Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


"Whatever happened to Zero-Knowledge Systems?"

zeroknowledgeprivacyad.JPGZero-Knowledge Systems was one of the hottest startups of the internet bubble. Unlike internet companies selling pet food or delivering snacks to stoners, Zero-Knowledge was focused on bringing privacy to all internet users. We had some fantastic technology which was years ahead of its time. And people often ask me “whatever happened to them?”

The company has re-focused its business model, changed its name to Radialpoint, become profitable, and become the fastest growing company in Quebec (based on 5 year revenue growth). As Austin Hill writes in “Radialpoint gets some Prophetic Love:”

I want to congratulate my brother Hamnett, father Hammie and the entire team at Radialpoint who were just honored by Profit Magazine as the fastest growing company in Quebec (measured in 5 year revenue growth) and the 32 fastest in Canada.

I’ll join Austin in sending the entire Radialpoint team congratulations.

It’s a great team, and they’ve done a fantastic job transitioning from promise to a reality for their partners and customers.

13 comments on ""Whatever happened to Zero-Knowledge Systems?""

  • wirespace says:

    Can you recomend any services provides something like the old freedom system (or the closest possible)?

  • Am I crazy, or are these Radialpoint offerings:
    * Targeted messaging (for ISP customers)
    * User base segmentation (against ISP customers)
    * Service delivery, enhancement and support (for ISPs)
    * Program upgrade and service replacement (for ISPs)
    * Comprehensive campaign analytics and reporting (for ISP advertisers)
    pretty much the *exact opposite* of the services ZKS was trying to provide? ZKS took the bar code off of everyone’s foreheads; RadialPoint seems to be branding it right back on. Did Austin and Hamnet believe in the ZKS idea, or did they just like working with you and Ian Goldberg?

  • Adam says:

    Wirespace, you might look at Tor,

  • TorUser says:

    You are correct. I have listened to a sales pitch from RadialPoint when they were on-site trying to sell my company their products. They are just like the rest of the vast wasteland of “security is a product” vendors on the market today.
    As for their profits, great. All boats rise with the tide (the tide that is security products).

  • Adam says:

    I don’t think it’s a 180, although you might try to spin it that way.
    The technology that Radialpoint is selling derives from parts of the Freedom 1.0 software. We had a firewall in there, and maybe other security components. The market didn’t go the way we wanted or expected. Some big companies marketed their security offerings as internet privacy. ZKS had both client software and server elements to help manage their use. The company spent huge amounts of time talking to ISPs about what what they wanted, because we wanted ISPs as both a channel to users, and to operate Freedom network nodes.
    So the offerings evolved. You can paint that as ironic, or compare it to the many other companies who shut their doors, leaving their shareholders high and dry.
    And TorUser, if you think a rising tide lifts all boats, you clearly have never watched a young security market. Companies go away all the time.

  • So, if you take the motivation issue (the “why”) out of my comment, the rest of it is true? I see how the market could lead you from anonymizing users (noble, low-margin) to tracking users (ignoble, lucrative). Is that all that happened?

  • Adam says:

    As far as I know, the tracking users implication isn’t true either. The segmentation is (as I understand it) things like “users who have had the AV service for 6 months, but not the anti-spyware.”
    So the platform has the ability to deliver messaging, but not the ability to say, track where you browse and use that for marketing.

  • TorUser says:

    There are always those companies that fail in any market. Young markets are young markets. They do better when the rest of the markets are growing. More of your competitors can survive off your scraps.
    My point was that RadialPoint didn’t have anything spectacular that I saw. Great that their lineage is from ZKS. Current Tor is the new ZKS. RadialPoint is some other tangent of what ZKS could have been.

  • The world changes. Adam is at Microsoft. Zks provides a security suite. The Eagles reunited…
    Tor is the closest thing I’ve seen to what we, I mean Zks, offered 8 years ago.
    Still, better a security suite than a Web 2.0 applet!

  • wirespace says:

    Last time I tried tor it was so slow that it was allmost unusable.
    How about services like anonymizer?

  • Yes Tor can be s-l-o-w; Zks learnt that the hard way.
    Proxy servers (with SSL in between if possible) work much quicker than onion routing.

  • Johnath says:

    Just in case you had lost track (which I doubt) – some large percentage of the old ZKS crew seems to have reconverged around Mozilla. Seems like every third coworker I meet here used to be ZKS. I was in university in Toronto at the time, but I would have swept ZKS’s floors, just to be there when they were doing what they were doing. I still have that barcode ad in some downloaded-graphics folder somewhere.

  • Iang (fc7) says:

    One of the things that was obvious with ZKS is that it didn’t have a business model. The technology was fine, world-beating even, but the lack of a focus on business was a killer, and this was evident from the start. Nowhere was there a discussion of what consumers or businesses wanted to buy.
    This is and was pretty much typical of technology-driven startups, and is why I included the “finance” layer in the FC7 model. Literally, an entire layer devoted to the business of making money, which by the rightness of its positions, drives requirements down to every other layer.
    I’m glad they are now focussed on the customer instead of the cypherpunkian tradition of protecting everything, and damn the cost. If I was a sensitive person, I’d be dead by now watching the hundreds and thousands of companies that think they can move the world with technology, alone.
    (which, to no small extent includes my own 😉

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