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.
"Securing the future" is a huge topic, but our Chief Research Officer Mikko Hypponen narrowed it down to the two most important issues is his recent keynote address at the CeBIT conference. Watch the whole thing for a Matrix-like immersion into the two greatest needs for a brighter future -- security and privacy. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFoOvpaZvdM] To get started here are some quick takeaways from Mikko's insights into data privacy and data security in a threat landscape where everyone is being watched, everything is getting connected and anything that can make criminals money will be attacked. 1. Criminals are using the affiliate model. About a month ago, one of the guys running CTB Locker -- ransomware that infects your PC to hold your files until you pay to release them in bitcoin -- did a reddit AMA to explain how he makes around $300,000 with the scam. After a bit of questioning, the poster revealed that he isn't CTB's author but an affiliate who simply pays for access to a trojan and an exploit-kid created by a Russian gang. "Why are they operating with an affiliate model?" Mikko asked. Because now the authors are most likely not breaking the law. In the over 250,000 samples F-Secure Labs processes a day, our analysts have seen similar Affiliate models used with the largest banking trojans and GameOver ZeuS, which he notes are also coming from Russia. No wonder online crime is the most profitable IT business. 2. "Smart" means exploitable. When you think of the word "smart" -- as in smart tv, smartphone, smart watch, smart car -- Mikko suggests you think of the word exploitable, as it is a target for online criminals. Why would emerging Internet of Things (IoT) be a target? Think of the motives, he says. Money, of course. You don't need to worry about your smart refrigerator being hacked until there's a way to make money off it. How might the IoT become a profit center? Imagine, he suggests, if a criminal hacked your car and wouldn't let you start it until you pay a ransom. We haven't seen this yet -- but if it can be done, it will. 3. Criminals want your computer power. Even if criminals can't get you to pay a ransom, they may still want into your PC, watch, fridge or watch for the computing power. The denial of service attack against Xbox Live and Playstation Netwokr last Christmas, for instance likely employed a botnet that included mobile devices. IoT devices have already been hijacked to mine for cypto-currencies that could be converted to Bitcoin then dollars or "even more stupidly into Rubbles." 4. If we want to solve the problems of security, we have to build security into devices. Knowing that almost everything will be able to connect to the internet requires better collaboration between security vendors and manufacturers. Mikko worries that companies that have never had to worry about security -- like a toaster manufacturer, for instance -- are now getting into IoT game. And given that the cheapest devices will sell the best, they won't invest in proper design. 5. Governments are a threat to our privacy. The success of the internet has let to governments increasingly using it as a tool of surveillance. What concerns Mikko most is the idea of "collecting it all." As Glenn Glenwald and Edward Snowden pointed out at CeBIT the day before Mikko, governments seem to be collecting everything -- communication, location data -- on everyone, even if you are not a person of interest, just in case. Who knows how that information may be used in a decade from now given that we all have something to hide? Cheers, Sandra
We were recently asked a series of questions about how Freedome protects private data by TorrentFreak.com. Since we believe transparency and encryption are keys to online freedom, we wanted to share our answers that explain how we try to make the best privacy app possible. 1. Do you keep ANY logs which would allow you to match an IP-address and a time stamp to a user of your service? If so, exactly what information do you hold and for how long? We do not keep any such logs. If ever required by law under a jurisdiction, we would implement such a system, but only where applicable and keeping storage time to the minimum required by law of that respective jurisdiction. Note also that no registration is required to use our service, so any log information would generally map to an anonymous, random user ID (UUID) and the user’s public IP address. 2. Under what jurisdiction(s) does your company operate? Freedome is a service provided from Finland by a Finnish company, and manufactured and provided in compliance with applicable Finnish laws. 3. What tools are used to monitor and mitigate abuse of your service? We have proprietary tools for fully automated traffic pattern analysis, including some DPI for the purpose of limiting peer-to-peer traffic on some gateway sites. Should we detect something that is not in line with our acceptable use policy, we can rate limit traffic from a device, or block a device from accessing the VPN service. All of this is automated and happens locally on the VPN gateway. 4. Do you use any external email providers (e.g. Google Apps) or support tools ( e.g Live support, Zendesk) that hold information provided by users? We do not use any external email providers, but our users can, for example, sign up for beta programs with their email address and send us feedback by email. The email addresses are used only to communicate things like product availability. In the future, paying customers can also use our support services and tools such as chat. In those cases, we do hold information that customers provide us voluntarily. This information is incident based (connected to the support request) and is not connected to any other data (e.g. customer information, marketing, licensing, purchase or any Freedome data). This data is purely used for managing and solving support cases. 