Inappropriate images could be blocked by PixAlert

19 Apr 2004

Irish company PixAlert is currently raising finance for international expansion as it seeks to market its own software designed to prevent organisations from exposure to inappropriate or illegal images on PCs.

It produces software that alerts a company whenever a staff member is viewing an inappropriate images such as pornographic pictures – what the company calls ‘visual viruses’.

The company’s two main products are PixAlert Monitor and PixAlert Auditor, based on patented technology. Monitor is non-intrusive software that inspects all the image files on a networked PC and alerts administrators to the presence of pixel combinations that suggest human skin tones. Administrators can select different levels of sensitivity to flesh in the image files. The monitoring software detects pictures from any source, including internet gateways, wireless connections and removable media.

PixAlert claims its software – which runs locally on desktop PCs – works better than monitoring tools that reside at the gateway to a company’s network. Gateway-based web filtering tools, which are quite widely deployed in businesses, can leave holes through which inappropriate content can arrive, it is claimed. “There are now more points of risk and more points of vulnerability,” says PixAlert CEO John Nolan. He cites mobile phones and PC device connection ports such as USB as relatively recent sources for inappropriate content to arrive into a company, without having come in via the web.

Intercepting graphical content at the desktop, on the other hand, is thought to offer a greater chance of success – regardless of file format, application, transport protocol or encryption, PixAlert claims it can capture the image.

PixAlert is confident that it has spotted a gap in the market – a niche that has already been categorised as policy-enforced computer security. Illegal and inappropriate content and images in the workplace can cause civil and criminal lawsuits. Due to fears over managerial liability and good governance, companies are increasingly putting usage policies in place to ensure that staff do not misuse internet access at work. In tandem with this trend is the need for effective technology to implement these policies.

The company has 25 customers in Ireland, which it can not name for security reasons. Across these organisations, which span the public sector, government and US multinationals, the monitoring software is installed on more than 20,000 desktops.

The company also helps organisations by offering risk management advice, in association with its partner Deloitte. It has a case methodology to help clients formulate policies for co-ordinating the introduction of a monitoring system, as well as informing staff.

Another partner is the Dundalk-based PC manufacturer iQon. It is bundling the PixAlert monitoring software with its systems as a way of offering parental control over internet access.

PixAlert, which has offices in Castleknock in Dublin and employs 15 people, is currently on a fundraising drive, seeking €2m worth of investment to bring the company up to €7m in revenues by 2006, according to Nolan.

The company hopes to record €1m in sales for this calendar year. The company’s management team includes Nolan, who has an extensive background in IT security, as well as chairman Paul O’Dea, who previously headed the Irish Software Association. Canice Lambe, formerly of NewWorldIQ, is CTO. PixAlert founders Dara Fitzgerald and Donal O’Shea are also on the management team.

By Gordon Smith