Jun
30
2021
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FloLive, an IoT startup building cloud-based private 5G networks, raises $15.5M led by Intel

As enterprises and carriers gear up for operating and scaling IoT services and monitoring the activity of their devices, machines and more globally, a startup that is building technology to make this easier and cheaper to implement is announcing some funding.

FloLive, which has built a cloud-based solution to stitch together private, local cellular networks to create private global IoT 5G networks for its customers, has raised $15.5 million, funding that it will be using to continue expanding its service, both through investing and building out its tech stack, upgrading its network to 5G where it’s being used, and building a global SIM2Cloud offering in partnership with an as-yet unnamed global cloud provider.

Intel Capital, the investment arm of the chip giant, is leading the investment, with Qualcomm Ventures, Dell Technologies Capital, 83North and Saban Ventures also participating. Intel, Qualcomm and Dell are all strategic backers here: the three work with carriers and enterprises to power and manage services and devices, and this will give them potentially a better way of integrating a much more flexible, global technology and network to provision those services more seamlessly across different geographies.

This is an extension to a $21.5 million round that London-based FloLive raised last year, bringing the total for the Series B to $37 million. From what we understand, the startup is also now working on its Series C.

As we move towards more ubiquitous 5G networks and services that use them, the challenge in the market that FloLive is addressing is a critical one to get right.

In a nutshell, enterprises and carriers that are building networks for managing IoT and other connected devices face a scaling issue. Typically, IoT networks to cover services like these are built on national or even more localized footprints, making it a challenge — if not completely impossible — to control or monitor devices in a global network in a centralized way.

“If you look on high level at tier one networks, you see two main things,” Nir Shalom, FloLive’s CEO, said in an interview. “These networks are built for local footprints, and they are mainly built for consumers. What we do is different in that we think about the global, not local, footprint; and our data networks are for IoT, not only people.”

Of course there are some carriers that might look at building their own networks to rival this, but they will often lack the scaled use cases to do so, and may in any case work with providers like FloLive to build these anyway. The bigger picture is that there are 900 larger mobile network operators globally, Shalom said, and the majority of that group is far from being able to do this themselves.

FloLive’s approach to fixing this is not to build completely new infrastructure, but to stitch together networks from different localities and to run them as a single network. It does this by way of its software-defined connectivity built and implemented in the cloud, which stitches together not just 5G networks but whatever cellular technology happens to be in use (eg 4G, 3G or even 2G) in a particular locale.

FloLive’s tech lives in the core network, where it builds a private radio access network that it can integrate with carriers and their capacity in different markets, while then managing the network for customers as a single service.

This is somewhat similar to what you might get with a enterprise virtual private network except that this is focused specifically on the kinds of use cases that might use connected objects — FloLive cites manufacturing, logistics, healthcare and utilities as four areas — rather than laptops for employees.

The resulting network, however, also becomes a viable alternative for companies that might otherwise use a VPN for connectivity, too, as well as carriers themselves needing to extend their network for a customer. In addition to its IoT focused core network, it also provides business support systems for IoT, device management, and solutions targeted for specific verticals. FloLive supports devices that use SIM or eSIM or “softSIM” technology to connect to networks. That’s one part that likely interested those strategic investors as it allows for significantly easier integration.

“We are truly excited about floLIVE’s unique cloud-native approach to IoT connectivity,” said David Johnson, MD at Intel Capital, in a statement. “Cloud-native architectures bring efficiency, scalability and flexibility which are important for IoT services. In addition, floLIVE’s cloud-based core can provide consistency of features across many independent private and public networks. We look forward to the expansion of floLIVE’s products and services enabled by this investment.”

Updated to note the round is $15.5 million, not $15 million.

Jun
29
2021
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DevOps platform JFrog acquires AI-based IoT and connected device security specialist Vdoo for $300M

JFrog, the company best known for a platform that helps developers continuously manage software delivery and updates, is making a deal to help it expand its presence and expertise in an area that has become increasingly connected to DevOps: security. The company is acquiring Vdoo, which has built an AI-based platform that can be used to detect and fix vulnerabilities in the software systems that work with and sit on IoT and connected devices. The deal — in a mix of cash and stock — is valued at approximately $300 million, JFrog confirmed to me.

