at companies including Box, Imprivata, Akamai, vArmour, and Qualys.”

The eight-week program is designed to help academics launch security startups, which are faced with many challenges, says Yang. “First of all, many security solutions are for enterprise rather than consumers. Finding enterprise clients requires developing a different kind of network than the ones academic researchers already have,” she writes. “Security startups also need to establish trust with their enterprise clients. Not only would they like to know the companies will be around to maintain the software in six months or a year, but they also need to trust that the companies are providing the services they claim to. Another way in which security startups are different is that the products are often difficult to demo. While most people know how to evaluate Tinder for dogs, it is far less obvious how to evaluate security tools based on the absence of bugs rather than the presence of features.”

Highland Capital is kicking in the $20,000 investment, office space, and mentoring. “The goal is to provide a space for companies. By providing this space, we also hope to encourage more researchers to think about commercializing their security research,” writes Yang. “By the end of the summer, teams should be prepared to raise a seed round.”

The two lucky startups are:

Aikicrypt by MIT PhD student in design of encryption tools for the cloud Sergey Gorbunov and Moscow State University new encryption tool student Alexey Gribov. “Aikicrypt is developing a new solution for outsourcing individual and corporate data securely to the cloud,” writes Yang. “They are using strong encryption algorithms to guarantee that customers’ data remains secure even if the cloud servers are compromised. Their solution is unique because it is easy to integrate into existing systems, and customers can continue enjoying availability, convenience and efficiency of their cloud services.”

Oblivilock by MIT graduate students Chris Fletcher and Ling Ren, whose work ranges “from hardware to software to theory in bringing powerful cryptographic tools to practice”, writes Yang.

“When you send or receive data to cloud storage providers, you reveal not only your data but also metadata. Oblivilock provides the first, complete security solution to this problem: when you store data on the cloud, strong cryptographic techniques will protect both your data and metadata,” writes Yang.