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Preetam Kaushik

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Protocols That Guarantee Privacy, Security and Freedom

Posted: 03/02/2014 15:27

The Internet---a playground for millions across the world-- is increasingly at risk from perceived American cyber bullying.

The continuing backlash from Edward Snowden's NSA revelations is attracting some determined and articulate opposition against American overreach, not from the usual suspects in the Middle East or North Korea, but from the Western world.

One such resistance leader is Mikko Hypponen, computer security expert and head of research at Finnish cyber security firm, F-Secure. Finland is a neutral country but Hypponen's clarion call to take the battle to the Americans was delivered in Brussels, among other things, the location of the NATO headquarters.

Code Warrior

When assessing adversaries in a battle, against as mighty an opposition as the US intelligence apparatus (and allies such as GCHQ in the UK), it is useful to ascertain Hypponen's ability to walk the talk.

As a Vanity Fair profile of Hypponen's from 2004, gushingly titled "The Code Warrior", chronicles, the "pony tailed virus hunter" bio includes working closely with the FBI to take down a massive virus outbreak with organized crime connections.

Defenders of the NSA should reflect and worry that Hypponen was no left wing pinko such as Assange, nor a confused individual such as Bradley/Chelsea Manning, and certainly not a disgruntled employee such as Snowden. How then did they manage to antagonize one of the original "good guys?"

The answer can be found in Hypponen's talk where he accuses the NSA of having deliberately introduced vulnerabilities in security algorithms and "backdooring" to allow future exploitation. This strikes at the very core of how Hypponen earns his bread--how can he protect his clients when huge government resources and coercion are being used to subvert the very protocols that guarantee security?

He's registered his protest loudly and openly against industry players collaborating with the NSA as well. Cyber security firms work best when collaborating and backing each other up; clearly he is not impressed by weak links in this chain.

US vs Them

The first indication that all was not kosher in modern day cyber espionage precedes Snowdengate. What has angered Hypponen is that such measures were supposed to be directed at foreign enemies, not indiscriminately injure the privacy of American citizens and foreign allies.

Hardened intelligence operatives may well scoff at such naiveté but Obama's recent concession to end surveillance of friendly leaders seems vindication of Hypponen's public excoriation of the NSA for using the excuse of blurred lines to cross them.

The usual narrative of such speeches at this point segues into demands that Obama reign in his cyber spies, and dispose of the purloined petabytes of data stored in NSA facilities. Deviating from script, Hypponen sets forth his most interesting, some would say incendiary, proposition to his audience.

US is home to most of the companies that power the digital world today, and these have been severely compromised. Therefore, the rest of the world needs to create a parallel infrastructure and build it on open source, if we are to remain truly free.

Paranoia or Pragmatism

It's an idea that has been gaining ground with the NSA's victims this past few months. Was it just coincidence that Hypponen's presentation featured a slide devoted just to the Brazilian president evangelizing privacy as the foundation for democracy?

This begs the question, what happens if governments lead this charge to build an independent Internet? Authoritarian regimes ranging from Iran and China to even Singapore have pursued their own agendas under the garb of public good, when firewalling their citizens.

We have also seen that the promise of open source requires strong capital investment to succeed. Would Android be where it was today without Google's financial backing? Where Hypponen leaves the audience hanging in his talk is by just teasing us with a utopian possibility but not delving into the how of it.

There is merit though in giving this idea concrete shape. If nothing else, the threat of a global boycott of their products and services could prove to be just the motivation that carries the Facebooks and Googles past the tipping point of mounting a full-fledged challenge at home to ground Big Brother for good.

 

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