TED Talks, Part 2: Understanding the Three Types of Online Attacks


Mikko HypponenTED is a non-profit organization which organizes and hosts a variety of speakers from all walks of life. Recently, TED hosted a series of talks called “The Dark Side of Data.” In Monday’s Part 1 of our series about these talks, we discussed online privacy.

Today in Part 2, we review the talk by Mikko Hypponen on the three types of online attacks. Mikko is the chief research officer at F-Secure Corporation in Finland, and is an expert in computer viruses. He’s also an expert on how to protect digital privacy in the age of government surveillance.

Our Government Is Tracking Us

In communist countries in the 1980s, anyone who owned a typewriter had to submit a sample sheet to the government so they could track any “wrong ideas.” Those of us in the west couldn’t understand this.

But if you go buy any color printer today, every sheet you print has imperceptible yellow dots on it that the government can use to identify the exact printer it came from. This is just one way that the government has infiltrated technology to track what we do.

The Three Main Sources of Online Attacks

Mikko explained that there are three main sources of online attacks:

The first source is online criminals. Their motives are easy to understand: they want to make money. They use things like Trojan Horses to steal money from our bank accounts, or key loggers to collect our credit card information. You are more likely to be a victim of an online crime than any other type of crime, and this type of crime will only increase in the future.

The second main source of online attacks come from hacker groups like Anonymous, which normally target corporations and large networks. These “hacktivists” are primarily motivated by pursuing vigilante justice against corporations and individuals they believe to be harming others.

The last source of online attacks is governments, primarily against their own citizens. Totalitarian states regularly hack into websites their citizens use to encrypt emails and other types of communications in order to identify these individuals.

It’s Not Only Totalitarian States Spying on Citizens

But western governments are enabling totalitarian states by selling personally identifiable messages from citizens of the totalitarian regime. And they are doing it to their own citizens as well. For example, the German government recently created and released a Trojan Horse to spy on its own citizens.

Some of us might say “Okay, that’s bad, but I do nothing wrong and I have nothing to hide.” The problem with this is that it implies that there is a tradeoff we need to make with our privacy. In order to be safer, we are told that we must give up some (or all) of our privacy.

But this is the wrong way to look at this. It really is a question of freedom versus control. When we voluntarily give up our freedom, the end result is not necessarily more safety, but more government control over our lives.

While we might trust our government right now, any rights we give away will be given away for good. Should we blindly trust any government we might have in the future?


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Kent Lawson

Kent Lawson is the CEO & Chairman of Private Communications Corporation and creator of its flagship software PRIVATE WiFi. He combined his extensive business and technical experience to develop PRIVATE WiFi in 2010. The software is an easy-to-use Virtual Private Network (VPN) that protects your sensitive personal information whenever you’re connected to a public WiFi network. Follow Kent on Twitter: @KentLawson.

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