5. In the event you receive a DMCA takedown notice or European equivalent, how are these handled? There is no content in the service to be taken down. Freedome is a data pipeline and does not obtain direct financial benefit from user content accessed while using the service. While some of the other liability exclusions of DMCA (/ its European equivalent) apply, the takedown process itself is not really applicable to (this) VPN service. 6. What steps are taken when a valid court order requires your company to identify an active user of your service? Has this ever happened? The law enforcement data requests can effectively be done directly only to F-Secure Corporation in Finland. If a non-Finnish authority wants to request such data from F-Secure, the request will be done by foreign authorities directly to Finnish police or via Interpol in accordance to procedures set out in international conventions. To date, this has never happened for the Freedome Service. 7. Does your company have a warrant canary or a similar solution to alert customers to gag orders? We do not have a warrant canary system in place. Instead, Freedome is built to store as little data as possible. Since a warrant canary would be typically triggered by a law enforcement request on individual user, they are more reflective on the size of the customer base and how interesting the data in the service is from a law enforcement perspective. They are a good, inventive barometer but do not really measure the risk re: specific user’s data. 8. Is BitTorrent and other file-sharing traffic allowed on all servers? If not, why? BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer file sharing is rate limited / blocked on some gateway servers due to acceptable use policies of our network providers. Some providers are not pleased with a high volume of DMCA takedown requests. We use multiple providers (see Question #12) and these blocks are not in place on all the servers. 9. Which payment systems do you use and how are these linked to individual user accounts? There are multiple options. The most anonymous way to purchase is by buying a voucher code in a retail store. If you pay in cash, the store will not know who you are. You then enter the anonymous voucher code in the Freedome application, and we will then confirm from our database that it is a valid voucher which we have given for sale to one of our retail channels. The retail store does not pass any information to us besides the aggregate number of sold vouchers, so even if you paid by a credit card, we do not get any information about the individual payment. For in-app (e.g., Apple App Store, Google play) purchases you in most cases do need to provide your details but we actually never receive those, we get just an anonymous receipt. The major app stores do not give any contact information about end users to any application vendors. When a purchase is made through our own e-store, the payment and order processing is handled by our online reseller, cleverbridge AG, in Germany. Our partner collects payment information together with name, email, address, etc. and does store these, but in a separate system from Freedome. In this case we have a record who have bought Freedome licenses but pointing a person to any usage of Freedome is intentionally difficult and against our policies. We also don’t have any actual usage log and therefore could not point to one anyway. 10. What is the most secure VPN connection and encryption algorithm you would recommend to your users? Do you provide tools such as “kill switches” if a connection drops and DNS leak protection? Our application does not provide user selectable encryption algorithms. Servers and clients are authenticated using X.509 certificates with 2048-bit RSA keys and SHA-256 signatures. iOS clients use IPSEC with AES-128 encryption. Other clients (Android, Windows, OS X) use OpenVPN with AES-128 encryption. Perfect Forward Secrecy is enabled (Diffie-Hellman key exchange). We provide DNS leak protection by default, and we also provide IPv6 over the VPN so that IPv6 traffic will not bypass the VPN. Kill switches are not available. The iOS IPSEC client does not allow traffic to flow unless the VPN is connected, or if the VPN is explicitly turned off by the user. The Android app, in “Protection ON” state keeps capturing internet traffic even if network or VPN connection drops, thus there is no traffic or DNS leaks during connection drops. If the Freedome application process gets restarted by the Android system, there is a moment where traffic could theoretically leak outside the VPN. Device startup Android 4.x requires user’s consent before it allows a VPN app to start capturing traffic; until that traffic may theoretically leak. (Android 5 changes this, as it does not forget user’s consent at device reboot.) 11. Do you use your own DNS servers? (if not, which servers do you use?) We do have our own DNS servers. 12. Do you have physical control over your VPN servers and network or are they outsourced and hosted by a third party (if so, which ones)? Where are your servers located? In most locations we utilize shared hardware operated by specialized hosting vendors, but we also have our own dedicated hardware at some locations. Providers vary from country to country and over time. In some countries we also use multiple providers at the same time for improved redundancy. An example provider would be Softlayer, an IBM company whom we use in multiple locations.
