Net neutrality

Don’t take net neutrality for granted

You don’t know what you have until it’s gone, according to the old wise saying. We have learned to value Internet as the ultimate frontier of freedom and equality. Anyone anywhere can use whatever service she likes or communicate with any other person. But will it always be this way? Not necessary. Let’s create a fictive example. Imagine a business development guy at the power company. He’s reading the paper and notices that Apple is in the headlines. They did a nice profit last year, and he gets a brilliant business idea. Their electrical network is used to supply charging power to a lot of Apple devices, so he calls Apple and proposes a deal. The electrical company will continue to provide charging power for Apple devices and Apple will pay them for allowing that. That would of course be on top of the normal fee customers pay for the electricity. Otherwise the electricity company would regretfully be forced to prevent Apple-device from charging in their network. Would that be right? Of course not, it would be extortion. This example is fortunately purely fictive, and even technically impossible as the power company can’t control what customers do with the electricity. But Internet is lot more complex than the power grid. Internet Service Providers can monitor our traffic and see what we are using our broadband connection for. So this scenario is unfortunately possible on the Internet. Not only possible, it’s reality. Do you remember the Netflix vs. Comcast affair about a year ago? Internet Service Provider Comcast’s subscribers received really poor performance on video streaming service Netflix, until Netflix started to pay money directly to Comcast. Some call it a normal peering agreement, some greedy extortion. Netflix vs. Comcast differs from the fictive power company in one way, Netflix sells a high-volume service that cause significant load on Comcast’s network. That makes it a bit easier to understand Comcast’s points, but one fact remains. Comcast’s customers have already purchased broadband connections and paid to get any Internet content, including Netflix-videos, delivered to their homes. And Comcast has gladly taken that money. The Federal Communications Commission in US also agrees that something needs to be done. They made a decision on February 26th 2015 that reclassifies Internet access as a common carrier service. This means more tools to enforce net neutrality and prevent the “greedy power company” business model. Net neutrality activists all over the world are celebrating this as an important win, but let’s not be too happy yet. Anything can happen in US’s legal and political systems and there are still mighty powers who don’t want to let a profitable business model go just like that. It ain't over until the fat lady sings. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) accumulate a significant power when building large customer bases. Not only do they get income from the customers’ fees, they are also in a position where they can control what content is delivered and at what speed. Net neutrality is, among other things, preventing misuse of this power. It may not be a widespread problem today, but there is a significant risk it will become one unless we do something. Imagine Comcast running a service that competes with Netflix. Comcast could simply terminate the deal with Netflix to eliminate one competitor. This would in practice mean that Comcast’s video streaming would be the only working choice for Comcast’s customers. That is unless we have strong net neutrality rules that enforce equal treatment of network services, and ensure that we have a choice no matter what ISP we have signed up with. This is why net neutrality is important for you, me and everybody else. Internet is a fundamental service just like water, electricity and the road network. We don’t want the power company to dictate how we use electricity, and we don’t want our ISP to control how we use Internet. Want to know more? Start with Save The Internet or Battle for the net.   Safe surfing, Micke   PS. By the way, we have a great tool that is designed to improve security and privacy, but it can also be used to circumvent censorship and other net neutrality violations. F-Secure Freedome.   Image by Electronic Frontier Foundation (eff.org)

Mar 3, 2015
BY 
Apple

Which operating system is the most secure? Four points to remember.