Sunnyvale-based, Israeli-founded JFrog is publicly traded on Nasdaq, where it went public last September, and currently it has a market cap of $4.65 billion. Vdoo, meanwhile, had raised about $70 million from investors that include NTT, Dell, GGV and Verizon (disclaimer: Verizon owns TechCrunch), and when we covered its most recent funding round, we estimated that the valuation was somewhere between $100 million and $200 million, making this a decent return.

Shlomi Ben Haim, JFrog’s co-founder and CEO, said that his company’s turn to focusing deeper on security, and making this acquisition in particular to fill out that strategy, are a natural progression in its aim to build out an end-to-end platform for the DevOps team.

“When we started JFrog, the main challenge was to educate the market on what we saw as most important priorities when it comes to building, testing and deploying software,” he said. Then sometime around 2015-2016 he said they started to realize there was a “crack” in the system, “a crack called security.” InfoSec engineers and developers sometimes work at cross purposes, as “developers became too fast” the work they were doing has inadvertently led to a lot of security vulnerabilities.

JFrog has been building a number of tools since then to address that and to bring the collective priorities together, such as its X-ray product. And indeed, Vdoo is not JFrog’s first foray into security, but it represents a significant step deeper into the hardware and systems that are being run on software. “It’s a very important leap forward,” Ben Haim said.

For its part, Vdoo was born out of a realization as well as a challenging mission: IoT and other connected devices — a universe of some 50 billion pieces of hardware as of last year — represents a massive security headache, and not just because of the volume of devices: Each object uses and interacts with software in the cloud and so each instance represents a potential vulnerability, with zero-day vulnerabilities, CVEs, configuration and hardening issues, and standard non-compliance among some of the most common.

While connected-device security up to now has typically focused on monitoring activity on the hardware, how data is moving in and out of it, Vdoo’s approach has been to build a platform that monitors the behavior of the devices themselves on top of that, using AI to compare that behavior to identify when something is not working as it should. Interestingly, this mirrors the kind of binary analysis that JFrog provides in its DevOps platform, making the two complementary to each other.

But what’s notable is that this will give JFrog a bigger play at the edge, since part of Vdoo’s platform works on devices themselves, “micro agents” as the company has described them to me previously, to detect and repair vulnerabilities on endpoints.

While JFrog has built a lot of its own business from the ground up, it has made a number of acquisitions to bolt on technology (one example: Shippable, which it used to bring continuous integration and delivery into its DevOps platform). In this case, Netanel Davidi, the co-founder and CEO of Vdoo (who previously co-founded and sold another security startup, Cyvera, to Palo Alto Networks) said that this was a good fit because the two companies are fundamentally taking the same approaches in their work (another synergy and justification for DevOps and InfoSec being more closely knitted together too I might add).

“In terms of the fit between the companies, it’s about our approach to binaries,” Davidi said in an interview, noting that the two being on the same page with this approach was fundamental to the deal. “That’s only the way to cover the entire pipeline from the very beginning, when they go you develop something, all the way to the device or to the server or to the application or to the mobile phone. That’s the only way to truly understand the context and contextual risk.”

He also made a note not just of the tech but of the talent that is coming on with the acquisition: 100 people joining JFrog’s 800.

“If JFrog chose to build something like this themselves, they could have done it,” he said. “But the uniqueness here is that we have built the best security team, the best security researchers, the best vulnerability researchers, the best reverse engineers, which focus not only on embedded systems, and IoT, which is considered to be the hardest thing to learn and to analyze, but also in software artifacts. We are bringing this knowledge along with us.”

JFrog said that Vdoo will continue to operate as a standalone SaaS product for the time being. Updates that are made will be in aid of supporting the JFrog platform and the two aim to have a fully integrated, “holistic” product by 2022.

Along with the deal, JFrog reiterated financial guidance for the next quarter that will end June 30, 2021. It expects revenues of $47.6 million to $48.6 million, with non-GAAP operating income of $0.5 million to $1.5 million and non-GAAP EPS of $0.00 to $0.01, assuming approximately 104 million weighted average diluted shares outstanding. For Full Year 2021, revenues are expected to be $198 million to $204 million, with non-GAAP operating income between $5 million and $7 million and an approximately 3% increase in weighted average diluted shares. JFrog anticipates consolidated operating expenses to increase by approximately $9-10 million for the remainder of 2021, subject to the acquisition closing.

