Cybersecurity

Want Safety While Using the Internet? Stash the Browser Somewhere Else


Despite the best intentions of Microsoft (MSFT) (Internet Explorer), Apple (AAPL) (Safari), and Google (GOOG) (Chrome), the Web browser remains a most dangerous place. Some people cannot help visiting nefarious sites or clicking on dodgy links in their e-mail. And browsers are all too eager to let folks give in to temptation. Some malicious bit of code makes it way from the browser onto your computer, your e-mail and bank accounts are compromised; days later, an 18-year-old in Slovenia has a new hot tub.

Branden Spikes thinks he has invented a browser that will let people give in to their curious natures and remain safe. He learned the dark art of security technology while working alongside Elon Musk at a number of his ventures, including PayPal (EBAY) and SpaceX. At the latter, Spikes faced the challenge of protecting ideas that the U.S. government deems national secrets and that the Chinese government deems of interest. Having dealt with constant bombardment of the SpaceX network, Spikes started to come up with theories around new security techniques he thought corporations should employ.

He founded Spikes Security in 2012, and the company officially came out of stealth mode this week with its AirGap browser technology. The basic premise here is that instead of running a browser directly on your PC, laptop, or mobile device, you run it inside a Spikes Security data center. The company keeps the browser software on its servers and then essentially streams a video of your experience using the browser to your computer; anything nasty you click on can’t infect your computer because the browser software is running elsewhere. “The Web page gets built in the cloud, and you sort of watch a movie of it,” says Spikes. “You have total isolation from any malware.”

This sort of approach would have been difficult to pull off years ago because of limits in bandwidth and compression technology. Sending video streams to every computer on a corporate network would have clogged it. More recently, we’ve seen such companies as OnLive pull off streaming graphics-laden video games to the home, using clever file-compression techniques. The Spikes approach follows this idea.

I’ve had a chance to test the AirGap browser, and it works better than I expected. There’s no noticeable lag when a page loads, compared to other browsers. And there is indeed a sense of freedom that comes from being able to go to YouAreSureToGetHacked.com and click around with impunity.

Spikes Security has more than 20 corporate customers using the AirGap browser, with the finance, film, aerospace, and pharmaceutical industries showing the greatest early interest. The companies can opt to run the AirGap browser software in their own data centers or funnel the traffic through Spikes Security’s data center. To date, Spikes Security has raised a bit more than $2 million and is in the process of drumming up a further round of funding. The AirGap browser is the first product in what is expected to be a suite of security software for corporations.

Consumers, however, will have to wait. “We don’t plan on doing a consumer browser,” Spikes says. “But one of our customers, like a carrier, might. They could purchase it and offer it to their customers. It would help them reduce malware on their networks.”

Vance_190
Vance is a technology writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in Palo Alto, Calif. He is the author of Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future (HarperCollins, May 2015). Follow him on Twitter @valleyhack.

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