No, you are almost certainly wrong if you tried to guess. A recent study shows that products from Apple actually are at the top when counting vulnerabilities, and that means at the bottom security-wise. Just counting vulnerabilities is not a very scientific way to measure security, and there is a debate over how to interpret the figures. But this is anyway a welcome eye-opener that helps kill old myths. Apple did for a long time stubbornly deny security problems and their marketing succeeded in building an image of security. Meanwhile Windows was the biggest and most malware-targeted system. Microsoft rolled up the sleeves and fought at the frontline against viruses and vulnerabilities. Their reputation suffered but Microsoft gradually improved in security and built an efficient process for patching security holes. Microsoft had what is most important in security, the right attitude. Apple didn’t and the recent vulnerability study shows the result. Here’s four points for people who want to select a secure operating system. Forget reputation when thinking security. Windows used to be bad and nobody really cared to attack Apple’s computers before they became popular. The old belief that Windows is unsafe and Apple is safe is just a myth nowadays. There is malware on almost all commonly used platforms. Windows Phone is the only exception with practically zero risk. Windows and Android are the most common systems and malware authors are targeting them most. So the need for an anti-malware product is naturally bigger on these systems. But the so called antivirus products of today are actually broad security suites. They protect against spam and harmful web sites too, just to mention some examples. So changes are that you want a security product anyway even if your system isn’t one of the main malware targets. So which system is most secure? It’s the one that is patched regularly. All the major systems, Windows, OS X and Linux have sufficient security for a normal private user. But they will also all become unsafe if the security updates are neglected. So security is not really a selection criteria for ordinary people. Mobile devices, phones and tablets, generally have a more modern systems architecture and a safer software distribution process. Do you have to use a desktop or laptop, or can you switch to a tablet? Dumping the big old-school devices is a way to improve security. Could it work for you? So all this really boils down to the fact that you can select any operating system you like and still be reasonable safe. There are some differences though, but it is more about old-school versus new-school devices. Not about Apple versus Microsoft versus Linux. Also remember that your own behavior affects security more than your choice of device, and that you never are 100% safe no matter what you do.   Safe surfing, Micke   Added February 27th. Yes, this controversy study has indeed stirred a heated debate, which isn’t surprising at all. Here’s an article defending Apple. It has flaws and represent a very limited view on security, but one of its important points still stands. If someone still thinks Apple is immortal and invincible, it’s time to wake up. And naturally that this whole debate is totally meaningless for ordinary users. Just keep patching what you have and you will be fine. :) Thanks to Jussi (and others) for feedback.  

Feb 26, 2015
BY 
NSA, GCHQ, listening, mobile calls, privacy

Is the NSA listening to your mobile calls? Maybe. Here’s what you can do about it.​

The newest leak from Edward Snowden may be coming at a terrible time for the Obama White House but it's not particularly shocking news to security experts. The Intercept's report about the "Great SIM Heist" reveals American and British spies stole the keys that are "used to protect the privacy of cellphone communications across the globe" from Gemalto, the world's largest manufacturer of SIM cards. It goes on to report that "With these stolen encryption keys, intelligence agencies can monitor mobile communications without seeking or receiving approval from telecom companies and foreign governments," which sidesteps the needs for legal warrants that should be the foundation of ethical law enforcement. While this is certainly troubling and speaks to the agencies wanton regard for privacy and some amateurish procedures being used to transport keys, it likely won't alter the security landscape much. "The best summary is that an already unreliable communication method became even more unreliable," F-Secure Labs Senior Researcher Jarno Niemela, the holder of 20 security-related patents, explained. "Nobody in their right minds would assume GSM  [Global System for Mobile Communications --the digital cellular network used by mobile phones] to be private in the first place," he said. "Phone networks have never been really designed with privacy in mind." Mobile operators are much more concerned with being able to prevent their customers from avoiding billing. While a scope of such a breach does seem huge, Jarno points we're not sure how many of the billions of cards manufactured by Gemalto may be affected. Keys sent to and from operators via without encryption in email or via FTP servers that were not properly secured are almost certainly compromised. But according to The Intercept, GCHQ also penetrated “authentication servers,” which allow it to "decrypt data and voice communications between a targeted individual’s phone and his or her telecom provider’s network" regardless who made the cards. With the cracked keys, users' calls would be vulnerable but likely only in a limited manner. "I am told that these keys only expose the encryption and authentication between the mobile device and the local cell tower," F-Secure Security Advisor David Perry explained. "This means that the NSA or (whoever else) would have to be locally located within radio range of your phone." So could the NSA or GCHQ be listening to your calls without a warrant? Maybe. Here's what you can do about it. Add a layer of encryption of your own to any device you use to communicate. A VPN like our Freedome will protect your data traffic. This would not, however, protect your voice calls. "Maybe it’s time to stop making 'traditional' mobile phones calls," F-Secure Labs Senior Researcher Timo Hirvonen suggests. "Install Freedome, and start making your calls with apps like Signal." [Image by Julian Carvajal | Flickr]

