When Mornay Walters met FORBES AFRICA in 2013, he was the cellphone wielding Jeremiah who warned that your business wasn’t safe from hackers. This was the year when Edwin Snowden, the former CIA employee, blew the whistle on global government surveillance programs. From the streets of Sandton to the stock markets of New York, Snowden revealed that no text, email or Facebook account was safe, unless you had military-style protection.
“You are fighting a shadow war. It could be a kid in a basement or it could be a highly skilled team; you don’t know,” says Walters.
“The reality is communication in the internet has changed drastically from where we were five years ago, to where we were two years ago, to where we are today. Ultimately it’s about one thing, data.”
Walters went into business at the right time, with the right app, to protect classified government installations; he realized he could do the same for businesses. With a team of 15 programmers, he created Seecrypt. It protects metadata, the information embedded in every SMS and email, to make it almost impossible for hackers, or governments, to get your precious secrets.
Two years on, Walters’ small team of 15 has grown into a $130-million company that is home to 130 geeks; another world for the man who grew up in a Free State farming town that you would struggle to find on Google Maps.
“If you look hard yes, when I lived in Sasolburg the population was only 26 thousand people, today there is only 113 thousand people, 20 years after I left for the big city,” he says.
There are plenty of people to protect: whether it’s Facebook’s 1.49 billion users; WhatsApp’s 800 million users; Twitter’s 316 million users; or Instagram’s 300 million users.
“Personal data is the new black gold,” says Walters.
“You don’t know what you have until you’ve lost it. Ask any A-list celebrity what’s the first thing they want back, privacy… We can tell you horror stories about the perceived way how they take information from you, how they can harvest your address book for example. Listed companies have made billions, yet don’t charge a cent for their product. One has to ask where the money comes from, is your privacy worth the price of your app?”
Think of the app like armor-plating on a Range Rover, says Walters.
“The smallest grain of information that leaks out of that process could affect what we have… Every night, we have what we call sweep attacks. It could be a kid, an automated bot, or a person that hits our system. We spend an enormous sum of money on unified threat management. We do our own penetration tests.”
“We see it as flattering. We are getting interest from the US and China. Literally every modern nation is tapping on our front door or poking us from the side.”
Believe it or not, the company also encourages the people they want to crush.
“We have what we call honeypots, where we trap hackers, and they think they are getting into the system, so we can learn more about them,” says Walters.
So even if you are shopping in Africa, look over your shoulder, he warns
“Credit card SMS notifications can betray you. With SMS notifications you can track someone through a shopping mall. But that information is sent in the non-secure to me. If you are a high-end user, then these texts could make you a potential target. They display bank balance, your name and location. It’s a problem.”
“That’s the thing about cybercrime. It’s invisible. It’s only when I use your information publically against you that you will find out about it. While tech is making our lives easier we are exposing ourselves in a glass box. You are literally walking naked in the streets.”
Whether it is on your child’s Xbox or their cellphone, Walters believes access to the internet is an integral part of our lives, like oxygen and water.
“Your TV has a camera on it; your Xbox has a camera on it. It’s been demonstrated that one can be hacked and you could see into a living room. These things most people are oblivious to. We don’t even realize it,” he says.
It’s a thriving business that has taught the international market never to underestimate an Afrikaans accent from the Free State.
“We are dealing with customers who have never dealt with South Africa. We are naturally underdogs… The benefit of South Africa becoming the next Silicon Valley is that we’re cheap. We can develop software cheaper and pay developers more,” he says.
“I spend more time in an airplane than at home. But we are so excited about the opportunities coming our way; we expect to become a 500-man company in the next two to three years. It’s not an easy road. But we have made some good impressions.”
Walters’ business is a far cry from the start-up app run by a crew of 15. His next stop: becoming th