Former National Security Agency Internet specialist gets funds for e-mail security tool

A District-based cyber start-up founded by two brothers, one of whom is a former National Security Agency Internet specialist, is receiving $10 million from big-name investors who are betting that the firm’s product will set a standard for universal e-mail security.

Virtru, a Dupont Circle company that provides security for everyday e-mail, is receiving $6 million from lead investor Bessemer Venture Partners, known for its investments in LinkedIn, Skype, Postini and VeriSign.

Virtru is receiving an additional $4 million from investors including McLean-based Blue Delta Capital, Clear Channel Communications chief executive Robert Pittman and investment firm, Tiger Global Management, co-founded by Chase Coleman.

David Cowan, founder of VeriSign, is leading the $6 million investment for Bessemer Venture Partners, where he is a partner.

“We have been investing in e-mail security for 20 years,” Cowan said. “The challenge has always been to make it easy enough for everyone to use. But no one has ever figured out how to secure e-mail to everyone. We think these guys can do it.”

Virtru was started by Will and John Ackerly. Will, 33, is a former NSA Internet security architect who left the agency to found the company with his brother. John, 39, was associate director of the National Economic Council and director of the Office of Policy and Strategic Planning at the Commerce Department under President George W. Bush.

The company has 15 employees at its Dupont Circle offices.

Virtru was founded in the summer of 2012 and launched its free e-mail security system in January of 2014. It allows people to encrypt e-mails they send to others, revoke messages from recipients after they have been sent and prevent unauthorized viewers from intercepting messages.

“We help prevent the e-mail disaster stories we have all had,” John Ackerly said. “We have all hit reply and wish we could take that back.”

Ackerly said the company will use the funds to grow its user base domestically and internationally, from tens of thousands of users to tens of millions.

The company will keep its
e-mail privacy tools free to the public, but it plans to create a revenue stream by selling upgraded e-mail security features to businesses and license its encryption server to big companies.

Capital Business is The Post’s weekly focusing on the region’s business community. For more Washington business news, go to www.capbiz.biz.

Thomas Heath is a local business reporter and columnist, writing about entrepreneurs and various companies big and small in the Washington Metropolitan area. Previously, he wrote about the business of sports for The Post’s sports section for most of a decade.
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