Dmitry Gusev: Today StarForce lays stress on the enterprise market of information protection
Dmitry Gusev, deputy marketing director for StarForce Technologies was interviewed by leading Russian information security portal Antimalware.ru.
01. StarForce turned 12 in August. It is a considerable age for Russian IT industry. What was the key to the company’s success?
When the company was incorporated in 2000, the situation in Russia threatened the normal operation of the licensed software market. The pirates had 99 per cent of sales, and the emerging legal publishers simply would not survive in such conditions.
The product our company has presented to the market was in demand by all the software publishers without exception from the very beginning. We have been aware that the protection should be highly reliable; otherwise, certain ‘experts’ would have taken it apart in a trice. We understood that there was actually no legal market at the moment, and that the licensed products would cost more than the pirated ones. That was why the reliability of protection has been our first priority from the start. We have succeeded in solving the challenge, and the rightsholders have been using and are using our services gladly, every time they need a reliable protection for their intellectual property.
02. Everybody knows StarForce as a provider of protection against piracy for computer games, software and electronic documents. What products is the company designing today, and what are your plans for further development in the near future?
Today StarForce lays stress on the enterprise market of information protection rather than on the market of computer game protection. Our range of products includes solutions for protection and control of confidential information, protection of email attachments, documents security, elearning security, enterprise applications and computer-based systems. Moreover, we provide protection not so much against piracy, which is the requirement of the user software market, as against leakage, illegal usage, unauthorized viewing and distribution, reverse engineering, cracking, intrusion, and modification. In other words, it is the protection against all the threats that the information security experts are so much concerned about today.
03. The StarForce Content service is designed for protection against unauthorized access to, modification and distribution of electronic documents. However, a lot of formats (for example, Adobe PDF) provide for their protection against various threats. What are the advantages of using the service?
StarForce Content differs from Adobe DRM in technology. We have more advanced pdf protection against cracking. Moreover, our service is a cloud service, which allows protecting the documents from any place in the world, from any computer or mobile device. You can adjust the rights for the document usage during the protection and track the statistics on how the documents are distributed, in real time. To view documents protected by StarForce Content, a user does not need to download a viewer because the installation kit with the protected files already contains it.
04. Today the list of file formats that the service supports is relatively short, and it is sometimes necessary to use converters. Do you plan to expand the list of available formats (or, for example, to provide automatic file conversion by the service when a file is uploaded to the cloud)?
I cannot agree that the list of supported formats is short. It includes PDF, PPTX, HTML and also PPT protection. Who else supports so many formats? It is more complicated with the DOC and XLS formats, because it is difficult to reliably protect them without losing some of the formatting. However, we can protect them. As for automatic conversion, we have been considering it and have decided that it was not practical to implement it: there have been very little requests from the clients, and a client could easily convert DOC into PDF her- or himself with the help of free utilities which are easily available on the Internet.
05. It is well known, for example, that PDF files can be unsafe. They can contain malicious code to exploit software vulnerabilities. If any such object is loaded into the system, either on purpose or by an accident, and is then delivered to a user of a group of users, can StarForce Content protect them against such a threat?
It depends on the malicious code. The viewer that is used to view the protected PDF file, may or may not block the operation of certain scripts. We did not investigate the problem because there were no such requests from the clients.
06. Your web site (www.star-force.ru) provides information about a new product in your range of products, StarForce E-Mail. What type of product is that? What is its purpose?
The purpose of StarForce E-Mail is to protect confidential information that a user sends as an email attachment. It is very often the attachment that contains important information that should not get to a third party.
We have developed a product that allows a sender to protect and send an email attachment with a single click, i.e. automatically, as well as to track how the recipients use the attachment. It is implied that a special protection module is installed on the customer’s server. The module receives an email with the attachment, protects it and transfers it to an ordinary mail server of the company so as to send it to the recipient. Statistics on the confidential document usage is available both on our servers, via the personal office of the sender, and locally if such a server is deployed at the client’s side.
07. StarForce Content has certain features in common with the anti-leakage systems. Does StarForce have any intentions of entering the DLP market?
We do not have any plans to develop a complete, custom DLP system. We are the experts in electronic document security and software source code obfuscation. Therefore, we focus on the development of the obfuscation and information encoding modules. Not only can these modules significantly increase the reliability of the existing DLP systems, but they can also improve the system of a company’s protection against cyber threats as a whole. That is why we think our main goal is to cooperate with anti-virus companies, DLP/IPS/IRM system developers, systems integrators and business customers who want to reinforce their solutions with the proactive methods.
