Interview with Alex Amiryan, CEO & Co-Founder of Stingle
“I wanted to move out from Google Photos because I had all of my lifetime photos there. I found really nothing. No other software was secure, versus as secure as I wanted. And also, there was no software that was also convenient and practical to use. So I decided to take the safe camera further and renamed it to Stringle photos,” Alex Amiryan, CEO & Co-Founder of Stingle.
In this episode HyeTech Minds host Alex Amiryan, CEO & Co-Founder of Stingle Photos. Stingle Photos is a convenient, easy to use Gallery/Camera application with Backup and Sync functionality for your photos and videos which seamlessly provides strong security, privacy and encryption. All photos and videos are encrypted prior to being stored and backed up, so they are secure at rest, in transit and on cloud storage. App is completely free and includes free 1GB cloud storage space.
Alex is a software developer and entrepreneur with +15 experience in security, encryption and privacy. Currently he is CEO and founder of Stingle Photos, a secure, end-to-end encrypted gallery and sync app.
Narine: Hello Alex, Welcome to HyeTech Minds. How’re you doing? How’s it in Yerevan?
Alex: Thank you very much. I’m doing well. Everything is okay. We have nice weather in your oven right now.
Alex, you’re a software engineer and have been in the industry for more than a decade. I’m sure you have an interesting story to share about how exactly you got into the startup world.
Alex: I‘ve been a software developer for nearly 18 years now. And so I was working in different companies before and in 2012. I had an idea to create an app that will make your photos on your device on your mobile device secure. And it was called SafeCamera. And it had a lot of response, a lot of fans. It had nearly 150,000 downloads. And I had this app for a while and like I was working on other stuff.
And then in 2018, I decided to take it further. And because what was the problem for me, I got into more privacy and security fields. And so I wanted to get away from Google products like Google search, Google Keep Gmail, etc.
And I found all kinds of alternatives for all this kind of software. And then I wanted to move out from Google Photos because I had a lot of like all of my lifetime photos there. And I found nothing, I found really nothing. So no other software was secure, versus as secure as I wanted. And also, there was no software that was also convenient and practical to use. So I decided to take the safe camera further and renamed it to Stringle photos. And started designing the staff and the cryptography behind it. And also keeping in mind that I wanted it to be very easy to use and practical and like it so it doesn’t look like it inconveniences you while using it. So I spent nearly four months designing the internals and then started developing them. And now we have a ready product, like a live product for Android. And we’re gonna have an iOS version until the end of this month. So I’m very excited about that. And we’re going forward and going strong. We have nearly 10,000 registered users right now.
And nearly 50 paying customers.
Narine: 10,000 registered users is really impressive for an entry-level startup.
So talking about Stingle, can you tell us what is it about, how it works, and how it exactly helps users to be more secure?
Alex: So at first glance, when you like to open the app, you don’t feel anything special, it is just like your ordinary gallery apps, like Google Photos or Apple iCloud Apple photos. So, you just use it as normal. So the difference is on the inside. So it does end to end encryption. What it means is that so you have the keys, cryptography keys that you encrypt with and only you can decrypt them back.
After you take some photos, you back them up. You can also sort them by albums you can share with your friends and you are absolutely sure that only you and the person you shared with, can open the files so neither we nor the government, not the server administrator nor hackers servers in the future. Right? So the other problem.
The other problem I faced was that we saw leaks and data leaks from different large companies every day, right? So like, just two weeks ago, LinkedIn leaked five 500 million records from their database.
And if you think about it, if these large companies have billions of dollars, and they’re still failing to protect their user data, you can imagine that if, for example, one day you become big, somebody will hack you too, and steal your database. So what’s the solution? So the solution is pretty obvious. And not to keep anything on your cloud servers on your cloud infrastructure that you can share with the whole world. So it’s, it sounds crazy, but it’s really possible, thanks to the magic of cryptography, so singles are designed in such a way that if for example, right now, somebody hacks into the servers or I don’t know, the government comes in to confiscate the servers. They can, they will get nothing out of it, like plain nothing. So we hold all the data from users or the older photos and videos, but they’re heavily encrypted, and it’s impossible for them to decrypt because nobody except users has the keys.
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Narine: By the way, are you open source?
Alex: Yes, it’s open-source, and all of our client apps will be open source, always. So it gives trust to people that they can look into the code, verify that we’re not lying about anything. We’re completely open on every design part. Even on our websites, Stringle.org you can read about all the nitty-gritty details of how the encryption is done on each part, starting from registration, to sharing, to backing up, etc. And you also can verify, looking at the code.
Narine: Seems you are offering high-end security solutions. Now the question comes how much it will cost users to use Stingle. And what is the capacity for photo storage?
Alex: So the app is completely free and open-source, as I already said. And it comes with each account with one gigabyte of free Cloud Storage. And after that you have to buy if you want, you can buy more storage with monthly or yearly subscription.
So it goes from 300 Giga from 100 gigabytes to 20 terabytes.
Narine: 1 GB, That’s a lot.
Narine: So Alex, you know, privacy is a huge problem in today’s technology-driven world. We all depend on technology devices and solutions. We use social media. Keep important documents, personal photos, videos on those devices.
Can you unpack security features a little bit unpack security features?
Alex: We offer total privacy, so nothing is revealed from your data, not the data in itself, not metadata, for example. We went to Magic streams to, for example, keep the even file type a secret. Its original filename is a secret. So we are early like many making sure that we don’t make any metadata also. Which is important. And sometimes it’s as important as the data itself.
