Photo: OffPad

The challenge posed by espionage and hacking in countries such as Iran and China has increased considerably in recent years, and has now become a general problem irrespective of geography and individual states. The financial consequences can be massive. This applies in particular to employees of global businesses and government employees.

More than 70% of all computer crime takes place via the endpoint when people log on to their mobile phone, tablet or laptop via an operating system while they are online. It is now easy for professional hackers to go through the back door and access sensitive data.

The Norwegian company OffPAD’s solution to this problem is simple and user-friendly, and, if it keeps what it promises, it may prevent hacking and espionage in an innovative manner by means of a new type of mobile phone case.

Access control takes place outside the mobile phone’s operating system

OffPAD is an abbreviation of ‘Offline Personal Authentication Device’, which sums up their product: a mobile phone case that provides easy access to sensitive data without a password and PIN code, simply via a biometric fingerprint which provides access to the software you are authorised to use.

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The company is currently based at Simula’s premises at Fornebu, as well as having engaged 15 encryption experts in secure communication in Rennes in France. The starting point for the collaboration with France is an EU-funded, five-year Eurostars project between the University of Oslo and the National Graduate School of Engineering and Research Center in Rennes.

‘If you want to avoid being hacked, software is not secure enough. You need a hardware element to ensure adequate security. The target group is the B2B market, large enterprises, both public and private, whose employees need to improve access control to the company’s sensitive applications. This is a solution to a massive problem whereby we can help to reduce the attack surface for hackers,’ says Jan-Erik Skaug, CEO of OffPAD.

OffPAD’s potential market is growing rapidly due to continuous security breaches that make companies and states vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

‘Users only see the fingerprint reader and a small display. The encryption keys are inside the card, and the user is identified by means of a multi-factor authentication (MFA),’ says Skaug.

Commercial phase

OffPAD is developing the mobile phone case in close dialogue with security experts in selected Norwegian companies.

‘We learn a lot through the open dialogue we have with these experts on relevant issues,’ says Skaug.

‘We are in a positive process and have set a very exciting course for the time ahead. The solution will initially be available on mobile phones, but, based on wireless communication, it can also be used to secure iPads and laptops. Secure communication will be available in the next version by encrypting the information that is exchanged via voice and text messages and emails on mobile phones,’ says Skaug.

OffPAD was established in 2017 by Skaug and Petter Taugbøl together with Inven2. The mobile phone case and the technology are based on an idea from Professor Audun Jøsang at the Department of Informatics at the University of Oslo, and were developed through a Eurostars project involving academic and industrial partners from Norway and France. Two patents have been granted in the USA and a patent application is in process.

‘We are now working on the design. We have engaged a leading industrial design enterprise in Gothenburg which is currently developing the design of the case adapted for Samsung Galaxy 10 and iPhone X phones. The solution will work irrespective of the model,’ says Skaug.

The goal is for a finished product to be ready in 2019.

‘We are in dialogue with large enterprises and public agencies with respect to testing the solution. The necessary certificates will be obtained in accordance with the requirements set by the authorities. The market potential in the Nordic countries and internationally is huge,’ says Skaug.

OffPAD is also in dialogue with Innovation Norway on a Norwegian Industrial Research and Development (IFU) Contract in cooperation with pilot partners. The company achieved Seal of Excellence status in phase 1 of its Horizon 2020 application, and is now in a phase 2 application process for a major EU grant.

E-health is another exciting market

OffPAD also views the e-health market as very interesting.

‘There is a great deal of potential in digitalisation of the health service, and significant savings can be made by rationalising the day to day work of health professionals. There is still a lot of silo mentality out there. The functionality of earlier prototypes has been tested in relation to this segment,’ says Skaug.

The enterprise has established a competent board and an advisory board comprising competent e-health advisers, and a dialogue is now under way with different interest groups in Norway and abroad.

‘Our solution is highly relevant in relation to patient security and patient data, where we have to satisfy the most stringent security requirements. It is currently a huge problem that health personnel need to access many different systems. They have to log in and out of their laptop to enter them. OffPAD can make this easier by providing access to professional systems by pressing one key without a password and PIN code,’ says Skaug.

Excited about the future

Olav Steinnes of Inven2 is excited about what the future holds for the company, and believes OffPAD can go far.

‘OffPAD will offer a solution to a major security problem. If it succeeds in developing a solution that offers a good level of security and a good user experience, the company can look forward to an exciting future,’ says Olav Steinnes, CFO of Inven2.

‘We have provided capital during the early phase and keenly await the results of the prototype testing by potential users,’ says Steinnes.