Web users are vulnerable to mass online spying because the US has too much power online, according to a leading security researcher.
Discussing revelations of US spying at his LinuxCon keynote speech, F-Secure’s chief research officer Mikko Hypponen argued that the internet had “become a US colony”, at the expense of democracy.
“We’re back in the age of colonisation,” he said. “We should think about the Americans as our masters.”
Hypponen’s comments come as a debate rages over the merits of mass spying versus the right to privacy, following the revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Hypponen gave a point-by-point attack against assertions that online spying was necessary, arguing that its dominance over the web gave the US too much power over foreign countries.
He claimed that while the majority of European politicians likely use US services every day, most US politicians and business leaders don’t, for example, use Swedish-based cloud services. “It’s an imbalanced situation,” he said. “All the major services are based in the US.”
Since Hypponen’s comments, it has emerged that the US National Security Agency may have bugged a phone belonging to German chancellor Angela Merkel. According to the files leaked by Snowden, the NSA may have spied on emails sent by former Mexican president Felipe Calderon.
Hypponen also slammed European tech companies for selling out when US companies came calling. “When we have the rare success story from Europe, where there are European-made closed communications systems, they typically end up being sold to the US,” he said.
“Skype used to be secure and end-to-end encrypted,” he added. “Now Skype is owned by Microsoft, it’s no longer end-to-end encrypted. It’s taking something secure and weakening it.”
Hypponen said a solution could lie in open-source systems. “Countries should try to use their own systems,” he said. “To fight these problems, use open source – open clouds, open operating systems.”
Several security researchers have touted open-source systems as a secure alternative to commercial software, arguing that it’s harder for governments to install backdoors.
“Closed-source software is easier for the NSA to backdoor than open-source software,” wrote security expert Bruce Schneier. “Systems relying on master secrets are vulnerable to the NSA, through either legal or more clandestine means.”