By Simon Anquetil
- March 11, 2014
Tags: app security
Today, I saw a (tech) rockstar
My Diary of Days 3 & 4 at the South By Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas
It was 11am on 10th March as I queued up at one of the FIVE (maybe more) large conference rooms that were simulcasting his first video appearance since being ostracised from his people.
The energy and excitement from some of those waiting with me made it feel like we were about to see a musical icon, raised from the dead. Like Elvis or Michael Jackson!
As the large screen flickered on, it took a good minute for his image to appear clearly. And the second he came into focus, the crowd erupted. There, superimposed atop a backdrop of the US Constitution, appeared the nerd hero himself, Ed Snowden. Elvis, back from the dead!
I could hear my Dad’s voice echoing in my head “Son, get out of there! He’s a criminal!” – It’s moments like these I’m glad that Dad probably doesn’t read my blog!
But, I want to leave the political side of this aside for the time being. I certainly take no revolutionary stance on Snowden’s innocence (or lack thereof) – however his message for the hundreds of people watching was clear: Internet Security is a very significant factor in our lives from now on.
Snowden reminded us that, not only are governments certainly involved in mining and storing our private information, but they are going out of their way to hack the very encryption protocols that we all use every day to keep us all feeling safe: everything from the SSL that protects your credit card information across the web, through to the data encryption that keeps your iPhone photos safe on your computer if someone steals it. Why is this relevant? Because if our governments are doing it, what is stopping the real “bad guys”?
Even his simulcast came to us in poor quality, bounced via seven proxy servers to protect his location from the US Government. For the non-tech readers, that would be like if it took seven people each holding mobile phones together around the world to eventually bring his voice to us! And this kind of technology, usually through services like Tor (www.torproject.org
), is what Snowden claims are the only way to truly protect your anonymity online. The problem, he says, is that they are just too technical for the average person to use, and I guess his push is for application developers around the world to start making these services more accessible to the general public.
The other major point was around whether corporations should be allowed to harness this data from us as well. I mean, most of us know that Google and Facebook collect our information. It’s evident by the targeted advertising that magically appears on our timelines and gmail screens! But Snowden makes the point that while it may be annoying that these enterprises have our data – firstly we can always choose not to use them if it bothers us, and secondly (and most importantly) the worst that can happen is they sell us things. In the case of Government, they can arrest you and control your assets based on the information they may not like you transmitting. Sure, it isn’t a risk given most of today’s Western Governments (unless you are breaking the law… I say while I look at my 100gb of downloaded TV series and movies…) but perhaps this is more of a protection against future Governments that we cannot predict right now.
Snowden’s revelations have gone a long way to improve default security measures on services that we all use, like Yahoo Chat, already. So for that, his whisteblowing has helped us all indirectly – regardless of the ramifications. His work is so highly regarded in the Internet Community, that the first question on the panel came from none other than Sir Tim Berners-Lee – often regarded as the Father of the World Wide Web (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Berners-Lee
I’m not sure if Snowden will ever have the opportunity to experience his rockstar treatment “in the flesh” again, but it is clear he has immeasurable support from the tech community here in the USA.
His tips in summary:
- Use proxy services, if you have the know-how.
- Use encryption for any important data. But remember, these encryption keys are being constantly hacked by Governments, so you will need to keep informed and updated.
- Use common sense when transmitting sensitive information.
- Be diligent when installing new services or subscribing to products: enquire with them about their privacy measures and enable all options which protect your security even if they slow you down.