Racing against corporate information theft

Vontu San Francisco

Location:San Francisco

Company name: Vontu is the English-sounding equivalent of Mont Ventoux, the famous mountain bicyclists traverse during the Tour de France, of which CEO Joseph Ansanelli is a fan.

How did the company start? In December 2001, Ansanelli and two colleagues left Kana Communications to tackle a particular problem they had heard many corporations complain about: how to stop sensitive data, such as customer information, from easily being sent out over the Internet. Co-founders with Ansanelli are Michael Wolfe, vice president of engineering, and Kevin Rowney, CTO.

Funding: $15 million, including $10-million second round that closed in December 2003.

CEO: Ansanelli, who most recently was vice president of marketing at Kana. Before that, he was CEO of Connectify, a provider of electronic direct marketing software he founded and Kana acquired.

Product: Vontu Protect 3.0 data firewall

Racing against corporate information theftEnterprise network executives have been grappling with the problem of unauthorized data transmissions for as long as there's been enterprise networks. But Vontu founders witnessed the problem garnering more corporate attention of late because of two trends - the growth of identity theft and the increasing amount of data stored at overseas outsourcers - and felt they could provide a solution.

"We saw at Kana a lot of the issues we're trying to solve at Vontu," Ansanelli says. He explains the challenge: "Companies are centralizing sensitive information, such as Social Security numbers and credit card information, while giving the people who handle this data even broader access to the Internet."

With Vontu Protect, companies get a product for quickly stopping the problem of information theft.

The server-based software acts like a security checkpoint, monitoring outgoing communications such as corporate e-mail, Web-based mail, IMs and FTP transmissions. Vontu Protect looks at keywords and patterns, using "Secure Data Profile" technology to check those against sensitive information that a company never wants to see sent out over the Internet, either by mistake or on purpose. Vontu Protect costs about $35 per user.

The Windows-based Vontu Protect software doesn't block suspicious data. Rather, it alerts a manager of suspicious activity (via e-mail or automated phone call) while logging the event for audit purposes. A blocking feature aimed at controlling printer use will be forthcoming, Vontu says.

Vontu is not alone in its quest to keep the corporate crown jewels from being whisked out the door. A handful of other "V"-named start-ups - Verdasys, Vericept and Vidius - also are taking on the problem of detecting and preventing the unauthorized transmission of content. Each company has a slightly different approach.

Protecting confidential data is an uphill race, but Vontu executives say they're in it for the long haul.

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Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.