Cybersecurity / Technology

OptioLabs is about keeping data safe — be it from mobile malware or office eavesdroppers

Are you supposed to be reading this? The Camden Yards company wants to make sure.

PrivateEye, an OptioLabs product, keeps green-shirted hoverers at bay. (Screenshot via YouTube)

Cybersecurity usually deals with protecting what’s happening inside a computer. For OptioLabs, however, the idea of keeping data from getting loose is a little more tangible.
The Camden Yards-based company’s products draw protection based on whether a screen was left open, or a specific app on an Android phone is being attacked.
“It’s almost like using a surgical scalpel to get to a disease,” said CEO Gregg Smith. “That’s the type of fidelity we have with this, which is really important to some of our customers.”
Following a $10 million Series A funding round in 2014, the company, which is a subsidiary of Allied Minds, has added nine executives. Smith last led Bethesda-based KoolSpan. CTO Bryan Glancey was a security executive at Samsung. Bill Anderson came on in the acquisition of his former company, Oculis Labs. The company also added Deon Maez and Patrick Geritz to expand its customer base in December.
For now, the still-growing company has three main focus areas: products that protect against desktop eavesdroppers and Android malware, and a services team that can perform testing and assessments for companies. The company’s products focus on enterprise businesses, and leaders see financial, healthcare and pharmaceutical companies as target areas for potential clients.
Here’s a bit more about each of the product areas:

1. Stopping Eavesdropping

Forget about the inside of your computer for a second; PrivateEye is concerned what’s happening on the screen itself.
Anderson, who began developing what is now PrivateEye 5.0 at Oculis Labs, said data is left exposed to eavesdroppers on the screen when a user walks way, whether it’s a monitor that’s in a public place like a hospital, or a worker at a coffee shop.
“We have these really beautiful high-fidelity monitors that broadcast data all day long,” he said. “What are we doing to get a better handle on where that data is going?”
Using a webcam, the system uses facial recognition to determine whether a person is an authorized user of the machine. If they’re not, the screen goes fuzzy. The screen can also be obscured after a set time that the monitor is idle.
The PrivateEye system also tracks if someone else tries to enter a computer via password. At base, such features also raise awareness, Anderson said. In industries that legally need to protect data like healthcare, he said “visual eavesdropping” is usually not even on managers’ radar. “If you don’t know about the problem, you can’t solve it,” Anderson said.
Asked about competitors, Anderson said the current industry standard is a plastic cover that obscures some of the info.
The tool is integrated into AMD’s Pro-A Series processor.

2. Mobile Malware

The company’s other product, called OptioCore, seeks to give companies control over what their employees are using on Android devices. Drawing on technology developed in the Virginia Tech lab of cofounders Drs. Jules White and Charles Clancy, the software works from within the Android operating system. The idea is to keep users from sending or receiving malicious data, or using apps that have already been hacked in ways that aren’t immediately obvious.
From outside the phone, OptioCore can cut off access to specific apps, such as if a company doesn’t want employees bringing data in over Facebook. If it’s a particularly untrustworthy app, Anderson demonstrated that the program can also cut off other phone functionalities, like the ability to send text messages. It can even throw off the location tracker.
OptioCore can also control those features of the phone individually. For instance, it could be programmed to only accept specific wireless connections, or print at certain stations, Anderson said. The program is also location-aware, so it can allow some of those features to be used outside the office.
The user will know they can’t get access to a certain app, but they won’t necessarily see it happening, Smith said.
“An end user might never know he has OptioCore on his phone,” Smith said.
In the fall, the technology was integrated into rugged mobile-phone maker Sonim Technologies’ XP7 headset.

3. Services

Even with the buzz around cybersecurity, OptioLabs execs realize companies still aren’t always aware of their threats. To that end, the company just rolled out a division called OptioServices.
The seven-person team, which is led by newly-hired VP Christina Wiegand Majernik, will look to identify threats by testing networks, IoT and company mobile apps. The team, which launched this month, will also help implement 20 security controls that are recommended by the Center for Internet Security.

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