I’m proud to tell you about younited, F-secure’s brand new personal cloud service. Actually so new that it isn’t open for the public yet. But you can sign up to be a tester at younited.com. We will start to send invitations to registered users in November, and the service is scheduled to open to the public in early 2014.
Why younited? It is our vision about how cloud storage can be made engaging, fun and safe. It’s a supercloud that collects data from your other cloud services and helps you manage it in one place. It’s also built for privacy from the ground up. The second argument is certainly a hot topic right now so it’s only natural that younited has gained a lot of attention.
Larry Seltzer of ZDNet joined the party with a slightly critical article. He is asking why anyone should trust Finland and why we should care about the privacy of our cloud storage in the first place. The first question is excellent. Users should definitively care about where their data is stored. That’s why we created younited here in Finland as an alternative to the American services. Let’s clear out Larry’s doubts and see why Finland is an excellent home for your data:
Yes, the unknown is scary. And Finland is unknown to most people. But I can assure you that Finland really is among the best places on earth if you are looking for a safe haven for your personal data.
So a non-US service should be the primary choice if you are outside US and even a little bit privacy aware. And that’s after all most of the world’s population, about 96% are living elsewhere. But what if you are American, like Larry? Is it still a good idea to go off-shore?
Most of the cloud storage service are located in US and you may prefer domestic services. That’s the easy choice. But services overseas can really provide a significant benefit privacy-wise. First remember the four-hop principle. You think you have decent privacy protection as an US citizen, but are you sure that no friend-of-friend-of-friend-of-a-friend is suspected for some obscure reason? That would put you in the same boat as all us aliens. And the US authorities are not exactly open about what they are doing. This is what they have been forced to admit, it’s certainly not the full picture. Also keep in mind that your data is most vulnerable when stored. NSA can still attempt to snoop at your encrypted data connection to younited before it exits US, but that’s quite futile (see note below). And it’s finally game over once your data is on our disks here in Finland under a layer of AES-encryption. So an overseas service eliminates the by far easiest attack point.
You have nothing to hide? Yes, we hear that argument frequently. And it is of course good to be a decent citizen with no secrets. But are you really sure? First, no one can remember all documents and mails they have received and sent. I bet most people have items they rather not share with strangers, even if they can’t remember them right away. Second, we are changing and the world is changing around us. How can you tell that everything you do today is still in line with your profession, role and personality after 20 years? Is what you do today OK by our society’s standards at that time? No, nobody can of course be sure about that. So why take risks when there are easy ways to reduce our digital footprint?
Larry is also pointing out that we have the right to protect our data, but not necessary the need to do it. True. But if you don’t use that right, you are signaling that it isn’t important and can be taken away. And there are plenty of powers that would love to take it. In other words, it’s a lot easier to ban crypto and other privacy measures if they are used by criminals only. Let’s not contribute to a world without the right to use privacy protection.
So why not follow Larry Seltzer’s example and sign up for younited right away. Do you fall in love with the service of its level of safety and privacy, or for the engaging and fun user experience? Or both?
Note about encryption of data in transfer. There’s constant speculation about if NSA can break the SSL/TLS encryption that is used for this kind of connections. There are indications that they have succeeded in some cases, but this typically involve outdated implementations, software modules that have been weakened on purpose or keys that have been shared with NSA by the service owner. NSA’s ability to break full-strength SSL/TLS is speculative, and any such attack would, if possible, require so much resources that only a small number of targets could be followed. Summary: Ordinary people can consider the encrypted link to younited as perfectly safe.
Many techie terms in the headlines lately. Supercookies, supertrackers, HTTP headers and X-UIDH. If you just skim the news you will learn that this is some kind of new threat against our privacy. But what is it really? Let’s dig a bit deeper. We will discover that this is an issue of surprisingly big importance. Cookies are already familiar to most of us. These are small pieces of information that a web server can ask our browser to store. They are very useful for identifying users and managing sessions. They are designed with security and privacy in mind, and users can control how these cookies are used. In short, they are essential, they can be a privacy problem but we have tools to manage that threat. What’s said above is good for us ordinary folks, but not so good for advertisers. Users get more and more privacy-aware and execute their ability to opt out from too excessive tracking. The mobile device revolution has also changed the game. More and more of our Internet access is done through apps instead of the browser. This is like using a separate “browser” for all the services we use, and this makes it a lot harder to get an overall picture of our surfing habits. And that’s exactly what advertisers want, advertising is like a lottery with bad odds unless they know who’s watching the ad. A new generation of supercookies (* were developed to fight this trend. It is a piece of information that is inserted in your web traffic by your broadband provider. Its purpose is to identify the user from whom the traffic comes. And to generate revenue for the broadband provider by selling information about who you really are to the advertisers. These supercookies are typically used on mobile broadband connections where the subscription is personal, meaning that all traffic on it comes from a single person. So why are supercookies bad? They are inserted in the traffic without your consent and you have no way to opt out. They are not visible at all on your device so there is no way to control them by using browser settings or special tools. They are designed to support advertisers and generate revenue for the mobile broadband provider. Your need for privacy has not been a design goal. They are not domain-specific like ordinary cookies. They are broadcasted to any site you communicate with. They were designed to remain