Startup Spotlight: Meeting Belfast security firm SaltDNA

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  • It may be in its youth, but the team at SaltDNA in Belfast continue to race along an upward trajectory beyond their years.

    A group of tech-savvy entrepreneurs with a shared penchant for cybersecurity, network optimisation and mobile app development, SaltDNA came together in 2013 with a simple concept: make our conversations secure. Four years and multiple awards later, Sync NI met with SaltDNA to talk security, software and success.

    What if malicious web users could view our communications, our negotiations and our most confidential conversations? SaltDNA claim to have presented a solution to that threat – and by observing the cyber start-up company’s thriving success, we certainly believe them. “With the attention given to cybersecurity following numerous events over the course of the past year, things have really ramped up for us,” says John Bailie, Marketing Manager at SaltDNA. Although the app has attracted significant popularity in the legal sector, it is receiving attention from all quarters: “we are growing - we are seeing opportunities in the oil and gas, large enterprises, security services, government, financial and insurance services, as well as entertainment and sport”. With this app, the clue is in the name: ‘DNA’ stands for ‘Digital Network Armour’. The “Salt”, however, came from the Network and Cryptography library, which is NaCl - the chemical equation for salt. Hence - “SaltDNA”.

    Available for download for iOS, Android and Desktop, SaltDNA gives clients access to their own private mobile enterprise communications service. Many large privacy-focused industries feel that their communications are increasingly under attack and see threatened workers turning to encrypted consumer apps. “Lots of consumer messaging apps claim end-to-end encryption. However, privacy experts will tell you that encryption alone does not necessarily make communications secure, controlled or compliant”, says Richard Wilson, from SaltDNA’s Marketing team. “SaltDNA gives our customers full control over the whole communications system from no-metadata for lawyer-client privilege protection to full-record-retention for large oil and gas companies wishing to track secure communications history for compliance reasons.”

    The app itself offers a neat “burn” functionality, which allows users to effectively “purge” information - not only from their device, but from all recipients’ devices too. This means sensitive information can be removed from every device globally, by any user in a conversation. This function is supported by a global “auto-burn” feature, which erases information and data from all concerned devices within a set time period – even if said devices are oceans apart. Such features provide an indication as to why the application is attracting such popularity in the legal sector.

    “Legal firms conduct a considerable percentage of their business over the phone and through email exchanges. Our group chat and file attachment capabilities remove a huge amount of unnecessarily sensitive emails being sent and consequently hanging about on insecure servers for years. Our system allows normal business to continue over any network or from any location without the risk of a company’s most sensitive matters being intercepted by an unscrupulous competitor or corrupt nation state. In this sector, privacy and confidentiality are key”, says John.

    “We have learnt a great deal by being part of Mishcon de Reya’s, MDR Lab programme, which allows us to connect with the world’s leading law firms and get feedback on our product. There’s a lot we are doing to make our solution the clear market leader in the legal industry”. SaltDNA initially developed the solution’s closed network capabilities for a small group of high profile lawyers. “It’s perfect for lawyers – you can use SaltDNA as a lawyer to client hotline”.

    All of the features boasted by SaltDNA offer a high-grade encryption service, from off-the-record conversations, to file attachment and image transfer. The app’s voice conferencing function, however, is key to the company’s success. Up to 15 participants can join in a single session, with the reassurance of end-to-end encryption and cross-regional security. According to SaltDNA, this is essential for business partners who communicate via different networks.

    Attributive to the success of SaltDNA is the experience and merits of its founders. Joe Boyle, CEO of the company, was to cut his teeth at Apion (which were bought by Phone.com [today Openwave] in 1999 for $200M), AePONA, Replify (the first company to virtualize WAN optimisation) before moving into a position as Director of Product Management at both Silver Peak Systems and Blue Coat Systems. Similarly, SaltDNA’s Chief Technology officer, Patrick Keehan, holds experience with Aepona, Replify and Blue Coat Systems.

    Indeed, one of the founders of the company, Kevin Donaghy, was to follow a similar path: WAN optimization, involvement with Replify and experience with Blue Coat systems all present a similar trend when it comes to the team at SaltDNA. Notably, SaltDNA’s Senior Security Advisors boast experience in co-founding ThreatStack, one of the first cloud security monitoring companies (not to mention years cyber experience with Yahoo, and the penning of material under the well-known “Kode Vicious” pseudonym. A formidable team is presented in the form of SaltDNA, and it’s funding by world-class venture capital firms are testament to that fact: the company has been supported by investor giants Accomplice (who’s other notable investments include PillPack, Hopper and Captricity) and Stonehammer (Komand).

    Sync NI’s conversation with SaltDNA comes at a time of exciting announcements from the company. Just last week, the company was to announce its position as the top secure enterprise communications company (ranked 244) within the CyberSecurity 500 list, which ranks the world’s most prominent technology and cybersecurity companies. “This continued recognition by a respected research group such as Cybersecurity Ventures is a fitting end to the company’s most successful two quarters ever,” said Joe Boyle, CEO at SaltDNA.

    SaltDNA’s top half ranking makes it the highest ranked Irish company in the Cybersecurity 500 list. This announcement comes only a few weeks after SaltDNA celebrated its four year anniversary, combined with the recent success of winning the ‘Innovative Business of the Year’ Award at the Business Eye First Trust Awards.

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