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CEO Talk: Alex Kesler, CEO of FortifyIQ

This interview was held with Alex Kesler, CEO of FortifyIQ

 

 

 

How did you first get started with FortifyIQ?

 

Back in 2019, while I was running a couple of companies as CEO, a friend mentioned a group of cryptography experts with a revolutionary idea. These pros were on the lookout for a CEO to lead their startup. I was intrigued by their vision and impressed with their skills, so I decided to support the initiative by taking on the role of the CEO.

 

Tell me about FortifyIQ.

 

FortifyIQ has come a long way since its modest beginning. We now have a talented team of young developers collaborating virtually from around the world. One of our developers invented a set of algorithms that have since impacted the entire protected IP core industry. Thanks to these algorithms, protected AES IP cores now match the performance of the unprotected versions. We even developed a secure, low-power version that significantly outperforms traditional unprotected models. As a result, we are now expanding our coverage and have some exciting new developments in store.

 

What problems did you see that needed to be fixed? What was your approach to solving them?

 

We focus on remediating physical attacks, such as side-channel (SCA) and fault injection (FI) attacks. The challenge with these types of attacks is that during chip design, there aren’t effective tools to test whether your protections are sufficient. You only find out if they work after the chip is manufactured.

 

We developed EDA tools to fill this gap. Our simulator prepares traces, then in the pre-silicon design stage, it verifies the effectiveness of the protection against physical attacks. This is done by mounting attacks on the traces that it simulates in an attempt to find the key, and by performing TVLA assessment, pinpointing leaks down to a specific module or gate. This makes security debugging much easier. The same tools, used with real traces, verify the security of already manufactured products.

 

How have the offerings of FortifyIQ changed during recent years?

 

Our EDA tools are designed for companies who want to develop their own protection against physical attacks. Because the majority of companies aren’t interested in developing in-house solutions, our protected IP cores are available to purchase as ready-made products. And the best part is, we develop them using our own EDA tools.

 

Our protection schemes are entirely based on our own proprietary algorithms and do not depend on any hardware attributes. This means that they can be integrated into any SoC. For AES, these algorithms solve the long-standing problem of combining small-size, high-performance, and low-power consumption with high-level security against attacks.

 

Our high-performance software libraries, built on our algorithms, shield field devices from SCA and FI attacks. They deliver exceptional performance, allowing encryption and decryption of Ultra HD video streams even on low-end CPUs. This sets a new standard for performance in software security solutions.

 

In addition, after successfully attacking HMAC SHA2 and demonstrating that it is possible to forge HMAC of any message, we provide protection for HMAC SHA2 as well.

 

Finally, we improve the efficiency of the PKA, the public key accelerator, which is crucial to asymmetric cryptography algorithms, such as RSA and ECDSA. The widely-used method for modular arithmetic in PKAs needs an extra pre- and post-calculation. Our algorithm is are more efficient, since it eliminates the need for these calculations, which in turn improves the overall area, performance, and execution. Additionally, our PKA is resistant to SCA and FI attacks.

 

Which market segments seem promising to you and why?

 

Among the markets we serve, the IoT sector is particularly interesting. It’s often less secure because protected IP cores for low-cost devices aren’t always affordable. It’s also hard to match the low power and high performance needs of this market. Our algorithms allow us to protect IoT devices both before manufacturing with protected IP cores and in the field with SW libraries — all with minimal cost and the required performance metrics.

 

What are the top 3 things you wish your customers would do better (or differently)?

 

I’d like to answer this question by describing our perfect customer: a client who reached out to us with a request for software libraries for their Pay TV. Firstly, I am grateful to our clients, both startups and larger companies, for having called us. Secondly, they promptly responded to every email, even though the time difference between our countries required them to work outside of their regular hours. Thirdly, they provided to us any and all information about their equipment and their needs. Communication was open, clear, and timely. As a result, the product was designed to fit their every requirement. Experience like this gives us insight into the demands in the market, as often the product clients seek does not yet exist.

 

Where can one find more information?

 

Our website provides detailed information about our products and solutions. Our academic papers are available there, too. You can reach us through the website, and we will be happy to answer your questions.

 

What is the best moment in your day?

 

The best part of my day is when I get to interact with our customers and hear their feedback on our strategies and solutions. These conversations provide incredible insights into real-world challenges and paint a pathway for new solutions not yet built that can drive innovation in market. Hearing success stories from customers who have used our products is particularly gratifying. But the best part is discussing their challenges and needs — this helps us tailor our offerings to better serve them and maintain strong, lasting relationships.

 

How do you keep yourself energized and engaged during the day?

 

I make sure to prioritize tasks and tackle the most important ones first to maintain my focus. This approach allows me to make progress toward my goals and avoid last-minute rushes as the day progresses.

 

What is your preferred lunch discussion topic?

 

I find that discussing leadership and management techniques with my team members can offer an opportunity to share insights and learn from one another’s experiences. These conversations help us align better and improve our overall performance.

 

How do you spend your time outside working hours?

 

Outside of work, I prioritize spending quality time with my family. I dedicate days when I am completely off the grid — this helps me focus on what’s most important to me and allows my family to have crucial uninterrupted time together. Additionally, I actively volunteer in my community. It’s a way for me to give back and make a difference in this world.

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