A new Israeli approach to computer viruses – let the worms in!

Zak Dechovitch, the founder and managing director of tiny five-man start-up SecureOL, has a different approach to computer viruses, worms, and Trojan horses. Instead of fighting to keep them out, as everyone else is trying to do, he thinks we …

Zak Dechovitch, the founder and managing director of tiny five-man start-up SecureOL, has a different approach to computer viruses, worms, and Trojan horses. Instead of fighting to keep them out, as everyone else is trying to do, he thinks we should just let them come on in. Once inside, however, his company has developed a new technology that prevents them from doing any kind of damage.

 

 

SecureOL’s technology uses a new concept, ‘security by virtualization’, which not only contains virus attacks, but is also one of the first to protect users from intellectual property theft, cyber crime, and cyber terrorism. Each program runs on its own virtual computer along with its associated files. When viruses, worms or malicious codes attack, they think they are causing damage. In reality, however, they are isolated from the other programs in their own virtual environments, unable to cause harm to the PC or to any of the programs running on it.

“The technology creates a virtual computer for every program in the system,” 26-year-old Dechovitch told ISRAEL21c. “It doesn’t matter what is running, all that matters is that it is running by itself. It is as if each program is working on a clean computer and any damage, therefore, becomes irrelevant. The user is completely unaware of what is going on in the background. He works naturally as if he is on a normal computer. It also doesn’t matter how many times you get a virus, it’s just like rubbish on your hard drive, which you can delete easily when you feel like it.”

Dechovitch, a computer whiz-kid who was programming computers from the age of five, and who established the Computer Crime Unit of the Israel Defense Force, came up with the idea behind SecureOL at the end of 2000 with a friend, Yaron Mayer. The two men were contemplating the home computer market, and how so many users today still cannot recognize a virus or malicious code. “We realized that if we could make everything run alone, then the home user would no longer have to care if a program was bad or not,” says Dechovitch.

With this in mind, the two men set about developing the technology and by 2001, had already written their first patent, which is now pending. In November 2002, SecureOL was founded at the Mofet B’Yehuda technological incubator in Jerusalem with an investment of $300,000 from the Office of the Chief Scientist, and a further $100,000 the founders invested from their own pockets.

Today, the company has used its technology to create three products, two of which are still in development. The first product is the VE2, which was released in July and is now being marketed in Israel by IT service company DataSec. The product enables users to divide their computers into two unconnected virtual environments – one public, and one private. Company business is carried out in the secured private environment, and the other public virtual environment is used for surfing the Web, external e-mails, installing high risk software, and file sharing. The product is designed for the banking industry, healthcare, the government, and the military. VE2 does not try to stop malicious programs, but instead confines them to the public environment so that no internally sensitive information can be accessed, or damaged.

A split computer is by no means a new idea. Some years ago, Israeli company Voltaire created the 2 in 1 PC, a split screen product that failed to make an impact on the market. Dechovitch believes, however, that SecureOL will succeed because the VE2 can switch back and forth between the two environments with just a click of the mouse. Installation of the program takes just three minutes, he adds, and users only have to install one operating system per computer, rather than two. The price of the VE2 is also lower than former rivals.

Certainly, both the banking and healthcare industries are now under pressure to improve security dramatically, in the wake of new regulations. In England alone, banks have spent $250 million on security.

SecureOL has carried out a pilot at the Israeli Treasury and the Prime Minister’s office. “The government here loves the idea,” asserts Dechovitch.

The next product coming from the SecureOL pipeline, is VEHome, which is expected to hit the market in the first quarter of 2005. This product is geared for home-based users, educational institutions, or facilities where one PC is shared by multiple users. Using the technology, each user can create his own private computer through a virtual environment, while sharing the hardware with an unlimited number of people. If one person picks up a virus from the Internet and crashes their private environment, this will have no impact whatsoever on other users, whose private environments will remain unharmed by the attack.

Again installation is simple and quick, according to Dechovitch, and the technology can create an infinite number of different virtual computer environments.

In 2007, SecureOL hopes to introduce its flagship product, EVE (Enterprise Virtual Environment), which combines the technology from the two previous products to protect the computer on a much grander scale, with no limit to the virtual environments. The company anticipates that this product will provide total PC security against every type of attack and reverse the damage caused by computer threats. Dechovitch also hopes that it will set new standards in information security.

The market for such a product is undoubtedly huge. Individuals, corporations, organizations, government bodies – everyone is under attack. In 2002, the anti-virus market alone was worth $1.2 billion, according to Gartner Dataquest. By 2006, this market is likely to have grown to $1.8 billion.

Dechovitch asserts that SecureOL has little significant competition, though rivals in this field include Terminal Services and Citrix Systems. “These are not direct competitors, and their solutions are two and a half times more expensive than ours,” says Dechovitch.

Dechovitch also believes that SecureOL’s technology is far more effective than existing anti-virus technology. Today’s anti-virus solutions often take time to create the necessary patches for new viruses. Dechovitch points out, for example, that the recent virus My Doom, erupted more than 2.6 million times, before any anti-virus solution took action. Nor can anti-virus solutions protect users from targeted attacks or cyber espionage. In Russia, says Dechovitch, who was born in the Ukraine and emigrated to Israel at the age of five, the mafia frequently carries out targeted cyber espionage attacks on its victims. “Ours is the only tool that can stop cyber-espionage,” he says.

SecureOL intends to sell its products to OEM manufacturers who will include the technology in their products, or through Internet Service Providers (ISPs), who already sell customers a range of products. SecureOL is now in contact with Israeli ISPs, Netvision, and Bezeq. Once the company has achieved successful sales in Israel, Dechovitch plans to start expanding to the rest of the world. “Israel is considered to be the leading country in the world for information security, if we can sell here can sell anywhere,” explains Dechovitch, who adds that the company is now close to major sales with an Israeli telecom company, and an Israeli government office.

Though sales will clearly help the company, which is running on a shoestring budget, Dechovitch is also looking to raise the sum of $10 million from the venture capital community to help finance marketing and development. In the past, SecureOL aroused the interest of Microsoft, which began negotiations to purchase the company. In the middle of talks, however, Dechovitch got cold feet. “We started to shake,” he says. “Microsoft is a very frightening corporation, and they are good at conducting negotiations. We decided it was better for us to continue what we were doing alone.”

For Dechovitch, SecureOL has been a labor of love. “We have managed to create a full product with just $250,000,” he says. “I’m very proud of this accomplishment.” Before Dechovitch set up the company, he says he was paid a very high salary. Today, he and his other colleagues take very low salaries in an effort to keep costs down. “This is a dream I’m chasing, and I think it’s a good one,” he says.

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About Nicky Blackburn

Editor and Israel Director, Nicky Blackburn has worked extensively as a journalist and editor both in Britain and Israel for a range of national and international publications including The Cambridge Evening News, London News, Travel Weekly, Israel High Tech Investor, and The Times of London. She was the Associate Editor at LINK Israel’s Business and Technology Magazine, and the High-Tech Correspondent for The Jerusalem Post.