French tech executive Nicolas Thibaut has been working for a few years now on a concept that’s morphed a bit in response to changing digital security challenges and in service of a pretty straightforward agenda: To bring “business-level security,” as he puts it, “to as many people as possible.”
Contained in his story are a few thematic cross-currents, everything from having to adapt as security threats and breaches come with bigger stakes and scarier implications to the imperative to move beyond a small market (in his case, a home base of Eastern Europe) to be able to do more and be more.
He talked with BGR about his journey from tinkering in his free time to founding Uppersafe, which his team describes as an easy to use cloud-based protection solution the team has especially been focused on adapting for new smart objects like TVs, fridges and coffee machines that don’t have much or anything in the way of protections of their own.
It started in late 2014. It was a side project at the time, says Thibaut, one of a small group that manages the service which counts more than 80,000 users worldwide. Also on the team are commercial and marketing manager Didier Thibaut and IT security consultant Lucas Philippe.
“At the time, I was a freelance pentester, so it was just about discovering a bit how VPN technology works,” Thibaut said. “I quickly built a VPN service — NolimitVPN — that was available for free.”
A few months later came some welcome attention. The service got written about by a French tech blog. In a few days, the service picked up more than 20,000 users, while the bills for infrastructure started to mount, especially for the servers.
Thibaut decided to turn it into a paid service instead of shutting it down. The following year, his service got chosen in 2015 in Singapore by Kaspersky to participate in the Security Startup Challenge. “During that competition,” he said, “I decided to build a firewall from scratch on top of the VPN service to innovate and differentiate from other VPN providers. In a few months, I developed and integrated that firewall to the service to offer an extra level of protection to the users.”
Late last year, Thibaut got tapped by Startupupbootcamp Barcelona to join their acceleration program specializing in Internet of Things and data tech. Before joining that program, he was already thinking about how to make his service compatible with IoT devices.
From that came the idea for an intermediate solution of some kind, since it’s often “almost impossible” to secure those IoT devices directly thanks to a lack of screen or other interface and the like.
That’s when the company’s “Upperbox” was born. It’s essentially a router that plugs into a modem or Internet box, and then the user just connects all their devices either through Ethernet wire or via WiFi. The Upperbox, according to the company, creates a “secure Internet tunnel” or VPN towards its service “and ensures protection for your whole IT environment.”
At the moment, the company is working on the next version of the Upperbox. Over the long term, the company plans to do some machine learning on network traffic of users to detect unusual activities so that threats can be blocked in real-time. That, Thibaut says, would not only help block massive attacks but also more advanced attacks.
He’s also thinking beyond his home country, looking out at the users beyond his borders and the threats that likewise span the globe and are multiplying.
“With this in mind, we are trying to build a community around our service in order to democratize this subject, which is often complex and difficult to understand,” he says. “We are convinced to be able to make IoT devices owners realize that it is important to secure themselves because the risk of being hacked or spied on are bigger than ever.
“There’s a French community around tech startups called “La French Tech.” It’s a good way to promote French startups around the world. They are also partners of the event dedicated to startups called 4YFN hosted in parallel with the Mobile
World Congress. So France is a good place to start a project, but we need to move out of the borders to develop our company.”