May
20
2021
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Esper raises $30M Series B for its IoT DevOps platform

There may be billions of IoT devices in use today, but the tooling around building (and updating) the software for them still leaves a lot to be desired. Esper, which today announced that it has raised a $30 million Series B round, builds the tools to enable developers and engineers to deploy and manage fleets of Android-based edge devices. The round was led by Scale Venture Partners, with participation from Madrona Venture Group, Root Ventures, Ubiquity Ventures and Haystack.

The company argues that there are thousands of device manufacturers who are building these kinds of devices on Android alone, but that scaling and managing these deployments comes with a lot of challenges. The core idea here is that Esper brings to device development the DevOps experience that software developers now expect. The company argues that its tools allow companies to forgo building their own internal DevOps teams and instead use its tooling to scale their Android-based IoT fleets for use cases that range from digital signage and kiosks to custom solutions in healthcare, retail, logistics and more.

“The pandemic has transformed industries like connected fitness, digital health, hospitality, and food delivery, further accelerating the adoption of intelligent edge devices. But with each new use case, better software automation is required,” said Yadhu Gopalan, CEO and co-founder at Esper. “Esper’s mature cloud infrastructure incorporates the functionality cloud developers have come to expect, re-imagined for devices.”

Image Credits: Esper

Mobile device management (MDM) isn’t exactly a new thing, but the Esper team argues that these tools weren’t created for this kind of use case. “MDMs are the solution now in the market. They are made for devices being brought into an environment,” Gopalan said. “The DNA of these solutions is rooted in protecting the enterprise and to deploy applications to them in the network. Our customers are sending devices out into the wild. It’s an entirely different use case and model.”

To address these challenges, Esper offers a range of tools and services that includes a full development stack for developers, cloud-based services for device management and hardware emulators to get started with building custom devices.

“Esper helped us launch our Fusion-connected fitness offering on three different types of hardware in less than six months,” said Chris Merli, founder at Inspire Fitness. “Their full stack connected fitness Android platform helped us test our application on different hardware platforms, configure all our devices over the cloud, and manage our fleet exactly to our specifications. They gave us speed, Android expertise, and trust that our application would provide a delightful experience for our customers.”

The company also offers solutions for running Android on older x86 Windows devices to extend the life of this hardware, too.

“We spent about a year and a half on building out the infrastructure,” said Gopalan. “Definitely. That’s the hard part and that’s really creating a reliable, robust mechanism where customers can trust that the bits will flow to the devices. And you can also roll back if you need to.”

Esper is working with hardware partners to launch devices that come with built-in Esper-support from the get-go.

Esper says it saw 70x revenue growth in the last year, an 8x growth in paying customers and a 15x growth in devices running Esper. Since we don’t know the baseline, those numbers are meaningless, but the investors clearly believe that Esper is on to something. Current customers include the likes of CloudKitchens, Spire Health, Intelity, Ordermark, Inspire Fitness, RomTech and Uber.

Jan
13
2021
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Vdoo raises $25M more to develop its AI-based security for IoT and connected devices

It’s estimated that there were some 50 billion connected devices globally in 2020, and while that really says a lot about how far we’ve come in tech, for many it also speaks to a big issue: security vulnerabilities, with the devices themselves, plus all the components and services running on them, all potential targets for anything from malicious hackers to not-so-intentional data leaks.

Today, Israeli startup Vdoo — which has been developing AI-based services to detect and fix those kinds of vulnerabilities in IoT devices — is announcing $25 million in funding, money that it plans to use to help it better address the wider issue as it applies to all connected objects. With its initial focus on large industrial deployments, medical systems, communications infrastructure and automotive, Vdoo also is looking more deeply now at the wider network of devices that use communications chips, providing quick (as in minutes) assessments to identify and remediate or directly fix various issues: it cites zero-day vulnerabilities, CVEs, configuration and hardening issues, and standard incompliances among them.

The funding — an extension to the $32 million round that Vdoo announced in April 2019 — is coming from two investors, Israel’s Qumra Capital and Verizon Ventures (the investing arm of Verizon, which — by way of its acquisition of Aol many years ago — also owns TechCrunch).

Verizon’s interest in Vdoo is strategic and speaks to the opportunity in the market. As CEO Netanel Davidi (who co-founded the company with Uri Alter and Asaf Karas) describes it, operators like Verizon are interested because of their role as a distributer and reseller of hardware as part of their wider services play, be it for broadband access, or a telematics service or something for the connected home or connected office.