08. There has been information in mass media some time ago that your company has been offering solutions to provide information security of the software systems for companies, in particular, banks. Your approach is very different from the conventional solutions available on the market. What are the features?
Yes, it is true. After we analyzed the existing solutions that provided information security for companies, we came to the conclusion that our technologies could significantly increase the protection of a company’s security perimeter and dataflow. I have already mentioned the StarForce E-Mail and StarForce Content products that are designed to protect internal and external information in a company. As to anti-intrusion protection, it is obvious that the solutions available on the market do not solve all the assigned tasks. It is particularly true for the zero-day threats when a protection system has no information about the danger and cannot effectively resist it.
I recall a story with the Elderwood Project that has cracked the networks of small and middle-sized companies involved in the software and hardware supply chains of big defense companies in the USA. The group has discovered eight zero-day threats in Internet Explorer and Adobe Flash Player and had been exploiting them. In order to find so many threats that the rest of the information security industry knows nothing about, a vast amount of work on reverse engineering of the programs must have been done. It turns out the information security industry follows in the violators’ footsteps, while it should be the other way round.
This is just the case with the fight against hackers: we create protection, they crack it. While they are cracking it, we invent something new, and they have to start anew. We offer the very same approach to provide information security for a company. I mean the protection of software environment against reverse engineering, analysis and cracking. Thus, to get a thorough knowledge of a target object, a hacker needs to overcome the source code protection system at first, decompile the source code and study it. Only then can the hacker exploit the open vulnerabilities. The time that the hacker might need to spend to crack and study an obfuscated program can reach several months and even years. The notion of a ‘zero-day threat’ simply does not apply to this solution.
Today, we offer the banking community the protection of ATMs against intrusion and manipulation. An ATM is just a computer, with the Windows operating system and certain risks with respect to information security. Modification of software installed on an ATM and ATM manipulation is but a technical matter. Our solution allows preventive protection against such a threat. Moreover, the above-mentioned can apply not only to ATMs, but to any other computer-based system connected to the Internet. For example, traffic light control system can be protected in such a way.
09. Please tell us briefly about the reasons for the development of a separate product, StarForce MMOG, and about the features of the multiplayer online games as objects for protection.
The world of computer games is changing rapidly. Publishers and developers spend more and more time on the online games that have the elements of socialization. The evolution of the Internet opened almost infinite possibilities for the game developers. The gamers actively support the developers, and the popularity of the multiplayer online games increases.
The problem of piracy is usually of no importance for the online games. A game client is offered for free, and people can play without spending a cent. However, the problem of foul play is put in the forefront here. This means that some players can get advantages over others by using various tools. For example, they can get the ability to fly or see through obstacles.
To deal with it, we have developed the StarForce MMOG product that aims to protect the online universe against cheating. Game modules and traffic are protected so as to make it impossible for a player to intervene in the gaming process more than she/he is allowed. It often happens that the gamers use reverse engineering to analyze the game code or traffic. Afterwards, they modify certain elements so as to get themselves advantages. We can efficiently resist it.
Please note that the problems here have something in common with the problems of information security of the enterprises and computer-based systems. That is, the protection against intrusion and modification of software components operates in real time.
10. Does the company plan to present some brand new products and solutions in the near future, or does it plan to focus on the improvement of the existing ones?
Today the entire world is actively getting mobile. Sales of mobile devices surpass the sales of desktop computers. In 2011, our company has become the resident of the IT sector of the Skolkovo fund, and received a grant for the development of the system for protection of software and content for mobile devices in April 2012. Practically, we intend to use all our experience with regard to the mobile OSs and devices. We are actively working on it, and plan to present a prototype of such a system by the summer 2013.
About StarForce Technologies
StarForce Technologies (www.star-force.com) is a leading vendor of information protection, copy protection and code obfuscation solutions for software, electronic content and audio/video files. Since 2000, StarForce has been successfully developing and implementing its state-of-the-art security solutions, providing copyright and intellectual property protection worldwide. Two of these solutions were transformed into StarForce cloud services: sfcontent.com protects e-Documents against illegal copying and distribution and sfletter.com secures emails.
StarForce is a reliable and responsible Technological Partner for enterprises potentially incurring losses due to cyber-gangs, hackers, software piracy, unauthorized data access and information leaks. StarForce’s customers are Russian Railways, Corel, 1C, Mail.ru, Aeroflot, SUN InBev Russia, AMD Labs, ATC International, MediaHouse, Russobit M, New Disc, Buka, Snowball, 2Play, GFI, CENEGA, Akella, etc.