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
Kaisu who is working for us is also studying tourism. Her paper on knowledge of and behavior related to information security amongst young travelers was released in May, and is very interesting reading. The world is getting smaller. We travel more and more, and now we can stay online even when travelling. Using IT-services in unknown environments does however introduce new security risks. Kaisu wanted to find out how aware young travelers are of those risks, and what they do to mitigate them. The study contains many interesting facts. Practically all, 95,7%, are carrying a smartphone when travelling. One third is carrying a laptop and one in four a tablet. The most commonly used apps and services are taking pictures, using social networks, communication apps and e-mail, which all are used by about 90% of the travelers. Surfing the web follows close behind at 72%. But I’m not going to repeat it all here. The full story is in the paper. What I find most interesting is however what the report doesn’t state. Everybody is carrying a smartphone and snapping pictures, using social media, surfing the web and communicating. Doesn’t sound too exotic, right? That’s what we do in our everyday life too, not just when travelling. The study does unfortunately not examine the participants’ behavior at home. But I dare to assume that it is quite similar. And I find that to be one of the most valuable findings. Traveling is no longer preventing us from using IT pretty much as we do in our everyday life. I remember when I was a kid long, long ago. This was even before invention of the cellphone. There used to be announcements on the radio in the summer: “Mr. and Mrs. Müller from Germany traveling by car in Lapland. Please contact your son Hans urgently.” Sounds really weird for us who have Messenger, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Skype installed on our smartphones. There was a time when travelling meant taking a break in your social life. Not anymore. Our social life is today to an increasing extent handled through electronic services. And those services goes with us when travelling, as Kaisu’s study shows. So you have access to the same messaging channels no matter where you are on this small planet. But they all require a data connection, and this is often the main challenge. There are basically two ways to get the data flowing when abroad. You can use data roaming through the cellphone’s ordinary data connection. But that is often too expensive to be feasible, so WiFi offers a good and cheap alternative. Hunting for free WiFi has probably taken the top place on the list of travelers’ concerns, leaving pickpockets and getting burnt in the sun behind. Another conclusion from Kaisu’s study is that travelers have overcome this obstacle, either with data roaming or WiFi. The high usage rates for common services is a clear indication of that. But how do they protect themselves when connecting to exotic networks? About 10% are using a VPN and about 20% say they avoid public WiFi. That leaves us with over 70% who are doing something else, or doing nothing. Some of them are using data roaming, but I’m afraid most of them just use whatever WiFi is available, either ignoring the risks or being totally unaware. That’s not too smart. Connecting to a malicious WiFi network can expose you to eavesdropping, malware attacks, phishing and a handful other nasty tricks. It’s amazing that only 10% of the respondents have found the simple and obvious solution, a VPN. It stands for Virtual Private Network and creates a protected “tunnel” for your data through the potentially harmful free networks. Sounds too nerdy? No, it’s really easy. Just check out Freedome. It’s the super-simple way to be among the smart 10%. Safe surfing, Micke PS. I recently let go of my old beloved Nokia Lumia. Why? Mainly because I couldn’t use Freedome on it, and I really want the freedom it gives me while abroad. Image by Moyan Brenn
It’s amazing how advertising can power huge companies. Google has over 57 000 employees and some 66 billion US dollars in revenue. And Facebook with 12 billion and 10 000 employees. These two giants are the best know providers of ad-financed services on the net. And modern advertising is targeted, which means that they must know what the users want to see. Which means that they must know you. Let’s take a closer look at Facebook. We have already written about their advertising preferences and I have been following my data for some time. Part of the data used to target ads is input by yourself, age, gender, hometown, movies you seen etc. But Facebook also analyzes what you do, both in Facebook and on other sites, to find out what you like. It’s obvious how the tracking works inside Facebook itself. Their servers just simply record what links you click. Tracking in the rest of the net is more sinister, it’s described in this earlier post. Your activity record is analyzed and you are assigned to classes of interest, called “Your Ad Preferences” by Facebook. Advertisers can then select classes they want to target, and the ad may be shown to you based on these classes. You can view and manage the list using a page that is fairly well hidden deep in Facebook’s menus. Let’s check your preferences in moment, but first some thoughts about this. Advertising may be annoying, but it is the engine that drives so many “free” services nowadays. So I’m not going to blame Facebook for being ad-financed. I’m not going to blame them for doing targeted ads either. That can in theory be a good thing, you see more relevant ads that potentially can be of value to you. But any targeted ad scheme must be based on data collection, and this is the tricky part. Can we trust Facebook et al. to handle these quite extensive personal profiles and not misuse them for other purposes? It’s also nice that Facebook is somewhat open about this and let you view “Your Ad Preferences” (Note. Not available in all countries.). But that name is really misleading. The name should be “Facebook’s Ad Preferences for You”. Yes, you can view and delete classes, but that gives you a false sense of control. Facebook keeps analyzing what you do and deleted classes will reappear shortly. I made a full clean-up a couple of months ago, but now I have no less than 210 classes of interest again! This is really amazing if you take into account that I block tracking outside of Facebook, so those activities are not contributing. And I have a principle of not clicking ads in any on-line media, including Facebook. And liking commercial pages in a very restrictive manner. But the thing is that Facebook has realized that people dislike ads. “Suggested posts” or “Sponsored posts” are in fact masqueraded ads and any interaction with them will record your interest in the classes they represent. I have to admit that I do