With Net Neutrality close to becoming a reality in the United States, Europe's telecom companies appear ready to fight for consumers' trust. At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week, Telefonica CEO Cesar Alierta called for strict rules that will foster "digital confidence". Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao's keynote highlighted the need for both privacy and security. Deutsche Telekom's Tim Höttges was in agreement, noting that "data privacy is super-critical". "80% [of consumers] are concerned about data security and privacy, but they are always clicking 'I accept [the terms and conditions], I accept, I accept' without reading them," said Höttges, echoing a reality we found when conducting an experiment that -- in the fine print -- asked people to give up their first born child in exchange for free Wi-Fi. The fight for consumers' digital freedom is close to our hearts at F-Secure and we agree that strong rules about data breach disclosure are essential to regaining consumers trust. However, we worry that anything that limits freedom in name of privacy must be avoided. Telenor CEO and GSMA chairman, Fredrik Baksaas noted the very real problem that consumers face managing multiple online identities with multiple passwords. He suggested tying digital identity to SIM cards. This dream of a single identity may seem liberating on a practical level. But beyond recently exposed problems with SIM security, a chained identity could disrupt some of the key benefits of online life -- the right to define your identity, the liberty to separate work life from home life, the ability to participate in communities with an alternate persona. GMSA is behind a single authentication system adopted by more than a dozen operators that is tied to phones, which could simplify life for many users. But it will likely not quench desires to have multiple email accounts or identities on a site nor completely solve the conundrum of digital identity. The biggest problem is that so many of us aren't aware of what we've already given up. The old saying goes, "If it's free, you're the product". This was a comfortable model for generations who grew up trading free content in exchange for watching or listening to advertisements. But now the ads are watching us back. F-Secure Labs has found that more than half of the most popular URLs in the world aren't accessed directly by users. They's accessed automatically when you visit the sites we intend to visit and used to track our activity. Conventional terms and conditions are legal formalities that offer no benefits to users. As our Mikko Hypponen often says, the biggest lie on the Internet is "I have read and agreed with terms and conditions." This will have to change for any hope of a world where privacy is respected. In the advanced world, store-bought food is mandated to have its nutritional information printed on the packaging. We don't typically read -- nor understand -- all the ingredients. But we get a snapshot of what effect it will have on us physically. How about something like this for privacy that informs us how data is treated by a particular site or application. What data is captured? Is is just on this site or does it follow you around the web? How long is stored? Whom is it shared with? Key questions, simply answered -- all with the purpose of making it clear that your privacy has value. Along with this increased transparency, operators and everyone who cares about digital rights must pay close attention to the effort to ban or limit encryption in the name of public safety. The right of law-abiding citizens to cloak their online activity is central to democracy. And all the privacy innovations in the world won't matter if we cannot expect that right to exist. We are entering an era where consumers will have more reasons, need and opportunities to connect than ever before. The services that offer us the chance to be more than a product will be the ones that thrive. UPDATE: Micke reminds me to point out that F-Secure has already taken steps towards simple, clean disclosure with documents like this Data Transfer Declaration.