Categories: Corporate

Celebrating an anniversary hat trick for Wibu-Systems

1989. 2003. 2014. Some years hold a special place in the history books, some are less remarkable, but all of them are milestones in the story of Wibu-Systems. This year, Wibu-Systems has more than enough reason to celebrate not one, but three anniversaries: The birth of the company, the launch of CodeMeter, and the invention of Blurry Box. Time for a look back at more than three decades of excellence in software protection, licensing, and security.

Twenty years ago, the engineers of Wibu-Systems were preparing for the global launch of CodeMeter, the groundbreaking protection and licensing solution that was set to not just replace its forerunner, WibuKey, but completely remodel both the company’s business and the way we approach software licensing. While the first CmSticks may have arrived with less fanfare than peer Google, they did enjoy a brief stint at Karlsruhe’s Christmas market. Twenty years later, while the IT world has changed immeasurably, CodeMeter is still going strong and continuing to evolve and lead the way as the premier protection and licensing technology of choice for professionals and as a real business enabler.

Deep roots

When its engineers were putting the finishing touches to CodeMeter, Wibu-Systems could already look back on 15 years of excellence in the software protection and licensing field. The two founders, Marcellus Buchheit and Oliver Winzenried, had set out on their mission to revolutionize software licensing at an exciting time in the computing world. The Intel 80486 brought a new level of computing power, VGA graphics were wowing users with their vibrant colors, and Windows 3.0 would soon make GUIs the de-facto standard for end users.

This was the time that opened up computing to a wider audience and set the scene for much of what we now consider our digital reality. But with a new audience also came new threats: Software piracy in particular would turn from a fringe problem to a major burden for the industry in the 1990s. Developers fought back with a creative trick, including one-time pads and other gimmicks. This is where Winzenried and Buchheit – Wi-Bu for short – came in with a truly technical and sustainable solution: WibuKey was born.

WibuKey introduced the basic protection and licensing concept that would later mature into CodeMeter: Licenses using cryptographic key pairs to guarantee security and the proper enforcement of the license terms. A secret key is stored in the license – for much of the company’s early life in dongle form, as it still is with CmDongles – and is needed to run the licensed software.

From strength to strength

On 16 November 2003, CodeMeter replaced WibuKey – or almost: True to Wibu-Systems’ spirit of long-term availability, the company still keeps the legacy system alive in its portfolio even today. But the new protection and licensing star CodeMeter came shooting out of the starting blocks and has not lost any of its original energy since.

Twenty years of constant innovation have ensured CodeMeter’s place as one of the pioneering solutions in the markets. Wibu-Systems’ engineers have constantly increased its capabilities and versatility, while avoiding bloat and keeping the technology sleek and fit for its original mission. The popular range of CmDongle hardware containers has grown to include a myriad of new form factors, including design-award-winning external dongles and powerful ASICs. New types of containers have been added, ranging from the small-footprint software-based CmActLicenses to cloud containers and the new CmReady that combines the best of both worlds with a novel license binding concept. At the same time, the inner qualities of CodeMeter have continued to evolve to include new encryption capabilities for almost any development and usage scenario and top-end protection solutions like CodeMoving with its option to execute particularly sensitive code exclusively within the secure environs of a CmDongle or a CmCloudContainer.

One particular milestone in CodeMeter’s evolution marks another anniversary: Ten years ago, Wibu-Systems unveiled Blurry Box, the Kerckhoffs-compliant encryption technology that takes CodeMeter protection to another level. What seems an arcane issue for crypto-enthusiasts – a 19th century French cryptographer’s idea that only the keys themselves and not the inner workings or algorithms of a cryptographic system should be kept secret – is the holy grail for practical crypto-applications like software licensing. It is the antithesis to the misguided belief in security-by-obscurity. With Blurry Box, Wibu-Systems and its partners at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and the FZI realized such a system and immediately proved its strength in a public worldwide hacking challenge, beating all attempted attacks. Blurry Box deservedly won considerable industry attention and awards, including the 5th German IT Security Award.

Soaring away

As the company is well into its fourth decade in the market, Wibu-Systems continues to soar with new products and services and technological inventions. The cloud has featured prominently in Wibu-Systems’ business in the last few years, as the company has invested in high availability data center resources, leveled up CodeMeter’s capabilities for popular virtualization scenarios like the use of Docker containers, and added a whole new category to its license container lineup: CmCloud is far more than just another option next to software containers or dongles. With a new dimension of portability and connectivity, and protection power to rival the top-end CmDongles, CmCloud gives clients new inroads into CodeMeter licensing. Different service packages and hosting options are available to fit any scenario and help create entirely new software business models.

And Wibu-Systems has already set its sights on the next frontiers for protection and licensing: the means to secure AI and machine learning models, and the looming danger of quantum computing beating established cryptographic capabilities. With the bright minds at the company’s new campus in Karlsruhe and a growing IT security community around the neighboring House of IT Security, Wibu-Systems is ready for what the future holds in store.




KEYnote 47 – Edition Spring/Summer 2024

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