Archive for the ‘Greg Gazin’ category

How clean are your keys? Think infection

January 29, 2010

Randy Marsden

“The assistive technology provided is amazing in its ability to erase the boundaries of disability.”
That was what (the late) Christopher Reeve said about the OnScreen keyboard in Microsoft Windows. He and Muhammad Ali are among millions who have benefited from products developed by Randy Marsden of Edmonton.
For more than two decades, Marsden has concentrated on creating specialized computer technologies for people with physical disabilities: quadriplegia, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, ALS and muscular dystrophy. His career took direction with a third-year electrical engineering university project when he and another student developed a communications device for his friend, Si Peterson, a quadriplegic since a gymnastics accident in high school. Upon graduation, with funding from the National Research Council’s IRAP program and the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research, they started Madentec Limited.
Over the years, numerous communications products (Tracker and Discover lines) emerged that have made an enormous difference to disabled people around the world—allowing them to operate computers with blinks, tooth picks, puffs or touching of lips. Spin-off technology includes various applications for cell phones and computers. In fact, Marsden is the co-founder of Swype, the cutting edge text input software used in Samsung smart phones.
But, when a dentist from France purchased his TrackerPro, it led to major changes in focus. TrackerPro is a wireless device—a small dot of reflective tape worn on the forehead, hat brim or glasses—that replaces a mouse for users with limited or no hand movement. Curious about why someone who obviously is able to use his hands would need a product designed for head movement, Marsden called the dentist.
It turned out it was actually the time-savings that motivated the dentist, who explained that he needed to view digital x-rays on computers, right in treatment rooms. Marden learned that, “Treatment rooms have strong infection control requirements and if devices were not sterilized, the dentist would have to take his gloves off to use a mouse, and de-glove and re-glove each time.”
Forming a focus group of four veteran dentists to get their perspectives, he discovered that anything within two metres/six feet of a patient’s mouth needed to be wiped down between patients. “That includes almost the entire room.”
But while TrackerPro might be a solution to the mouse problem, the ultimate challenge was really the keyboard.
“You can’t (properly) wipe down a keyboard. And, those that did use a keyboard, had them wrapped in Saran Wrap.” It had to be changed frequently, and looked unprofessional.
“Keyboards are the number one cause of bacterial infections and are more germ-infested than public toilet seats.”
Marsden points to studies that indicate hospital keyboards are known to spread infection more than any other surface—and more than 100,00 people died last year from hospital acquired infections (in North America). Patients entered with a broken leg but caught pneumonia and died because they caught a bug.
So Marsden marshaled his team. “We’re ‘input guys’… We can do this.”
They created a proof-of-concept USB keyboard: slightly smaller than a typical keyboard (15” versus 18-20”) to save cubicle space, with a completely smooth glass top with the lettering on the underside of the glass. With no nooks or crannies, it was quick and easy to wipe down and disinfect. Adjustable touch capacitive circuitry allowed it to be sensitive to the touch even when wearing gloves, and it made a clicking sound when a key was hit. Despite its smaller footprint, it housed both a numeric keypad and an integrated oval touch pad, so no was mouse needed. The bottom was constructed from machined Corian (counter-top material). It weighed a hefty 3.2 lbs./1.48kg.
In the pilot study, 12 keys on three keyboards—silicone, glass and standard plastic—were infected. After wiping with a Cavi-Wipe (disposable disinfecting towelette), they discovered no significant difference with the amount of remaining bacteria between the plastic and silicone keyboards. However, the glass keyboard was “100 times less infected” than the other two.
“We wanted market feedback… Although we had no (actual) product to sell, we booked a booth at the American Dental Association Trade Show in Las Vegas—at the last minute in January 2008.”
Unbeknownst to Marsden, his “Cleankeys” keyboard joined 27 other innovations in the new product showcase, which featured major players like Proctor & Gamble, Oral-B and Colgate. “We shared our showcase with Crest. We won Best of Show for best new product. Even better, we won by a wide margin.”
Marsden would win other awards: The 2008 ASTech Award for Societal Impact (his second win); the 2009 University of Alberta Alumni Honour Award, and the Innovation Awards from the Canadian Manufacturing and Exporters Association in 2009 and the National Research Council in January.
Cleankeys was a hit, but it was not meant to be a mass produced device. Nevertheless, orders rolled in—selling 4,500 units in 18 months. That number may not sound significant when you consider how many dentists there are around the world. Or, not a lot compared to the over one billion on-screen keyboards shipped with every copy of Windows since 1998 that bears Madentec’s copyright credits. But, it was significant enough to see the demand.
Marsden realized that the need for a cleanable keyboard went way beyond the dentist’s office. “Most keyboards aren’t used by just one person. Think clinics, schools and airport check-ins and food services—any place people share computers.” For example, automated plants like Lucerne Ice Cream were using his product.
“You can share this keyboard without sharing your germs.” It also hits closer to the Marsden home. “We have a family computer in the house and have five kids—the keyboard is disgusting.”
The need became even more apparent with infection control and H1N1 very much in the public eye, and hand sanitizers being found almost everywhere.
So, with a broader demand, updating more suitable for a wider audience became necessary. It also prompted the change of the company name to Cleankeys Inc., with Marsden as the CEO, to reflect the primary focus on keyboard design and production.
The forthcoming second-generation glass keyboard will be a wireless USB model that’s lighter and improves performance. In addition, another wireless model, made from high-grade acrylic with molded keywells with slight indentations, will be introduced.
“Some prefer glass, because it’s inert and smoother and perceived quality, but (as an alternative), acrylic is ideal—it’s harder and less susceptible to breaking. If it’s flat, they can’t feel the keys—it’s not good for touch-typists.” They need a place to rest their fingers, a challenge with his touch sensitive keyboard. So Marsden’s acrylic model incorporates an accelerometer, an electromechanical device that measures acceleration forces like the one found in Apple’s iPhone. “It’s also like the vibration sensors in a Wii remote.”
The keyboard sells for $400—high compared to typical models—but Marsden says it’s more costly to produce, and it’s niche-market justifiable. (Although we may see a consumer model down the road)
“Look at the time it saves dentists—no wrap, no gloves on and off pays off in a month or two. In hospitals, if it cuts down days not have to be spent in hospitals—that costs $5 billion a year in the U.S., not to mention the suffering and fatalities caused.” Liability is also being transferred to hospitals. “As of October 2008, U.S. insurance companies stopped reimbursing hospitals for treatment for their insured patients, if the infection was acquired in the hospital.”
While Cleankeys is primarily sold in Europe, it will be launched worldwide this month. “It’s a world market we’re taking this product to from Edmonton and we’re making it here in Edmonton.”
Logican, a boutique electronics service manufacturing company specializing in medical, military and industrial products in Edmonton Research Park, is building them. President Harvey Sheydwasser travels the world and sees the extent of the problem He believes Marsden’s technology will be widely adopted. “We’ve worked with Randy before and are happy to be part of the solution.”
Marsden, 46, hopes to help fight infection and save lives… one keyboard at a time. √

