Howard County cybersecurity startup EnVeil recently landed second prize out of a field of more than 300 entrants in the highly competitive RSA Conference Innovation Sandbox Contest.
EnVeil, the youngest company ever to make it into the Sandbox, was recognized for its homomorphic encryption software. Homomorphic encryption allows complex mathematical operations to be performed on encrypted data, without compromising the encryption.
Homomorphic (meaning “same structure”) describes the transformation of one data set into another, while preserving relationships between elements in both sets. In the business world, homomorphic encryption is expected to play an important part in cloud computing, allowing companies to safely store encrypted data in a public cloud.
The Sandbox Contest, which recognizes innovative startups, is dedicated to encouraging the exploration of new technologies that have the potential to transform the information security industry.
RSA stands for Rivest, Shamir and Edelman, inventors of a public-key encryption technology. Founded in 1991 as a small cryptography conference, the RSA Conference is now a series of information technology security conferences held all over the world. Some 45,000 people attend one of the conferences each year.
Six-month-old EnVeil is based in Maple Lawn with DataTribe, a self-described “startup crucible,” that supports emerging tech companies with incubation space and business operation expertise.
DataTribe encouraged EnVeil (short for “encrypted veil”) to enter the Sandbox Contest, said Ellison Anne Williams, founder and CEO of EnVeil.
Williams said homomorphic encryption is becoming increasingly important for businesses in many sectors. “It means you can operate securely with your data out in the cloud,” she said. “Say you are doing acquisition research on a company you are wishing to acquire. Even the knowledge that the company is about to be acquired can start moving the markets.”
Using homomorphic encryption, users can start doing that research out of their boundaries, but still keep that research secure. Enterprises can operate on data — meaning query or analytics — without revealing the content of the interaction, the results or the data itself.
EnVeil, through what Williams describes as “groundbreaking algorithms,” has solved a problem the industry has been trying to solve for two decades. EnVeil’s solution, the subject of many computer science research efforts, is known as “the holy grail of encrypting,” because it occurs on such a large scale.
Prior to forming EnVeil, Williams and her team worked together at The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and the National Security Agency. “I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” she said, “I jumped at it.”
EnVeil is focused on expanding with a particular focus on serving the financial services sector. While the firm will eventually move out of DataTribe’s space, Williams said she plans to keep the headquarters in Howard County.
Mike Janke, cofounder of DataTribe, said he has seen hundreds of startups every year.
”Every founder wants to believe their technology is ‘disruptive’ in some way. EnVeil is one of those ‘once every 10 years,’ truly game-changing breakthroughs that literally changes the way everyone interacts with data securely. We could put our most sensitive data into the Chinese military cloud and feel safe that only the EnVeil user could access it.”
The RSA Conference identified EnVeil as the first scalable commercial solution for securing data in use.
“This year’s submissions for the Innovation Sandbox Contest represented an incredibly competitive group,” said Sandra Toms, vice president at RSA and curator of the RSA Conference.
“It’s inspiring each year to see the strength in submissions as it demonstrates how cybersecurity professionals are collaborating to present innovative solutions to help businesses protect themselves. As enterprises continue to look to RSA Conference as an indicator of the industry’s progress and next steps, we are thrilled to be able to provide these finalists an opportunity to showcase their product to both potential customers and the cybersecurity community.”
The contest winner was San-Francisco-based UnifyID, a company that specializes in holistic implicit authentication platforms designed for online and offline use. In non-technical terms, this kind of technology allows devices to recognize users from the way they walk, how they sit, the way their hearts beat or the way they type.
Local and state policymakers took note of EnVeil’s award.
“EnVeil is an outstanding example of the ideas, technologies and expertise that entrepreneurs are bringing to the commercial sector from federal agencies in Maryland,” said Maryland Commerce Secretary Mike Gill.
“The company’s success in RSA Conference’s Innovation Sandbox, coming just five months after its founding, marked the fifth time in the 12-year history of the competition that Maryland was represented in the finals,” said Gill. “We’re very proud of EnVeil, and of our state’s prowess in protecting the nation’s data.”