AiThority Interview Series With David Sikora, Chief Executive Officer at ALTR
Tell us about your journey into Blockchain and related technologies? What made you launch ALTR?
I’ve been fortunate to have been around the technology business since the early 1980’s, and I consider Blockchain to be my “Fourth Revolution” to have experienced. The first being the IBM PC, having started a PC clone and networking company in 1983; the second being the World Wide Web and Internet, having done the first Internet software IPO in the State of Texas in 1995, and the third being Mobility when in 2007 I started a mobile application development platform fully 18 months before the iPhone.
So I’ve always been attracted to new technologies that have the potential to disrupt current systems and methods. Blockchain-powered use cases squarely fit this definition.
The ALTR platform was conceived from a real business problem almost 5 years ago: Chain of custody of enterprise data in a highly transactional financial services environment.
Cybercrime related to data represents one of the most destructive forces we face over the next few decades, and we’re here to help.
Effectively, the founding team determined that the current “cybersecurity industrial complex” was unable to safely protect digital assets and even worse provide for a framework that can produce “digital truth”. So they began the development of a new software model that applied the elegance of the blockchain architecture to the challenge of producing “Digital Truth”.
I first saw the ALTR technology in late 2016 and my first thought was “if this could really work at scale, then it has the potential to change the data security world”. Even further it has the potential to radically change how data is secured across an almost unlimited number of industries and use cases.
I immediately became an Angel Investor and Advisor, and recently accepted to become the CEO and launch the core ALTR platform.
So after four-plus years of research and development and 13 issued blockchain patents, we launched ALTR launched on June 6. Our product is incredibly mature, our go-to-market team is growing, we raised $15 million in a Series A, and now we are on a mission to restore digital trust to the enterprise.
What are the foundational tenets of Blockchain-based security platform?
When ALTR’s founders sat down and planned out what the solutions to all of their data security problems would look like, there were there central tenets, three essential components, that they designed.
The first is that in order to protect data, you need a really good vault. This is described as “at rest” protection for data as it sits in a database, in cybersecurity parlance.
Existing solutions like encryption and tokenization are fragile in that there are keys to steal, and they exact a high cost on the performance and usability of data when they are implemented widely in an enterprise, which is why they still aren’t.
ALTR launched Protect, a product that deploys via Smart Database Driver and tokenizes sensitive data inside of the existing database, but then breaks that data into fragments and distributes those fragments in a self-describing chain across a private, permissioned blockchain. This renders access to a blockchain node meaningless, and with no map to steal it is highly secure.
The latency impact is minimal, and there is a negligible functional impact.
The second is you need a valve – that is, a way to slow down or stop the flow of data to applications in real time. ALTR’s Govern product deploys in-line between those who want data and the data itself, and enforce permissions and thresholds on data usage that shuts down any abnormal data consumption – in real-time.
Finally, you need a view. This means shared visibility from the Board of Directors through to the CEO and over to IT on who is consuming data and why. This view has to be trusted, in that it has to be audited and tamper-proof. This is where blockchain again saves the day.
ALTR’s Monitor product provide this immutable view of all data access – who asked for data and what they got back.
A vault, a valve, and a view – the combination is new paradigm on protecting data, and reduces risk to data significantly, in many cases down to near zero.
What does your ‘Ideal Customer’ Profile look like? Which new geographies are you currently targeting?
Our Ideal Customer stores sensitive data and has to put that data to use on a daily basis. The industry verticals with the high amount of sensitive data are good places to start – financial services, healthcare, government, and so on. But even outside of large highly regulated swaths of consumer data, most companies have sensitive information – IP, operational data, emails – that would be highly destructive if compromised.
We find that companies who are at a moment of truth, the ones who are experiencing the pain which led to the founding of ALTR, are the Ideal Customers.
These companies are often contemplating or are in the middle of a digital transformation – a cloud migration where they are about to lose direct control over applications and data, a mobility initiative that brings a whole new junction box of data pathways online through untrusted networks and devices.
On the other side, often these companies have aging legacy applications and a security consultant telling them they have hundreds of thousands of vulnerabilities and patching their way to a reasonable data security posture is increasingly unrealistic.
We’ve had customers in that situation call ALTR “the ultimate failsafe”, and our extremely low-impact (a simple driver wrapper) installation process is very attractive for legacy apps where the source code and database haven’t been touched in 10 years.
In terms of geographies, having just launched in the United States we are focusing most of our energy there. We continue to be pulled into discussions that are global in scale, however.
Cybersecurity spending is growing by 20% year over year, but the frequency and severity of data breaches are growing dramatically too. People are looking for new approaches, and we have one.
How could B2B tech companies and ecommerce brands benefit from ALTR?
We have a lot of conversations and are on the cusp of some large deals in these areas.
Our technology is highly flexible and deep in the stack, meaning it is attractive to technology companies who focus on verticals with sensitive data as a way to make their software bulletproof. They can easily roll us in without needing to modify source-code and move ahead of their competitors in the eyes of an increasingly nervous customer base.
Ecommerce brands are similar, although other than the large ones they tend to have technology dependencies of their own, and it is typically by talking to their vendors that we make the most headway in protecting what is typically a large store of customer personal information.
How do you make blockchain deliver economic benefits, as well as social goodwill?