First to market Sync on demand- for small business

January 4, 2010

The PureInbox team: Pandora Lam, Ryan Akerboom, Sam Huang, Brian Henker, Hoyin Li and John Mah

Sam C. Huang’s business took him from Edmonton across the globe. While in China and Taiwan to market his own software, he realized that although he used a smart mobile device, he didn’t have access to some information back home.
“We’re in the world of communication and I don’t have it.” It took the frustration of not having all his information at his fingertips to have a sudden realization. “So, why don’t we just build something?”
What Huang needed was for all of his data to be synchronized regardless of where he was and what device he was using. “When we step away from our desktops, we only have a snapshot of our world.” A picture is still—static in nature, not dynamic—and Huang treasures the sense of being connected.
“We think we have total access… we have our contacts and our calendar. We don’t get the whole thing. We don’t have everything in our palm (of our hand).”
As a businessman, Huang saw having information in multiple places at different points in time as a false sense of connectivity. “It’s unproductive. It doesn’t have to be that way.”
So, for a couple of years, Huang carried a Windows mobile device using ActiveSync, an application developed by Microsoft. His attitude at that time: Who needs a Blackberry? “But then I switched over and sold myself to the dark side,” he says jokingly.
Even then, what he thought he really needed was only affordable to larger organizations. “Enterprise people have access to all kinds of technology and it’s expensive.” He adds that Research in Motion’s BES (Blackberry Enterprise Service) is used by banks, FBI and government requiring staff, server hardware and software, and needs to be maintained. “BES also charges you through the roof. It doesn’t make sense for small companies; it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars—very expensive.”
And, while Huang says RIM offers a consumer version called Blackberry Internet Service, he feels it’s not adequate for today’s small business needs.
Huang knew something needed to be done, so he created Syncamatic, selecting the Blackberry as his mobile platform of choice. “No sense doing another MobileMe,” he says referring to Apple’s answer to synchronizing data. “Why would you even try?
Syncamatic will use a totally wireless solution that maintains synchronization of the data through the Amazon cloud computing server.” It will not only allow users to free themselves from their USB shackles, it will also be platform independently. It will allow most Blackberry models running OS 4.6 to talk to a Mac and a PC over the air… to synchronize, not through a USB cable, but over the air.
“It has never available before to consumers.”
Even RIM couldn’t do that, Huang states. In fact, just two months ago, RIM released its software to connect a Macintosh to a Blackberry—via cable.
Huang’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP) for Syncamatic is the automatic way to synchronize, protect and transfer data for the mobile user. His program will also be affordable as both a free and a premium version. The free version will allow you to sync on demand but you would need to log in to the application and select the option to perform the synchronization.
“It’s a manual process. The secret—or what you give up—is that below the button, there will be some advertising to offset some development costs.”
The premium, or commercial pay version as Huang calls it, differs in the sense that the program sits in the background. If you make changes on one device, it checks on a regular basis and will automatically update in the background. It constantly checks both ways: For example, if you simultaneously punch in a contact on the desktop and add a calendar event on your phone, Syncamatic will bring them all together.
“It’s simple: Every device will look up to the cloud. The program will ask ‘What’s the latest change? What am I missing?’ Then it will update each device.”
The product is currently in Private Beta and the consumer downloadable version was scheduled to be available at Syncamatic.com just prior to Christmas. “This version will be free. They can download it for free and use it for free—forever.”
Huang, 31, downplays his humble beginnings as well as his success. His family came to Edmonton before he was 18. He attended Jasper Place Composite High School and studied general science at the University of Alberta. In 1997, he took home a Business Chamber Trophy and was recognized as the Best Student in Computer Programming.
His current venture, Pure Inbox, was incorporated in 2008. Prior to the development of Syncamatic, the company offered an application that allowed you to use your existing phone just like Gmail. Although PureInbox is no longer accepting new sign-ups for that app, it continues to support existing users.
Huang’s original claim to fame was his first start-up five years prior, as president and CTO of Gennux Microsystems. In a short time, it became one of Alberta’s fastest growing technology companies, providing unique cost-effective IT solutions and systems to businesses, as well as a unique anti-spam product.
In 2005, the company took home the Alberta VenturePrize and was identified as one of the “global up-and-coming companies” to watch. Huang was heralded as one of rising stars in the Alberta IT industry.
Pure Inbox is happy to call the Edmonton Research Park home. “They have the services we need, so we can focus on what we need to do.”
The landlord is equally happy about the success of its tenant. “I am thrilled that Syncamatic, a product developed at the Edmonton Research Park, is being sold and distributed around the globe,” says Candace Brinsmead, vice-president of technology.
The majority of staff is also from Edmonton. Having traveled to China, Huang knows how cheap it is to hire developers from there, but prefers to stay local. He is impressed with the quality of work being performed by graduates of the University of Alberta, his Alma Mater.
One recent hire is Ryan Akerboom, 23, who graduated with distinction from the computer engineering, software co-op program. “I’m happy to be working here. It’s a relaxed atmosphere and it’s the exact type of thing we studied for.”
Huang is also excited about the future and is confident that with Syncamatic, Pure Inbox is heading in the right direction. “We’re the first there—first to market.”
“Anyone, even the Chinese, can make phones. Right now, it’s about the apps. They are beginning to flood the market. We have 10 flashlights… we’re in the app world 1.0 era.” In the next few years it will be contextual, location based—not about dumb apps but rather about apps and services.
“You need services to drive the application. Everyone is watching Apple and Blackberry.” And Syncamatic will be right there with them.
Huang is heading off to Barcelona in February as part of the Alberta contingent to world mobile conference where Pure InBox will be setting up a booth on an international stage. “I’m excited to see how the European market will react.” √

