Ottawa’s Crypto4A heads off those scary quantum threats

Photo: Crypto4A founders Bruno Couillard, Brad Ritchie, Jim Goodman, and Jean-Pierre Fiset with QASM (credit: Ben Welland)

Crypto4A is an Ottawa tech start-up with stellar credentials whose mission is to keep us safe in the strange new world of the Internet of Things (IoT). The company vision statement pledges “to create innovative and disruptive Quantum ready cybersecurity foundations for a trusted digital world”. Translation: it’s massively important to head off potential threats from next-generation quantum computing when more things will be Internet dependent, everyday things from self-driving vehicles to medical devices and automated systems controlling the hydro grid. Companies that manage everything from our social media profiles to our investment portfolios assure us that all is being done to keep our information safe and that every monster data hack is sealed with assurance. But what happens when a 5G/IoT world infiltrates our lives like the slow creep of a Philip K. Dick story? It’s one thing to have your privacy ruined, but it’s quite another to have your smartcar drive itself onto a ship in Montréal bound for the black market.

Crypto4A founders Bruno Couillard, Jean-Pierre Fiset, Jim Goodman, and Brad Ritchie met during the mid-90s heydey at a small startup called Chrysalis-ITS, a major contributor to the PKI rollout that kicked off the secure internet and provided the foundations for today’s digital economy. They moved into private consulting and eventually drew upon Bruno and JP’s previous history with the Forces and the Communication Security Establishment to develop security prototypes for DND. “The 4 Amigos”, as they became known, turned their camaraderie and complementary skills in the security space into a company in 2012; hence, 4A, by JP’s cryptic suggestion. The quartet had day jobs until a full-time commitment was possible. The office opened in 2017 with two employees. Two years and twenty-four employees later, Crypto4a went to market in June 2019 with its first product, The Root of QAOS™, an industry-first entropy appliance that safeguards both software and hardware from potentially crippling attacks. These attacks are made possible by the weak entropy many of today’s machines use to generate their cryptographic keys.

Photo credit: Ben Welland

Crypto4A’s corporate vision is committed not just to solutions for global clients but also to the Ottawa community in which it has such deep roots. It acknowledges the global shortage of cyber security expertise, so the company offers co-op positions to students from the University of Ottawa, Waterloo, McGill, and Carleton. Having come through the boom days when 80,000 hi tech jobs existed in Ottawa-Gatineau, the team believes that a reinvigoration is possible that would see the region rebound as a global cyber security hub. All of the company’s design and custom hardware manufacturing is done locally, with final assembly and certification of the appliance done in house. As demand grows, Crypto4A aims to acquire final assembly services from a company in Gatineau. They’ve partnered with Ottawa’s 2Keys and other local companies to strengthen the cyber security ecosystem in the Ottawa region.

Crypto4A’s VP of engineering Ron Vandergeest stresses the importance of a Canadian production and supply chain. It’s about “Canadian jobs, skills retention and quality. The ability to easily and directly interact with local suppliers, to visit their premises as needed and verify security. We pay a bit of a premium versus cheapest possible but have much higher assurance in the quality and integrity of the final product.”

At the June 2019 launch of The Root of QAOS™, co-founder Brad Ritchie reminded guests of the great power outage of 2003 that blacked out much of eastern North America’s intertwined electrical grid. “Imagine what a widespread loss like the one that we experienced in 2003 would do today. Our dependence on a connected world brings us a great many benefits, but it also leaves us with a host of vulnerabilities that previous generations didn't have to content with. And our dependence on this connectedness is only going to increase. And security is one of the kingpins of this connectedness.”

Ottawa’s Crypto4A is ahead of the quantum curve to being the kingpin solution.