Singapore firm creates 'breakthrough' AI computer drive to foil hackers

The X-Phy Cyber Secure SSD uses artificial intelligence to block hackers from stealing its data. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - A local company has developed a "breakthrough" computer drive that uses artificial intelligence to block hackers from stealing its data.

Called the X-Phy Cyber Secure SSD, the solid state drive can also automatically wipe its stored information in under a second if it is physically tampered with, said maker Flexxon.

The memory-storage product maker launched the product on Monday (April 19) after receiving co-funding from the Government, one of the organisations that have placed sample orders.

The Cyber Security Agency of Singapore said a "handful of public agencies are interested in this solution" and evaluating the possibility of adopting it.

The agency noted that X-Phy "helps with continued protection in the event that an anti-virus software fails" and can be used in devices such as printers, medical devices and photocopiers where it is not feasible to install anti-virus software.

Companies interested in X-Phy include local and overseas military and defence firms, as well as global firms in the medical, aviation, server and printing businesses, added Flexxon. It declined to give details when asked.

Flexxon received funding to develop X-Phy from the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore. It came after the company took part in the agency's Cybersecurity Industry Call for Innovation programme in 2018.

At the time, the projects supported by the Cybersecurity Co-Innovation and Development Fund could receive up to $500,000. The fund aims to help develop cutting-edge products that meet national cyber-security and strategic needs, and also have potential commercial applications.

The X-Phy drive works by looking for unusual patterns in the way its stored data is being accessed. It checks these against known ways that malware accesses data.

If it looks suspicious, X-Phy will lock itself to prevent further access. The drive's user will be alerted - for example, by e-mail - and can unlock the device later when the threat is gone.

This kind of attack can happen when a hacker uses ransomware to lock a company's data so that no one else can access the information unless the firm pays up.

Using AI, X-Phy can also learn new ways in which hackers try to access data to guard against yet-to-be-discovered threats. This means it will not need constant updates, unlike security software.

Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan at X-Phy's launch event on April 19, 2021. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Flexxon said there was a need for security hardware due to burgeoning cyber-security threats, including ransomware.

Tech giants have been taking the same approach. Chip maker Intel announced in January that its new processors would have ransomware detection abilities, adding: "Ransomware was a top security threat in 2020. Software alone is not enough to protect against ongoing threats."

The Cyber Security Agency of Singapore received 61 reports of ransomware from January to October last year, nearly 75 per cent more than in the whole of 2019.

Flexxon founder and chief executive Camellia Chan said that, unlike current IT security software, X-Phy can still detect malware programs even if they "change their looks" because it is looking out for how they behave.

And since it is embedded in the data it is protecting, it can respond much faster than software to block cyber attacks.

But she added: "You still need software to get rid of ransomware in a storage system."

Flexxon chief executive Camellia Chan with her firm's solid state drive. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

A commercial launch is planned for September, while a possible mass market launch for consumers could happen early next year.

It is expected to cost 15 per cent to 20 per cent more than a regular SSD.

Speaking at X-Phy's launch event, Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan noted that technology available to hackers has evolved tremendously.

"Today, if you are still dependent on signature-based detection like your standard anti-virus software, you're almost not protected at all," said Dr Balakrishnan. He added that X-Phy was a "breakthrough".

Dr Balakrishnan, who is also Foreign Minister, urged companies "to take advantage of the national ecosystem to enhance our local research and development efforts in AI, make use of the funding and support provided by the Government, and find real-life applications for your innovations".

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