Cyberus creates the sound of a passwordless future

Passwords create a vulnerability in a security system because humans are bad at setting and using them -- much better to have a machine-to-machine exchange and Cyberus knows what that sounds like.
Written by Tom Foremski, Contributor

Passwordless computer security implies a world where you seamlessly use your apps and network services, with automatic identification, verification and authorization, and without any need to manage dozens of passwords and multi-click factorization.

But are those types of security checks truly passwordless if a user has to input something anyway, a code from an email or an SMS? Or run a biometric scan, or use two-factor verification? It's technically not using a "word" but there is still a need for user input to be allowed to pass through into their account.

Cyberus Labs, a San Francisco and Warsaw, Poland based startup, has some early users for its passwordless security solution that lives closer to the promise of a transparent and seamless computing future. It uses very short chirps of inaudible sound to identify and verify a user. 

The sound can be generated by a phone, or an Alexa-type device, and there are many electronic devices that have a microphone and a speaker of some kind that could be used. 

"The sound is very short and doesn't require much processing power which means it can be easily integrated into edge devices, Internet of Things devices, which have limited processing and memory resources, which makes them easy to hack," says Jack Wolosewicz, inventor of the audio watermark technology and CEO of Cyberus.

Each audio segment is unique and is only valid for milliseconds – making it impossible for any eavesdropper hacker to compromise the security of the system. 

In a home setting, logging into a bank account would involve an inaudible audio chirp between the user's computer and an Alexa, or Google speaker that's listening out for it. The exchange would be completely transparent and seamless for the user, who now has no need to remember or manage dozens of passwords.

Cerberus can be used in a variety of consumer computer security applications but there is a  bigger opportunity in securing billions of future IoT devices. Most are notoriously easy to hack because they have limited computing resources and computer security based on outdated methods. 

The latest version of the Cyberus audio watermark technology is squarely aimed at IoT solutions. With 100s of billions of such devices embedded within our future – security is going to be a massive problem and a massive opportunity. 

The IoT security solution has to be resource-light because the edge devices will always be constrained by processing power and memory. And that is what describes the Cyberus ELIoT platform, an end-to-end security platform for IoT smart devices with an ultra-light telemetry component, for example the audio chirp is just 32-bits of encrypted data.

The Cyberus ELIoT system was recently selected by the city of Katowice, Poland's 11th largest with a population of more than 300,000, to protect its networks of smart sensors controlling vital city infrastructures such as water supplies and power networks. 

Safeguarding vital city infrastructure from hackers is very much top of mind for Katowice's administration with the outbreak of war in neighboring Ukraine, and the very serious threat from Russia state-funded hackers targeting Poland because of its material support for Ukraine's armed forces.

Defending an attack from Russian hackers would be a great test for the Cyberus technology.

A global startup

Cyberus is a great example of a global startup, one that is able to take advantage of opportunities anywhere in the world while applying startup best practices.  

The founders between them have several decades of Silicon Valley experience plus knowledge and contacts in European markets.

Wolosewicz is currently based in San Francisco. His co-founder George Slawek had two decades based in Silicon Valley and New York but now works from London, while a third co-founder, Marek Ostafil, is based in Warsaw. 

A global approach means more choices when it comes to funding.  And every Silicon Valley veteran knows the value of keeping hold of equity. 

In 2018 Cyberus was selected from among many other startups, by the European Union to receive a large investment from its Horizon innovation program. Horizon's budget of nearly $64 billion funded a seven-year mission from 2014 to 2020 to invest in research institutions and startups. Over 150,000 grants were made which produced nearly 100,000 research papers and the filing of about 2,500 patents and trademarks.

"The Horizon funding has given us tremendous credibility. And the funding is great because it does not require us to give up any equity.  But we did have to meet all of their technical deliverables, which we fully completed in 2020," says George Slawek, co-founder and head of business development. 

With the rise of remote work, startups such as Cyberus will likely become more common because the advantages in terms of funding and hiring cannot be ignored. 

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