Bot or Not?
MARCH 21, 2014by Jennifer Oladipo
Ellipsis targets “human presence” on the Web
Rather than make website visitors prove they’re human, Ellipsis wants companies to use Human Presence technology to figure that out automatically.
Bill West, Ellipsis chairman and CEO, said the company studied more than 80 million actions of Web users to create software that can tell the difference between human and botnet traffic within milliseconds. This vastly reduces the need for Turing tests – those codes, math problems, images and other devices people often must solve to prove that they are human, he said.
Ellipsis – named after the “…” used to signify missing text – pitches its software as a chance to “win the arms race” in Web security, arguing that machine-learning algorithms can stay one step ahead of bot evolution.
West is also a managing partner with The Atlantic Partners, which acquires and sells underperforming companies on behalf of private equity firms. He sat down with UBJ to explain the company’s product and plan.
How was Ellipsis founded?
It was an Atlanta company called Pramana, and actually funded by UCAN [Upstate Carolina Angel Network]. It was abandoned, basically nothing more than software. We moved about a year ago. We liked what they did but didn’t like the way they did it.
Atlantic Partners is one of the owners, along with the other three founders on the management team, UCAN and other investors. We bought the intellectual property, and put all Greenville talent on it to get it working. We rewrote virtually all of their code.
How did you gather a team to revamp the product?
I worked in the various high-tech groups in town, so I knew who was capable of handling this kind of deal. We had the choice of hiring a staff, but everybody we have has their own company. I thought we could put a part-time a team together that’s really some of the most talented people in town. They were also involved in the initial analysis when looking at the software.
Peter Waldschmidt, vice chairman, is brilliant working on design, data collection and algorithmic models. Andy Kurtz is CEO of ProActive technology, a premier programing shop in the area. His crew, led by Kelly Summerlin and Rob Hall, built the data collection processes. We got financial guidance from Matt Dunbar at UCAN. The Atlantic Partners provided overall strategy and oversight.
What need does Human Presence meet?
Unwanted botnet traffic is a problem. Attackers come in with bots and scrape information from websites. There’s also click fraud [bots clicking on ads to generate revenue]. Bots are on track to waste nearly $10 billion of advertising dollars spent in 2013.
TuringTestBut 3 percent of Web users log off immediately when they run into Turing tests. More than 30 percent fail on the first attempt to solve the puzzle. We were trying to do something that was totally nonintrusive. Instead of annoying 100 percent of customers, you’ll only annoy maybe five percent.
How does it work?
We’ve studied the time it takes people to press a key, move the mouse around the form, other data points. We can detect in milliseconds whether or not we have a bot. We give businesses a free report to know if they have a bot problem or not. If there is a problem, more detailed reporting is available for a fee.
(Full disclosure: The Greenville Journal was one of the beta sites.)
Who’s your target market?
Real estate, periodicals and blog sites that have lots of content are vulnerable. So are online ticketing companies that deal with bots that are scalpers. Those are easy. When you get into banking it’s a little more complex, and we can do that, too.
What’s the next step?
There will be some staffing up, then we’re going to market mid-March. We’ve gotten inquires to buy from west and east coast companies. An exiting plan was there from the beginning. We’re seeking partners for distribution, investment or acquisition.
Where did the name Ellipsis come from?
I guess when we were all sending emails back and forth to each other in the early stages, I noticed that everyone was using the ellipses, like there was more to think about. I thought, that’s definitely something a human would do, and not what a bot would do.
TAGS: online security, tech and design, technology