Last summer, a new Austin, Texas, startup called ALTR emerged from stealth mode to announce a new CEO—the former head of geopolitical intelligence firm Stratfor Dave Sikora—and an novel business plan: providing enterprise security via private-node blockchain networks.
Nine months later, the idea has blossomed into several major deals, some public, others still under wraps, according to Sikora, who was on a South by Southwest panel this week featuring Texas cybersecurity experts. The company now has more than 30 employees in Austin, Florida, Colorado, and Illinois.
An energized Sikora described his work at ALTR as the fourth revolution in which he’s been able to work. He did PCs in the 80s, led the first Texas internet software IPO in the 1990s, and started a mobile software company ahead of the first iPhone launch.
“I kind of have a pattern-recognition engine for these things that are going to happen in the industry,” he said. “This is the most significant IP I’ve ever had a chance to work with. To be in a place where you can change the world, it’s really cool.”
Sikora spoke to Modern Consensus after his SXSW panel appearance about how ALTR is doing and why he believes the company’s technology is going to make waves.
CONSENSUS: How did the panel
DAVE SIKORA: I thought it was good; it was diverse. There were really two main issues being addressed on the panel. One was how do you trust data? Secondly, how do you secure data? They’re related but they are independent.
Are there wildly diverging views on how to do that?
I don’t think diverging, just very contextual. They were experts in their areas. Jonathan [Morgan of New Knowledge], he’s all about trust. His kind of lens is social media and what’s true and what’s not. Robert [Hansen of Big Discovery] and I are mostly about security. How do you protect from a breach?
Is trust more of a social-media realm concept?
There are components of trust inside of companies as well. I think that companies right now are playing defense. Every company has really sensitive data. They’re trying to figure out new ways to protect that data and safeguard it. That said, of course they have to trust the data being generated and who’s generating it and what’s actually happening with that data. We really want companies to look at their data the way they look at their money. You’ll never hear of someone breaking into someone’s bank account. There’s technologies and business processes to support the protection of that money. But now with the regulatory environment changing, why not look at your data the same way? When you think about it, when you put that lens on the protection of data, it creates a completely different mindset.
There was another term you used on the panel, “Truth machine” for blockchain and you described how 5G will help these networks. What did you mean by that?
Blockchain is the network of nodes. What’s unique about blockchain is that data is copied and replicated around all the nodes in a blockchain network. If I sent you an email and you sent it to 100 people and then at some point in time I needed to verify the veracity of that email, if one of those 100 people changed it, my consensus algorithm that would go out to verify that data would change it back or it would throw that out, whatever I instructed it to do. In order to accomplish that task and determine that digital truth of that original email that I sent out, we need faster processing, we need faster networks. We need those two things to make sure that that consensus algorithm works well. But we also need cheap storage because I’m creating 100 copies of that email. In order for that to occur, we need those three things to happen.
The great thing about blockchain is it’s going to be better tomorrow than it is today. The stuff we do ALTR you couldn’t do even three, four years ago. Those preconditions were not enough in place for this to happen.
One of the knocks I’ve heard against blockchain is that push and pull between client-side and server-side, when you’re relying on these external things to make it work.
It’s different between private, permission-blockchain networks and public blockchain networks. You could join Bitcoin tomorrow, I could join Bitcoin. The blockchain purists, they view public blockchain networks as the only way to achieve true decentralization. We don’t necessarily agree with that perspective. You can have pure decentralization by establishing blockchain networks inside organizations and distributed organizations. It’s more controlled. And by the way, companies are never going to put their data out on public blockchain networks. It’s just not going to happen. Even if it’s hashed, even if it’s encrypted.
We’re working with banks for example. One of the things the banks are considering is saying “Hey, ALTR, why don’t you run some of the networks, we’ll run some of the nodes and then maybe we’ll get a regular or another partner to run some of the nodes.” You achieve that decentralization objective by having the networks run across different organizations.
There may not be one main authority. There may be one person who knows about them, but not necessarily in a control position.