Admit one: Ticto smart badges win plaudits at home and abroad

Summary

Brussels-based cyber-security specialists Ticto have come up with a smart way of securing events and sites using digital passes modelled on electronic ID and bank cards

Digital gatekeepers

Ticto is on a roll. Earlier this year the Brussels-based cyber-security company was recognised at the RSA Conference in San Francisco. The industry’s annual pow-wow crowned Ticto the second-most innovative company of 2015, behind Dublin’s Waratek.

It’s a slightly misleading award, though. If one doesn’t often hear of silver medals in the winner-take-all markets of information technology, it’s because there are no such medals. The law of the start-up jungle is “go big or go home”. Ticto earned the rare distinction of “first ever runner-up” because the award jury was hopelessly deadlocked about who would take the gold.

The product that made Ticto so competitive is the tictopass, the first smart badge to boast a new feature called “visual crowd authentication”. The concept is modelled on electronic ID and bank cards.

Individual or group credentials are embedded in the badge circuitry then processed by the badge’s software in real time to generate synchronised but unpredictable displays and LED colours – the equivalent of one-time passwords – that are presented to strategically placed readers that either allow or deny access. Voilà. You have ensured the security of your site or event.

It’s flexible, too. Badge groups are programmed with different algorithms to allow for varying levels of access on varying schedules. In short, tictopass is a customisable backstage pass that can’t be forged.

Advanced solution

Promotional literature describes this as “the next-generation company badge” that is fated to replace the traditional chip card just as the smartphone dethroned the flip phone. It’s programmable, reusable and as portable as any badge or credit card. Best of all, it doesn’t require a wireless network or central controller. Tictopass readers are simple gatekeepers that accept or reject the badge presented; the badge itself has done all the work autonomously and offline.

This addresses consumers’ growing concerns about privacy. According to its creators, tictopass is far less intrusive than other technologies – GPS, wifi, bluetooth and even cameras – and thus respects employee privacy. Tictopass doesn’t capture data. It’s a gatekeeper, tasked with making only one binary distinction: OK or not-OK

It’s an advanced but simple solution to several recent high-profile security breaches locally. In separate episodes, Antwerp’s Doel 4 nuclear power plant fell victim to sabotage and the country’s police headquarters was infiltrated by hackers. In Brussels, activists regularly breach security at European summits, and the ease with which they penetrate controls has troubled European and Belgian authorities. Traditional methods just aren’t cutting the mustard.

Smart systems

That’s why Ticto founder and CEO Johan Vinckier is urging organisations to get smart about security. Vinckier is no stranger to smart systems. The US-born Belgian entrepreneur paid his dues first as a technology guru at international management consultancy McKinsey and later as an executive at BPost, where he championed the development of chip cards. He even had a hand in the development of the Mobib pass, which has become the bedrock of Brussels’ public transport system.

The tictopass was unveiled late last year as a proof of concept but is now being tested in real working conditions by Brussels Airport, the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre and national restaurant chain Lunch Garden.

Initial results are promising. Ticto’s recent victory at the RSA Conference has only reinforced the feedback Vinckier and co have been receiving from beta testers here in Belgium. Ticto is now looking past the beta stage and marketing international commercial programmes that will go live in the last quarter of this year. Its target clients are high-risk sectors, companies dealing with sensitive or confidential information, open-air worksites, transport networks and the medical sector.