IT technology is infiltrating almost every area in our society, but there is one front where the progress is notably slow. Democracy. Why?
We still use representative democracy and elect politicians for several years at a time. This is largely done using pen and paper and the votes are counted manually. Processing the votes seems like a task well suited for computers. And why do we even need to elect representatives when we could vote directly over the net in the big and important questions? Representative democracy was after all invented thousands of years ago when people had to gather physically to hold a meeting. Then it made sense to send someone to represent a group of people, but now we could involve a whole nation directly using the net. So what’s stopping us from doing that?
Let’s first look at IT as an aid in representative democracy. First, voting machines have already been used for a long time in some countries, including the US. But there have been many controversies and elections have even been declared invalid by court (link in Finnish) due to problems in electronic handling of votes.
Handling an election seems like a straightforward IT problem, but it really isn’t. Let’s keep in mind the fundamental requirements for an election: 1. The identity of voters and their right to vote must be verified. 2. It must be ensured that no one votes more than once. 3. It shall not be possible to determine how a person has voted. 4. The integrity of the result must be verifiable. The big problem is that these requirements conflicts with each other. You must know the person who votes but still store the data in a way that makes it possible to verify the result but not identify the voter. This leads to complex designs involving cryptography. It’s no doubt possible to develop systems that fulfill these needs. The hard part is to verify the systems thoroughly enough to make sure they really work.
And here psychology enters the scene. We all know pens and paper well and we have learned to trust the traditional election system. There is a fairly large number of unclear votes in every election and we have accepted that as a fact. But people are a lot more suspicious against computerized systems. Most of us lack the ability to understand how electronic voting works. And the requirements described above causes complexity that makes it hard even for many professionals. Only crypto experts have the true ability to audit it. This makes it hard to build a chain of trust between ordinary people and the voting system.
Is our suspicious attitude justified? Yes and no. We should be suspicious against complex electronic systems and put them through thorough scrutiny before using them in elections. We must demand that their design is open and audited by independent experts. But we are at the same time forgetting the fact that traditional security measures are far from perfect. Written signatures is a very weak method to prove identity and a photo ID is not much better. A nice example is a friend of mine who keeps using an expired ID card just to test the system. The card is his own and he still looks like the picture. The only problem is that the card expired 11 years ago. During these years the card has only been rejected once! It has been used several times when voting in elections. Needless to say, an electronic signature would not pass even once. Despite this, people typically trust written signatures and ID cards a lot more than computerized security measures. The same attitude is visible when discussing electronic voting.
Another real reason to be suspicious against electronic voting is the computers’ ability to process massive amounts of data very quickly. There are always minor errors in the traditional voting systems, but massive manipulation of the result is hard. In a computerized system, on the other hand, even a fairly small glitch may enable someone to make a big impact on the result.
The other side of the coin is the question if we need representative democracy at all anymore. Should we have net polls about the important questions instead? Well, representative democracy has an important benefit, continuity. The same people are given at least some time to achieve results before people can decide if they should continue. But a four to six year term is really too short to change the big things and our politicians tend to focus on smaller and easier issues. Imagine how it would be if the people had a more direct say in decision making? That could lead to an even bigger lack of focus and strategic direction. Probably not a good idea after all.
But representative democracy can be complemented instead of replaced. Crowd sourcing is one area that is taking off. A lot of things can be crowd sourced and legislative proposals is one of them. Many countries already have a Constitution that allows ordinary citizens to prepare proposals and force the parliament to vote on them, if enough people support the proposal. Here in Finland a crowd sourced copyright act proposal made headlines globally when it recently passed the 50 000 supporter threshold (1,2 % of the voting population). This is an excellent example of how modern Internet-based schemes can complement the representative democracy. Finland’s current copyright legislation is almost 10 years old and is heavily influenced by entertainment industry lobbyists. It was written during a time when most ordinary people had no clue about copyright issues, and the politicians knew even less. For example, most ordinary people probably thinks that downloading a song illegally from the net is less severe than selling a truckload of false CDs. Our current copyright law disagrees.
Issues like this can easily become a politically hot potato that no one want to touch. Here the crowd sourced initiatives comes in really handy. Other examples of popular initiatives in Finland are a demand for equal rights for same-sex couples and making a minority language optional in the schools. Even Edward Snowden has inspired a proposal: It should be possible to apply for political asylum remotely, without visiting the target country. Another issue is however that these initiatives need to pass the parliament to become laws. The representative democracy will still get the final word. Even popular crowd sourced initiatives may be dismissed, but they are still not in vain. Every method to bring in more feedback to the decision makers during their term in office is good and helps mitigate the problems with indirect democracy.
