Swedish company Yubico is pioneering a digital security standard that uses an USB drive for online identification. With customers including Google, Facebook and Dropbox, and a $30 million capital injection secured, the company’s Silicon Valley-based CEO Stina Ehrensvärd is ready to go global.
At a time when cyberattacks are exploding, Yubico’s safe online identification technology could prove revolutionary.
It’s core solution is a USB drive, Yubikey, which enables safe logins onto computers, private networks and online services – in short, everywhere on the internet. Whenever it’s used, Yubikey’s two-factor authentication will generate a unique code that becomes all but impossible for hackers to track down.
“Yubico has done what Volvo did with the seatbelt and Ericsson did with GSM, that is, become a leading force for a global technical standard,” said Ehrensvärd in an interview with tech site Di Digital’s Silicon Valley reporter Miriam Olsson Jeffrey.
Yubico was founded in 2007 out of an incubator at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. Since 2010, Ehrensvärd has built the company from Palo Alto, together with her husband Jakob, the company’s CTO.
The company’s origin is not a pure coincidence: Sweden has been an early adopter of various online identification technologies, both in public and private sectors. Yubico’s product resembles the mobile solution that Swedes use when they log on to their online banks (called Bank-id).
Fast-expanding digital security standard
The name Yubico reveals what Ehrensvärd is aiming for: to make online identities ubiquitous around the world. She describes Yubikey as a tool that is controlled by its users.
“When I log onto my mobile phone, I access it with my finger and I will have secured my Google-account using Yubikey. We haven’t yet added biometrics, but it could happen in the future,” she says to Di Digital.
Since 2011, when Yubico started offering its service to Google employees, the company’s customer list has come to feature 14 out of the 15 biggest U.S. tech companies, including Facebook, Dropbox and Salesforce.
“We have grown organically and roughly doubled our turnover each year,” says Ehrensvärd, whose company has now sold more than three million safety keys in 160 countries.
Yubico’s turnover for 2016 was around 200 million crowns ($25 m), with a profit of 20 million ($2,5 m), according to Di Digital.
Yubico recently raised a $30 million round
To scale up growth, the company this summer raised some $30 million dollars (260 million SEK) from American investors Entreprise Associates and The Valley Fund, as well as Swedish investor Bure.
Yubico’s product range extends beyond USB-based solutions. The company has released some of its safety functions as open source software, enabling customers to create tailored integrations. Furthermore, Yubico has together with Google contributed to the development of Fido U2F, or Universal Second Factor, an emerging mobile login standard that works globally. This fall, tests will commence among American authorities in order to help citizens log on to the country’s public services.
Ehrensvärd’s accomplishments have not gone unnoticed in the U.S. In 2015, she was invited to meet with then-president Barack Obama.
“I told him that we are working on a security standard that will protect 300 million Americans’ online identities from hacking.”
“‘I know, that’s why you’re here’, he answered,” Ehrensvärd recalls.