Narine: What are some of the risks that someone can break into a Stingle’s account?
Alex: I always say so the only valid way to break into someone’s Stingle account is to threaten them with a gun, for example, to force them to disclose the password. That’s the only practical way. For now.
Narine: That’s a big statement
What if the government or judge ordered you to decrypt a certain user’s account? Would it be possible to descript information?
Alex: No, like, it’s impossible. So neither we nor even local apps on your device, can’t decrypt your photos, even a Stringle itself can’t decrypt it before you unlock it. So the key that is your main key that is used to decrypt your data is kept only in the ram for a small amount of time while the app is unlocked. And when you close the app, it’s deleted. And even the Stringle photos themselves can’t decrypt your data while it’s not in use.
And then the whole design is, like, as I said, the whole point of Stingle photos is to make your data impossible to decrypt for anyone other than you. And it’s confirmed by the cryptography that we explain on our website. And also, if you have, for example, somebody who can read the source code, they can confirm that too.
Narine: That’s really super awesome. I think many should take advantage of this solution. I’m also curious to know if it’s possible to share my encrypted photos/videos with other devices. A person on average probably has 2-3 active devices.
Alex: So right now, it’s impossible. So the other party has to have the app installed and have the registered account. So you can encrypt for them so that their public key has to be available on the system so you can share it with them. But in the future, we’re planning to have a web version, which will enable us to make, like sharing with links. So you can create a link that you can send to anyone and they can open it in the browser and see what you have shared.
Narine: So talking about the future. You know we all depend on technology and it’s becoming a huge part of our lives.
At the same time, cybercrime is becoming more sophisticated and targeted. From your expertise, what is next for security apps like Stingle?
Alex: So my expectation is that these kinds of apps like security and privacy-focused will be more prevalent in the future. Because the risks are getting bigger because like, more people went online for work, for everything. And, of course, cybercriminals will take advantage of that. And people are starting to realize that they have to protect their securities, protect their privacy. And it’s this trend is, is going forward this way. So, yeah, I think we have to fight. So the problem is really that our systems, the software that we have these days are really complex. And complexity is the first enemy of security. So if you have, very, like complex software, it’s more prone to both security bugs and this kind of stuff. And hackers and cybercriminals are taking advantage of it, like every day.And that’s why also, we would try to keep Stingle as simple as possible, not to make it overly complicated and keep it very clean. And also, we’re using a very well vetted cryptographic library, which is called Lib Sodium, which is, which is agreed by many professionals and academic cryptographers, that it’s related to security and it’s tested for many years. So we’re confident in our encryption, and we keep everything nice, that’s tight.
Narine: Alex, why should users choose Stingle? So many big names fail today in providing data privacy and security?
Alex: First of all, open-source and having the best in class cryptographic design. Stingle photos give you peace of mind that your data is safe.Even in case of leakage in the future, no one can see your data.
Narine: Alex, are you only available in the Armenian market space?
Alex: No, we’re global and the majority of our users are from the USA. And we’re really not famous in Armenia. We’re not targeting Armenia also, we want to conquer the global market.
Narine: Talking about Armenia. I mean, Armenia has a very complicated geopolitical location, and securing cybersecurity cyberspace should be a high priority for today’s Armenia.
What do you think should be done to motivate more startups in Armenia to get into the cybersecurity ecosystem?
Alex: I didn’t think about this before, but I think maybe. So it’s first of all, people have to see like, financial advantage like for getting into security space, and probably government has to offer some I don’t know grants or multibyte is a way for people to start thinking about cybersecurity and making products for that will help to secure Armenian government or me and military, this kind of stuff.
Narine: Very valid point. What do you think about how we can create more favorable conditions in Armenia, to attract investors from the diaspora to come to the country and invest in cybersecurity startups?
Alex: So, first of all, we need more security in terms of border security and calmness in the region, for the investors to come. Because as you know, we had war recently. And war is never good for investors and people who want to spend money in the country because one day it could just be ruined by the worst. First of all, we need that. And other than that, we have really good specialists, really good developers, really good minds. And just a little involvement and incentive from the government, I think will create a spark and people will start doing it.
Because everybody knows the importance of the security field for the country and for individuals. But sometimes people don’t see, like, maybe great financial potential in it, or I don’t know, this kind of stuff. Maybe they think that doing something else will bring more money. I don’t know. Right?
Narine: Political stability is important to attract investors. No one wants to invest in a country that has political or military volotaties. Let’s hope all those internal and external turbulences will be over soon.
So Alex, how can listeners learn more about Stingle or try the app?
Alex: You can go to https://stingle.org/ website to read more about it. And they’re also links for download. We’re also available on the Android market. It’s an alternative Android market that is hosting only open-source software. And they build the code apps from the source code. So you’re, you’re 100% sure that this application is built from that source code.
And also, you can search right now on google Playstore for Stringle photos, it’s Stringle photos, and you can download it and registration just takes email and password and nothing else.
And you’re ready to go.
Narine: Right. Well Alex, thanks for the great conversation and your time. I think a lot of important points have been touched. Great insights. I’m positive Stinlge has a bright future and I’m excited to see what comes next.
Thanks again and stay safe
Alex: Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Stay safe.
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Links to the Founder and everything you want to know about Stingle
- Website: https://stingle.org/
- GitHub: https://github.com/stingle
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/stingle/
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