So what will our democracy look like in ten or twenty years? Here’s my guess. We still have representative democracy. Electronic voting machines takes care of most of the load, but we may still have traditional voting on paper available as an alternative. Well, some countries rely heavily on voting machines already today. The electronic machines are accepted as the norm even if some failures do occur. Voting over Internet will certainly be available in many countries, and is actually already in use in Estonia. Direct ways to affect the political system, like legislative proposals, will be developed and play a more important role. And last but not least. Internet has already become a very powerful tool for improving the transparency of our legislative institutions and to provide feedback from voters. This trend will continue and actually make the representative democracy blend into some kind of hybrid democracy. The representatives do in theory have carte blance to rule, but they also need to constantly mind their public reputation. This means that you get some extra power to affect the legislative institutions if you participate in the monitoring and express your opinion constantly, rather than just cast a vote every 4th year.
Unlike Team Fortress 2 or Doom, two of the most popular PC games of all time, GameOver ZeuS is not a game you can buy online or would willingly download on to your computer. What is GameOver ZeuS? While we’ve talked about banking Trojans before, none have been as detrimental to users as the GameOver ZeuS or GOZ Trojan, which initially began infecting users in 2012. Gameover ZeuS is designed to capture banking credentials from infected computers, and make wire transfers to criminal accounts overseas. It was allegedly authored by Russian hacker Evgeniy Bogachev, who then implanted it on computers all around the world; building a network of infected machines - or bots - that his crime syndicate could control from anywhere. It’s predominately spread through spam e-mail or phishing messages. So far, it’s been estimated to scam people out of hundreds of millions of dollars and it’s only getting worse. It doesn’t stop there; Gameover ZeuS can also be modified by hackers to load different kinds of Trojans on to it. One such Trojan is a ransomware called CryptoLocker, which is a devastating malware that locks a user’s most precious files by encrypting all the files until he or she pays the hacker a ransom. In June 2014, the FBI, Europol, and the UK’s National Crime Agency announced they had been working closely with various security firms and academic researchers around the world and took action under a program dubbed “Operation Trovar.” This initiative temporarily disrupted the system that was spreading the Trojan and infecting computers, allowing a temporary pause in additional computers from being infected. However, computers that were already infected remained at risk, as they were still compromised. What’s next? The disruption of the GameOver ZeuS botnet was a great success in many ways, but it’s not over. Our security advisor, Sean Sullivan, worries that this temporary disruption was actually more dangerous than completely taking it down. “Without arresting Bogachev, Gameover ZeuS is still a huge threat and likely to evolve to become more dangerous. The hackers can just as easily program a future version of the Trojan to initiate a “self-destruct” order (like destroy every file on a computer) if the ransom isn’t paid, or if authorities try to intervene.” What can we do to protect our digital freedom? Beware of malicious spam and phishing attempts — don’t open any attachments within emails unless you are specifically expecting something. Check email attachments carefully, and make sure you don’t open any files that automatically launch, which frequently end in .exe Have an Internet security solution in place and keep it up to date Keep your Windows operating system and your Internet browser plugins updated Back up all of your personal files regularly Also, check your machines to be sure you do not carry the Gameover ZeuS Trojan. For more information on how this powerful Trojan works and how it is spread, check out this this video. [protected-iframe id="888198d18fd45eae52e6400a39fb4437-10874323-9129869" info="//www.youtube-nocookie.com/v/JhiPDbTIsqw?hl=en_US&version=3&rel=0" width="640" height="360"] Have more questions? Ask us here on the blog.
This has been a huge week for Freedome. First we added virtual locations in Hong Kong and Singapore. Then the app became available across Asia. Now we're fully iOS 8-compatible on day one. You could use Freedome to protect your private data and choose from 12 different virtual locations on iOS 7. But it could be a hassle, requiring you to switch profiles or possibly lose connection. On iOS 8, your Freedome VPN connects and stays connected. That's it. How does it work? This video walks you through the process of pressing one button and getting on with your life. This simplicity is now available to a huge percentage of the world's population that hasn't had a chance to try out Freedome for free. “As hundreds of millions of users in Asia are hopping online through their broadband wireless and hundreds of Wi-Fi hotspots covering cafes to airports, mobile users are seeking ways to provide more privacy to their online surfing habits, Freedome will be the answer to this," our Security Advisor Su Gim Goh said. Beyond protecting your data when you're connecting on unsecured networks, Freedome offers anti-tracking protection that cloaks your data from the sites you choose to use. “Users in Asia today demand their rights to keeping their data private," he said. "Most important of all, with F-Secure’s Freedome, you're not leaving digital footprints on websites like online stores and social media sites, making them more untrackable to the aggressive advertising and profiling services on the Internet in this region."
