Lookout for Better Mobile Security

OK, I’m going to date myself here.

I graduated from college in the early 1980s and entered the professional workforce. Most of you wouldn’t recognize the office I worked in: phones sat on desks, were plugged into walls and were the only way you could communicate with workers not in the office. “Spreadsheets” were largely done by hand on big sheets of paper, aided by desktop calculating machines. Our department had one personal computer that had to be shared. It sat on a desk and wasn’t connected to anything but the power supply and a printer. “Portable” computers emerged in the middle of the decade. The first one I saw was the size of a suitcase (it actually had wheels) and people said it was “luggable.”

During the 1990s, I found myself working at The Walt Disney Company in southern California. Computers were now on every desktop, becoming more powerful, and their uses were expanding. My future partner Marc Andreessen was up north leading the development of the first mass market browser. All of a sudden, email and Internet access stormed the workplace. I also distinctly remember the first time I encountered a “cellular phone”—it was the size of a lunchbox and couldn’t legitimately be characterized as “mobile”. Personal digital assistants (aka PDA) came onto the scene later in the decade, but they lacked connectivity and typically had to be synched by actually tethering the device to your computer.

At the new millennium, I was responsible for managing ebay.com. The Internet revolution was on and online commerce was simply exploding. Computing was undergoing a revolution as well—a mobile revolution. Laptops started replacing desktops. Cellular phones and PDAs essentially merged and the smartphone was born. I used to wear out BlackBerrys by answering much of my email on the go (I frequently used the Berry while on the elliptical machine in the gym, an acquired skill). Then Apple debuted the iPhone in 2007 with its touch screen, robust mobile browser, and, soon thereafter, third-party applications. Google quickly followed with Android.

Today, this mobile revolution is in full swing and is changing computing dramatically. For the first time, smartphone shipments exceeded PC shipments at the end of 2010. The iPad tablet is Apple’s fastest-growing new product ever and everyone else is scrambling to jump on the tablet bandwagon. IDC forecasts that more people will access the Internet via mobile devices than PCs by 2015. Personally, smartphones and tablets have already acquired the lion’s share of my own computing time and the PC is now relegated primarily to power email (and occasional blog composition).

Mobile applications are also proliferating. Internet incumbents such as eBay, Amazon, Yelp and OpenTable (where I’m executive chairman) are bringing their services to mobile devices with great success. New companies are also building services that subsist on mobile-specific capabilities—think foursquare, Bump and Uber—and many are investing and innovating with the goal of turning mobile devices into wallets, such as Square and PayPal.

Unfortunately, when there’s progress, there’s also peril. Wherever e-commerce happens, bad guys descend to try to steal some of the money that is being exchanged. I encountered this at both eBay and PayPal, where much of my time was spent fighting off relentlessly escalating threats from what largely was organized crime. Today, that’s starting to happen on mobile devices. There were more mobile security threats identified in July 2011 than in all of 2010, and it’s estimated that one in three smartphone users will encounter an unsafe website this year on their phone. This trend will only worsen as mobile adoption increases and mobile commerce continues to expand.

With this context, Andreessen Horowitz is delighted to announce our newest investment in Lookout Mobile Security. Lookout is pioneering a new approach to mobile security and wants to give people the confidence to do more with their phones by providing protection against mobile threats. They’ve built a number of highly innovative products:

  • The Lookout app protects against digital threats like malware, spyware and unsafe websites. It also backs up critical personal data (like contacts or photos) and can find a lost or stolen phone. Unlike many security apps, it’s both easy to use and optimizes device performance and battery life.
  • On the backend, Lookout’s Mobile Threat Network combines algorithmic analysis with a cloud-based architecture to rapidly identify new mobile security threats. They have been the first service to detect and protect against many major threats, often within minutes of the appearance of threat in app stores and before the threat reaches a user’s phone.
  • Unlike traditional security vendors, Lookout, through the Lookout API, is sharing its incredible dataset of information with the mobile community to keep people safe. The Lookout API automatically provides threat data to partners such as Verizon so that they can ensure that their app stores are safe.

Together, these products have resulted in Lookout assuming a global leadership position in mobile security. The company currently protects over 12 million users in 170 countries and they are adding an additional 1 million users per month. They are the top-rated and -ranked security app in the Android Market, and PC World named them the Top Product of 2010. They have also established partnerships with a number of leading carriers in the U.S. including T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon.

The Lookout founding team includes talented hackers (in the best sense of the word): John Hering, Kevin Mahaffey and James Burgess. The trio has deep technical roots and strong DNA in the security world. While students at the University of Southern California, they found a vulnerability in mobile device Bluetooth connections, but they couldn’t get device manufacturers to take the vulnerability seriously. Determined to make their point and drive awareness of the vulnerability, the trio created a contraption called the “BlueSniper rifle” and demonstrated it with great success at the DefCon security conference. They are young, innovative and relentless—the perfect backgrounds for the folks you’d trust to keep your mobile devices safe.

As CEO of Lookout, John is a very impressive entrepreneur—one with a compelling vision, passion, talent and commitment (read more from John here). He’s rapidly assembling an excellent executive team and a strong board. We are honored he chose to partner with Andreessen Horowitz and I very much look forward to working closely with him as an investor and board member.

Andreessen Horowitz led the $40 million round, joined by current investors Khosla Ventures, Accel Partners and Index Partners. The proceeds will be used to broaden the company’s product offerings, fuel global expansion and build a world-class team.

Download Lookout! You’ll be glad you did.