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.

Apr
18
2019
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Microsoft delves deeper into IoT with Express Logic acquisition

Microsoft has never been shy about being acquisitive, and today it announced it’s buying Express Logic, a San Diego company that has developed a real-time operating system (RTOS) aimed at controlling the growing number of IoT devices in the world.

The companies did not share the purchase price.

Express Logic is not some wide-eyed, pie-in-the-sky startup. It has been around for 23 years, building (in its own words) “industrial-grade RTOS and middleware software solutions for embedded and IoT developers.” The company boasts some 6.2 billion (yes, billion) devices running its systems. That number did not escape Sam George, director of Azure IoT at Microsoft, but as he wrote in a blog post announcing the deal, there is a reason for this popularity.

“This widespread popularity is driven by demand for technology to support resource constrained environments, especially those that require safety and security,” George wrote.

Holger Mueller, an analyst with Constellation Research, says that market share also gives Microsoft instant platform credibility. “This is a key acquisition for Microsoft: on the strategy side Microsoft is showing it is serious with investing heavily into IoT, and on the product side it’s a key step to get into the operating system code of the popular RTOS,” Mueller told TechCrunch.

The beauty of Express Logic’s approach is that it can work in low-power and low-resource environments and offers a proven solution for a range or products. “Manufacturers building products across a range of categories — from low-capacity sensors like lightbulbs and temperature gauges to air conditioners, medical devices and network appliances — leverage the size, safety and security benefits of Express Logic solutions to achieve faster time to market,” George wrote.

Writing in a blog post to his customers announcing the deal, Express Logic CEO William E. Lamie, expressed optimism that the company can grow even further as part of the Microsoft family. “Effective immediately, our ThreadX RTOS and supporting software technology, as well as our talented engineering staff join Microsoft. This complements Microsoft’s existing premier security offering in the microcontroller space,” he wrote.

Microsoft is getting an established company with a proven product that can help it scale its Azure IoT business. The acquisition is part of a $5 billion investment in IoT the company announced last April that includes a number of Azure pieces, such as Azure Sphere, Azure Digital Twins, Azure IoT Edge, Azure Maps and Azure IoT Central.

“With this acquisition, we will unlock access to billions of new connected endpoints, grow the number of devices that can seamlessly connect to Azure and enable new intelligent capabilities. Express Logic’s ThreadX RTOS joins Microsoft’s growing support for IoT devices and is complementary with Azure Sphere, our premier security offering in the microcontroller space,” George wrote.

Jan
17
2019
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IBM and Vodafone form cloud, 5G and AI business venture and ink $550M service deal

IBM is one of the world’s biggest system integrators, but to get closer to where enterprises are actually doing their work, it’s been inking partnerships with companies that build devices and run the networks enterprises are using for their IT, and today comes the latest development on that front.

IBM is announcing a new venture with mobile carrier Vodafone, in a deal that will comes in two parts. First, IBM will supply Vodafone’s B2B unit Vodafone Business with managed services in the areas of cloud and hosting. And second, the two will together work on building and delivering solutions in areas like AI, cloud, 5G, IoT and software defined networking to enterprise customers.

The latter part of the deal appears to be a classic JV that will see both sides bringing something to the table — employees from both companies will be moving into a separate office together very soon that will essentially be “neutral” territory. The former part, meanwhile, will see Vodafone paying IBM some $550 million in an eight-year agreement.

That price tag alone is a strong indicator that this deal is a big one for both companies.

The agreement follows along the lines of what IBM inked with Apple several years ago, where the two would work together to develop enterprise solutions that would have been more challenging to do on their own.

Indeed, while IBM does provide systems integration services, it hasn’t moved as deeply into mobile-specific solutions for businesses, even as its other operational units — doing research and other work in AI, cloud, quantum computing and other areas — are making strong headway on specific projects, some of which involve mobile technology. Now that it’s nearly in full possession of RedHat — which it is in the process of buying for $34 billion, a deal that’s now received the approval of RedHat’s shareholders — it will also have open source cloud computing to add to that.

What the Vodafone deal will tap is taking more of those cutting-edge developments that IBM has built and worked on in specific projects, and productise them for a wider audience of businesses and other organisations, which might already be Vodafone customers.

“To deliver multi-cloud strategies in the real world, enterprises need to invest at many levels, ranging from cloud connectivity to cloud governance and management. This new venture between Vodafone and IBM addresses the ‘full stack’ of real-world multi-cloud concerns with a powerful combination of capabilities that should enable customers to deliver multi-cloud strategies in all layers of their organizations,” noted Carla Arend, senior program director for European software at IDC.

