TED: Mikko Hypponen: How the NSA betrayed the world’s trust — time to act – Mikko Hypponen (2013)


December 17, 2013 in Video

The two most likely largest inventions of our generation are the Internet and the mobile phone. They’ve changed the world. However, largely to our surprise, they also turned out to be the perfect tools for the surveillance state. It turned out that the capability to collect data, information and connections about basically any of us and all of us is exactly what we’ve been hearing throughout of the summer through revelations and leaks about Western intelligence agencies, mostly U.S. intelligence agencies, watching over the rest of the world.

We’ve heard about these starting with the revelations from June 6. Edward Snowden started leaking information, top secret classified information, from the U.S. intelligence agencies, and we started learning about things like PRISM and XKeyscore and others. And these are examples of the kinds of programs U.S. intelligence agencies are running right now, against the whole rest of the world.

And if you look back about the forecasts on surveillance by George Orwell, well it turns out that George Orwell was an optimist. (Laughter) We are right now seeing a much larger scale of tracking of individual citizens than he could have ever imagined.

And this here is the infamous NSA data center in Utah. Due to be opened very soon, it will be both a supercomputing center and a data storage center. You could basically imagine it has a large hall filled with hard drives storing data they are collecting. And it’s a pretty big building. How big? Well, I can give you the numbers — 140,000 square meters — but that doesn’t really tell you very much. Maybe it’s better to imagine it as a comparison. You think about the largest IKEA store you’ve ever been in. This is five times larger. How many hard drives can you fit in an IKEA store? Right? It’s pretty big. We estimate that just the electricity bill for running this data center is going to be in the tens of millions of dollars a year. And this kind of wholesale surveillance means that they can collect our data and keep it basically forever, keep it for extended periods of time, keep it for years, keep it for decades. And this opens up completely new kinds of risks to us all. And what this is is that it is wholesale blanket surveillance on everyone.

Well, not exactly everyone, because the U.S. intelligence only has a legal right to monitor foreigners. They can monitor foreigners when foreigners’ data connections end up in the United States or pass through the United States. And monitoring foreigners doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that I’m a foreigner and you’re a foreigner. In fact, 96 percent of the planet are foreigners.



So it is wholesale blanket surveillance of all of us, all of us who use telecommunications and the Internet.

But don’t get me wrong: There are actually types of surveillance that are okay. I love freedom, but even I agree that some surveillance is fine. If the law enforcement is trying to find a murderer, or they’re trying to catch a drug lord or trying to prevent a school shooting, and they have leads and they have suspects, then it’s perfectly fine for them to tap the suspect’s phone, and to intercept his Internet communications. I’m not arguing that at all, but that’s not what programs like PRISM are about. They are not about doing surveillance on people that they have reason to suspect of some wrongdoings. They’re about doing surveillance on people they know are innocent.

So the four main arguments supporting surveillance like this, well, the first of all is that whenever you start discussing about these revelations, there will be naysayers trying to minimize the importance of these revelations, saying that we knew all this already, we knew it was happening, there’s nothing new here. And that’s not true. Don’t let anybody tell you that we knew this already, because we did not know this already. Our worst fears might have been something like this, but we didn’t know this was happening. Now we know for a fact it’s happening. We didn’t know about this. We didn’t know about PRISM. We didn’t know about XKeyscore. We didn’t know about Cybertrans. We didn’t know about DoubleArrow. We did not know about Skywriter — all these different programs run by U.S. intelligence agencies. But now we do.

And we did not know that U.S. intelligence agencies go to extremes such as infiltrating standardization bodies to sabotage encryption algorithms on purpose. And what that means is that you take something which is secure, an encryption algorithm which is so secure that if you use that algorithm to encrypt one file, nobody can decrypt that file. Even if they take every single computer on the planet just to decrypt that one file, it’s going to take millions of years. So that’s basically perfectly safe, uncrackable. You take something which is that good and then you weaken it on purpose, making all of us less secure as an end result. A real-world equivalent would be that intelligence agencies would force some secret pin code into every single house alarm so they could get into every single house because, you know, bad people might have house alarms, but it will also make all of us less secure as an end result. Backdooring encryption algorithms just boggles the mind. But of course, these intelligence agencies are doing their job. This is what they have been told to do: do signals intelligence, monitor telecommunications, monitor Internet traffic. That’s what they’re trying to do, and since most, a very big part of the Internet traffic today is encrypted, they’re trying to find ways around the encryption. One way is to sabotage encryption algorithms, which is a great example about how U.S. intelligence agencies are running loose. They are completely out of control, and they should be brought back under control.