As you’ve probably gotten by now, blockchain is fundamental to both protecting data and the chain of custody around data in the ALTR platform. The economic value of this is clear.
According to the Ponemon Institute, and there are many others who have studied this, the cost of a breach can be measured in the hundreds of dollars (or Euros) per record that is compromised. These costs are both direct, in remediation, and indirect, in reputational damage and customer churn.
The basic economic exposure of an enterprise to breach is the number of these records that they hold times the cost if they are breached. This number can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. If you consider that the likelihood of a network breach over the next 3 years for any enterprise is close to 100%, then it becomes a matter of limiting what a bad actor can do once they are on the inside.
ALTR takes the attack surface of data activity and makes it visible to management, then chokes of permissioned access that tries to grab in appropriate quantities of data and obfuscates data to non-permissioned access. We seek to nullify the insider threat and take that economic exposure close to zero.
In terms of social goodwill, when it comes to our increasingly digital lives, we are all in this data protection thing together. It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t been impacted by a large corporate breach or had data stolen from them in some other way.
Cybercrime related to data represents one of the most destructive forces we face over the next few decades, and we’re here to help.
Tell us about your Blockchain research programs and the most outstanding campaigns at ALTR, or elsewhere.
Our blockchain technology (ALTRchain) is proprietary and optimized for ultra-low-latency reading and writing of all data types. That means not only alphanumeric data, but documents, images, video can be written and read out of our blockchains at application speed.
It is also infrastructure agnostic and fully described by infrastructure as code, and can be deployed on-premise or in any cloud, public or private. It is designed to allow enterprises to create own high- performance private, permissioned blockchain networks where they determine the location of the nodes.
How do you plan to make blockchain security more accessible to local communities? What are the major challenges to the adoption of blockchain?
We have opened up access to our proprietary blockchain via our ChainAPI, which equips developers with the means of adding ALTRchain to any application. We like the idea of giving any innovative, motivated team access to high-quality private blockchain technology and having them benefit from our years of research.
Talking about the challenges regarding the adoption of blockchain is like talking about the challenges related to adopting relational databases, or adopting the Internet.
We see it as a fundamental design pattern for data, and as such it will be adopted when it’s applied to a real problem that people are having that it serves uniquely. We feel like we’ve done that, and it definitely separates us from many others who are just looking for something at which to aim their blockchain.
What AI or blockchain start-ups and labs are you keenly following?
I’m following all things related to Blockchain. However, there are interesting parallels to the internet back in 1995, when the World Wide Web was introduced by Mosaic and Spyglass. The world conflated the Web with the Internet, when really the Web was just one application that took advantage of the Internet. Similarly, the world is mostly conflating Crypto-currency, more specifically Bitcoin and Ethereum, with Blockchain.
Crypto currencies are just one application of Blockchain, and when the world wakes up to the potential use cases for both consumers and organizations I expect we will see a significant acceleration of real world solutions utilizing derivatives of the technology.
What technologies within AI or blockchain and computing are you interested in?
I’m particularly interested in ways that Blockchain can be used to support use cases beyond crypto-currencies. There are three pre-conditions that enable Blockchain to work at scale: raw processing power, large bandwidth pipes and inexpensive storage.
As all three conditions accelerate, it will expand the capacity of distributed solutions to evolve. Many of these use cases have the potential to transform entire industries, even societies.
Which industries you think would be fastest at adopting blockchain with smooth efficiency? What are the new emerging markets for blockchain technology?
We subscribe to the view that all industries have their early adopters, fast followers, pragmatics, and laggards. We are partnering with innovation-minded people in all industries, even the ones that might be regarded as the most traditionally conservative.
It’s likely that these more conservative industry sectors correlate with the sectors that have the most to gain from working with us, and that brings them to the table as quickly as their peers in less conservative industries.
What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?
This is easy – because I’m extremely busy, I find it very difficult to do two things:
- stay in shape
- read books.
So when I run, usually 4-5 days/week, I use Audible to listen to books. It’s a great multi-task, truly killing two birds with one stone!
Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:
Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft
Thank you, David! That was fun and hope to see you back on AiThority soon.
Previous CEO of 2 public and 5 private, venture capital backed software companies and have held board director positions with 4 public companies. I also executed the first Internet Software IPO in the State of Texas in 1995 and sold the company 2.5 years later for 4X our IPO value. Collectively my companies have raised over $100M in venture capital and have experienced exits and value creation events of almost $1B. Most recently, the company I founded built the first mobile e-commerce storefronts for over 50 world recognized brands, including Home Depot, Bed Bath Beyond, Godiva, UnderArmour, UGG, 1800Flowers, and many others. Geographically, I’ve directly managed teams throughout Europe and Asia and in addition to multiple M & A transactions in the US have made direct corporate acquisitions in Canada and China.
ALTR is the first company to make the powerful security benefits of blockchain real for the enterprise. Built on a deep patent portfolio, the ALTR platform uses proprietary high-performance blockchain technology to transform the way that valuable data is monitored, accessed, and stored – with zero impact to current network infrastructure and application function. As data protection and visibility into access increase dramatically, digital trust is restored between corporate, line of business, and IT stakeholders. The attack surface for data is reduced to nearly zero. Organizations with ALTR can turn their focus and resources back to where they belong: on building great businesses.