Mike Janke, CEO of Silent Circle, talks about his work with the Tibetan government, law firms in Thailand and human rights groups in Sudan.
As CEO of a global expert in encrypted communications, Mike Janke has his fair share of cyber security stories from around the world. The digital world opens up just as many problems as it does opportunities, and as a security provider, Silent Circle often finds itself caught in the middle.
"It’s important to remove the political and emotional views to look at something and say, where is it going?" he says. "From a business perspective, we count 17 of the Fortune 50 as customers and only 35% of our customer base is in North America, so we have to push and fight back against these types of things. Whether it is a business being hacked, Chinese businesses being hacked by American government, in our view it’s all wrong.
"It’s no big secret that the Tibetan Government uses our product to protect itself from China. They chose to put out a press release that they use Silent Circle and we had a 320% attack increase on our network. That in itself encapsulates the wackiness," he says.
"I don’t think anyone outside of the Chinese politicians would view the Dalai Llama as a threat talking about love and peace. Yet the very next day when they say this is what we’re using to keep the Tibetan government safe, a government entity attacks. It’s not meant to be an attack on the Chinese government, the US and European governments are just as bad, it’s such a hypocrisy."
In business, as well as politics, cyber security is becoming as prevalent as ever, particularly in the legal sector as Janke found out: "We started to get a lot of calls from Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia and Thailand from Law firms, calling our customer service asking to buy our product."
He discovered that there is a law in this area that law firms are allowed to hack each other and that information can be used at freewill in court. "So if someone is suing me, I am going to choose the law firm that has the best cyber security," says Janke. "The law firms will hack the defendant’s attorney team or them personally to see what is going on and then use it in court. So it’s not about having the best lawyer, they are paying hackers to penetrate law firms."
Silent Circle’s work extends beyond law and politics to human rights. The work they do highlights the issues of online anonymity and how it is not always a bad thing. "There are clients of ours who are in Syria, Sudan, Somalia, China and Tibet. There are women’s rights groups in Afghanistan, Sudan and Pakistan that we work with at Silent Circle. If these young women, are found communicating about learning, they will be stoned to death.
"So we have a former SAS guy in our office whose sole job is dedicated to interacting with those people. These women are each given a mobile device and they hide it, then they go to a human rights group in their area to communicate and learn and talk about how they can get out of the country. If they are found out, they will be stoned on the street. So it’s not as simple as people make it out to be, there are touch points here of anonymity, privacy and security that make it hard to say that person is right and this person is wrong."
Silent Circle is also reaching out to individual customers in developing countries in Africa. Many of them have a mobile device and utilise services like Google and Facebook. The trends of using mobile devices to carry out work and transactions in these countries has opened up another problem area for Silent Circle to tackle.
Janke says: "A lot of the SMEs in Africa are customers of ours. You can see the transaction in Kenya: a lot of the payments and banking is done on SMS. Now the burgeoning theft is hacking into the SMS. So what leads technology always follows."
At home in the US, Janke says that it’s not only outsiders who present them with issues. "We’re like digital priests. Everybody calls us, or comes to our office, and tells us just every dirty thing that’s going on.
"I sat and spoke with the chief information officer of a Fortune 500 company, and he’s telling me that they’re not reporting 80% of their data breaches. And I’m going, ‘there’s a law against that’. Customers of ours disclose that they’re being breached, weekly, and they don’t disclose it to shareholders."
As different countries continue to present different wants and needs when it comes to encryption and cyber security, Silent Circle is adapting its services to cater to a multitude of organisations, from entire governments to single individuals, from the US to Cambodia.