Feb 23, 2015
BY 

Latest Posts

Net neutrality

You don’t know what you have until it’s gone, according to the old wise saying. We have learned to value Internet as the ultimate frontier of freedom and equality. Anyone anywhere can use whatever service she likes or communicate with any other person. But will it always be this way? Not necessary. Let’s create a fictive example. Imagine a business development guy at the power company. He’s reading the paper and notices that Apple is in the headlines. They did a nice profit last year, and he gets a brilliant business idea. Their electrical network is used to supply charging power to a lot of Apple devices, so he calls Apple and proposes a deal. The electrical company will continue to provide charging power for Apple devices and Apple will pay them for allowing that. That would of course be on top of the normal fee customers pay for the electricity. Otherwise the electricity company would regretfully be forced to prevent Apple-device from charging in their network. Would that be right? Of course not, it would be extortion. This example is fortunately purely fictive, and even technically impossible as the power company can’t control what customers do with the electricity. But Internet is lot more complex than the power grid. Internet Service Providers can monitor our traffic and see what we are using our broadband connection for. So this scenario is unfortunately possible on the Internet. Not only possible, it’s reality. Do you remember the Netflix vs. Comcast affair about a year ago? Internet Service Provider Comcast’s subscribers received really poor performance on video streaming service Netflix, until Netflix started to pay money directly to Comcast. Some call it a normal peering agreement, some greedy extortion. Netflix vs. Comcast differs from the fictive power company in one way, Netflix sells a high-volume service that cause significant load on Comcast’s network. That makes it a bit easier to understand Comcast’s points, but one fact remains. Comcast’s customers have already purchased broadband connections and paid to get any Internet content, including Netflix-videos, delivered to their homes. And Comcast has gladly taken that money. The Federal Communications Commission in US also agrees that something needs to be done. They made a decision on February 26th 2015 that reclassifies Internet access as a common carrier service. This means more tools to enforce net neutrality and prevent the “greedy power company” business model. Net neutrality activists all over the world are celebrating this as an important win, but let’s not be too happy yet. Anything can happen in US’s legal and political systems and there are still mighty powers who don’t want to let a profitable business model go just like that. It ain't over until the fat lady sings. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) accumulate a significant power when building large customer bases. Not only do they get income from the customers’ fees, they are also in a position where they can control what content is delivered and at what speed. Net neutrality is, among other things, preventing misuse of this power. It may not be a widespread problem today, but there is a significant risk it will become one unless we do something. Imagine Comcast running a service that competes with Netflix. Comcast could simply terminate the deal with Netflix to eliminate one competitor. This would in practice mean that Comcast’s video streaming would be the only working choice for Comcast’s customers. That is unless we have strong net neutrality rules that enforce equal treatment of network services, and ensure that we have a choice no matter what ISP we have signed up with. This is why net neutrality is important for you, me and everybody else. Internet is a fundamental service just like water, electricity and the road network. We don’t want the power company to dictate how we use electricity, and we don’t want our ISP to control how we use Internet. Want to know more? Start with Save The Internet or Battle for the net.   Safe surfing, Micke   PS. By the way, we have a great tool that is designed to improve security and privacy, but it can also be used to circumvent censorship and other net neutrality violations. F-Secure Freedome.   Image by Electronic Frontier Foundation (eff.org)