“They sell connected devices to enterprises and home users that are not made by them, yet the carriers are responsible for the security,” he said, “so the solution is to bake that into devices” to make it work more seamlessly, he said.

Verizon is not the startup’s only strategic backer. Others in the first tranche of this round included another carrier, Japan’s NTT Docomo, MS&AD Ventures (the venture arm of the global cyber insurance firm) and Dell Technology Capital, the VC arm of Dell.

The company has now raised around $70 million, and while it’s not disclosing valuation, Davidi confirmed that it has more than doubled this year.

(In April 2019, PitchBook estimated that it was just under $100 million, which would make it now at over $200 million if that figure is accurate.)

Davidi said that the decision to raise this money as an extension to the previous round rather than a new round was strategic: it gave the company the chance to raise funding more quickly, and to take more time to prepare for a bigger funding round in the near future.

And the reason for raising quickly was to address what was a quickly moving target: One of the by-products of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a dramatic shift to people working from home, buying new devices to enable that and in general using their communications networks much more heavily than before.

Connected-device security typically focuses on monitoring activity on the hardware, how data is moving in and out of it. Vdoo’s approach has been to build a platform that monitors the behavior of the devices themselves, using AI to compare that behavior to identify when something is not working as it should. 

“For any kind of vulnerability, using deep binary analysis capabilities, we try to understand the broader idea, to figure out how a similar vulnerability can emerge,” is how Davidi described the process when we talked about the first part of this round back in 2019.

Vdoo generates specific “tailor-made on-device micro-agents” to continue the detection and repair process, which Davidi likens to a modern approach to some cancer care: preventive measures such as periodic monitoring checks, followed by a “tailored immunotherapy” based on prior analysis of DNA.

Vdoo is a play on the Hebrew word that sounds like “vee-doo” and means “making sure”, and points to the basic idea of how it approaches the verification around its device monitoring. It also feels somewhat like the next step in endpoint security, which was the focus of Davidi and Alter’s previous startup, Cyvera, which was eventually acquired by Palo Alto Networks.

The focus on devices, in some ways, is a significantly more complex approach, given that it’s not just about the device, but the many components that go into them. As we have seen with Meltdown and Spectre, vulnerabilities might exist at the processor level.

And as Davidi pointed out to me this week, at times those issues aren’t even intentional but still mean data can leak out, and at worst that can be exploitable by bad actors.

“Backdoors are being built into many devices, and some are not even intentional,” he said. “It may be that the developer wanted to create a shortcut to make something else easier in the future. Some will see that as a back door, and some will not.”

The fractal-like nature of the issue is what Vdoo is digging into with its widening approach.

“Initially we wanted to serve the ecosystem of manufacturers, since they are the cause of the problem and the origin of the security issues,” he said. “We started there with Fortune 500 customers in areas like automotive and industrial and medical and telco and aviation. The idea was to make a platform that could serve and protect security stakeholders. But then we saw that this was a big unserved market.”

Indeed, Vdoo quotes figures from research firm MarketsandMarkets that forecast that the global device security market will grow to $36.6 billion by 2025 from $12.5 billion in 2020.

“The number of connected IoT devices is rapidly growing, creating greater opportunities for security breaches,” said Boaz Dinte, managing partner of Qumra Capital, in a statement. “Vdoo’s unique device-centric, deep technology automated approach has already brought immediate value to vendors in a very short period of time. We believe the market opportunity is huge, and with newly infused growth capital, Vdoo is well-positioned to become the leading global player for securing connected devices.”

“With the expansion of 5G networks and mobile edge compute, there’s a need for an end-to-end, device-centric security approach to IoT,” added Verizon Ventures MD Tammy Mahn in a statement. “As the venture arm of a leading telco, Verizon Ventures is proud to invest in Vdoo and its world-class team on their journey to solve this global need, while ushering in a new era of security by design in our increasingly connected world.”

Nov
10
2020
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Qualcomm Ventures invests in four 5G startups

Qualcomm Ventures, Qualcomm’s investment arm, today announced four new strategic investments in 5G-related startups. These companies are private mobile network specialist Celona, mobile network automation platform Cellwize, the edge computing platform Azion and Pensando, another edge computing platform that combines its software stack with custom hardware.

The overall goal here is obviously to help jumpstart 5G use cases in the enterprise and — by extension — for consumers by investing in a wide range of companies that can build the necessary infrastructure to enable these.

