1-on-1 with Lionel Wolberger, Co-Founder & CTO at Platin.io
I had the opportunity to talk 1-on-1 with Lionel Wolberger, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer at Platin.io, the creators of the Proof of Location Protocol, about his professional journey through cryptography, identity and privacy.
NG: How did you arrive at Platin?
LW: Three experiences led me to co-found Platin together with Allon Mason. For twenty years I worked in a company called Cisco Secure Video. I then worked for about six years in the internet identity space. Lastly, I originally graduated from Cornell University, and it was at their alumni events that Allon and I started talking blockchain.
NG: Okay, so the last part seems to be the easy one. How about the Cisco experience?
LW: Yes, Cisco is a big part of what I became as an engineer. I was very lucky to start at a company that was founded by Adi Shamir. Shamir is the “S” in RSA, co-inventor of the RSA algorithm alongside Ron Rivest and Len Adleman, who basically created asymmetric public key cryptography. They patented the RSA algorithm, which was licensed to the company that became RSA.
Shamir then continued his academic research, and later founded another startup to monetize different aspects of his cryptographic insights. That startup came to the attention of Rupert Murdoch, who was looking for a world-leading cryptographer at the time to protect News Corporation’s broadcasting signals. In 1988, Murdoch became the majority investor in News Datacom Research (NDS), the company set up to implement Shamir’s algorithms in all manners of data security and identification applications.
That company had about twenty employees when Murdoch invested and it grew to 6,000 employees. I was employee 446. NDS exited for $5 billion. It actually had multiple exits along the way, and Murdoch made lots of money each time. I did not [laughs], but I did get to work with world class cryptography and security teams, people who were off the charts leaders in the field.
I was not in the development teams, I did not actually write code, what I did was called “delivery”. I was in charge of systems and the security enforcements around those systems. It was a great job, and I really enjoyed it. Frankly, the only reason I left was because Cisco, which acquired NDS, was more interested in their patents rather than further development of the business.
NG: How did you then transition into starting up your own business?
LW: About six years ago, while still at Cisco, I was cleared to undertake my own startup, and I got involved in identity. At the time there was a very small community, but I was lucky to get involved with the leaders in that space such as David “Doc” Searls. About 15 years ago, Searls and others started to investigate the “log in problem”, and in 2005 he founded the “Internet Identity Workshop” together with Kaliya “Identity Woman” Young (formerly Hamlin), an expert in self-sovereign identity and identity on the blockchain and Phil Windley. Out of these groups ultimately came the “Log in with Facebook”-type protocols, such as SAML, OpenID, and OpenID Connect.
Given my own experience, I was able to help out on a number of threads. For example, I was chairing a Committee on Decentralized Identity. I was also working with Neustar, then the United States’ largest provider of telephone number portable identity. As a result of all this, I deeply understand identity, blockchain as it relates to identity, and how we can selectively share identities yet completely preserve our privacy.
NG: So all this adds up to the moment when you founded Platin?
LW: Platin is about location, which represents challenges on the same level as identity and as conditional access to digital assets. It is a wonderful problem, and it is a privilege to be a part of a talented team creating a real solution, and we are very excited about deploying it. That, and the good beer at the Cornell Alumni events where Allon and I realized that we had to do this.
NG: In terms of innovation, where do you see Platin having the edge?
LW: I have always been interested in innovation through reconfigurations. I like the example of the cash register. You know, people were using drawers for centuries, and ringing bells for even longer. But someone in the American Midwest in the 1870s put a bell on a drawer, and by doing that created an invention which transformed commerce. It solved a problem that people could not even formulate very clearly: that the moment when the cash is handed over from the customer and needs to go into the store’s till, if we can draw attention to that moment by ringing a bell, we reduce theft by a factor of one thousand.
Similarly, if you look closely at blockchain and read Satoshi’s white paper, there is almost nothing brand new in blockchain. It is a reconfiguration and recombination of fairly new things — things that were just about 30 years old.
At Platin, we reconfigure three fairly new things into a unique solution. These are asymmetric cryptography, robust hash functions, and components of zero knowledge proof (ZKP), which I refer to as types of “cryptographic tricks”. With these tools Platin brings security and privacy-preserving engineering to location declarations by people and things.
NG: Lionel, you certainly help us understand Platin. Thank you.
This was our second in a series of articles on Platin and similar protocols, to take a closer look at this technology and its application. Our first article was “Location, Location, Location”. Follow us so that you do not miss the next installment!
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