The guy in the black hat is actually a white-hat hacker

November 27, 2009

During a recent educational presentation on wireless security to a group of IT professionals at the Canadian Information Professing Society’s annual ICE Conference in Edmonton, it didn’t take long for Brad Haines to give the attendees what would amount to an enlightening wake-up call.
“If your consultants say your system is secure, they’re lying.” His boldness caused even those busy texting on their Blackberrys to stop and take notice.
Over a 50-minute period, Haines wowed delegates by illustrating how insecure things really can be.
But Haines is not your average presenter. Often billed as a security expert or chief researcher at RenderLab.net, he’s also known as RenderMan.
“I’m first and foremost a hacker… a security enthusiast and consummate geek who is curious and loves knowledge.”
And while his fedora is black, as is the rest of his signature attire, RenderMan is a white-hat hacker—one of the good guys. Black-hat hackers are typically out for personal or financial gain.
Haines has a strong penchant for discovering and reporting on systems vulnerabilities and ensuring that people are aware of them. His issue is with consultants’ declarations that imply “secure from now on and forever”. While perhaps true at that moment, he’d prefer they rephrase them as “vulnerabilities not yet found”.
Once a secure technology, WEP (Wired Equivalency Privacy) protocol can now be broken in 60 seconds. “And if you didn’t know about that transition,” Haines says, “you’d think it still was.”
Wireless has changed the rules of the game. A network can physically be locked down, but adding wireless capability could be akin to using a megaphone to announce your presence to the world. “With wireless, we’re back to a shared medium. It’s easy to eavesdrop on communications.”
With readily available hardware—sniffers and analyzers and open source tools like Airpwn, Karma and Metasploit—hackers can monitor, intercept and modify transmissions resulting in the loss and theft of data. This includes private corporate information, personal info such as passwords, bank account and/or credit card numbers, and information leading to possible identity theft.
More than 25 percent of wireless networks in homes and offices are not even password protected. “Many are left at the (factory) default settings… unencrypted, unsecured, with an SSID (station ID) of Linksys.” Not only does this leave the access point vulnerable to attack, it presents an opportunity to an unscrupulous hacker to set up a trap when you take your wireless- and Bluetooth-enabled devices (laptop, PDA) outside to WiFi spots at cafes and airports.
Getting attacked can be as simple as turning on your laptop. If your own SSID matches a possible rogue, then your computer may automatically connect. “Windows likes to automatically connect to recent networks it’s seen before.”
Haines can’t stress it enough: There is no authentication process for free WiFi at hotels and gyms, for example, making it hard to determine if it’s real or fake. The transmission could be routed through an intermediary and all your data would be exposed.
“Even with a secure login, the login may be encrypted but not the session.”
Haines shows the audience a picture of a suspicious looking van with “Free Candy” painted across it. “Users like free WiFi. Who wouldn’t? What’s advertised is not necessarily what’s inside.”
And it’s not just the network connection. Accessing a malicious site could cause you to get viruses, install spyware, and make modifications to your system. Browser exploits—codes that take advantage of bugs in your browser—could also cause unexpected results.
“Once you’re on someone’s site, you’ve given them a conduit to access your system,” concurs Ed Rusnak, CEO of ENC Security Systems and creator of EncryptStick (featured in Edmontonians, November 2009). “When you leave the site, you could also be taking the infections and Trojans back with you to your secure network.”
“How many of you will regret using the free WiFi here?” Haines asked conference participants. At the end of his session—to make his point—he revealed that he had scanned all wireless enabled devices in the room and within range of his equipment.
Haines interest in network security started at W.P. Wagner High School in South East Edmonton, where computer teacher Don McDonald gave him the task of keeping their classroom network running.
“It was the most hostile network on the planet. Teachers weren’t always around; Kids wanted to play games during school hours.” He learned to thrive on the constant challenge of having to find new solutions to lock things down in an ever-changing environment. “It was a classic cat and mouse game.”
But it wasn’t until he attended his first DEF CON, the world’s largest underground hacking conference in 1999 where he says he met the most embracing community of like-minded people, that he realized he was not alone on his quest.
He’s now 30, “but going on 18”. RenderMan fills his days working with his clients to advise them on securing their digital assets. He fills his nights finding new ways to subvert technology to do things it was never meant to do.
Haines prefers to work with small- and medium-sized enterprises, smaller departments and professional services companies, acting as a resource for performance tuning and network security audits. “They can’t afford the big guys and often don’t know they need advice. Often their network expert is the son’s friend’s brother who happens to have a computer… so he’s their IT guy and this is a clinic.”
For Haines, it’s also a social obligation and a soft spot for the Mom and Pop enterprises. “Businesses shouldn’t go under because they used a crappy product and didn’t know better. How do you expect a guy who sells popsicles to know about security? It’s not his business focus.”
He’s also motivated as a user of these products who doesn’t want his data hijacked—possibly by some people he knows.
Haines speaks frequently at hacker and security conferences. Just prior to ICE, he exposed wireless vulnerabilities from a hacker’s perspective at Cyber Security Protection Strategies 2009, hosted by the Conference Board of Canada in Gatineau, Quebec.
He pointed out, “There are things you have not even thought of yet that already exist and can bite you. Be much more diligent and proactive because something that was secure last night, now isn’t.”
Revealing a picture of a circuit with 0.2mm wide solder points, Haines reminds that hackers who are also driven by curiosity will find value in the most innocuous of things—like hacking through the memory of Nintendo DSi. “If someone is willing to solder through a microscope to play video games, how much effort do you think is going into something with money?”
He preaches diligence about security even if you think it doesn’t have anything to do with what you’re doing. “You could be selling ice cream, but you’re processing money… you’re of interest to someone.”
Regardless of his audience, Haines insists he’s not trying to scare them but rather shake things up so they don’t become complacent by creating awareness that “the Emperor has no clothes”.
“We need guys like him to make the public totally aware… someone to find these vulnerabilities. We have to work in this environment,” says Rusnak.
Interestingly, on a trip to the House of Parliament a few days after his Gatineau speech, RenderMan was singled out of a tour group and asked to check his cell phone and briefcase.
“I’m thinking that announcing my intentions at the conference probably led someone to call ahead… and making the Ottawa Citzen’s front page probably didn’t help at all.”
Despite obvious temptations, Haines says he’s never been in trouble, but admits he finds the bad guys much more interesting. “The Joker always seems to enjoy what he was doing for a living. Batman always seems depressed.” Haines prefers to be the spy.
“People don’t like what I do, but I do nothing illegal. If anything weird happens, I better keep my nose clean. I would automatically be one of the usual suspects.”
Strangely enough, Haines’ business card is a Joker from a deck of cards with his info stamped on it.
“At a conference, it stands out.” √