“We invest globally in the wireless mobile ecosystem, with a goal of expanding our base of customers and partners — and one of the areas we’re particularly excited about is the area of 5G,” Quinn Li, a senior VP at Qualcomm and the global head of Qualcomm Ventures, told me. “Within 5G, there are three buckets of areas we look to invest in: one is in use cases, second is in network transformation, third is applying 5G technology in enterprises.”

So far, Qualcomm Ventures has invested more than $170 million in the 5G ecosystem, including this new batch. The firm did not disclose how much it invested in these four new startups, though.

Overall, this new set of companies touches upon the core areas Qualcomm Ventures is looking at, Li explained. Celona, for example, aims to make it as easy for enterprises to deploy private cellular infrastructure as it is to deploy Wi-Fi today.

“They built this platform with a cloud-based controller that leverages the available spectrum — CBRS — to be able to take the cellular technology, whether it’s LTE or 5G, into enterprises,” Li explained. “And then these enterprise use cases could be in manufacturing settings, could be in schools, could be in hospitals, or it could be on campus for universities.”

Cellwize, meanwhile, helps automate wireless networks to make them more flexible and manageable, in part by using machine learning to tune the network based on the data it collects. One of the main investment theses for this fund, Li told me, is that wireless technology will become increasingly software-defined, and Cellwize fits right into this trend. The potential customer here isn’t necessarily an individual enterprise, though, but wireless and mobile operators.

Edge computing, where Azion and Pensando play, is obviously also a hot category right now, and one where 5G has some obvious advantages, so it’s maybe no surprise that Qualcomm Ventures is putting a bit of a focus on these today with its investments in Azion and Pensando.

“As we move forward, [you will] see a lot of the compute moving from the cloud into the edge of the network, which allows for processing happening at the edge of the network, which allows for low latency applications to run much faster and much more efficiently,” Li said.

In total, Qualcomm Ventures has deployed $1.5 billion and made 360 investments since its launch in 2000. Some of the more successful companies the firm has invested in include unicorns like Zoom, Cloudflare, Xiaomi, Cruise Automation and Fitbit.

Sep
17
2020
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Perigee infrastructure security solution from former NSA employee moves into public beta

Perigee founder Mollie Breen used to work for NSA where she built a security solution to help protect the agency’s critical infrastructure. She spent the last two years at Harvard Business School talking to Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) and fine-tuning that idea she started at NSA into a commercial product.

Today, the solution that she built moves into public beta and will compete at TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield with other startups for $100,000 and the Disrupt Cup.

Perigree helps protect things like heating and cooling systems or elevators that may lack patches or true security, yet are connected to the network in a very real way. It learns what normal behavior looks like from an operations system when it interacts with the network, such as what systems it interacts with and which individual employees tend to access it. It can then determine when something seems awry and stop an anomalous activity before it reaches the network. Without a solution like the one Breen has built, these systems would be vulnerable to attack.

Perigee is a cloud-based platform that creates a custom firewall for every device on your network,” Breen told TechCrunch. “It learns each device’s unique behavior, the quirks of its operational environment and how it interacts with other devices to prevent malicious and abnormal usage while providing analytics to boost performance.”

Perigee HVAC fan dashboard view

Image Credits: Perigee

One of the key aspects of her solution is that it doesn’t require an agent, a small piece of software on the device, to make it work. Breen says this is especially important since that approach doesn’t scale across thousands of devices and can also introduce bugs from the agent itself. What’s more, it can use up precious resources on these devices if they can even support a software agent.

“Our sweet spot is that we can protect those thousands of devices by learning those nuances and we can do that really quickly, scaling up to thousands of devices with our generalized model because we take this agentless-based approach,” she said.

By creating these custom firewalls, her company is able to place security in front of the device preventing a hacker from using it as a vehicle to get on the network.

“One thing that makes us fundamentally different from other companies out there is that we sit in front of all of these devices as a shield,” she said. That essentially stops an attack before it reaches the device.

While Breen acknowledges that her approach can add a small bit of latency, it’s a tradeoff that CISOs have told her they are willing to make to protect these kinds of operational systems from possible attacks. Her system is also providing real-time status updates on how these devices are operating, giving them centralized device visibility. If there are issues found, the software recommends corrective action.

