Mikko Hypponen on the Internet in 2014: “We’re losing the utopia”

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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

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