As Edward Snowden brought about the realisation that our private information on the Internet is not so private after all, Ilia Kolochenko, CEO of Swiss info security company, HighTech Bridge, talks to Claire Vanner about the implications of sharing information online.
Is ‘Internet snooping’ a reason to fear sending sensitive information over private online messaging services such as Facebook and Google?
After the stories coming from Snowden, a lot of people didn’t think that Google were spying on them and that they see all of what we are doing online. But for all the people in IT, it was already obvious for them because emails, photos or messages, as soon as you send it to a site like Facebook, the information doesn’t belong to you anymore.
They can simply be hacked. Also, when you give something like an email or photo to a website, it doesn’t belong to you anymore but it belongs to the site which you are uploading it to. But people simply didn’t understand this before.
Are ‘automated verifications’ a valid excuse for these companies viewing our private content?
A lot of people are asking if companies like Google, Twitter and others are automatically checking on content we are sending: is it legal? Is it good or bad? Officially speaking, the companies are telling us that all our sending is being checked for spam, phishing and malware and so on for the safety of the customers. The only issue is that nobody can technically prove how the content is being stored afterwards. We cannot be sure that companies like Facebook wouldn’t share this content with people.
Do you think some Internet services are snooping on private content to optimise their advertising campaigns?
Some companies during our research have been optimising advertising content since 2003, to hone their keywords and present us with something that we really need and is useful to the customers.
Do you think since the Edward Snowden revelation people are more aware about their internet privacy being breached?
I don’t want to judge him, but for the information security community, he didn’t unveil anything really new. For common people, he told them that we are all being spied on and the government is checking out emails. They were shocked. But people in IT, especially in security, this has been obvious since 1995.
I don’t think anything will really be changed [in privacy] after Snowden told people they were being spied on because the companies and government who have been checking our emails; they have been checking, they are checking and I’m sure they will be checking.
Hopefully, people will start thinking, shall I send this sensitive information by Gmail or Facebook? Hopefully people will understand that all they send can somehow be intercepted by someone. So people will start to be a little bit more careful.
Do you have any advice for people regarding online privacy?
When you’re sending an email or posting a photo, file or any information to the web, you should be aware that tomorrow it will be in the public domain; it can all be hacked and spied on. So you should be aware that it can be stolen and could become public. So before sending, think: how would you act and what would you be responsible for if this information would become public tomorrow?