click this kind of content regularly. And where did that suicide thing come from? No, I’m fine. I’m not going to jump off a bridge and I’m not worried about any of my dearests’ mental health. I have not interacted with any kind of Facebook content related to suicide. Except that I can’t know that for sure. Facebook tries to give an open and honest image of itself when presenting its Ad Preferences settings and the possibilities to manage them. But this rosy picture is not the full truth. The inner workings of Facebook advertising is in reality a very complex secret system. When you interact with something on Facebook, you have no way of knowing how it affects your profile. Something I have clicked was apparently associated with suicides even if I had no clue about it. Ok, time to take the Facebook personality test. Let’s see what kind of person they think you are. Follow these instructions: Go to Facebook and locate an ad, a “sponsored post” or a “suggested post”. These items should have a cross or a down-arrow in the upper right corner. Click it. Select “Why am I seeing this?” from the pop-up menu. This screen contains some interesting info but proceed to “Manage your ad preferences”. Review the list and come back here to tell us what you think of it. Delete the inappropriate classes. Deleting all may reduce the number of ads you see. So let’s see what people think about this test’s accuracy: [polldaddy poll=9023953] So using Facebook’s Ad Preferences as a personality test may be entertaining, but not very accurate after all. You should probably look elsewhere for a real test. The catch is that you can select what test to take, but not how others collect data about you. Someone else may rely on this test when evaluating you. You have actually granted Facebook the right to share this data with basically anyone. Remember this clause in the agreement that you read and approved before signing up? “We transfer information to vendors, service providers, and other partners who globally support our business, such as providing technical infrastructure services, analyzing how our Services are used, measuring the effectiveness of ads and services, providing customer service, facilitating payments, or conducting academic research and surveys.” You did read it before signing, didn’t you? Safe surfing, Micke Image: Screenshot from facebook.com
Passwords are the keys to online accounts. A good password known only to account owners can ensure email, social media accounts, bank accounts, etc. stay accessible only to the person (or people) that need them. But a bad password will do little to prevent people from getting access to those accounts, and can expose you to serious security risks (such as identity theft). And sadly, many people continue to recycle easy to guess/crack passwords. A recent study conducted by researchers from Google attempted to nail down the most common pieces of advice and practices recommended by security researchers, and unsurprisingly, several of them had to do with passwords. And there were several gaps between what security experts recommend people do when creating passwords, and what actually happens. Here’s 3 expert tips to help you use passwords to keep your accounts safe and secure. Unique Passwords are Better than Strong Passwords One thing experts recommend doing is to choose a strong and unique password – advice many people hear but few actually follow. Chances are, if your password is on this computer science professor’s dress, it’s not keeping your accounts particularly secure. Many major online service providers automatically force you to choose a password that follows certain guidelines (such as length and character combinations), and even provide you feedback on the password’s strength. But security researchers such as F-Secure Security Advisor Sean Sullivan say that, while strong passwords are important, the value of choosing unique passwords is an equally important part of securing your account. Basically, using unique passwords means you shouldn’t recycle the same password for use with several different accounts, or even slight variations of the same word or phrase. Google likens that to having one key for all the doors in your house, as well as your car and office. Each service should get its own password. That way, one compromised account won’t give someone else the keys to everything you do online. A strong password will be long, use combinations of upper-case and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols. The password should also be a term or phrase that is personal to you – and not a phrase or slogan familiar to the general public, or something people that know you could easily guess. But there are still many ways to compromise these passwords, as proven by The Great Politician Hack. So using unique passwords prevents criminals, spies, etc. from using one compromised password to access several different services. Sullivan says choosing strong and unique passwords for critical accounts – such as online banking, work related email or social media accounts, or cloud storage services containing personal documents – is a vital part of having good account security. Experts Use Password Managers for a Reason One study showed that the average Internet user has 26 different online accounts. Assuming you’re choosing unique passwords, and you fit the bill of an “average Internet user”, you’ll find yourself with a large number of passwords. You’ve now made your account so safe and secure that you can’t even use it! That’s why experts recommend using a password manager. Password managers can help people maintain strong account security by letting them choose strong and unique passwords for each account, and store them securely so that they’re centralized and accessible. Keeping 26 or more online accounts secure with strong and unique passwords known only to you is what password managers do to keep your data safe, which is why 73% of experts that took part in Google’s study use them, compared to just 24% of non-experts. Take Advantage of Additional Security Features Another great way to secure accounts is to activate two-factor authentication whenever it’s made available. Two-factor (or multi-factor) authentication essentially uses two different methods to verify the identity of a particular account holder. An example of this would be protecting your account with a password, but also having your phone number registered as a back-up, so any kind of password reset done on the account makes use of your phone to verify you are who you say you are. While the availability of this option may be limited, security experts recommend taking advantage of it whenever you can. You can find a list of some popular services that use two-factor authentication here, as well as some other great tips for using passwords to keep your online accounts secure. [Photo by geralt | Pixabay]