Mar 3, 2015
trust, internet, internet of things

By Allen Scott, managing director of F-Secure UK and Ireland The internet and the industry which surrounds it is at a tipping point. The scramble to dominate in emerging product and service markets has led many organisations to lose sight of what the Internet should be. If things continue on this downward moral trajectory, we run the risk of breaching the rights of every person who uses it. As a general rule of thumb, violating customers and prospects is not a wise sales strategy. This is why the Trusted Internet is so important now, in 2015, to stem the tide. Half the world away The internet has morphed from a military funded academic computer network into the World Wide Web into what we know today. It has created new industries and billionaire business owners. It has made the world smaller by connecting people who would never otherwise have interacted. It has helped every person by making their life a little easier – from keeping in touch with family to being the number one resource for research on any given subject. It is hard to imagine life without it. Of course, not everyone is online…yet. Figures vary, but it is generally accepted that approximately 3 billion people are now connected to the internet. That is 42% of the world’s population. By 2018, it is estimated that half of the world’s population will be online. That means that every other person could have their human right to privacy (Article 12 of the Declaration of Human Rights) violated. It is unacceptable because it is avoidable. Personal data – the ultimate renewable resource The internet is now an extension of mankind. It is our marvellous creation and we are growing more and more dependent on it. The problem is that it is turning into a Frankenstein’s monster. We are so consumed with whether something (such as tracking people’s movements online) is possible, that the industry has forgotten to ask themselves whether they should. Morality has been pushed aside in the race to gain more personal data, for knowledge is power. Don’t believe how valuable data is? Just take a look at Google. A giant of the internet, it made over £11 billion in profit last year. Not bad for a company which gives away its services for free. Google collects so much data on its users that it is the fourth largest manufacturer of servers in the world. It doesn’t even sell servers! Personal data is big business. Advertisers pay a lot of money for profiles on people. What people like, where they live, who they are likely to vote for, whether they are left-handed – some marketing companies claim to have up to 1,500 points of interest on each individual’s profile. Are all of these ‘interesting points’ something which those people are happy to have shared? I doubt it.  What about the Internet of Things Next up is the Internet of Things (IoT). A concept whereby a vast number of objects, from toasters to bridges, will be connected to the internet where they will share the data they collect. The benefits of this emerging network is that analysis of the data will lead to efficiencies and will make life easier still for people. For example, I could combine the data collected from my smartphone pedometer, my diet app and my watch’s heart monitor to analyse my health and make informed improvements. So far, so good. The IoT waters get a little murkier when you start asking who else has access to that data about me. Maybe I don’t mind if my doctor sees it, but I’m not comfortable with marketing companies or health insurers seeing that data. It’s private. We are fortunate that we are still in the fledgling stage of the IoT and have the opportunity to shape how it impacts our private lives. This is a relatively small window in which to act though, so we must be outspoken in order to protect people’s civil liberties. The ethical solution The next stage of internet development needs to be the Trusted Internet. People have the right to privacy online and it is entirely possible. Not every business and organisation online is part of the data-collecting frenzy. Some, like F-Secure, simply don’t care what you want to look up in a search engine or which websites you visit (unless they are malicious, of course!). We believe that your data is exactly that – yours. Until now, the internet has developed a taste for the free in people. Users have been reluctant to pay for services which they could get for free elsewhere. But now people are realising that when they don’t pay for the product, they are the product. With F-Secure, our customers are just that – customers. Being the customer, their data is their own. Our job is to protect them and their data. We believe that the internet should be a place for people to learn and interact. There shouldn’t be a price on this in the form of our privacy. If there should be a price, it should be monetary, so that people have the chance to buy the services they wish to use, rather than gaining access to services in exchange for personal information. I would happily pay to use Google, Facebook, LinkedIn or one of the many other sites which stakes claim to me when I sign up. We are the generation which created the internet. Let’s not be the generation which disposed of decency, respect and privacy too. [Image by Timo Arnall | Flickr]

Feb 27, 2015
8402394000_861ef1b969_z

This year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) is coming up next week. The annual Barcelona-based tech expo features the latest news in mobile technologies. One of the biggest issues of the past year has enticed our own digital freedom fighter Mikko Hypponen to participate in the event. Hypponen, a well-known advocate of digital freedom, has been defending the Internet and its users from digital threats for almost 25 years. He’s appearing at this year’s MWC on Monday, March 2 for a conference session called “Ensuring User-Centred Privacy in a Connected World”. The panel will discuss and debate different ways to ensure privacy doesn’t become a thing of the past. While Hypponen sees today’s technologies as having immeasurable benefits for us all, he’s become an outspoken critic of what he sees as what’s “going wrong in the online world”. He’s spoken prominently about a range of these issues in the past year, and been interviewed on topics as diverse as new malware and cybersecurity threats, mass surveillance and digital privacy, and the potential abuses of emerging technologies (such as the Internet of Things). The session will feature Hypponen and five other panelists. But, since the event is open to public discussion on Twitter under the #MWC15PRIV hashtag, you can contribute to the conversation. Here’s three talking points to help you get started: Security in a mobile world A recent story broken by The Intercept describes how the American and British governments hacked Gemalto, the largest SIM card manufacturer in the world. In doing so, they obtained the encryption keys that secure mobile phone calls across the globe. You can read a recent blog post about it here if you’re interested in more information about how this event might shape the discussion. Keeping safe online It recently came to light that an adware program called “Superfish” contains a security flaw that allows hackers to impersonate shopping, banking, or other websites. These “man-in-the-middle” attacks can be quite serious and trick people into sharing personal data with criminals. The incident highlights the importance of making sure people can trust their devices. And the fact that Superfish comes pre-installed on notebooks from the world’s largest PC manufacturer makes it worth discussing sooner rather than later. Privacy and the Internet of Things Samsung recently warned people to be aware when discussing personal information in front of their Smart TVs. You can get the details from this blog post, but basically the Smart TVs voice activation technology can apparently listen to what people are saying and even share the information with third parties. As more devices become “smart”, will we have to become smarter about what we say and do around them? The session is scheduled to run from 16:00 – 17:30 (CET), so don’t miss this chance to join the fight for digital freedom at the MWC. [Image by Hubert Burda Media | Flickr]

