Data security is on a lot of people’s minds these days. If it’s not on yours, it probably should be. Given that so many of our communications take place online, and so many of these are easily breached, it’s vital for many people — specifically those working in sectors where they deal with information that needs to be protected — to have secure methods to communicate, share files, and store information.
That was the impetus behind the creation of Peerio, a Montreal-based security startup that aims to bring end-to-end encryption to every kind of collaboration and professional communication. Initially created as an email-replacing technology, Peerio CEO and founder, Vincent Drouin, said there was a need for an end-to-end encrypted technology that actually worked.
“He’d been selling lots of very half-baked, not very secure and hard to use encryption and security products and was very disappointed with what was available, and found it often misleading,” said Peerio CTO, Florencia Herra-Vega.
Now, just three years after their initial launch, Peerio has entirely rebuilt their backend, adding greater flexibility and the ability to add significantly improved functionality. While high-profile organizations like the Washington Post and Michael Moore’s Trumpileaks were already using Peerio before the overhaul, the team decided that rather than just focusing on individual improvements, they wanted to rebuild the platform to give them the ability to make significant changes on an ongoing basis.
“It started out as an email replacement product and we realized that we wanted to do something a lot bigger, so we went back to the drawing board technically-speaking, and we changed things under the hood so that they could be more flexible,” Herra-Vega said. “The new product has things I could go on about for hours: whether that’s integrations into other tools; being able to handle long email-style messaging, as well as chats, as well as big Slack-style channels with lots of people in them; documents and notes… we’ve made it possible.”
Many of the changes were influenced by user feedback, with Peerio doing extensive user testing, looking at what customers were already doing with the product, and taking into consideration the needs of their clients that hadn’t been planned for in the team’s original vision.
“We’ve either improved or completely redone every feature to go with people’s understandings of security, and also to adapt to people’s workflows,” continued Herra-Vega. “It’s a much prettier, much faster, much easier to understand app than the original one, and that’s where a lot of our focus continues to be.”
Peerio was founded in 2014 and was soon hailed by Wired as “one of the most full-featured end-to-end encryption tools out there.” With their new version, the tool goes from one for individual communication to a more robust product that can replace platforms like Slack.
“[When it comes to messaging] there is Whatsapp, Signal — there are some great tools that do secure, casual communications — but when it comes to something a bit more robust, that synchronizes across devices, that enables you to do things and go back and refer to them, that you can store for later use, then clearly something like Whatsapp isn’t going to work for you and we’re trying to claim that other space.”
Individual users can sign up for a free account, while teams with more robust needs can add various features for a monthly fee. Herra-Vega is adamant about the importance of making this product accessible to everyone, hence the use of the freemium model.
“We want people to have no cost of entry and be able to access security without having to pay or make a huge commitment,” said Herra-Vega.
At present, the key features of Peerio include default encryption on the user’s device; storage of encrypted data in three server facilities; access from any desktop or mobile device; storage and encryption for files of any size; management of poor connectivity with automatic pause/resume function for uploads and downloads; and secure group and team chats with unlimited participants.
Herra-Vega also noted that her team is working on email integration with Microsoft Outlook, which is due to be released in September, as well as improvement to file management, file handling, team functionality and “user interface goodness.”
Peerio community advocate, Jennifer de Braga, added that “the blessing and the curse of calling everyone a potential customer, is that this feature might be really valuable for the legal community but not for everyone else. All of the feedback is constantly feeding through and we’re using that information to make the app useful for absolutely everyone.”