Data thieves defied by ENCRYPTSTICK

November 2, 2009
Ed1098 wscreen resized

Ed Rusnak CEO of ENC

Imagine you’re a medical technician and your laptop just got stolen… Imagine the stress over the fact that it contained samples of about a quarter of a million lab tests for reportable and communicable diseases, plus identifiable names and personal health numbers. Even worse, imagine your name is on the list.
In June 2009, Alberta Health Services (AHS) reported two physically locked down laptops stolen from a lab at the University Hospital. Within a month, in a separate incident, private medical files of 11,000 Albertans within AHS were put at risk as a virus intermittently took snapshots of screens of computers that access that data. The information could have been transmitted to locations unknown.
These are just two recent locals cases, but the phenomenon is worldwide. The Open Security Foundation’s DataLossDB.org gathers reported information about events involving the loss, theft or exposure of personally identifiable information—the statistics are mind-boggling.
“The loss of data is certainly a major concern for personal privacy, especially in health care, insurance and financial industries. For individuals, identity theft is becoming a more common threat,” states Ed Rusnak, CEO of ENC Security Systems. Based in Pitt Meadows, BC, the company provides solutions to secure and transfer personal and professional data.
“Not only can companies be adversely affected, the loss of information can spell ruin for families when banking and personal identity information falls into the hands of criminals.” Typically, most concerns are over the effect of the theft of the actual hardware… but the potential gain on the black market of the selling and actual use of stolen data would far exceed the nominal value of the equipment.
The problem isn’t limited to laptops and hacked databases. The proliferation of high capacity, pint-sized data storage devices—USB flash drives, memory sticks or keys, pen drives or thumb drives—increases exposure to data risk and creates potential goldmine for data thieves. According to the USB Flash Drive Alliance, from 2004 to 2008, the number of units sold rose from 59.5 million to 220 million, and the average capacity increased from 213MB to 1727MB. They can be seen hanging from key chains, belt loops, and lanyards around people’s necks. Too often, they are left unattended, plugged into the USB ports on computers.
“Things will get lost… things will get stolen. It happens every day.”
And, while Rusnak can’t help people safeguard devices from physical theft or loss, he can help them protect their data.
ENC has developed EncryptStick, an application that turns these low-cost, off-the-shelf flash drives into affordable, easy-to-use, highly secure data vaults. It prevents virtually any type of file—documents, videos, photos—or passwords from being stolen.
“Password protection is not enough. EncryptStick uses powerful 512 bit polymorphic encryption technology, which has never been broken or successfully hacked,” Rusnak proclaims proudly.
Encryption converts data into code by use of an algorithm that cannot be converted back or decrypted without a “key”. EncryptStick uses the unique ID or serial number of the flash drive as a part of those 512 bits of information to create that key. This, combined with the user’s password, makes it virtually impossible to be decoded.

SIMPLE STEPS TO DATA SECURITY
To get EncryptStick, simply plug a flash drive into a USB port, purchase a license and download the software directly to it (not the host computer). Using the unique registration code, follow the instructions to create a master password.
“The password is not stored on ENC’s servers or on the computer. It’s directed to the flash drive and is known to only the user,” stresses Rusnak.
To use EncryptStick, plug the flash drive into the USB port. The software runs automatically. When the password is entered, the vaults become visible. Open existing vaults, create new vaults and easily encrypt or decrypt any file by right-clicking and selecting from a drop down menu, or simply dragging and dropping the files into the folders. EncryptStick also enables “encryption on the fly”—the ability to edit documents within vaults while the files are encrypted.
“And it’s fast. EncryptStick encrypts files at a rate 10 times faster that AES 256 (the federal government encryption standard) and takes up only 4MB of space.”