It’s still very early for her company, which Breen founded last year. She has raised an undisclosed amount of pre-seed capital. While Perigee is pre-revenue with just one employee, she is looking to add paying customers and begin growing the company as she moves into a wider public beta.

Sep
15
2020
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Verkada adds environmental sensors to cloud-based building operations toolkit

As we go deeper into the pandemic, many buildings sit empty or have limited capacity. During times like these, having visibility into the state of the building can give building operations peace of mind. Today, Verkada, a startup that helps operations manage buildings via the cloud, announced a new set of environmental sensors to give customers even greater insight into building conditions.

The company had previously developed cloud-based video cameras and access control systems. Verkada CEO and co-founder of Filip Kaliszan says today’s announcement is about building on these two earlier products.

“What we do today is cameras and access control — cameras, of course provide the eyes and the view into building in spaces, while access control controls how you get in and out of these spaces,” Kaliszan told TechCrunch. Operations teams can manage these devices from the cloud on any device.

The sensor pack that the company is announcing today layers on a multi-function view into the state of the environment inside a building. “The first product that we’re launching along this environmental sensor line is the SV11, which is a very powerful unit with multiple sensors on board, all of which can be managed in the cloud through our Verkada command platform. The sensors will give customers insight into things like air quality, temperature, humidity, motion and occupancy of the space, as well as the noise level,” he said.

There is a clear strategy behind the company’s product road map. The idea is to give building operations staff a growing picture of what’s going on inside the space. “You can think of all the data being combined with the other aspects of our platform, and then begin delivering a truly integrated building and setting the standard for enterprise building security,” Kaliszan said.

These tools, and the ability to access all the data about a building remotely in the cloud, obviously have even more utility during the pandemic. “I think we’re fortunate that our products can help customers mitigate some of the effects of the pandemic. So we’ve seen a lot of customers use our tools to help them manage through the pandemic, which is great. But when we were originally designing this environmental sensor, the rationale behind it were these core use cases like monitoring server rooms for environmental changes.”

The company, which was founded in 2016, has been doing well. It has 4,200 customers and roughly 400 employees. It is still growing and actively hiring and expects to reach 500 by the end of the year. It has raised $138.9 million, the most recent coming January this year, when it raised an $80 million Series C investment led Felicis Ventures on a $1.6 billion valuation.

Jul
31
2020
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Cisco acquires Modcam to make Meraki smart camera portfolio even smarter

As the Internet of Things proliferates, security cameras are getting smarter. Today, these devices have machine learning capability that helps the camera automatically identify what it’s looking at — for instance, an animal or a human intruder? Today, Cisco announced that it has acquired Swedish startup Modcam and is making it part of its Meraki smart camera portfolio with the goal of incorporating Modcam computer vision technology into its portfolio.

The companies did not reveal the purchase price, but Cisco tells us that the acquisition has closed.

In a blog post announcing the deal, Cisco Meraki’s Chris Stori says Modcam is going to up Meraki’s machine learning game, while giving it some key engineering talent, as well.

“In acquiring Modcam, Cisco is investing in a team of highly talented engineers who bring a wealth of expertise in machine learning, computer vision and cloud-managed cameras. Modcam has developed a solution that enables cameras to become even smarter,” he wrote.

What he means is that today, while Meraki has smart cameras that include motion detection and machine learning capabilities, this is limited to single camera operation. What Modcam brings is the added ability to gather information and apply machine learning across multiple cameras, greatly enhancing the camera’s capabilities.

“With Modcam’s technology, this micro-level information can be stitched together, enabling multiple cameras to provide a macro-level view of the real world,” Stori wrote. In practice, as an example, that could provide a more complete view of space availability for facilities management teams, an especially important scenario as businesses try to find safer ways to open during the pandemic. The other scenario Modcam was selling was giving a more complete picture of what was happening on the factory floor.

All of Modcams employees, which Cisco described only as “a small team,” have joined Cisco, and the Modcam technology will be folded into the Meraki product line, and will no longer be offered as a standalone product, a Cisco spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Modcam was founded in 2013 and has raised $7.6 million, according to Crunchbase data. Cisco acquired Meraki back in 2012 for $1.2 billion.