So what do we actually know about the leaks? Everything is based on the files leaked by Mr. Snowden. The very first PRISM slides from the beginning of June detail a collection program where the data is collected from service providers, and they actually go and name the service providers they have access to. They even have a specific date on when the collection of data began for each of the service providers. So for example, they name the collection from Microsoft started on September 11, 2007, for Yahoo on the March 12, 2008, and then others: Google, Facebook, Skype, Apple and so on.

And every single one of these companies denies. They all say that this simply isn’t true, that they are not giving backdoor access to their data. Yet we have these files. So is one of the parties lying, or is there some other alternative explanation? And one explanation would be that these parties, these service providers, are not cooperating. Instead, they’ve been hacked. That would explain it. They aren’t cooperating. They’ve been hacked. In this case, they’ve been hacked by their own government. That might sound outlandish, but we already have cases where this has happened, for example, the case of the Flame malware which we strongly believe was authored by the U.S. government, and which, to spread, subverted the security of the Windows Update network, meaning here, the company was hacked by their own government. And there’s more evidence supporting this theory as well. Der Spiegel, from Germany, leaked more information about the operations run by the elite hacker units operating inside these intelligence agencies. Inside NSA, the unit is called TAO, Tailored Access Operations, and inside GCHQ, which is the U.K. equivalent, it’s called NAC, Network Analysis Centre. And these recent leaks of these three slides detail an operation run by this GCHQ intelligence agency from the United Kingdom targeting a telecom here in Belgium. And what this really means is that an E.U. country’s intelligence agency is breaching the security of a telecom of a fellow E.U. country on purpose, and they discuss it in their slides completely casually, business as usual. Here’s the primary target, here’s the secondary target, here’s the teaming. They probably have a team building on Thursday evening in a pub. They even use cheesy PowerPoint clip art like, you know, “Success,” when they gain access to services like this. What the hell?

And then there’s the argument that okay, yes, this might be going on, but then again, other countries are doing it as well. All countries spy. And maybe that’s true. Many countries spy, not all of them, but let’s take an example. Let’s take, for example, Sweden. I’m speaking of Sweden because Sweden has a little bit of a similar law to the United States. When your data traffic goes through Sweden, their intelligence agency has a legal right by the law to intercept that traffic. All right, how many Swedish decisionmakers and politicians and business leaders use, every day, U.S.-based services, like, you know, run Windows or OSX, or use Facebook or LinkedIn, or store their data in clouds like iCloud or Skydrive or DropBox, or maybe use online services like Amazon web services or sales support? And the answer is, every single Swedish business leader does that every single day. And then we turn it around. How many American leaders use Swedish webmails and cloud services? And the answer is zero. So this is not balanced. It’s not balanced by any means, not even close.

And when we do have the occasional European success story, even those, then, typically end up being sold to the United States. Like, Skype used to be secure. It used to be end-to-end encrypted. Then it was sold to the United States. Today, it no longer is secure. So once again, we take something which is secure and then we make it less secure on purpose, making all of us less secure as an outcome.

And then the argument that the United States is only fighting terrorists. It’s the war on terror. You shouldn’t worry about it. Well, it’s not the war on terror. Yes, part of it is war on terror, and yes, there are terrorists, and they do kill and maim, and we should fight them, but we know through these leaks that they have used the same techniques to listen to phone calls of European leaders, to tap the email of residents of Mexico and Brazil, to read email traffic inside the United Nations Headquarters and E.U. Parliament, and I don’t think they are trying to find terrorists from inside the E.U. Parliament, right? It’s not the war on terror. Part of it might be, and there are terrorists, but are we really thinking about terrorists as such an existential threat that we are willing to do anything at all to fight them? Are the Americans ready to throw away the Constituion and throw it in the trash just because there are terrorists? And the same thing with the Bill of Rights and all the amendments and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the E.U. conventions on human rights and fundamental freedoms and the press freedom? Do we really think terrorism is such an existential threat, we are ready to do anything at all?

