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Australian startup snapshot: CryptoPhoto

Adam Bender | March 11, 2013
Two-factor authentication using pictures on a smartphone or paper card.

CryptoPhoto, a startup from Noosa, Queensland, has made a two-factor authentication service using photos displayed on a smartphone or paper card.


The pitch

CryptoPhoto aims to protect a website's user accounts from hackers and malware, while lowering support costs for webmasters, according to CryptoPhoto founder, Chris Drake.

When a user attempts to log in, the website displays an image while an app on the user's smartphone shows a grid of several images. The user confirms his or her identity by tapping the image on the smartphone that matches the picture displayed on the website.

CryptoPhoto also sends users a paper card with a similar grid of images as a backup in case the user loses his or her smartphone. The card contains a code for each image that the user can enter into the website. This helps avoid the "lost token" security issue that has compromised other authentication systems, Drake said.

Selling it

End users can use the CryptoPhoto app for free if the website owner has paid CryptoPhoto. Alternatively, the website owner can pass on the costs to end users through an in-app purchase.

The price per user can range from a few cents to a few dollars depending on the number of website users, Drake said.

The mobile app supports iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone.

Funding it

While CryptoPhoto has been under development for five years, the trading entity set up to do business has only existed for about a month.

Years ago, while Drake was contributing to work on the OpenID specification, he became interested in the problem of getting the user to trust that a website is legitimate.

"It seemed very easy to me," but Drake couldn't find anyone else who came up with the same solution. So he patented it.

Drake initially funded the business himself but a few months ago was awarded a grant from Commercialisation Australia. The grant is a $50,000 payment of which Drake must match 20 per cent. "It helps me find people to get the business running," he said.

Drake also entered and was named a winner in a competition by Advance, which provides mentorship for startups. Advance flew CryptoPhoto to Silicon Valley for a pitching conference with potential investors.

Australia vs Silicon Valley

Drake praised the work of Brisbane co-working space River City Labs to help foster a "buzzing" startup environment in Australia.

However, Drake said Silicon Valley's startup scene is "completely insane" by comparison.

"In the Bay Area, there are probably 200 new startups a week that are taking off," he said. "The amount of competition for the very small funding resources or any kind of attention in Silicon Valley are absolutely astronomical."


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