The 18-month-old cell phone security firm VYSK announced Thursday its plans to hire 50-75 more San Antonians in the coming months in addition to the more than 25 employees already hired by the locally-based company.
Most jobs created by VYSK will be high-paying engineering, technology, and project management positions paying upwards of $65,000 a year, said VYSK Co-founder and CEO Victor Cocchia. By early 2016, the cellphone security startup plans on bringing 350 high-tech manufacturing jobs to San Antonio.
"For a long time our economy was too anchored in just (military and tourism). So this is a continued evolution within our city to make sure that we expanded economic base," said Congressman Joaquín Castro. "When I see a company like VYSK call San Antonio home I can't help but think of all the incredible work that went into making San Antonio a place where you would want to locate."
U.S. Rep. Castro, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, and District 8 Councilman Ron Niremberg , flanked by chambers of commerce representatives, investors, tech industry partners and even the Spurs Coyote, attended the announcement event at the impressively modern Phipps Building on the Museum Reach. The visually striking office building waas designed by local architecture firm Durand-Hollis Rupe Architects. VYSK's new headquarters are located on the first and second floor of the four-story building.
"Young people today – the brains of today – want to live in an urban environment," Wolff said, praising VYSK's choice of office location in the urban core.
The office building is a monument to the modern work space. Huge windows let natural light infiltrate almost every room. Most office walls are glass. There's space for both collaboration and concentration – not to mention the roof-top event space with a perfect view of the San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio River and the downtown skyline.
"People ask me, 'Why? Why San Antonio?' We (found) some great resources here. For us, from a technology standpoint, we actually have two of our biggest pieces of the VYSK puzzle, (they) are actually Texas-based," Cocchia said.
Austin-based Freescale Semiconductor, Inc. provides semiconductor chips for VYSK's hardware/processors and the audio processor is made by a Texan company as well.
In addition to San Antonio's growing technology industry, "we also have access to an amazing pool of talent here in the retired military (community)," Cocchia said. "These highly trained individuals, many of them with security and technology backgrounds, make San Antonio a really fertile place to hire. This is Military City USA and what better place for a cybersecurity (company) to come to try to hire people."
To double-down on their investment in San Antonio, VYSK also is moving its manufacturing facilities from San Francisco and the Silicon Valley to San Antonio. "We think Texas and San Antonio is the place to be (and) a great place to do business," he said.
Tuesday also marked the unveiling of VYSK's newest, more economically accessible model of its high-tech cell phone case that protects a user's data and phone calls from prying eyes and ears of all caliber.
The original, deluxe model, the QS1 was released in April 2014. This VYSK case will run you about $229.99. There's also a $9.99 monthly subscription for voice and text encryption. The EP1 ("everyday protection") is priced at $119.99 and available for pre-sale online. The EP1 still provides excellent protection, Cocchia said, but does not include the QS1's access to VYSK's encrypted network – and therefore no monthly subscription is required. Best Buy has exclusive rights to sell the EQ1 in their stores starting in September. See the specifications for each model, which also act as a battery, at www.vysk.com.
I won't pretend to explain to you how the VYSK case works, so you don't have to pretend to understand. It's proprietary anyway.
"Everything else is defense (against hackers), VYSK is an offense," said Cocchia.
What I can say is that basically VYSK, with a simple flick of a switch on the case exterior, locks down your phone from the outside world and uses its own, controlled network to send data instead of your cellular provider. You still have the same access to your phone's features, but when the switch is flipped, it goes into VYSK mode. When activated, a processor inside the case encrypts and protects data like photos and documents from being accessed. There's even a shutter for the camera eye so remote activation of a phone's camera is impossible.
"I've seen people put tape over the lens," said Dr. Lee Haddad, chief science officer for VYSK and the brains behind the mechanical shutter and microphone-jamming technology.
The vulnerability of smart phones lies in the operating systems they use – the software, said VYSK Co-founder and advanced mathematician Michael Fiske. "You can't (have) good security without embedded hardware."
The genesis of VYSK was 19 months ago when Fiske's wife shared his paper written on an incomputable computation with her friend from high school, Cocchia, on Facebook. Fiske and Cocchia, an entrepreneur who has worked on many projects, including Gore Design Completions ("I guess I have to use the term entrepreneur," he said with a smile), started talking about possible commercial applications of Fiske's work. Eventually they found themselves having to keep their conversations vague on the phone – technology that has million-dollar potential will do that to you – and they realized they had just answered their own question.
"We have the potential to secure our whole infrastructure," Fiske said. Future applications of this technology could include securing financial transactions, air traffic control, and a myriad of different existing information technologies.
Yes, the co-founders are Victor Cocchia and Michael Fiske – you can guess where the name VYSK came from. As a coincidence a Danish and Norwegian word for "erase" or "rub out" is viske, Cocchia said.
"We realized that millions of people didn't know their privacy was at risk," Cocchia said. With the proliferation of smart phones, which we take literally everywhere, "privacy as we know it is disappearing. Our smart phone is actually a window into our lives," that we leave it open all day.
VYSK closes that window. Tight.
"Nothing is 100 percent NSA proof," said Greg Hirchorn, a media relations agent hired by VYSK. But cracking the VYSK system is like "trying to find a penny on Earth from three galaxies away."