secret. They are hidden in an obscure part of the header information that very few web administrators need to touch. There are two ways to pay for Internet services, with money or by letting someone profile you for marketing purposes. This system combines both. You are utilized for marketing profit by someone you pay money to. But what can and should I do as an ordinary user? Despite the name, this kind of supercookies are technically totally different from ordinary cookies. The privacy challenges related with ordinary cookies are still there and need to be managed. Supercookies have not replaced them. Whatever you do to manage ordinary cookies, keep doing it. Supercookies are only used by some mobile broadband providers. Verizon and AT&T have been most in the headlines, but at least AT&T seems to be ramping down as a result of the bad press. Some other operators are affected as well. If you use a device with a mobile broadband connection, you can test if your provider inserts them. Go to this page while connected over the device’s own data connection, not WiFi. Check what comes after “Broadcast UID:”. This field should be empty. If not, then your broadband provider uses supercookies. Changing provider is one way to get rid of them. Another way is to use a VPN-service. This will encapsulate all your traffic in an encrypted connection, which is impossible to tamper with. We happen to have a great offering for you, F-secure Freedome. Needless to say, using Freedome on your mobile device is a good idea even if you are not affected by these supercookies. Check the site for more details. Last but not least. Even if you’re unaffected, as most of you probably are, this is a great reminder of how important net neutrality is. It means that any carrier that deliver your network traffic should do that only, and not manipulate it for their own profit. This kind of tampering is one evil trick, throttling to extort money from other businesses is another. We take neutrality and equal handling for granted on many other common resources in our society. The road network, the postal service, delivery of electricity, etc. Internet is already a backbone in society and will grow even more important in the future. Maintaining neutrality and fair rules in this network is of paramount importance for our future society. Safe surfing, Micke PS. The bad press has already made AT&T drop the supercookies, which is great. All others involved mobile broadband providers may have done the same by the time you are reading this. But this is still an excellent example of why net neutrality is important and need to be guaranteed by legislation. (* This article uses the simplified term supercookie for the X-UIDH -based tracker values used by Verizon, AT&T and others in November 2014. Supercookie may in other contexts refer to other types of cookie-like objects. The common factor is that a supercookie is more persistent and harder to get rid of than an ordinary cookie. Image by Jer Thorp
First Finland, next the world! We knew it all along, and now it's confirmed: F-Secure Freedome, our super-simple security and online privacy app, has won the Best Mobile Service in Finland award. Freedome took away the award in the Utility and Infotainment category. Freedome's product manager, Paivi, and Samu, head of Consumer Security at F-Secure, were on hand to accept the award. "It's great to see F-Secure, a 25-plus-year-old company, competing among startups --- and winning, thanks to Freedome's fresh and user-friendly design," says Paivi. The competition was organized by Teleforum and The Federation of Finnish Technology Industry together with key industry players such as Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung, IBM and others. 110 mobile services were evaluated in 11 categories. Check out Freedome for yourself to see what the buzz is about!
This is the final blog post in a series of three where we cover our privacy principles. I have earlier covered the fundaments and why security is a requirement for privacy. But privacy is not only about guarding your data and keeping it protected. It’s also about how we act as a company. If you select us as your provider, you want to know that we are acting in a responsible way and support your privacy in a broader sense. WE KEEP OUR MESSAGING RELEVANT Messaging and marketing towards customers is always a tricky issue that divides opinions. Some are allergic to all kinds of marketing messaging. Others don’t mind and may even find part of it useful. We may have several reasons to contact our customers. Part of it is no doubt promoting our product and service portfolio (yes, marketing), part is necessary info related to the products you use. We also produce generic security and privacy information that we think is of interest, even if it doesn’t relate directly to our products. Our aim is to give you a messaging stream with an optimal signal to noise ratio. And you can fine-tune the stream by opting in or out to some content. WE ARE THE GOOD GUYS There are strong global forces that want to scarify privacy for economic and diplomatic gains. This means that privacy isn’t just a technical issue anymore, it’s a highly ethical and political issue as well. The time has come when we need to choose sides. F-Secure’s choice is clearly to speak out against the privacy-hostile development. It would not be right to just sell you tools guarding your privacy and at the same time be quiet about the threats. We do demand change, for example in the Digital Freedom Manifesto. Also check out @Mikko at TED, nobody says it better than him. TRANSPARENCY All this sounds fine, but do you believe us and will you trust us? It is so easy to write beautiful phrases, but you as a customer have very little tools to verify our claims. That’s why we need transparency. We want to be a forerunner and openly declare what data we collect, how we handle it and what principles we adhere to. That’s the best way to differentiate from those who just use privacy as a marketing message. These principles will help us provide solutions that protect your privacy. As you can see, that’s not a simple task and it requires commitment at all levels of the organization. Publishing these principles is just the tip of the iceberg, what really matters is how we do our ordinary daily work. We need to keep the principles in mind at all time when designing systems and processes, to ensure they never are violated. Maybe I’m a dreamer, but I would very much love to be a digital citizen in a society that fully implement principles like this. It seems like a futile wish at the moment, but we are at least doing what we can to strive for it. The society may be hostile towards your privacy, but we at F-Secure work hard to make the principles real at least in a small part of the digital world. Our own products. That’s a good start, now you have a choice. If you like these principles, you can improve your privacy by selecting F-Secure. Safe surfing, Micke