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Yubico is taking cybersecurity to Hollywood

Yubico co-founder talks standard setting and the company’s post-IPO course
Yubico is taking cybersecurity to Hollywood

Stina Ehrensvard wants to make cybersecurity as popular as chess. The co-founder of Yubico, the company hardware authentication device YubiKey, is helping to create a miniseries centered around cybersecurity.

The show was inspired by the runaway success of Netflix’s hit The Queen’s Gambit, which sparked a surge of interest in the game.

“I learned things about chess because I watched that series and because it was an intriguing story,” Ehrensvard tells Biometric Update.

The show is just one part of Ehrensvard’s work as the new chief evangelist at Yubico, which for the last 17 years has been creating hardware access tokens used by the likes of Google, Facebook and Microsoft. The Swedish-American entrepreneur co-founded the company with her husband Jakob Ehrensvard, currently serving as CIO. After the company went public on Nasdaq in September, she decided to step back from the CEO post to focus on different aspects of the FIDO passkey business.

A part of this will be helping in setting standards and participating in building the EU Digital Identity (EUDI) Wallet, an interoperable digital wallet offered to all EU citizens. Another part is explaining to the general public why online safety and authentication are important in the first place. This is where Hollywood could help.

The idea for the series came when a Hollywood producer contacted Ehrensvard after his emails were hacked in a phishing attack and was struggling to understand its effects.

“He said that the cybersecurity industry is not really helping untechnical people, ordinary people to find what they need to do,” she says.” The industry was not very good at storytelling and entertaining an audience.”

Large companies are struggling with the same problem, fighting against cyberattacks that could be prevented by better educating their own staff and their suppliers, she adds.

The cost of cybercrime is now estimated at US$8 trillion, according to Research and Markets. Many of these crimes are committed thanks to stolen digital identities and weak authentication. Large markets such as the United States and the EU are now moving to introduce more regulation to prevent these types of breaches.

Yubico has participated in the White House’s efforts to modernize authentication as part of its improvements to national cybersecurity. In Europe, the company was invited to join one of four EUDI large-scale pilots (LSPs) and develop its underlying technology.

“In two years this is going to be rolled out to all Europeans and it will come in different flavors,” says Ehrensvard. “The ones that Yubico is particularly involved with is a web-based wallet where you log in with a FIDO passkey or an external security key or a YubiKey.”

Yubico sees work on FIDO passkey standards and the EUDI wallet as interconnected. While the company’s passkeys are one of many options to ensure a single privacy-preserving identity across the internet, its work on standardization can ensure its place in this infrastructure, which will be used both by governments and payment providers.

The Stockholm-headquartered company currently employs around 430 people. Since its IPO, which was completed through a merger with Swedish holding company ACQ Bure, the company has continued expanding enterprise services around the YubiKey.

The majority of its sales are big enterprises around the world but Ehrensvard says that the company has been seeing an increasing number of financial services and governments buying its products, and an uptick in healthcare.

“We can help create or form or shape the educational but also the legal requirements for these companies,” she says.”All of these things go hand in hand. And the reason I stepped back from the CEO role is I said I want to focus on these parts.”

The firm also has a hardware security model (HSM), hardware devices that secure cryptographic processes. For now, this is a small part of its sales but the company believes additional software and services can be built on them. One of these is a preregistration service launched with Okta last year which allows a key to be tied with a user before sending it. Yubico also added fingerprint biometrics to YubiKeys in 2020.

Yubico produced more than a million YubiKeys in the month of September. The majority of manufacturing, around 80 percent, is in Sweden with some final assembly and programming in the U.S. for domestic customers. Ehrensvard says that there are no people involved aside from overseeing the process as the factory is fully automated.

“We are able to compete with Asian prices for manufacturing because it’s flawless once you invest in the robots,” she says.

Convincing manufacturers to invest in robots may prove easier than getting consumers to take meaningful steps to protect their cybersecurity.

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