PRISM surveillance revelations triple signup rate for secure cloud-storage contender

Upstart secure cloud-storage provider SpiderOak has seen the rate of new signups nearly triple in the month since revelations about the US National Security Agency’s PRISM surveillance program surfaced, the company’s CEO says.

SpiderOak, which has built its business on the concept that not even its engineers can decrypt the data that customers store on its service, is approaching the 1 million subscriber mark but is now expecting to hit that milestone two to three months earlier than was anticipated before the PRISM revelations, CEO Ethan Oberman told CSO Australia.

“We’ve worked over the past several years to make the cryptography more efficient and effective,” he explained.

“We certainly couldn’t have predicted [PRISM], but have long been saying it’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ something like this would come to light. We didn’t expect it in this magnitude – we thought it would be a breach or a hack – but this has elevated the conversation around privacy to a new level.”

SpiderOak has badged its privacy framework under the moniker ‘Zero-Knowledge’ Privacy (ZKP), referring to the fact that user encryption keys are never transmitted to its Hive file-sync service, one of many emerging competitors to the popular Dropbox.

“Most companies go to the marketplace requiring you to trust them with the data,” Oberman explained. “But one of the things PRISM has highlighted is that these companies are in many ways betraying the trust of their users by giving their data up to government entities without any recourse. At no point are we able to decrypt the data on the servers.”

That approach had already led to some uncomfortable conversations with three different government agencies, which had contacted the company on four occasions with requests for access to subscriber data, Oberman said. However, those agencies had not proceeded with the requests after the ZKP concept was explained to them.

“At the end of the conversation, they’ve gone and tried to find the data somewhere else,” he explained. “That’s really the position we want to be in; we didn’t ever want to have to be in a position to make a judgment call about who users are and what they represent. We’ve washed our hands from having to be in that situation.”

SpiderOak, which promotes the ZKP concept through its ‘Zero-Knowledge’ Privacy Foundation, will soon extend the reach of its ZKP concept by making available an open-source framework called Crypton, which will allow third-party developers to implement the company’s privacy layer in their own apps.

Crypton is currently in beta testing but will be released soon in an effort that Oberman believes will – particularly in the context of PRISM’s ongoing repercussions – spur new interest in encryption that can’t be compromised by snooping government bodies with or without court orders. “Before, you had to have a cryptography expert come in to do this,” he said. “But with this, basically any app can become a Zero Knowledge app.”

“If people have the choice between a version of software that maintained their privacy, and one that exposed them to privacy breaches, we feel they would choose the more privacy oriented version,” Oberman added. “Before, they didn’t have the option – but we hope that as Crypton really takes hold, it will start to give people the option of whether they want something to be private or not.”

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