The Apple / IBM deal is more than instructive in this case; it will help fuel this new venture. From what I understand, several fruits of that labor will be making their way into the IBM / Vodafone deal, too, which makes sense, considering Vodafone’s position as a mobile carrier and the iPhone making some strong headway into the business market.

“IBM has built industry-leading hybrid cloud, AI and security capabilities underpinned by deep industry expertise,” said IBM Chairman, President and CEO Ginni Rometty in a statement. “Together, IBM and Vodafone will use the power of the hybrid cloud to securely integrate critical business applications, driving business innovation – from agriculture to next- generation retail.”

“Vodafone has successfully established its cloud business to help our customers succeed in a digital world,” said Vodafone CEO Nick Read, in the statement. “This strategic venture with IBM allows us to focus on our strengths in fixed and mobile technologies, whilst leveraging IBM’s expertise in multicloud, AI and services. Through this new venture we’ll accelerate our growth and deepen engagement with our customers while driving radical simplification and efficiency in our business.”

I’ve been told that the first joint “customer engagements” are already happening with an unnamed energy company. Thinking about what kinds of services Vodafone may be providing to end users today — they will cover mobile data and voice connectivity, mobile broadband, IoT and 5G services — this first deal will involve tapping all four, with an emphasis on 5G and IoT.

Oct
18
2018
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Twilio launches a new SIM card and narrowband dev kit for IoT developers

Twilio is hosting its Signal developer conference in San Francisco this week. Yesterday was all about bots and taking payments over the phone; today is all about IoT. The company is launching two new (but related) products today that will make it easier for IoT developers to connect their devices. The first is the Global Super SIM that offers global connectivity management through the networks of Twilio’s partners. The second is Twilio Narrowband, which, in cooperation with T-Mobile, offers a full software and hardware kit for building low-bandwidth IoT solutions and the narrowband network to connect them.

Twilio also announced that it is expanding its wireless network partnerships with the addition of Singtel, Telefonica and Three Group. Unsurprisingly, those are also the partners that make the company’s Super SIM project possible.

The Super SIM, which is currently in private preview and will launch in public beta in the spring of 2019, provides developers with a global network that lets them deploy and manage their IoT devices anywhere (assuming there is a cell connection or other internet connectivity, of course). The Super SIM gives developers the ability to choose the network they want to use or to let Twilio pick the defaults based on the local networks.

Twilio Narrowband is a slightly different solution. Its focus right now is on the U.S., where T-Mobile rolled out its Narrowband IoT network earlier this year. As the name implies, this is about connecting low-bandwidth devices that only need to send out small data packets like timestamps, GPS coordinates or status updates. Twilio Narrowband sits on top of this, using Twilio’s Programmable Wireless and SIM card. It then adds an IoT developer kit with an Arduino-based development board and the standard Grove sensors on top of that, as well as a T-Mobile-certified hardware module for connecting to the narrowband network. To program that all, Twilio is launching an SDK for handling network registrations and optimizing the communication between the devices and the cloud.

The narrowband service will launch as a beta in early 2019 and offer three pricing plans: a developer plan for $2/month, an annual production plan for $10/year or $5/year at scale, and a five-year plan for $8/year or $4/year at scale.

Aug
02
2018
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Arm acquires data management service Treasure Data to bolster its IoT platform

Arm, the semiconductor firm you probably still remember as ARM, today announced that it has acquired Treasure Data, a data management platform for large enterprise customers. The companies didn’t announce the financial details of the transaction, but earlier reporting by Bloomberg pegged the price at $600 million.

This move strengthens Arm’s IoT nascent play, given that Treasure Data’s specialty is dealing with the large streams of data that these systems produce (as well as data from CRM, e-commerce systems and other third-party services).

This move follows Arm’s recent acquisition of Stream and indeed, the company calls the acquisition of Treasure Data “the final piece” of its “IoT enablement puzzle.” The result of this completed puzzle is the Arm Pelion IoT Platform, which combines Stream, Treasure Data and the existing Arm Mbed Cloud into a single solution for connecting and managing IoT devices and the data they produce.

Arm says Treasure Data will continue to operate as before and continue to serve new clients as well as its existing users. “It will remain an important part of industry IoT enablement, providing the ability to harness new, complex edge and device data within a comprehensive customer profile to personalize their products and improve their experiences,” the company says.

Feb
21
2018
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Google’s Cloud IoT Core is now generally available

 Cloud IoT Core, Google’s fully managed service for connecting, managing and ingesting data from IoT devices, is now out of beta and generally available. Google envisions the service, which launched in public beta last September, as the first entry point for IoT data into its cloud. Once the data has been ingested, users can use Cloud IoT Core to push data to Google’s cloud… Read More

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