In the early twenty-first century, when hackers were mostly pranksters, having security software on your PC was mostly about saving you some trouble. In 2014, international crime syndicates regularly co-opt millions of computers in order to systematically steal banking information, take identities and hold files for ransom, security isn't about convenience. It's about giving our families the freedom to live our lives online with out the threat of strangers invading our lives, hijacking our time and money. An anti-virus on one PC is a good step. But who just uses one PC now? Many of us three different devices before breakfast. That's why we created F-Secure SAFE -- it's built to protect all the devices and all of the people in your family. The latest update of SAFE is designed to make it easier to install on infected computers for a smoother overall experience. It also gives your tools to keep your devices and family safe wherever they go. Since SAFE is such a dramatic expansion of what our traditional F-Secure Internet Security does we wanted to cover 16 ways it protects you, your family and your devices. And to celebrate the new SAFE launch, we're giving away one SAFE hoodie and a free year of SAFE on our Facebook page every day for 16 days beginning on September 16. Please read the rules and enter now. Here's how SAFE protects you, your devices and your family: PCs and laptops 1. Protection against ransomware Thanks to browsing protection, F-Secure SAFE protects you against malicious software that impersonates authorities, such as Interpol or the FBI, and may block your computer, demanding ransom for unblocking it and preventing you from accessing your files until you pay. Thanks to F-Secure SAFE, all known versions of this insidious type of malware can't get on your computer. 2. Protect your home computer in the same way your office computer is protected Your office computer is protected by software that safeguards it against viruses and protects corporate data against theft by criminals. SAFE gives you the same options on your home computer. 3. Limit the time your children spend on the Internet. If you think that your children may spend too much time browsing the internet or playing online games, SAFE will let you decide for how many hours they are allowed to do it every day. You can easily define in which hours exactly they connect to the Internet. If they try to go online during unapproved times, the computer will not connect to the Internet. 4. Online banking protection your bank knows you need Do you know that most banks recommend in terms of security is using paid anti-virus software when banking online? SAFE ensures you meet these recommendations. 5. Safeguard your memories F-Secure Safe protects the photos and videos of your children or grandchildren against falling into the wrong hands. The built-in anti-virus application and protection against as-yet-unknown threats ensure that all of the memories collected on your computer are fully protected. Your files will never be destroyed, encoded to demand payment for decoding them, or intercepted in order to be published or to gain profit from distributing them. 6. Protect your children against adult content Define which sort of content can be accessed by your children, whether you're monitoring them or not. 7. Shop online without worry Thanks to protection against spyware and browsing protection, your credit card number is invisible to criminals. Now you can relax when shopping online, booking hotels or buying air tickets. Tablets 1. Control which apps your kids can install Keep games that involve virtual violence, sex or gambling off your child's device with a simple setting. 2. Decide which sites your child can visit Even if they use tablets in their rooms, you can be sure that they visit no websites inappropriate for their age. 3. Protect your device against malware with browsing protection. Protect yourself from phishing scams, ransomware and malicious apps that could be triggered by visiting the wrong site. 4. Keep login data and online banking passwords secure SAFE protects your tablet against spyware that steals your bank login data. Smartphones 1. Find your missing phone. Locate your lost phone and make sure no one can access your data should your device be stolen. 2. Find your child Check the location of your child’s phone from our simple web portal. 3. Avoid surprising charges Are you concerned that your children may install games than require additional payments? F-Secure Safe lets you control which software is installed on their phones. 4. Block calls and text messages from unwanted numbers Start your own "Do not call" list with this feature that allows you decide who has access to you through your phone. 5. Keep your phone malware free More than 99 percent of all mobile malware targets Android, which is the second most targeted platform in the world behind Windows. With SAFE, you have protection from increasingly complex ransomware and trojans designed to get inside your phone then your wallet. You can try F-Secure SAFE for free now. Cheers, Sandra