Ah, what a serene image. An associate just e-mailed you a picture of the sun setting over the horizon. Take a quick look and then hit delete, right? Wrong.
This particular picture actually contains the latest super-secret company financials. The data is hidden in the photo to keep unintended eyes from seeing the information. If you compare the properties of the image file that contains the encrypted data and the unaltered picture file, they will have the same name and file size.
The file was encrypted using technology from a Chagrin Falls company named Akoura Biometrics. Billa Bhandari, founder & CEO of Akoura, likens it to hiding a needle. Everyone knows that hiding a needle in a haystack is effective, but Bhandari suggests that with sufficient effort, the needle can be found. His approach is to hide the needle in a needlestack. Then the prying eyes have no clue which needle in the stack may contain the data they want to try and crack.
Akoura calls it security by obscurity. Itâ€™s a strong first line of defense because the bad guys donâ€™t even know which file (which needle in the needlestack) to try and attack. A hacker could be faced with thousands of normal-looking files on a disk and have no clue where to begin. In addition, Akouraâ€™s technology encrypts the data to a very secure degree by avoiding standard encryption sizes of 512 or so bits and using much longer (and hence more difficult to break) encryption keys in the 2,000- to 8,000-bit range.
Besides the storage of sensitive documents and their transmission via e-mail, consider this useful scenario. Many Web sites offer gigabytes of storage space for free. You can upload useful documents to the freebie sites and have them available wherever you are in the world. But would you really trust your important stuff stored out there?
With the heavy-duty encryption that Akoura provides coupled with the wrapper of a seemingly innocuous file (like the sunset photo) you can feel more secure keeping your important data on a public site for easy access.
Consumer versions will be easier to use with plug-ins for Microsoft apps like Word, but Akoura offers another component to the business enterprise – fingerprint (or other biometric) verification. So even if a hacker is able to determine which needle to choose and is somehow able to crack the industry leading encryption, they would still have to be verified by fingerprint to open the file.
They even plan for a situation where a good guy may go bad. A designated officer of a company can be fingerprint authenticated and the files can be encrypted so that two people must authenticate. So the data will stay with the corporation even if a member of the company tries to take it.
Bhandari said he moved his company to Cleveland because, â€œwithin a few months I met everybody I needed to know.â€ Also, the city is very accessible and the cost of operating is very low, he says. His biggest drawback has been finding local investors. Most of his are from outside Cleveland. Sound familiar?
Another Chagrin Falls company doing exciting things is Findaway World. You know how to synch up your iPod or other media player to your PC and grab content to listen to. But itâ€™s not a completely intuitive operation for everyone.
What if you could buy a two-ounce device, smaller than a deck of cards, that came preloaded with the content you wanted to listen to? You just plug any standard headphones into the device and start listening. No downloads, no synching, no CDs – just portable audio for the technically challenged.
Thatâ€™s the vision of Christopher Celeste and his partners, who came up with the idea for the Playaway, filed for its patent and started the company all in the last 12 months.
Celeste says the simplicity of the design – the technology is transparent – prevents the too-common scenario where the shiny new iPod sits on the table unused because a person canâ€™t figure out how to download titles. Pull out a tab to enable the battery, plug in the headphones and press play. Thatâ€™s it. Eight buttons and a small LCD screen allow you to change the volume and voice speed of the reader, skip around and set up to 50 bookmarks.
No matter how sleek (they used leading designer IDEO) or easy the device is, you have to have great content. Thatâ€™s why Celeste and his partners have been securing world-class content and authors – Dan Brown, Jack Welch, David McCullough, etc. – from Time Warner, Simon & Schuster and others.
Playaway should be on the shelves at Borders, Barnes & Noble and OfficeMax as you read this. Celeste said that it only took a five-minute meeting with the CEO of Borders to â€œfall in love with it.â€
The playtime is virtually unlimited because the storage is flash-based. The attractive package includes a lanyard to hang the unit around your neck. Celeste sees a future with Playaways being used for walking tours, in airports and libraries, for doctor diagnoses and more.
Celeste said they â€œleveraged Clevelandâ€ and that â€œevery step of the journey a Clevelander or Cleveland connection made it happen.â€
You may not consider security solutions like Akouraâ€™s or consumer goods like the Playaway as typical tech companies in Cleveland. But they are. Who would have thought a Cleveland company would operate the registry of one of the top level domains like .jobs? All three are non-traditional from a Cleveland perspective and all three are happy to be here to leverage what the region has to offer.
They should serve as a lesson for those saying you canâ€™t do cool tech outside of the coasts. Celeste says, â€œIf you can take three guys who never built anything in their life and create a world-class design consumer electronic product – you can do anything out of Cleveland, Ohio.â€ Thatâ€™s a challenge to us all. As they like to say, â€œJust Findaway!â€Entreprenerd Dan Hanson (firstname.lastname@example.org) will be adding Playaway titles to his Christmas list. And those pictures on his PC? Theyâ€™re really hidden data. Really.