EncryptStick also allows users to maintain anonymity. “You can plug your encrypted flash drive into a public computer; when you remove it, it removes the temporary operating file so there is absolutely no footprint—no evidence of you being on that computer,” says Tim Sperling, President ENC.
And, even if someone were to gain physical access to the encrypted computer or see the vaults, without both the Encrypt-Stick flash drive inserted and the correct password, that information is coded and thus unreadable.
ENC anticipated that a flash drive could get lost or become inoperable (perhaps you ran it through the wash). As long as the original drive was registered, replace the flash drive, purchase a new ENC license, and the system will piggyback a new registration key on the old key, allowing access to existing vaults.

Ed1097 resized

ALBERTA ROOTS
Born in Vegreville, Alberta, Rusnak attended Strathcona Composite High School in Edmonton. His entrepreneurial roots sprouted in St. Albert when he started his first venture in the 1970s. For the most part, he worked in the oil and gas sector and related industries.
In 1997, the recently divorced Rusnak reconnected with Doris, a former classmate from Vegreville who had been widowed two years earlier. After a few months together in Edmonton, the couple relocated to her home in Pitt Meadows—where the possibility of year-round golf appealed to Rusnak.
The reality of a life of leisure soon waned. And, while flash drives are a recent phenomenon, application of encryption technologies is old hat to Rusnak. He soon founded AFI Inc., focusing his efforts on the oil and gas industry where he was the first to design a CSA approved electronic device for remotely monitoring well-heads on remote Northern Alberta sites via satellite.
“Our system replaced windup devices on a seven-day clock which was susceptible to things like wet paper and dried up ink and where we waited 60 days for results from a Calgary lab,” Rusnak recalls.
At that time, encryption technology was used to ensure the integrity and accuracy of the data transmitted rather than to address an issue of security. After 9/11, that all changed.
“We knew that we could encrypt analog and digital data through the unique ID or serial number of the processor.” Rusnak admitted this direction was inevitable but sold the company in 2003 before being able to implement it. He realized that he could use the same methodology on flash drives as he could with the processors on the remote well head monitors.
“Most people were using flash drives for storage. It can be more—and it is.” In 2005, he started ENC and, by late 2006, EncryptStick was ready to roll. The timing couldn’t have been better, but things went sideways. According to Rusnak, a company he did some work for claimed that ENC was using its technology. The time to defeat the public claim “…put us behind two-and-a-half years after we announced the product. NAIT, among others (possible licensees) who were prepared to move forward, had walked away. They had no choice.”
Crisis created opportunity: It gave Rusnak time to enhance EncryptStick—adding a password manager to store sensitive log-ins securely… an automatic session time-out for drives left unattended… and protection from common hacking techniques like keystroke-logging.
Finally, in May 2009, Rusnak and ENC received a letter of apology and a retraction of the statement and allegations that were made, allowing the official release of EncryptStick to take place.
At 69, Rusnak is certainly not ready to retire. “I’m having too much fun.” In fact, he’s as energetic as ever. He’s looking at even more ways to add functionality. His team is working on version 4.2 that adds enhancements for Windows 7. Versions for Mac and Linux operating systems are just about done.
And while he seems to have come upon a pot of gold, for Ed, it’s not just about the money. “I want to change the entire thinking of the world and to help keep in the forefront of your mind how valuable your data is to you.”
That’s why Rusnak has created this revolutionary, yet easy-to-use product at an affordable price of $39.99US, while offering free updates for the life of the product.
And, it comes at no surprise that he has more ideas, more products at various stages of development. Rusnak chuckles.
“If you’re can’t live on the edge, you’re taking up too much room.” √

