On Monday afternoon (morning in his native Hawaii), Mac security expert Patrick Wardle announced Objective-See, Wardle's mix of Mac security tools and research had officially become a non-profit. It is an official change he hopes will demonstrate a second path for security companies besides turning to venture capital.
"I see a lot of people who take VC money and almost always your business model has to change or you have to put profits first and can't do the community focus and public service activities you want," he said. "Going the nonprofit route is a really good approach and illustrates that you can support your company on donations without having to change that business model."
Objective-See makes Lulu, a popular free firewall, as well as several other products, but it's limiting to call it a software project. It's also a Mac malware repository, the site where you can download Wardle's full-length book "The Art of Mac Malware" for free, and the organizer of the Objective-by-the-Sea conference. It is the overarching name of a sprawling set of personal projects that have grown to the size of a small company.
The site was already supported by donations — both corporate partners and Patreon sign-ups — and the proceeds of selling a company making enterprise versions of his consumer products to JAMF. But without the non-profit label, Wardle often ran into the problem of convincing people the tools he mostly built to run on his own computer for his own security did not come with a catch.
"There are some really neat positive changes and one of them is definitely the optics," he said. "Especially at the beginning, people knew me more as a former NSA hacker, and they were like 'Okay, so you're telling me I should download this tool, run it on my box and then give it a password when it asks?'"
"People thought 'Okay, well, I've been told that if a product is free, I'm the product — that free software mines data or does something worse,'" he added. "It's good to be skeptical, but it wasn't true. The non-profit label explains how this is funded."
Non-profit status, Wardle hopes, will make donations easier and offer tax incentives to do so. He hopes that it will, in the near term, amount to additional funds he can use for honorariums for speakers at Objective-by-the-Sea, and scholarships to fly students out to the conference. He also hopes that creating the board required to be a non-profit will provide him with some additional perspective about valuable projects he can take on.
"In some ways being a non-profit changes nothing. In other ways, it changes a lot," he said.