But people are scared about terrorists, and then they think that maybe that surveillance is okay because they have nothing to hide. Feel free to survey me if that helps. And whoever tells you that they have nothing to hide simply hasn’t thought about this long enough.


Because we have this thing called privacy, and if you really think that you have nothing to hide, please make sure that’s the first thing you tell me, because then I know that I should not trust you with any secrets, because obviously you can’t keep a secret. But people are brutally honest with the Internet, and when these leaks started, many people were asking me about this. And I have nothing to hide. I’m not doing anything bad or anything illegal. Yet, I have nothing that I would in particular like to share with an intelligence agency, especially a foreign intelligence agency. And if we indeed need a Big Brother, I would much rather have a domestic Big Brother than a foreign Big Brother. And when the leaks started, the very first thing I tweeted about this was a comment about how, when you’ve been using search engines, you’ve been potentially leaking all that to U.S. intelligence. And two minutes later, I got a reply by somebody called Kimberly from the United States challenging me, like, why am I worried about this? What am I sending to worry about this? Am I sending naked pictures or something? And my answer to Kimberly was that what I’m sending is none of your business, and it should be none of your government’s business either. Because that’s what it’s about. It’s about privacy. Privacy is nonnegotiable. It should be built in to all the systems we use.


And one thing we should all understand is that we are brutally honest with search engines. You show me your search history, and I’ll find something incriminating or something embarrassing there in five minutes. We are more honest with search engines than we are with our families. Search engines know more about you than your family members know about you. And this is all the kind of information we are giving away, we are giving away to the United States.

And surveillance changes history. We know this through examples of corrupt presidents like Nixon. Imagine if he would have had the kind of surveillance tools that are available today. And let me actually quote the president of Brazil, Ms. Dilma Rousseff. She was one of the targets of NSA surveillance. Her email was read, and she spoke at the United Nations Headquarters, and she said, “If there is no right to privacy, there can be no true freedom of expression and opinion, and therefore, there can be no effective democracy.”

That’s what it’s about. Privacy is the building block of our democracies. And to quote a fellow security researcher, Marcus Ranum, he said that the United States is right now treating the Internet as it would be treating one of its colonies. So we are back to the age of colonization, and we, the foreign users of the Internet, we should think about Americans as our masters.

So Mr. Snowden, he’s been blamed for many things. Some are blaming him for causing problems for the U.S. cloud industry and software companies with these revelations — and blaming Snowden for causing problems for the U.S. cloud industry would be the equivalent of blaming Al Gore for causing global warming.



So, what is there to be done? Should we worry. No, we shouldn’t worry. We should be angry, because this is wrong, and it’s rude, and it should not be done. But that’s not going to really change the situation. What’s going to change the situation for the rest of the world is to try to steer away from systems built in the United States. And that’s much easier said than done. How do you do that? A single country, any single country in Europe cannot replace and build replacements for the U.S.-made operating systems and cloud services.

But maybe you don’t have to do it alone. Maybe you can do it together with other countries. The solution is open source. By building together open, free, secure systems, we can go around such surveillance, and then one country doesn’t have to solve the problem by itself. It only has to solve one little problem. And to quote a fellow security researcher, Haroon Meer, one country only has to make a small wave, but those small waves together become a tide, and the tide will lift all the boats up at the same time, and the tide we will build with secure, free, open-source systems, will become the tide that will lift all of us up and above the surveillance state.

Thank you very much.


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About the author 

Daniel Latto

Daniel Latto is the owner and Director of The Daniel Latto Group, a Full Service Digital Marketing Agency.

Daniel advises businesses on marketing on Social Media using both Paid and Organic content. His top rated iTunes Podcast; 'The Wealth Creation Show' has hundreds of thousands of listeners around the world.

Daniel originally became Financially Free through property, with a Multi Million Pound Property porftolfio in Leeds.

He now lives in Spain on the shores of the Mediterranean.

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