- An email encryption company founded by a former NSA engineer has just secured $37.5 in a round led by ICONIQ Capital
- Virtru uses technology invented by Will Ackerly, the company’s CTO, while he was working at the NSA.
- The company plans to use the money to expand beyond email and into services that store data in the cloud.
Virtru, a data privacy company founded by a former NSA engineer, has raised $37.5 million in a series B preferred stock financing round led by ICONIQ Capital, the firm most famous for managing Mark Zuckerberg’s wealth fund.
Bessemer Venture Partners, New Enterprise Associates, Samsung, Blue Delta Capital, and Soros Capital have also previously invested in the company and are joining the funding round. To date, the company has raised $76.8 million.
“Due to the traction over the past two years, we really had our pick of investor and ICONIQ stood out because as we continue to grow, they can continue to invest with us,” CEO John Ackerly told Business Insider. “We really want to meet this moment in the market where society is understanding the importance of protecting their property, it’s not just their homes, it’s their data.”
Virtru uses the Trusted Data Format, an open source technology developed by Will Ackerly, a former security architect at the NSA and Virtru’s CTO. With an easy-to-use interface, Virtru can easily secure emails with end-to-end encryption.
Right now, Virtru works with Gmail and Microsoft office. With the money, the company plans on expanding beyond email and releasing integrations into Google Drive, One Drive, Box, and Dropbox. Virtru also plans on putting the capital behind promoting the Trusted Data Format, the open source technology behind the company’s encryption software.
“We want to put real dollars behind promoting a common open standard, the Trusted Data Format, to protect data. That includes building a community of other companies and developers and working with standards bodies to unify that data can be protected anywhere that it’s shared,” John Ackerly, Virtru’s CEO.
Swinging the pendulum back
Virtru was started by John and Will Ackerly, brothers with hefty policy and technology experience. Will, the company’s CTO, was a cloud security architect at the NSA before leaving to start Virtru in 2012. John was an adviser during George W. Bush’s first term in office, focusing on technology policy.
On September 11, 2001, John was preparing for a meeting with White House officials to discuss consumer data protections. But that meeting never happened. And soon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, John witnessed the Patriot Act being signed into law in what he saw as a major step backward for user privacy. John worked for the Bush administration for a few more years before he left in 2004.
Meanwhile, Will was was deployed in Iraq and tasked with carrying secure information to Special Ops teams. The only way he could guarantee that data was secure was physically running and back forth with a USB drive. He started working on the Trusted Data Format because, he thought, there had to be an easier way to protect data.
Even today, the TDF is used by intelligence agencies to share information.
Sitting around the dinner table in 2009 — years before the Edward Snowden leaks in 2013 that revealed the depth of NSA surveillance — both brothers found they were frustrated there wasn’t an easy solution to protect individual data, and they wanted to “swing the pendulum back to the individual instead of the government.”
In 2012, the Ackerly’s decided to quit their jobs and work on Virtru full time.
Virtru now has more than 8,000 customers, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, major universities, and hospitals. And in recent years, John said, more attention has highlighted the issue of data privacy.
“17 years after the Patriot Act was signed, we really have a chance to be a leader on this issue,” John said. “It’s really not acceptable that after all this time we’re still debating whether GDPR is a good idea or not.”