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Start-up - Cryptosense

Patrick Philipon - Technoscope - 31/07/2013

Interview with Graham Steel

A virtual hacker, much quicker, more persistent and more methodical than real-life ones: that is what Cryptosense is proposing for the security testing of data encryption systems. Once an aircraft manufacturer and a bank had expressed interest in the product, the adventure could begin in earnest. Graham Steel, the company's Chairman, tells us its story. 


What was your background before coming to Inria?

I studied mathematics at Cambridge - quite different from what I do now - then did a PhD in computer science at Edinburgh. After that, I did a number of post-docs in Italy and Germany. I arrived in France in 2007 and was recruited by Inria Saclay in 2008. In 2012, I joined the Prosecco team at Rocquencourt, which analyses cryptography software security.

The impetus for the project came from an external order. What was it? And why you?

In 2010, we presented a paper at an international conference and a big aircraft manufacturer approached us for a copy of the software! That was the first contract and it was still a prototype at that stage. A major London bank also started using the prototype.

In fact, every company that uses cryptography to protect their sensitive data needs to check the solidity of their codes. To do this, they hire testers (sometimes hackers) who try to infiltrate their system "manually". Our system does this job systematically and automatically. No-one else in the world has such technology, and part of the algorithm is patented. That is why the aircraft manufacturer and the bank came to see us...

Why did you decide to create this start-up and what kind of support did you receive?

Following these requests from potential customers, the CSATT (the Inria Information Technology Department's Technology Transfer Action Monitoring Committee) gave us some money to conduct market research and funded an engineer for two years to develop the technology. We looked at all the options. At the start, I was thinking about going into a partnership with an entrepreneur, with me involved as a scientific advisor while staying at Inria. But little by little, I realised that I wanted to do it myself! It's much more interesting that way... I took the Challenge Plus course at HEC business school in 2012, which really helped me to put together my submission for the Ministry of Higher Education and Research competition.

How is the company coming along?

Since late April 2013, we have been based at the Agoranov incubator, which follows our progress. It is very interesting to be able to compare experiences with people who are further ahead than us in the creation process. The company will officially be created in September (once a few administrative issues such as my availability have been sorted out) by Riccardo Focardi, a professor from Venice, Romain Bardou, the engineer who took part in the development process, and me. Initially, we wanted to call ourselves Tookan, like the software, but there is already a company with that name. So instead we will be called Cryptosense, and the product will be sold under the name Cryptosense Analyser. Version 1.0 is already ready, and we are hoping to sign our first contracts in September, with the aircraft manufacturer and the London bank. Two national computer security agencies also use our tool, which has become a real point of reference.

Keywords: Graham Steel Cryptography Start-up System and software security