Feb 27, 2015
Apple

No, you are almost certainly wrong if you tried to guess. A recent study shows that products from Apple actually are at the top when counting vulnerabilities, and that means at the bottom security-wise. Just counting vulnerabilities is not a very scientific way to measure security, and there is a debate over how to interpret the figures. But this is anyway a welcome eye-opener that helps kill old myths. Apple did for a long time stubbornly deny security problems and their marketing succeeded in building an image of security. Meanwhile Windows was the biggest and most malware-targeted system. Microsoft rolled up the sleeves and fought at the frontline against viruses and vulnerabilities. Their reputation suffered but Microsoft gradually improved in security and built an efficient process for patching security holes. Microsoft had what is most important in security, the right attitude. Apple didn’t and the recent vulnerability study shows the result. Here’s four points for people who want to select a secure operating system. Forget reputation when thinking security. Windows used to be bad and nobody really cared to attack Apple’s computers before they became popular. The old belief that Windows is unsafe and Apple is safe is just a myth nowadays. There is malware on almost all commonly used platforms. Windows Phone is the only exception with practically zero risk. Windows and Android are the most common systems and malware authors are targeting them most. So the need for an anti-malware product is naturally bigger on these systems. But the so called antivirus products of today are actually broad security suites. They protect against spam and harmful web sites too, just to mention some examples. So changes are that you want a security product anyway even if your system isn’t one of the main malware targets. So which system is most secure? It’s the one that is patched regularly. All the major systems, Windows, OS X and Linux have sufficient security for a normal private user. But they will also all become unsafe if the security updates are neglected. So security is not really a selection criteria for ordinary people. Mobile devices, phones and tablets, generally have a more modern systems architecture and a safer software distribution process. Do you have to use a desktop or laptop, or can you switch to a tablet? Dumping the big old-school devices is a way to improve security. Could it work for you? So all this really boils down to the fact that you can select any operating system you like and still be reasonable safe. There are some differences though, but it is more about old-school versus new-school devices. Not about Apple versus Microsoft versus Linux. Also remember that your own behavior affects security more than your choice of device, and that you never are 100% safe no matter what you do.   Safe surfing, Micke   Added February 27th. Yes, this controversy study has indeed stirred a heated debate, which isn’t surprising at all. Here’s an article defending Apple. It has flaws and represent a very limited view on security, but one of its important points still stands. If someone still thinks Apple is immortal and invincible, it’s time to wake up. And naturally that this whole debate is totally meaningless for ordinary users. Just keep patching what you have and you will be fine. :) Thanks to Jussi (and others) for feedback.  