Taking on Goliath in the Cloud

October 2, 2009
Ayman Hassan President of 4WEB.CA

Ayman Hassan President of 4WEB.CA

Tucked away in a non-descript commercial strip on 118th Avenue in Edmonton’s northwest is a 1900-square foot datacentre. It provides web hosting, co-location (server-hosting), web design and data back-up services. You won’t see Telus, Bell or Shaw on the sign—just a rather humble white and red adornment displaying 4Web.ca.
But don’t let that fool you. ”Inside you’ll find a fibre-optic pipe—enough Internet capacity for the entire Whyte Avenue corridor. And it’s a long street,” says Ayman Hassan, president of 4Web.ca.
His company is like David in the land of Goliaths: In just two years, it has experienced steady growth. Hassan proudly declares that he has a close ratio of 80 percent among the people who walk through his door.
“Datacentre” sounds so 1970s. What with today’s computers being so powerful and hard drive so cheap, it seems counterintuitive for people to use them.
“Keeping everything at your own location is great for CAD (computer-aided design) or web development but for an average user, it’s dangerous for storing files. Desktops fail, laptops fail. Outages can happen any time; the fire at Rice Howard Way… storms, tornadoes, not uncommon in Alberta…”
Loss of data can also mean lost business—but even photos, many of which are never printed, cannot be replaced—so having back-ups are critical for everyone.
“We’ve really come full circle,” says Hassan. “Think of it as the datacentre of the future, rather than the old ’70s mainframes,” except there is Internet galore—Multi-homed (Internet redundancy)—with multiple connections so, if one drops, the other kicks in within seconds.
“We have enough for a neighbourhood like Callingwood. It’s clean inverted power. Dirty power, spikes and surges are causes of equipment failure.” 4Web.ca has an 80 kilowatt UPS (uninterrupted power supply) and-a battery backup that can supply ample power for a full hour. System up-time is 99.9 percent.
Maintaining data safety security is critical. All clients regardless of their service needs get a personal tour of the 4Web.ca facility.
Hassan sees a paradigm shift from desktop computing toward “cloud” computing—the use of any Internet-based application. Examples include gmail, Google’s e-mail, Google docs, and business applications like Collin Snowball’s Easy-Bill OnLine, featured in Edmontonians in October 2008.
“We’re going back to days of dumb terminal where information is stored in datacenters—anything on the desktop can be pushed to the cloud.”
Even Microsoft Exchange Servers, traditionally kept in-house, are now moving off-site, further fueling the demand for datacenters.
“For some businesses, e-mail is more important than the phone.”
Economics also affect decision-making. During the last spurt, a major manufacturing customer of Hassan’s would have gone with everything in-house had the rally continued. “They would have brought in fibre from TELUS at a cost of about $80,000 plus $2-to-4K/monthly plus power.”
The company decided to co-locate its equipment; its on-site tech still maintains it, but 4Web.ca manages the fibre, power, cooling and security. In-house centres are costly to set up, they need managing, and qualified IT personnel are difficult to find.
So how does Hassan manage to compete and snag business away from the giants?
“It’s not always easy, but can be done. Companies like Telus have money for promotion and have funds to acquire any customer.” Even he purchases bandwidth from the giants.
“Ayman is an alternative to the big guys who weren’t responsive,” says Dan Charrios, president of Syzygy Research & Technology Ltd., which co-locates its servers at 4web.ca for its ExamBank.
Hassan’s four-phase business plan positions his company right in the middle—in size and price—and uses a consultative, collaborative approach. Meaning, he educates his customers and gives them value, while developing long-term relationships. Collaboration includes his competitors—smaller providers who can better compete against the Golaiths by working together. “This is the key to success in any business,” he believes.
Hassan was born in Egypt and moved to Canada in 1972, when he was four. He understands sales and marketing. He admits becoming a tenacious salesperson early—selling ladies shoes and encyclopedias. It taught him determination.
To avoid leaving Edmonton in the rocky mid-90s, he took a position at CompuSmart. Lacking computer knowledge, he got off to a shaky start, and wanted to quit after a week. But Hassan persevered, acquiring the necessary technical understanding.
Combined with his customer relationship building skills, he consistently became one of CompuSmart’s top performers. And when its sister company Interbaun Communications decided to create an independent sales team, Hassan became the vendor rep to develop and expand partner channels. Soon, he was promoted to vendor manager and sales manager.
Hassan recalls the relationship he developed with London Drugs which, for years had shown no interest in what he was selling. “An exercise in perseverance and persistence. I wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Friends joke about that, saying that’s how I caught my wife.” He eventually made the connection by offering Interbaun’s product, a Retail-Box Internet DSL Kit—the first in Western Canada. It meant retailers no longer had to sign up customers, they simply had to sell the box.
Ironically, the retail kit also caught the eye of Vancouver’s Uniserve Communications which later acquired Interbaun. At first, the synergy of expansion appeared to foster the possibilities of positive growth. Eventually, Uniserve became a disappointment to Hassan. “They lost the Mom and Pop feel…trading customer value for shareholder value.”
This was totally against his principle, so he took of the role of Mr. Mom for six months. While pondering job prospects, phone calls and e-mails came in. Friends and past customers were asking his advice and recommendations for hosting, designers and developers. He realized that he wanted to be his own boss.
Hassan envisioned setting up his own data centre—the cloud would be here in Edmonton. It was a huge risk. “We were in debt… it was never a good time. But, if I didn’t try then, I may have never tried.” But he and his wife, Kim, decided to get a second mortgage and put their savings at risk so he could follow his passion. In 2007, he started planning his datacenter.
“Ayman puts everything on the line, sets goals and get stuff done.,” says Shaun Betchuk. “(One day) I went over after work in sweats and a T-shirt. Ayman shared his vision asking me to co-locate my equipment. Jokingly, he said, ‘I’m going to need a network guy…maybe apply for a job.’”
Betchuk went home, created a four-page proposal, got dressed-up, drove back to Hassan’s office, and declared, “I’m here to apply for the job.” He became  4Web.ca operations manager. “We’ve grown together.”
Since then, Hassan has hired Mark Philips, a designer and two contractors; Kim helps part-time. He’s extremely busy with design work for the next year, but never stops looking for new opportunities, including additional Canadian datacenters. With large network of relationships, his goal each week is to reconnect with at least five.
“We don’t have large resources like the big players, but we do have the yellow pages and get many referrals by word of mouth.”
Hassan has carved out a small niche. Perhaps it’s more about living in harmony among the giants rather than battling them. √

