Alibaba unit takes stake in Singapore-based mobile security software firm V-Key

Ant Financial, the microfinance unit of Alibaba, has invested US$12 million (S$15.6 million) for a minority stake in Singapore-based mobile security software firm V-Key. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Ant Financial, the microfinance unit of Alibaba, has invested US$12 million (S$15.6 million) for a minority stake in Singapore-based mobile security software firm V-Key. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

Shareholding in security software firm comes after that in SingPost

SINGAPORE - Yet another Singapore company has appeared on the radar of Chinese entrepreneur Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group.

Ant Financial, the microfinance unit of Alibaba, has invested US$12 million (S$15.6 million) for a minority stake in Singapore-based mobile security software firm V-Key. China-based venture capital firm IPV Capital also participated in this round of funding.

Co-founded by local serial entrepreneur Eddie Chau, V-Key specialises in software that secures smartphone apps and data, which are increasingly being targeted by cyber criminals.

"The traditional thinking is to load mobile phones with anti-virus software but we have come from a different angle to avoid slowing down the phone's processing power," Mr Chau told The Straits Times.

V-Key's approach involves app developers incorporating its patent-pending V-OS software into their apps so that hijackers have no way of stealing consumers' sensitive data and password.

Its V-OS software mimicks the smartcard chip technology in use today by credit card companies by virtualising the smartcard chip for storing sensitive data in the phone. Today, V-OS is deployed on more than one million devices worldwide, chiefly via online payment firm ChinaPNR.asia's mobile point-of-sale terminals in China.

With the investment, Ant Financial's Alipay online payment platform - which handles 80 million transactions daily, more than half of which are through mobile phones - is also expected to use V-OS.

"V-Key's technology is in line with Alipay's commitment to creating a safer, more convenient global transaction environment," said Mr Jason Zhu, head of Alipay's investment team.

Cyber criminals are increasingly targeting mobile devices. A 2012 report by anti-virus firm Norton by Symantec stated that one in three mobile users globally has been exposed to some form of mobile cyber crime.

In Singapore, one in five adults has been a victim of either social or mobile cyber crime, such as scams, the report said.

Another security firm, Trend Micro, said that more than 350,000 malicious Android apps were circulating online in 2012. The number jumped to 1.4 million last year, and is expected to hit four million by the end of this year.

The investment comes after Alibaba paid $312.5 million for a 10 per cent stake in SingPost in May to tap the e-commerce market.

Online payment firm PayPal said Singapore's online shopping market is expected to balloon from $1.1 billion in 2010 to $4.4 billion next year. "In 2010, shopping on mobile phones accounted for a quarter of online shopping spending. This is expected to balloon to 70 per cent next year."

itham@sph.com.sg