Feb 26, 2015
NSA, GCHQ, listening, mobile calls, privacy

The newest leak from Edward Snowden may be coming at a terrible time for the Obama White House but it's not particularly shocking news to security experts. The Intercept's report about the "Great SIM Heist" reveals American and British spies stole the keys that are "used to protect the privacy of cellphone communications across the globe" from Gemalto, the world's largest manufacturer of SIM cards. It goes on to report that "With these stolen encryption keys, intelligence agencies can monitor mobile communications without seeking or receiving approval from telecom companies and foreign governments," which sidesteps the needs for legal warrants that should be the foundation of ethical law enforcement. While this is certainly troubling and speaks to the agencies wanton regard for privacy and some amateurish procedures being used to transport keys, it likely won't alter the security landscape much. "The best summary is that an already unreliable communication method became even more unreliable," F-Secure Labs Senior Researcher Jarno Niemela, the holder of 20 security-related patents, explained. "Nobody in their right minds would assume GSM  [Global System for Mobile Communications --the digital cellular network used by mobile phones] to be private in the first place," he said. "Phone networks have never been really designed with privacy in mind." Mobile operators are much more concerned with being able to prevent their customers from avoiding billing. While a scope of such a breach does seem huge, Jarno points we're not sure how many of the billions of cards manufactured by Gemalto may be affected. Keys sent to and from operators via without encryption in email or via FTP servers that were not properly secured are almost certainly compromised. But according to The Intercept, GCHQ also penetrated “authentication servers,” which allow it to "decrypt data and voice communications between a targeted individual’s phone and his or her telecom provider’s network" regardless who made the cards. With the cracked keys, users' calls would be vulnerable but likely only in a limited manner. "I am told that these keys only expose the encryption and authentication between the mobile device and the local cell tower," F-Secure Security Advisor David Perry explained. "This means that the NSA or (whoever else) would have to be locally located within radio range of your phone." So could the NSA or GCHQ be listening to your calls without a warrant? Maybe. Here's what you can do about it. Add a layer of encryption of your own to any device you use to communicate. A VPN like our Freedome will protect your data traffic. This would not, however, protect your voice calls. "Maybe it’s time to stop making 'traditional' mobile phones calls," F-Secure Labs Senior Researcher Timo Hirvonen suggests. "Install Freedome, and start making your calls with apps like Signal." [Image by Julian Carvajal | Flickr]

Feb 23, 2015
Best Protection 4 Years in a Row, AV Test, F-Secure

What smells so good? Could it be history? On Tuesday, F-Secure's corporate security team traveled to Dresden to pick up its fourth straight Best Protection award from AV-Test.org. We are now the only vendor in the history of the award to win the honor four years in a row. “Since 2011, F-Secure's security product has been a guarantee of high protection in corporate environments,” says Andreas Marx, CEO of AV-TEST. That's four years straight of the industry's best protection in a solution that provides the technology that's the basis for all of our security solutions. Success like this doesn't just mean we're good once in a while. It means we're the best every day, as the award goes to the solution that provides the most consistent protection throughout the year. We blocked 955 out of 958 real-world threats -- a 99.67 percent blocking rate --  and 112,059 out of 112,090 wide-spread malware with an astounding 99.97 percent blocking rate. That means we're about 2.67 - 2.97 percent above the industry standard. All this means if you don't use F-Secure, you could be exposing your business to thousands of more possible infections every month. You can compare these results to our competitors here. How do we do it? It's kind of like building the perfect sandwich. F-Secure Client Security layers antivirus on top of firewall on top of antispyware on top of rootkit scanning. We slather on the browsing protection to block dangerous websites. But it's not enough to block the threats we know about. That's where the secret sauce comes in. Our DeepGuard engine provides protection that reads criminals minds. As AV-Test's Andreas Marx said, “F-Secure is secure, innovative, and straightforward.” Excuse us. This is making me very hungry. We need to take a bite. Cheers, Sandra      

