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December 1, 2015

How smart prediction tech is securing mobile typing

Exclusive briefing: IT Director Ian Mcdonald tells CBR about Swiftkey, the shift to cloud & the security surrounding the predictive keyboard.

By Charlotte Henry

Switkey has come to be one of the most popular applications on mobile devices. The keyboard boasts that its predictive capabilities offer the best autocorrect around, collecting what is typed and building a profile of the user to work out what is going to come next.

Users can enter text quickly by swiping around the keyboard with the app guessing your words instead of typing every letter. It claims to have saved nearly two trillion keystrokes and more than 23,000 years in combined typing time with its predictive technology.

The firm, which was recently featured in the Tech City Future Fifty, has moved into the cloud. IT Director Ian Mcdonald told CBR that the "nearly everything for our public services are on Amazon web services."

"We did have a mixture of old texture, stuff in our server room and stuff in a colo facility, but we’ve now shifted all the public facing things to Amazon," says Mcdonald.

There are two parts of Swifkey, an app that runs on a phone directly, and a cloud service that allows you to buy themes and have the app remember your typing style on various devices.

With typed data moving from device into the cloud, the question is, are our messages and sensitive data in danger?

Mcdonald says the firm is using up to date industry standards to try and prevent any breaches via the cloud service:

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"All transfers between the phone and the internet are using HTTPS with all the latest standards armed, so we’ve shifted, as the whole industry has shifted to HTTPS for everything so have we."

He says that the move to Amazon also helped with security, vital for the kind of product Swiftkey is, because "they retire some of the old security standards the banks haven’t even got round to removing. As Amazon has updated the standards we’ve worked with them."

The idea seems to be that Swiftkey, which was started by CEO Jon Reynolds and CTO Ben Medlock in 2008, now uses as-a-Service offerings, building on the high standards of security those providers insists on.

The security process is one that is constantly reviewed too, and the firm works with a variety of phone manufacturers too to uphold their security standards.

"What we do is we’ve gone through proper security reviews including external security reviews. We store things properly on the device in the way that’s recommended by the manufacturers to protect data."

Swiftkey recently launch on iPhone and iPad, as well as Android, after Apple rolled back is decree on third party keyboards. Again, the development has had a security knock on for Swiftkey.

"Apple and iOS9 has had new standards called application transport security, we’ve worked with them."

This is an app that is used to type in banking details and passwords, so its security offering needs to be more than just high standards.

Mcdonald says that Swiftkey doesn’t want anything to do with your passwords or bank details: "Basically what the client does, it specifically looks for long numbers and things like long numbers and things like that and never ever sends them off the device, and it doesn’t even store them in the local language folder because obviously we don’t want to have anything to do with credit cards etc.

"It doesn’t talk to the internet or anything like that, so that’ stripped on the device. And the same with password fields because the operating system says this is a password field so we don’t do any smart things at all on password field or a security field."

By replacing your mobile phone’s keyboard, Swiftkey is asking you to share your most sensitive data with it. By working with a a variety of manufacturers and SaaS products, the statup endeavours to keep those secrets safe.


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