As 2013 winds to a close, there’s no denying it’s been a fascinating year – and no one agrees more than Mikko Hypponen, malware adventurer, famed TED speaker, and F-Secure’s Chief Research Officer. But how will the extraordinary events of 2013 influence the Internet in 2014? I sat down with Mr. Hypponen to hear his thoughts about the Snowden revelations, crypto currencies and the hidden Web.
How will the Internet change as a result of Snowden’s revelations?
The Web came around 20 years ago. For the first 15 years of the Web, we lived in a sort of utopia where there really were no borders, no distances, no geographies, no countries. People couldn’t care less about where their data was stored. For once, we had something truly global.
What I’m seeing happening right now is we are losing this utopia, and the reason is that this wholesale espionage is being used against the citizens of the world. So people are starting to ask questions like where is my data stored, under which country’s laws, which country is this software coming from. These are questions nobody was asking 20 years ago, and this is a really sad development because this great global Internet is becoming shattered and broken down by country lines. So in 2014 and beyond this segregation of the Internet will continue.
What’s the worst case scenario?
The worst case is the Internet becoming a series of disconnected islands because people don’t trust foreign countries anymore, especially powerful countries like the USA. Basically complete breaking of the global trust.
And the best case?
Best case is that Snowden keeps leaking explosive stuff about wrongdoings of the US intelligence agencies. Eventually he leaks such bad stuff that the revelations outweigh whatever Snowden himself has done. He’s forgiven by the US people, he receives a hero’s welcome at home, the US intelligence agencies are brought back under control, and everybody wins.
How should people change how they use the Web in 2014 because of the revelations?
One thing that I said during my TEDxBrussels talk in October was that people shouldn’t be worried, they should be outraged. Fighting this sort of thing with technical measures is hard. If change is going to happen, it’s going to happen through political change and international pressure.
But as far as technical things, my advice is to use encryption everywhere, use strong passwords or a password manager (like F-Secure Key), use cloud services from countries that aren’t conducting wholesale blanket surveillance. Use the same good computing hygiene that you would use to protect yourself from computer crime and malware.
So on the whole, is it good that Snowden did what he did?
Absolutely it’s a good thing. Regardless of Snowden’s motives, he did us a favor by revealing the details of these intelligence agencies. Because they are out of control. The fact that they undermine encryption algorithms makes us all less secure.
What do you think about whistleblowing in general?
Protecting valid whistleblowers is very important because they alert us to wrongdoing that would otherwise never have been revealed.
All these companies like Google and Facebook say they have not been complying with and didn’t know anything about PRISM. What do you think?
I don’t believe these companies are voluntarily cooperating. When Google says “we are not giving data to the NSA” I believe them. I believe most of these companies are victims themselves. I believe they are getting breached by their own government.
What do you think is the US intelligence agencies’ ultimate goal? Do you think their goal is to protect America from terrorism, or is it something more sinister?
I don’t think it’s either. I don’t think the people working inside the NSA are evil people with some sinister plot. I believe they’re trying to fulfill their mission which is to provide signals intelligence. They are fulfilling their mission – but the problem is, they seem to be willing to go to any lengths to do it. They’ve lost their way. They’ve lost sight of their original goals, they’ve become too powerful and they’re out of control. It’s not just about terrorism either, or why would they be tapping Angela Merkel’s phone?
Any other predictions for 2014?
On a different subject entirely, I think 2014 will be the year when crypto currencies like Bitcoin switch from being something that only geeks are aware of to something that regular people know about. The age of virtual, crypto currencies is finally here and it’s long overdue. The one to go mainstream might not be Bitcoin, but maybe a clone or son of it. Of course, just like cash, Bitcoin can be used for good and for bad. And we’re seeing the use for bad in the online crime world.
In April I noted on Twitter when Bitcoin value had reached 100 US dollars, and I predicted it would break $1000 by the end of the year. Today it’s $980. Good call!
(Bitcoin broke $1000 a few days after this interview)
And what about the hidden Web, or deep Web we’ve been hearing about lately?
