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Lookout Mobile


They went from hacking smartphones to protecting them. How three ex-hackers broke in to the world of mobile security.

LMS_iconIn 2005, John Herring, Kevin Mahaffey and James Burgess met at the University of Southern California.

The three were all interested in technology, and together, they spotted a vulnerability in popular cell phones that allowed the devices to be hacked via Bluetooth networks.

After trying to alert the cell phone industry to the bug–and being quietly brushed aside–they decided to go a different route.

They packed a laptop and Bluetooth antenna in a backpack and walked around the red carpet of the 2005 Academy Awards ceremony, collecting evidence of how many celebrities had hackable cell phones.

The stunt could have landed them in jail! Instead, it landed them in the spotlight.

Rather than actually hacking the celebrities’ phones, the trio wanted only to expose the vulnerabilities, and get some PR for their consulting firm.

It worked! The New York Times ran a story on the three. Within two years, the friends ditched the consulting business and formed Lookout Inc.

Their product, Lookout Security and Antivirus, is a smartphone app that comes in both free and paid versions. The app protects phones from viruses, hacking, and other security threats unique to smart phones.


And despite their stunt at the Oscars, the company doesn’t like to use fear to sell their product. “We never wanted to sell through fear,” Kevin Mahaffey told Fast Company. “We wanted to focus on the feeling or protection, instead of just trying to convince you there are viruses and wave our hands around in the air.”

So instead they tout the positive aspects of the product: it doesn’t drain your battery, it helps you find your phone when its lost, it backs up all your information, and, yes, it protects you from viruses and network attacks.

The app has a slick, simple user interface. Unlike the cluttered, incomprehensible screens of desktop security programs, Lookout’s interface is simple, intuitive, and reassuring. When there are no security threats, the app tells you, simply: “Everything is OK.”

Everything is OK may be an understatement. Lookout has enjoyed enormous success since launching in 2007. Today, it has more than 25 million users and has raised nearly $100 million in venture capital.

Their app is available for all the major smartphones. But Herring and friends are already looking to the future. The way they see it, the world is becoming increasingly connected–from smart phones to smart homes– and they want to be there on the leading edge, helping to ensure that  “Everything is OK.”


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