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SMART@FIRE final conference

The EU-funded SMART@FIRE project will host its final conference in Brussels, Belgium, from 14 to 15 December 2016.

More than two million dollars to rethink cybersecurity

28.07.16 - Cyberhaven is developing a new concept for information security. The EPFL spin-off is opening its second office in Boston and has raised more than 2 million dollars in venture capital.

Is antivirus software already dead? That’s certainly what George Candea believes, and he’s not the only computer security expert who says so. “Large enterprises and government agencies often deploy antivirus software to satisfy legal obligations or to meet contractual requirements, not because they really believe that the software can defend them,” says George Candea. Together with some of his former PhD students, the EPFL professor founded Cyberhaven, a startup that is developing a brand new approach to computer security. And their results are promising. In a third party test, their solution warded off all 144 cyber attacks that had been hand-crafted by professional penetration testers, whereas security products so-called heuristic modern caught just over 20 of them. As for the best classic antivirus software tested, it only caught one. “I think it just got lucky!,” muses the researcher.

Since it was founded in early 2015, Cyberhaven has had revenues of 640,000 dollars. This is encouraging for such a young company, and it enabled them to raise more than two million dollars in a first round of financing from Accomplice, one of the most active early-stage venture capital firms on the US East Coast. Cyberhaven will use the funds to set up its office in Boston and fuel the growth of its R&D team in Switzerland, at the EPFL Innovation Park.

Cyberhaven’s solution is marketed mainly to enterprises and government agencies, which are all targets of sophisticated cyber attacks. Cyber criminals develop targeted malware that is unique to each of their attack campaigns. As a result, most of today’s security products are not effective against such new attacks. So organizations try to have defense perimeters within defense perimeters to build up so-called “defense in depth". “Information security officers eventually reach the point where their infrastructure is so complex that they simply cannot manage it anymore,” says George Candea.

Defending “data in operation” against attack
The team of EPFL researchers developed a completely novel approach to defend sensitive documents against cyber attacks in a way that significantly simplifies an organization’s security infrastructure. The approach complements what is perhaps the most effective security tool today, namely encryption – available in a wide variety of programs we use daily, including Microsoft Office.

Alas, encrypting documents is not enough to safeguard them. When opening an encrypted file, such as a text document, the application must first decrypt it in order to operate on it. As a result, the document’s data is "in the clear". By exploiting vulnerabilities in applications like the Word text editor, malware hijacks them and steals all the documents that the application can access and decrypt. This is a real Achilles’ heel of enterprise security, and encryption cannot solve it.

Cyberhaven’s solution safeguards sensitive documents together with the relevant applications in a safe haven. “Only documents that are safe for these applications can enter the safe haven, and that also protects the integrity of the applications. Our defense technology is based on deep application analysis and has nothing to do with heuristics-based solutions that try to guess malicious behavior. We literally analyze every instruction, we never guess.” Developing the technology took seven years of research at EPFL and is protected by four EPFL patents that have been licensed to Cyberhaven.

Neutralize malware instead of trying to keep it out
Unlike traditional defense techniques, Cyberhaven does not aim to keep all malware out of the enterprise but instead prevents it from acting. “Instead of building a fortress with many weak walls, we protect individual workflows that correspond to users’ activities, such as the preparation of a quarterly financial report or the negotiation of a new inter-governmental agreement. By combining document encryption with Cyberhaven, it will no longer be necessary to use dozens of different security products to protect yourself; this will make your security infrastructure simpler and stronger.”

“Expanding into the USA enables us to continue growing in Switzerland”
According to George Candea, fundamental academic research with novel perspectives is required to solve today’s computer security problems. “Sometimes the industry can be stuck in a rut, so I believe it is up to researchers to rethink the problems from the ground up and come up with solutions.” And, to fulfill their mission, this team of researchers is taking the execution of their vision in their own hands: Cyberhaven’s leadership is entirely composed of former PhD students from George Candea’s lab at EPFL.

Cyberhaven now has eight full-time employees in Switzerland. One of the co-founders, Vova Kuznetsov, has taken over the reins and is setting up the company’s headquarters in Boston. “Switzerland has exceptional talent and quality infrastructure, but it is also a small market. By expanding into the US, we make it possible to grow our R&D in Switzerland, explains George Candea. And the US is not just a huge market, it is also an opportunity to compete with the very best, and that pushes us to become better.”


Cyberhaven leadership: Dr. Vova Kuznetsov, CEO / Dr. George Candea, Chairman / Dr. Cristian Zamfir, COO / Dr. Radu Banabic, VP of Engineering / Dr. Vitaly Chipounov, Chief Architect


EPFL news
LIVEWHAT final conference

The EU-funded LIVEWHAT project will host its final conference in Geneva, Switzerland, from 17 to 18 November 2016.

Objects that sculpt light

27.07.16 - Researchers at EPFL have found a way to make images by controlling the reflections that are produced when light passes through a transparent object. This technology is now being marketed by the startup Rayform.

When light shines on a plain, polished metal medallion, Vermeer's famous painting "Girl with a Pearl Earring" appears on a nearby wall; instead of abstract reflections, a bottle forms the Rayform logo; and lifting up a whiskey glass reveals the brand's name on the tabletop. But none of these objects have been inlayed or imprinted in any way.

It may seem like magic, but there is pure science behind this invention. The technology makes it possible to produce surprisingly clear and complex images on surrounding walls by illuminating transparent or reflective objects. It was developed at EPFL's Computer Graphics and Geometry Laboratory, and a startup has been created as a result.

Called Rayform, the startup offers its services primarily to manufacturers of luxury goods like watches, jewelry, perfume and spirits, as well as for preventing counterfeit products. The technology can be used with a wide range of materials, including metals like gold and aluminum, transparent plastics, glass and certain crystals such as sapphire. "We are currently working with a number of top brands," reveals Romain Testuz, CEO of Rayform. "Several of them are, for instance, interested in making limited editions."

The technology being marketed by Rayform is based on an optical effect known as "caustics." This is the technical term for a phenomenon with which we are all familiar. It occurs, for instance, when sunlight reflects off the surface of water producing ripples of light on the surrounding tiles or walls. These lines, which appear to be moving at random, are caused by the light hitting a puddle or a pool. When a liquid is involved, these reflections appear to move. But with smooth materials – like glass, Plexiglas and polished metals – a static version of the same effect is produced.

Taming light

Researchers at EPFL have now invented a series of algorithms to control these caustic effects, which occur when light interacts with a transparent or reflective surface like water, glass or metal. They have developed software that can accurately calculate the 3D surface needed to direct the light to specific points in order to create the desired image.

"We calculate the distortions we need to make to the surface based on the image’s complexity and the surface type. We then license a 3D file to our client, which they can use to manufacture the product in question," explains Romain Testuz. Going forward, the startup, which currently has a staff of three, plans to further refine the algorithms and apply the technology to other materials.

EPFL news
ACCOMPLISSH project conference

The EU-funded ACCOMPLISSH project will be hosting a three-day conference in Rome, Italy, from 20 to 22 November 2016.

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