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BoxSentry speeds toward authentication

BoxSentry CEO Manish Goel explains why the company is a "speedboat" that has managed to navigate e-mail authentication better than its larger security competitors.

As investment director at PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) Venture Partners, Manish Goel worked with the Society for Worldwide Interbank Transfer, where money "transfers" were actually in the form of e-mail messages.

A key element in supporting such transactions was non-repudiation, where e-mail that were sent had to be deemed proof of receipt.

However, studies have shown that false positives, where legitimate e-mail are wrongly marked as spam, can register between 0.2 percent and 0.5 percent of e-mail traffic. Goel noted: "That error rate effectively reduces integrity and confidence in e-mail traffic or infrastructure, which is an important part of how we do business today--both from an e-government perspective and an e-commerce perspective."

Fast Facts

BoxSentry

Co-founder and CEO

Manish Goel

CTO

Steve Allam

Year founded

2003

Headquarters

Singapore

Web site

www.boxsentry.com

Employees

30

Technology innovation

RealMail provides antispam capabilities, and at the same time, focuses on protecting legitimate e-mail by eliminating false positives, or making sure that good e-mail get through to the recipients. RealMail integrates self-learning algorithms, multi-layered heuritistics, positive reputation data and sender authentication. When deployed as an appliance, it sits at the network edge, between the firewall and mail server. RealMail can also be deployed as a managed service direct from BoxSentry or via a service provider partner, such as BT Frontline.

That drove the executive, who was then based in London, to co-found BoxSentry with Adelaide-based Arapaut Sivaprasad in 2003. The latter, who founded WebGenie Software in 1995, was introduced to Goel by a mutual friend.

Set up as a protector of e-mail inboxes, BoxSentry secured other investors and roped in Steve Allam as CTO in 2005. The company carried out "heavy-duty R&D" and worked with pioneer partners to prep its flagship product RealMail, for commercial launch in October 2007.

But things were not always plain-sailing for the Singapore-headquartered security company, Goel told ZDNet Asia in a recent interview.

Battling choppy waters
Now the CEO of BoxSentry, Goel explained that the company's technology was based on managed services, and its founders' vision was to drive the managed services market in the Asia-Pacific region.

But the region was "very hardware-driven", he said, so the founders resisted launching RealMail purely as a managed service. Today, the antispam and e-mail authentication technology is available as an appliance, or as a managed security service offering direct from BoxSentry, or its service provider partners.

Another challenge the Singapore company faced was in delivering its maxim. BoxSentry touted its technology's ability to solve the problem of false positives in e-mail filtering, but the company could not pinpoint the magnitude of this problem to its clients.

Potential customers had the intuitive sense that the problem exists, but it was difficult to deliver the message without concrete examples, Goel said. "Their view was 'we're happy with what we've got'," he said.

It did not help that existing antispam systems "would all claim very, very low rate of false positives", he pointed out. "Until you could prove that they were incorrect, it made it very difficult for us to sell our product."

Goel said: "What we ended up having to do was identify ways of demonstrating that false positives exist. How do you know what you don't get? How do you actually measure what you don't get? [That's] very difficult."

The tide turned in their favor only about a year ago, when the BoxSentry team developed inferential logic that enabled the company to go to clients and demonstrate that false positives do exist within the infrastructure.

It helped, too, that Asian cultures such as the Japanese, were more driven by a desire to get things right. In comparison, Western markets such as the United States, tended to "recognize collateral damage was inevitable". Goel explained: "The Japanese mindset, and broadly the Asian mindset, is that: if we can resolve a problem, why should we not strive for perfection?"

Less mature economies in the region, he acknowledged, are still dealing with the problem of spam and have not moved to the next stage of recognizing false positives. Still, he noted that such markets are visibly receptive to having a tool that is effective at handling both problems.

Speeding up innovation
While BoxSentry lacked in terms of having a large pool of human resources and luxurious marketing budgets, it had tried to narrow the gap against larger competing vendors by focusing on improved technology and agility, said Goel.

"Large organizations are exceptionally strong in execution… What they often don't have is innovation," he said. "Innovation generally comes from smaller organizations that grow into large organizations."

"I consider the Symantecs and the rest, to be large ships," he added. "We're like a speedboat--we're able to react much more rapidly from a strategic perspective and execute our vision."

Good news are also abound on the managed services front, according to Goel. "The market's slowly, but surely, recognizing that managed services make a very viable and an intelligent option for companies, particularly small and medium-sized businesses."

Despite the current economic gloom, Goel noted that the managed services value proposition focuses on operating expenditure instead of capital expenditure, which "plays more strongly in a cost-conscious environment".

BoxSentry snagged BT Frontline as a partner-customer, and is also a part of a security alliance formed by Tata Communications in October to help financial institutions in Singapore address revised guidelines on Internet banking and technology risk management.

BoxSentry aims to become active in China and India by next year, and also plans to announce new innovation to enhance reputation and authentication of e-mail within the next six to nine months, he added.