Crime-stopping pays for Contré

May 25, 2009

greg

It reads like a Hollywood screenplay.

After joining the military at 17 and traveling the globe, soft-spoken and mild mannered Stephane Contré from Quebec City becomes a beat cop in Ottawa. His hobby is tinkering with technology and caressing computer code to help him to do his job better. One day, it will enable authorities to fight crime in a way no one really thought possible: to predict when and where it would happen… and to stop it before it occurs.

After three years in our nation’s capital, Contré finds himself deep in North Central Africa, in the Republic of Chad. He is many time zones away from Canada’s House of Parliament and even farther away from his wife Tia. She has returned to her hometown, Edmonton, where the couple met when he was posted at Griesbach with the Military Airborne School.

In Chad, Contré is a security advisor for EnCana Corp. on an oil and gas exploration project, mitigating security issues. He recalls, “This is where things started to percolate… looking to see where and when things might occur. I was looking for more attributes within the criminal space that would lead to better forecasting and allow us to better manage our security forces.”

Two years later—and before things really get off the ground—he faces another challenge: His position abruptly comes to an end.

Perhaps it is a blessing in disguise. Contré is over 11,000km away from his wife… it’s “a 32-hour flight”… they see each other every 35 days.
Read more

What’s your event IQ?

March 16, 2009

We dine and dance, bid and buy, walk and run for causes. We don sunscreen, rain gear and mittens to take in outdoor festivals and community activities. We attend workshops, seminars, conferences, meetings and parties on any given day. We host neighbourhood, national and international events.
Success hinges on organization… whether you’re appealing to patrons for a major fundraising drive or notifying colleagues of a business meeting. Administering and managing events, coordinating suppliers and volunteers can be mind-boggling, time-consuming and nerve-wracking. Even professional event planners need tools to streamline the process.
Trust the organized mind-set of a chartered accountant with an appreciation for the capacity of customized software to provide user-friendly packages to ease the burden.
Meet Dave Bodnarchuk, a BComm. grad from the University of Alberta who received his CA designation in 1993. He acquired years of technology experience with industry leaders like Apple and Oracle, and with KPMG as a computer audit specialist.
He recalls, “I was always the guy from KPMG that was called in to help out the not-for-profit boards [to track pledges] because they were doing a fun-run.” Bodnarchuk adds that when KPMG worked with organizations like Edmonton Crime-Stoppers, he would be put to task to implement computerized fund-raising systems to manage those aspects of its telethons.
As the dot-com era emerged, Bodnarchuk saw an opportunity to bring a reasonably priced, easy to use product for not-for-profits to issue invitations, track RSVPs and do on-line registrations. But, while most events required some administering, not every event needed or could afford a heavy-hitter like Bodnarchuk. He readily admits most organizations “…don’t need a guy like me or tech guru to get things up and running.”
A community-oriented person, he has always had a soft spot for not for profits, having served on many boards including the 12×12 Runners Challenge, Edmonton Grads Association, Crime Stoppers Association, Alberta Foundation for Diabetes Research Fun Run, GO Community Centre. He currently sits on the Caritas Hospitals Foundation Board.
Bodnarchuk knew that using technology would save time, reduce manpower and increase accuracy. “It also allows for more time to promote the event… making it easier for people to sign up rather than getting bogged down on the admin.”
Thus, eventIQinc was born. Bodnarchuk is the founder, president and CEO—Chief Event Officer. The firm develops and provides software solutions for notification, signup, payment, printing and other services for events of any size and for the people that organize them.
However, from the outset, the real challenge was to sustain a viable long-term business model, given the limited resources of not-for-profits. Entrepreneur Bodnarchuk quickly realized the real untapped market was office admin professionals: They might have to manage events, but didn’t want or have to become event planners. Moreover, not even event planners would need to be too tech savvy.