When the Web originated, the powers that be didn’t see the importance of the Internet. Now the powers that be are trying to control it as much as they can, which means the whole Internet is changing, and we’re fighting for its future.
We’re seeing people who still want to be free on the Web moving to the hidden Web, which will be brought under control as well, in time. And bad things are happening on the hidden Web for sure, but that doesn’t mean the whole thing is bad. People think it’s bad, but that’s what they used to think about the traditional Web as well.
See more of Mikko’s recent comments:
TEDx Brussels talk: How the NSA Betrayed the World’s Trust – Time to Act
Reuters TV interview: In Cloud We Trust
Reuters TV interview: Bitcoin – the Latest Front in Cybercrime
At Re:publica 2015, our Chief Research Officer Mikko Hypponen told the main stage crowd that the world's top scientists are now focused on the delivery of ads. "I think this is sad," he said. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbF0sVdOjRw?rel=0&start=762&end=&autoplay=0] To give the audience a sense of how much Twitter knows about its users, he showed them the remarkable targeting the microblogging service offers its advertisers. If you use the site, you may be served promoted tweets based on the following: 1. What breakfast cereal you eat. 2. The alcohol you drink. 3. Your income. 4. If you suffer from allergies. 5. If you're expecting a child. And that's just the beginning. You can be targeted based not only on your recent device purchases but things you may be in the market for like, say, a new house or a new car. You can see all the targeting offered by logging into your Twitter, going to the top right corner of the interface, clicking on your icon and selecting "Twitter Ads". Can Twitter learn all this just based on your tweets and which accounts follow? No, Mikko said. "They buy this information from real world shops, from credit card companies, and from frequent buyer clubs." Twitter then connects this information to you based on... your phone number. And you've agreed to have this happen to you because you read and memorized the nearly 7,000 words in its Terms and Conditions. Because everyone reads the terms and conditions. Full disclosure: We do occasionally promote tweets on Twitter to promote or digital freedom message and tools like Freedome that block ad trackers. It's an effective tool and we find the irony rich. Part of our mission is to make it clear that there's no such thing as "free" on the internet. If you aren't paying a price, you are the product. Aral Balkan compares social networks to a creepy uncle" that pays the bills by listening to as many of your conversations as they can then selling what they've heard to its actual customers. And with the world's top minds dedicated to monetizing your attention, we just think you should be as aware of advertisers as they are as of you. Most of the top URLs in the world are actually trackers that you never access directly. To get a sense of what advertisers learn every time you click check out our new Privacy Checker. Cheers, Jason
The Internet is first and foremost a communication medium. Every link that people click, every character they enter, and every video they watch involves an exchange of information. And it’s not just a two-way conversation between a person and their computer, or a person and someone they’re chatting with. There’s more people than listening in, and because computers use languages that people don’t necessarily understand, it’s logical to infer that many people may not be fully aware of what they’re actually saying. F-Secure launched a new Privacy Checker to help pull back the magic curtain that hides online tracking. A lot of online tracking is about employing passive data collection techniques – techniques that allow observers to monitor behavior without having any direct interaction with the people they're observing. Such passive data collection techniques are pervasive online, and websites are often designed to facilitate this kind of tracking. The prevalence of these technologies lends credence to the idea that control is becoming ubiquitous online, and represents a substantial threat to digital freedom. Do you ever read “top 10” articles or other types of lists on websites that require you to “turn pages” by clicking a button? Clicking those buttons lets online trackers know how far you go in the article before you stop reading (not something that can be done reliably when content is on a single page). That’s how passive data collection works. The Privacy Checker works by checking the information stored in web browsers, and then generates a report about what it’s learned. It can usually deduce where you’re located, what language you speak, whether or not you were directed to the checker from Google or another website, what device and operating system you’re using, and whether or not you allow your browser to use tracking cookies. If you think about this as a communicative event – an interaction in which information is exchanged – simply clicking a button has told the Privacy Checker all of this information. So if you were to breakdown