Database-software startup Sqrrl released version 1.1 of its Sqrrl Enterprise platform earlier this week. Positioned as “the world’s most secure and scalable Big Data platform for building real-time analytical applications,” the software allows users to assign granular security labels to data moving through the system.
It also relies on Apache Accumulo, a database technology developed by the NSA, which eventually contributed it to the Apache Software Foundation in 2011. The Apache Software Foundation describes “Accumulo” as a “robust, scalable, high performance data storage and retrieval system” based on Google’s BigTable and built atop open-source frameworks and services such as Hadoop, Zookeeper and Thrift. It’s an open assumption that Accumulo (and similar systems) contribute mightily to NSA surveillance programs such as PRISM, which have been much in the news lately.
In other words, at least from a publicity standpoint, it probably wasn’t the best week to launch a product with such close ties to the NSA. But Sqrrl’s employees probably don’t mind—many of its founders once worked in some capacity for the NSA and other intelligence agencies.
When those founders started Sqrrl in 2012, they claimed that Accumulo would allow the company’s software to engage in near-real-time data analysis, including information retrieval and visualizations. The startup also emphasized its ability to lock down data at the individual-cell level, thanks to a combination of authorization-based access controls, paired with other security measures such as auditing, encryption, and integration with platforms such as the Kerberos authentication protocol.
Sqrrl has claimed that its software undertakes authentication and other security measures with a minimal loss of performance, thanks to a combination of built-in caching and compression algorithms.
Sqrrl’s official materials don’t play down its employees’ NSA connections, or the use of Accumulo. But it will be interesting to see whether the firm’s connections to the secretive agency—which is dealing with some PR issues at the moment—affects its business prospects.