“Our vision had morphed. We wanted to develop an easy to use content-centric system, taking the best of event content, technology, and forms design and put them into a single wrapper or box.”
Bodnarchuk enhanced the product and the user experience by listening to users and a number of professional event planners and rolled the feedback into the product that provided content or generic features they could share.
The re-branding exercise resulted in InviteRight, the company’s flagship product. The comprehensive web application works with e-mail, at 30 percent of the cost of the competition, while offering more flexibility by not forcing the user to conform to rigid forms.
Users can look at a sample event or template and add their own details. A simple click makes it easy to change text, and fields can be relocated with a simple drag-and-drop. Users can add specific questions like, “Are you bringing a guest?” The system also offers prompts like asking about dietary needs.
In addition to sending invitations and tracking RSVPs, it’s easy to schedule meetings, recruit speakers, volunteers and exhibitors and even accept payment by credit card.
The results look professional and make the planners look good. It keeps them organized, helps them reach more people with less work—at not much more than the cost of postage per invitee.
“They can get up and running very easily, flexible and they feel like they’re pretty smart. An office event planner wants to get it up and running and ‘get out of Dodge’, while the planning professional can still do what they want to do themselves.”
Mike House is assistant dean of development at the University of Alberta School of Business and president-elect of the Edmonton chapter of the Association for Fundraising Professionals. He chaired Philanthropy Day in Edmonton which utilized eventIQ’s products. “It allows non-profits to maximize what they are good at, and leave the technology and registration to the software.”
House adds that it also made his wife Kathy’s job easy in her role as treasurer for the Homes for the Holidays, a fundraiser for the Junior League of Edmonton.
The buzz Bodnarchuk has created now goes beyond the not-for profits. Some of his clients include ATB Financial, Workers’ Compensation Board, Alberta Research Council and the University of Alberta, as well as organizations.
Bodnarchuk’s offerings do not stop there. In addition to InviteRight, other core professional products have been developed: PlanRight for planning and organizing events; contactCentral for maintaining a database, managing membership and sending out newsletters; and eventXtras for creating anything ancillary to the event such as name tags, lanyards and print material. Together, these components are packaged as eventIQ Xpert.
For smaller, personal get-togethers, eventIQ offers a lighter version called skOOchie. It’s free if users agree to have a sponsor’s ad accompany their invitation. A nominal charge applies if no sponsor is selected.
Bodnarchuk chuckles when he talks about the name “skOOchie”. He felt it was a cute word that could stand for “schedule and organize events”. However, subsequently, the same word appeared in an urban slang dictionary as a less than flattering synonym for a particular woman of ill repute.
Bodnarchuk admits he learns from all his experiences including his mistakes. He’s successful, with nine employees and seven consecutive profitable quarters. He’s come a long way since his first tech experience in the real world which launched him to where he is today.
It was a summer job in the 1980s at Coronet Trust as a mortgage administration clerk. Growing weary quickly by the repetitive tasks of typing forms and letters, he brought his own Macintosh to work to automate the process. Despite the company’s policy against using personal computers, Bodnarchuk was able to demonstrate its value. He successfully negotiated with the CFO to rewrite one system on an IBM PC in return for a part time job that fall—and got permission to wear Topsider brand shoes without socks to work. Certainly a foreshadowing of a free spirit in a profession dominated by checks and balances.
The Topsiders are long gone, but Bodnarchuk has that first Macintosh proudly displayed in his office at LeMarchand Mansion. √
By Greg Gazin