Are QR Codes the Solution to Cyber Security? ProsignIT Says Yes

Out of Uruguay, Proactive IT Systems has a new proposal for cybersecurity and authentication: ProsignIT, a two-factor system using smartphones and QR codes.

In the U.S. alone, cybercrime and cyber espionage incur the loss of US$100 billion and 508,000 jobs annually. In other words, security is a big, and expensive, deal.

A number of solutions have popped up to address the issue of cybercrime and security by way of authentication, from biometrics to passcodes and more. Out of Uruguay, Proactive IT Systems has another proposal: QR codes.

The startup has developed ProsignIT, a two-factor authentication system that uses smartphones to verify user identity. It prevents cybercrime techniques like phishing and malware, requiring users to scan a QR code with their mobile devices to access accounts and sites.

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Ideal for banks and e-commerce, ProsignIT offers a SaaS model that charges per transaction. Costs vary according to scale, the first level being free in order to render the service more accessible to small businesses. Larger companies may install ProsignIT’s products in their datacenters if required.

Thus far, the solution has made quite a splash in Uruguay’s startup community. Proactive was selected as one of six companies to present at the most recent Montevideo Valley Demo Day and took part in the NXTP Labs Screening Day last week.

Martin Fernandez, Director of Proactive IT Systems, told us more about the startup.

Emily Stewart: How did the idea for the product come about?

foto_pulsosocialMartin Fernandez: The idea came about after working for several years in this sector and listening to the needs of users and identifying usability problems that current solutions have. Some of these solutions require the use of external equipment, such as tokens and coordinates cards, which can be very inconvenient for users. SofTokens require an additional step in which users must type in a random code. Biometric solutions use probabilities, so it is common that, in some cases, the product incorrectly validates and the user cannot access the system.

This, coupled with a very favorable technological context for creativity and innovation, led to our ProsignIT product.

ES: There are a number of authentication and security solutions on the market right now. What makes yours stand out?

MF: That is true, with the increase in the number of online services, e-commerce and new technologies, the need for new security products is evident. Luckily, I think that slowly, not only companies, but also final users are being aware of this need.

We have been working with and evaluating security products for several years now. I believe that often an individual product has a stronger fit to different contexts (user/technology), rather than being better or worse than others.

In our case, we have strongly focused on security and usability, as we believe that with increased levels of security, usability tends to decrease. On the other hand, the more we increase usability levels, the more security levels decrease. This way, we developed a product that offers high levels of security, which in turn is up-to-date with current banking regulations. Among other aspects, it uses “Out-of-Band” mechanisms, validates multiple authentication factors (something I know, something I have, where I am), and there is no need to type something into the computer in order to login. Our authentication method through the use of QR codes allows us to offer a very rich user experience. This way, an e-commerce site can have the same levels of security that a bank has without sacrificing usability on its site, and a bank can have the same levels of usability as an e-commerce site without losing security. 

ES: Who is this best fit for? 

MF: We are focused on e-commerce and bank systems sectors. Our main goal is ensure that a user is who he says he is.

ES: There are a number of interesting startups popping up out of Uruguay right now. Why do you think that is?

prosignMF: Yes, there are several examples of startups that have already been able to consolidate themselves and others that are on that path. I think this is due to several factors.

On the one hand, universities are increasingly promoting entrepreneurship right from the beginning and have supporting programs for this. In our case, we were supported by the CIE (Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center) of Universidad ORT. Likewise, the University of the Republic has the Ricaldoni Foundation, which supports ventures with a technological base. On the other hand, the local state also has entities that issue subsidies to ventures that include a certain innovation and development component.

And mainly, I believe that, to a great extent, this is due to the fact that Uruguay is a very small market, which forces us to create our ventures with a global perspective. The Uruguayan market is ideal to validate products and thus be ready to be applied in the rest of the world. I think that all of this has as a result a great entrepreneurship ecosystem.