Feb 19, 2015
GCHQ

This comes as no surprise after the Snowden revelations. British signal intelligence agency GCHQ has been spying illegally on a large number of internet users. What’s positively surprising is that the UK Surveillance Tribunal finally developed from a rubber stamp into something capable of making real decisions. In short, their recent decision states that the secret information exchange between the NSA and GCHQ was illegal. It’s also a welcome indication that unnecessary secrecy isn’t acceptable. Secrecy is needed in intelligence work, but has widely been misused to hide unlawful activities. We are, of course, grateful to Privacy International and its supporters, for their important work in this case. But they are not done yet! Their next step is to let you know if you’re a victim. You can submit your contact info and join a campaign where they will reveal if GCHQ has data on you. That’s nice. The more privacy-savvy of you are probably smiling right now. The campaign page clearly states “I authorise Privacy International and their legal team to pass my information to GCHQ …” That’s naturally necessary when asking GCHQ if they have data on you. But what if they didn’t? Now they have. Submitting private info to an agency that just has been exposed with illegal data processing might not sound as a good idea. And it’s not just your name, email and phone number. What may be less obvious is that your submission ties these pieces of info together. If they had just your mail, now they know to whom it belongs. Ok, time to take off the tin foil hat. I think Privacy International’s campaign is great and a unique opportunity to get a glimpse into the secret world of intelligence. One should not worry too much about revealing info through this form. What you submit is probably already known to them and they could easily find out, if they had a real interest in you. So just go ahead. But the above is a great reminder that you should think twice before submitting private info. Always think about whom you submit to and for what purpose. Micke P.S. This reminds me of an old web form at a Russian server. “Enter your credit card number to check if it has been stolen on the net.” No, I didn’t enter mine either.

Feb 18, 2015
Black hole

Our history is full of doomsday prophecies. Statistics show that they are wrong to about 100%, and that seems to be accurate as we still are here. :) Vint Cerf is not that pessimistic when predicting a digital dark age. His doomsday only affects our data, but that’s scary too. So what is this all about and how does it affect us ordinary mortals? Mr. Cerf is reminding us about one of the fundamental challenges in electronic data processing. The technology is still very young and sometimes unreliable. A special problem is the longevity of storage media. A traditional photographic print can last several hundreds of years and the oldest preserved writings are thousands of years old, but electronic data media longevity is measured in tens of years. And on top of that comes the rapid technology development that can make media incompatible before it breaks. Digital storage may become a black hole, you put things there but get nothing out. This could lead to a dark era from which we have almost no digital memories, according to him. But how realistic is this horror scenario? Let’s fill in some points that Mr. Cerf left out. The digital technology actually enables infinite life for our data, if used right. The old photograph starts to slowly degrade from day one and no copy of it is perfect. Digital info can be copied to a new media an infinite number of times without degrading quality. Any digital media has a limited lifetime. But the rapid technology development will silently solve this problem for most people. The computer becomes too old and slow before the magnetism starts to fade on the hard disk, and everything is copied to a fresh new computer. (* The need to regularly copy data to fresh media will also solve the compatibility problems. You will normally never need to access media that is more than some 5 – 10 years old. And media that young is still compatible. The floppy disks that usually are shown to illustrate incompatible media are over 25 years old. (* But what about the file formats? It will be easy to implement support for our current file formats in tomorrow’s computer systems. That will be done if there is a need for it. So don’t worry if you are using the common standard file formats like JPG-images, MS Word or PDF-documents. They will no doubt be supported for a long time. But this may be an issue if you are using some exotic and less common format. We are entering the era of cloud storage. Our data is transferred to professionally managed data centers that take care of both backup and periodical media renewal on our behalf. Sure, they can fail too. But they are in generic a lot more reliable than our own homebrewed backup procedures. The use of cloud storage introduces a new threat. How long will the cloud company be around? A good thing to think about before selecting where to store the data. Another big threat against our data is our own attitude. Handling digital data is very easy, including deleting it. We need to understand the value of our data to make sure it is preserved. Last but not least. A very big threat against all data, analog or digital, is inability to find it. My piles of old slide photo boxes are of little use as they only have some labels with year and place. Looking for a particular shot is a nightmare. But my digital collection can easily be searched for place, time, equipment, technical data, keywords, etc. The pre-digital era was really the dark age seen from this perspective! So to wrap up. Yes, the digital revolution brings new challenges that we need to be aware of. But luckily also good tools to deal with them. Digital storage will no doubt lead to personal data loss for many persons. Disks crash every day and data is lost. So there is a true risk that digital storage leads to a personal dark age for you, unless you handle your data right. But there’s absolutely no need to talk about a digital dark age in a broader sense. Historians will easily get enough information about our society. It doesn’t matter if some of us have lost our files, there’s still plenty to work on. Actually, data overload will be a more likely problem for them. Good news. The sky is not falling after all!   Safe surfing, Micke   (* This is assuming that you keep your files on the computer. These problems will become real if you archive files on external media, store it away for later use and remember them some 20 years later.

Feb 17, 2015