Jun
12
2019
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Helium launches $51M-funded ‘LongFi’ IoT alternative to cellular

With 200X the range of Wi-Fi at 1/1000th of the cost of a cellular modem, Helium’s “LongFi” wireless network debuts today. Its transmitters can help track stolen scooters, find missing dogs via IoT collars and collect data from infrastructure sensors. The catch is that Helium’s tiny, extremely low-power, low-data transmission chips rely on connecting to P2P Helium Hotspots people can now buy for $495. Operating those hotspots earns owners a cryptocurrency token Helium promises will be valuable in the future…

The potential of a new wireless standard has allowed Helium to raise $51 million over the past few years from GV, Khosla Ventures and Marc Benioff, including a new $15 million Series C round co-led by Union Square Ventures and Multicoin Capital. That’s in part because one of Helium’s co-founders is Napster inventor Shawn Fanning. Investors are betting that he can change the tech world again, this time with a wireless protocol that like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth before it could unlock unique business opportunities.

Helium already has some big partners lined up, including Lime, which will test it for tracking its lost and stolen scooters and bikes when they’re brought indoors, obscuring other connectivity, or their battery is pulled, out deactivating GPS. “It’s an ultra low-cost version of a LoJack” Helium CEO Amir Haleem says.

InvisiLeash will partner with it to build more trackable pet collars. Agulus will pull data from irrigation valves and pumps for its agriculture tech business. Nestle will track when it’s time to refill water in its ReadyRefresh coolers at offices, and Stay Alfred will use it to track occupancy status and air quality in buildings. Haleem also imagines the tech being useful for tracking wildfires or radiation.

Haleem met Fanning playing video games in the 2000s. They teamed up with Fanning and Sproutling baby monitor (sold to Mattel) founder Chris Bruce in 2013 to start work on Helium. They foresaw a version of Tile’s trackers that could function anywhere while replacing expensive cell connections for devices that don’t need high bandwith. Helium’s 5 kilobit per second connections will compete with SigFox, another lower-power IoT protocol, though Haleem claims its more centralized infrastructure costs are prohibitive. It’s also facing off against Nodle, which piggybacks on devices’ Bluetooth hardware. Lucky for Helium, on-demand rental bikes and scooters that are perfect for its network have reached mainstream popularity just as Helium launches six years after its start.

Helium says it already pre-sold 80% of its Helium Hotspots for its first market in Austin, Texas. People connect them to their Wi-Fi and put it in their window so the devices can pull in data from Helium’s IoT sensors over its open-source LongFi protocol. The hotspots then encrypt and send the data to the company’s cloud that clients can plug into to track and collect info from their devices. The Helium Hotspots only require as much energy as a 12-watt LED light bulb to run, but that $495 price tag is steep. The lack of a concrete return on investment could deter later adopters from buying the expensive device.

Only 150-200 hotspots are necessary to blanket a city in connectivity, Haleem tells me. But because they need to be distributed across the landscape, so a client can’t just fill their warehouse with the hotspots, and the upfront price is expensive for individuals, Helium might need to sign up some retail chains as partners for deployment. As Haleem admits, “The hard part is the education.” Making hotspot buyers understand the potential (and risks) while demonstrating the opportunities for clients will require a ton of outreach and slick marketing.

Without enough Helium Hotspots, the Helium network won’t function. That means this startup will have to simultaneously win at telecom technology, enterprise sales and cryptocurrency for the network to pan out. As if one of those wasn’t hard enough.

Apr
24
2019
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VDOO secures $32M for a platform that uses AI to detect and fix vulnerabilities on IoT devices

Our universe of connected things is expanding by the day: the number of objects with embedded processors now exceeds the number of smartphones globally and is projected to reach some 18 billion devices by 2022. But just as that number is growing, so are the opportunities for malicious hackers to use these embedded devices to crack into networks, disrupting how these objects work and stealing information, a problem that analysts estimate will cost $18.3 billion to address by 2023. Now, an Israeli startup called VDOO has raised $32 million to address this, with a platform that identifies and fixes security vulnerabilities in IoT devices, and then tests to make sure that the fixes work.

The funding is being led by WRVI Capital and GGV Capital and also includes strategic investments from NTT DOCOMO (which works with VDOO), MS&AD Ventures (the venture arm of the global cyber insurance firm), and Avigdor Willenz (who founded both Galileo Technologies and Annapurna Labs, respectively acquired by Marvell and Amazon). 83North, Dell Technology Capital and David Strohm, who backed VDOO in its previous round of $13 million in January 2018, also participated, bringing the total raised by VDOO now to $45 million.