the result from a check I ran as an interaction, you could say I told the Privacy Checker the following: “I am in Helsinki, Finland”. “I speak English”. “I use Google.fi to find things online”. “I use a mobile device with Android 4.4.2”. “I allow my browser to accept cookies”. The Privacy Checker responded by explaining what I told it when I pushed the “Check Now” button. The Privacy Checker also provided me with some information on how companies use the things I tell them to make money. The Privacy Checker is probably the only online conversation partner that you’ll ever have that provides you with this transparency. Many people don’t know or aren’t interested in constantly sharing this information, and many websites are designed to help their administrators make money from this data. And this is a key threat to online privacy: more and more technologies are being developed to capture, store, and analyze your data without your knowledge. This blog post emphasizes the significance of the threat by pointing out that huge investments are being made in companies and technologies that monetize your data. The author even refers to it as information about "pseudo-private" behavior – a label that really underscores how much value some of these companies place on privacy. The Privacy Checker sheds some light on this to help people understand what they’re really saying when they click around the web. It’s free to use and available on F-Secure’s new Digital Privacy website, which contains more information about online privacy and the fight for digital freedom. [ Image by geralt | Pixabay ]
F-Secure Labs reported this week on a new WhatsApp scam that’s successfully spammed over 22,000 people. Spam seems to be as old as the Internet itself, and is both a proven nuisance AND a lucrative source of revenue for spammers. Most people don’t see what goes on behind the scenes, but spammers often employ very sophisticated schemes that can expose web surfers to more than just ads for Viagara or other “magic beans”. Spam typically tries to drive Internet traffic by tricking people into clicking certain websites, where scammers can bombard unsuspecting web surfers with various types of advertising. Profit motives are what keep spammers working hard to circumvent spam blocks, white lists, and other protective measures that people use to try and fight back – and it can pay off. Numerous spammers have been indicted and suspected of generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue from their spam campaigns, with one study projecting that spammers could generate in excess of 3.5 million dollars annually. While most spam circulates via e-mail, the popularity of services like WhatsApp is giving spammers new resources to exploit people, and new ways to make money. Here’s a few ways spammers and cyber criminals are using WhatsApp to make money off users: Following Malicious Links: One way that cyber criminals use WhatsApp to scam people is to trick them into following malicious links. For example, a recent scam sent SMS messages to WhatsApp users telling them to follow a link to update the app. But the message was not from WhatsApp, and the link didn’t provide them with any kind of update. It signed them up for an additional service, and added a hefty surcharge to victims' phone bills. Sending Premium Rate Messages: Premium rate SMS sending malware was recently determined by F-Secure Labs to be the fastest growing mobile malware threat, and WhatsApp gives cyber criminals a new way to engage in this malicious behavior. Basically the users receive a message that asks them to send a response – “I’m writing to you from WhatsApp, let me know here if you are getting my messages”, “Get in touch with me about the second job interview”, and various sexual themed messages have all been documented. Responding to these messages automatically redirects your message through a premium rate service. Spanish police claim that one gang they arrested made over 5 million euros using this scheme – leaving everyday mobile phone users to foot the bill. Manipulating Web Traffic: A lot of spam tries to direct web traffic to make money off advertising. As you might imagine, this means they have to get massive numbers of people to look at the ads they’re using for their scams. Scammers use WhatsApp to do this by using the app to spread malware or social engineer large numbers of people to visit a website under false pretenses. F-Secure Labs found that people were being directed to a website for information on where they could get a free tablet. In March there was a global spam campaign claiming people could test the new WhatsApp calling feature. Both cases were textbook scams, and instead of getting new tablets or services, the victims simply wasted their time spreading misleading spam messages and/or exposing themselves to ads. WhatsApp and other services are great for people, but like any new software, requires a bit of understanding to know how to use. Hopefully these points give WhatsApp users a heads up on how they can avoid spam and other digital threats, so they can enjoy using WhatsApp to chat with their friends. [ Image by Julian S. | Flickr ]