Startup Nok Nok Labs pitches strong new authentication process

Nok Nok Labs officially opened its doors today to introduce client/server-based technology proposed as an innovative foundation for flexible, strong multi-factor security that can be used in e-commerce, Web services or the enterprise.

Nok Nok's software, expected out next month, is based on a new authentication protocol developed by an industry group known as the Fast IDentity Online Alliance, or FIDO Alliance for short. This group, backed by PayPal, Lenovo and Infineon as well as Nok Nok Labs, has developed what's called the Online Security Transaction Protocol (OSTP) to be able to go beyond simple user passwords and logins to flexibly bring into play a much stronger multi-factor identity check online before allowing certain types of Web access or secure transactions to occur.

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RELATED: New FIDO Alliance pushing 'fast-identity' strong authentication protocol ]

"It's trying to solve the problem of weak authentication," says Phil Dunkelberger, CEO of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Nok Nok, whose software product is at heart a browser plug-in and back-end software development kit for a server that supports FIDO's OSTP.

The OSTP client piece, which can be in a browser or chip, works transparently to the user to set up this new method for security authentication when it works in conjunction with the back-end OSTP server component, he points out.

It works by basically combining information gained about the user's device, whether it be computer or mobile, to inventory whether it has the trusted platform module (TPM) chip or webcam or fingerprint device or other biometrics, two-factor authentication software or various other possibilities. It binds all of this selected information through a cryptographic process to create a shared secret between the back-end server and the device. This process is carried out so that e-commerce companies, for example, could automatically shift to higher security multi-factor authentication to verify user identity online in more high-stakes transactions.

The idea, says Dunkelberger, is that users will decide to electively have this higher-level multi-factor authentication used, especially when they become involved in online monetary transactions in e-commerce.

The co-founders of Nok Nok include Ramesh Kesanupalli, its chief alliance officer; Michael Barrett, who is the chief information security officer at PayPal; and encryption expert and IT consultant Dr. Taher Elgamal. Barrett is also active in the FIDO Alliance. Nok Nok Labs, founded in 2011, has about 30 employees and has received $15 million in funding from Onset Ventures and Doll Capital Management. Board members include Richard Clarke, CEO of Good Harbor Consulting, and Barrett.

Today, there are no real-world implementations of the upcoming Nok Nok software product to showcase, but it is being tested in mrore than 15 organizations, says Dunkelberger. Pricing for it hasn't been set yet, but it is expected to be offered on both a subscription-based and transaction-based pricing model.

Nok Nok Labs is considered the first vendor to be FIDO-compliant, and the idea is that the FIDO Alliance, set up as a 501(c) nonprofit organization, will govern the OSTP specification and make the intellectual property created available to those who join. "If you join the Alliance, you get the spec for the client," says Dunkelberger, adding that someone could create their own server, if so inclined.

Potentially, the OSTP framework is complex and extensible as it is said to support established infrastructure security authentication protocols that include SAML, OpenID, and OAuth.

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG publication and website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security. Twitter: @MessmerE. Email:

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