VDOO — a reference to the Hebrew word that sounds like “vee-doo” and means “making sure” — was cofounded by Netanel Davidi (co-CEO), Uri Alter (also co-CEO) and Asaf Karas (CTO). Davidi and Alter previously co-founded Cyvera, a pioneer in endpoint security that was acquired by Palo Alto Networks and became the basis for its own endpoint security product; Karas meanwhile has extensive experience coming to VDOO of working, among other places, for the Israeli Defense Forces.

In an interview, Davidi noted that the company was created out of one of the biggest shortfalls of IoT.

“Many embedded systems have a low threshold for security because they were not created with security in mind,” he said, noting that this is partly due to concerns of how typical security fixes might impact performance, and the fact that this has typically not been a core competency for hardware makers, but something that is considered after devices are in the market. At the same time, a lot of security solutions today in the IoT space have focused on monitoring, but not fixing, he added. “Most companies have good solutions for the visibility of their systems, and are able to identify vulnerabilities on the network, but are not sufficient at protecting devices themselves.”

The sheer number of devices on the market and their spread across a range of deployments from manufacturing and other industrial scenarios, through to in-home systems that can be vulnerable even when not connected to the internet, also makes for a complicated and uneven landscape.

VDOO’s approach was to conceive of a very lightweight implementation that sits on a small group of devices — “small” is relative here: the set was 16,000 objects — applying machine learning to “learn” how different security vulnerabilities might behave to discover adjacent hacks that hadn’t yet been identified.

“For any kind of vulnerability, using deep binary analysis capabilities, we try to understand the broader idea, to figure out how a similar vulnerability can emerge,” he said.

Part of the approach is to pare down security requirements and solutions to those pertinent to the device in question, and providing clear guidance to vendors for how to best avoid problems in the first place at the development stage. VDOO then also generates specific “tailor-made on-device micro-agents” to continue the detection and repair process. (Davidi likened it to a modern approach to some cancer care: preventive measures such as periodic monitoring checks; followed by a “tailored immunotherapy” based on prior analysis of DNA.)

It currently supports Linux- and Android-based operating systems, as well as FreeRTOS and support for more systems coming soon, Davidi said. It sells its services primarily to device makers, who can make over the air updates to their devices after they have been purchased and implemented to keep them up to date with the latest fixes. Typical devices currently secured with VDOO tech include safety and security devices such as surveillance cameras, NVRs & DVRs, fire alarm systems, access controls, routers, switches and access points, Davidi said.

It’s the focus on providing security services for hardware makers, in fact, that helps VDOO stand out from the others in the field.

“Among all startups for embedded systems, VDOO is the first to introduce a unique, holistic approach focusing on the device vendors which are the focal enabler in truly securing devices,” said Lip-Bu Tan, founding partner of WRVI Capital. “We are delighted to back VDOO’s technology, and the exceptional team that has created advanced tools to allow vendors to secure devices as much as possible without in-house security know-how, for the first time in many decades, I see a clear demand for security, as being raised constantly in many meetings with leading OEMs worldwide, as well as software giants.”

Over the last 18 months, as VDOO has continued to expand its own reach, it has picked up customers along the way after identifying vulnerabilities in their devices. Its dataset covers some 70 million embedded systems’ binaries and more than 16,000 versions of embedded systems, and it has worked with customers to identify and address 150 zero-day vulnerabilities and 100,000 security issues that would have potentially impacted 1.5 billion devices.

Interestingly, while VDOO is building its own IP, it is also working with a number of vendors to provide many of the fixes. Davidi says that VDOO and those vendors go through fairly rigorous screening processes before integrating, and the hope is that down the line there will more automation brought in for the “fixing” element using third-party solutions.

“VDOO brings a unique end-to-end security platform, answering the global connectivity trend and the emerging threats targeting embedded devices, to provide security as an essential enabler of extensive connected devices adoption. With its differentiated capabilities, VDOO has succeeded in acquiring global customers, including many top-tier brands. Moreover, VDOO’s ability to uncover and mitigate weaknesses created by external suppliers fits perfectly into our Supply Chain Security investment strategy,” said Glenn Solomon, managing partner at GGV Capital, in a statement. “This funding, together with the company’s great technology, skilled entrepreneurs and one of the best teams we have seen, will allow VDOO to maintain its leadership position in IoT security and expand geographies while continuing to develop its state-of-the-art technology.”

Valuation is currently not being disclosed.

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