The British entrepreneur behind the innovative WEDG secure storage box for the ‘post-Snowden era’ has told Techworld he remains upbeat about its chances despite still being some way short of the £90,000 ($150,000) set for the project on Kickstarter.
The WEDG (pronounced ‘wedge’) was launched by Manchester-based CEO and inventor Shehbaz Afzal on Kickstarter on 24 June as the answer to data security worries for SMEs or individuals that don’t entirely trust the cloud to store data away from prying eyes. Since then it has attracted nearly £50,000 in pledges, still a bit short of the £90,000 the project needs to get the unusual-looking device out of the door by December.
Undeterred, Afzal said he will press on with alternative sources of funding – the Technology Strategy Board is mentioned - even if the project doesn’t reach its goal in the next 11 days.
The WEDG sounds like a NAS gone haywire but its security fundamentals strike a radically different tone to the heap of big-name boxes built primarily on storage, throughput and backup.
Like many NAS boxes, it connects to a LAN or home network, offering an admin account and multiple user accounts to a range of platforms, including Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, BlackBerry and Windows Phone.
However, unlike a NAS the security architecture, additional features and open API (Linux running on an ARM Cortex A7) mark it out as something that starts to look more like a complete platform for third-parties to develop almost any service they can dream up as long as it is secure.
The WEDG’s primary job is to store or back up data from multiple users on 1TB or 2TB internal drives, synchronising across clients devices with 512-bit encryption (256-bit AES with 512-bit option), while allowing these files to be shared. It also hosts a calendar, contacts and a secure, featured email service.
Importantly, files remains encrypted at all times, the keys for which are stored in a complex fragmented format that Afzal claims would make them impossible to recover should the drive be removed from its enclosure. Each user also has an individual key that is backed up as an encrypted file which admins can archive using built-in management.
The device comes with a firewall, spam filter, unspecified AV, as well as a host of monitoring for the disk, usage, traffic and remote admin. The box can host a range of third-party apps, suggestions for which include including home media server, remote surveillance, and even website hosting.
Two WEDG boxes can be configured in a master-slave setup to offer some redundancy. By the time the press release mentions that the device could act as a Bitcoin vault, most people will be a bit overwhelmed by its scope although undoubtedly one day these features will be mainstream.
It is a bewildering feature list and that might be the bit that some investors don’t get. What is the WEDG? It’s hard to pin down because it has been designed to do so many jobs.
What is isn’t is a cloud service enabled through a box, although its designers are open to using it in a hybrid way to store, say, encrypted archives on Dropbox. The philosophy is resolutely almost unfashionably local because through that users retain control.
“The 90k is critical,” admits Afzal who funded the whole project himself with developers doing a lot of work for nothing. “We don’t have any angel investors.”
Getting that money will allow the first generation of WEDG boxes to appear, proving the concept using off-the-shelf hardware. Beyond that, he believes that a custom board and design would allow the team to extend the WEDG’s capabilities a lot further.
“Once we have gained the trust of the user base, we want to provide a service for encrypted backup in our own data centre,” he adds.
Has the entrepreneur bitten off too much?
“Like many of us, when the Snowden report was published I felt instantly uneasy with the products that I had relied on and trusted with my digital privacy. That got me thinking that there has to be a better way to use the cloud and when I couldn’t find a solution, I decided to build one myself,” said Afzal in the official press release.
It’s brave to attempt to design a complex product to solve Snowden-sized security worries, particularly without secure funding. The WEDG is also more of a platform than a simple box with features which makes it more intriguing than the conservative products from the huge storage vendors.
Whether it gets a Launchpad from Kickstarter remains to be seen but this is still one to watch.