Last week Bucharest hosted d10e, the leading conference on decentralization. John McAfee, a cybersecurity legend and a CEO of MGT Capital Investments, was among the conference key speakers. He shared his thoughts on the future of decentralization in cryptocurrency and cyber security space.
Decentralization is indeed often seen as paramount for privacy and cybersecurity in the 21st century. Especially with the continuously coming news about billions of accounts being hacked in centralized systems.
“I am 100 percent certain that it could not be Russians”
According to US intelligence officials, it was certainly Russian hackers who made repeated attempts to get into country’s major state institutions, including the White House and the state department to interfere in last year’s presidential elections.
McAfee says that there is (surprise!) a chance that it was not Russians. In his opinion, it would be nearly impossible to determine the source of the hack if the hacker has had any sophistication whatsoever.
“If it was the Russian state that did the hack, I know well that the Russian state is sophisticated enough to, first of all, not to use a piece of software that is a year and a half out of date and has been updated five times, secondly, not to leave the Russian language inside the code, and third, not to leave the compile, date and time, which leads us to the conclusion that the hacker was in Moscow. I am 100 percent certain that it could not be Russians for these very reasons.”
Hackers were sending out phishing emails hoping that someone would click providing an access to the data. John Podesta, the Chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign was one of those who unintentionally helped sneak into tens of thousands of his emails, which were published on the WikiLeaks website before the election subsequently damaging Clinton’s campaign.
The US officials are certain that Russians again were the only ones who had a motive to interfere in these presidential elections but so did many Americans, or Chinese, or anybody else for that matter.
For a second, let’s look at the hackers that actually have been caught, for example, a 15 years old Ukrainian boy, who hacked the Federal Bureau of Investigation and took the names, addresses, fingerprints, photographs, phone numbers, social security numbers of every single undercover FBI agent and published them on the dark web.
“I want to be the first person to be hacked”
Alright, most of us are not involved in political games and have no sensitive data that could alternate the outcome of state elections, but we are still concerned about our security and privacy. So, what does one do to protect themselves and their data?
“It is actually the matter of what we don’t do, rather than what we DO do. I have a phone, a smart phone and I am aware enough to know that everybody in the world is listening over my smartphone. Especially since I published my phone number in Business Insider last year. Why did I do that? Because I invite hackers in. Once they are inside my system, I get a chance to work on the software and techniques. I am sort of the world number one target for hackers. If there will be a hack tomorrow, I’ll have to find out how they did that. So I want to be the first person to be hacked with any new software, so I can keep up to date with what hackers are thinking, with what they are doing.”
We are using all kinds of smart devices – almost everyone is equipped with a smartwatch, tablet, and smartphone. As a result, we get submitted to all kinds of phishing schemes, compromises of screen capture.
Beyond that, a microphone on our devices is almost always on, which exposes us to being listened to. McAfee emphasizes that all organized hacking groups have really sophisticated data analysis systems:
“It is not the human who is listening to you, it is not the human who is watching you upfront, it is the software that is looking for keywords. A simple phrase “I’ll meet you at a Congress tomorrow” provides hackers with a set of keywords. Some human is going to meet another human tomorrow at this time at this place – one of them might be an American congressman. Beside that we are being listened to, we are being watched and monitored by the computers, there are many hackers in the world and we are all compromised. These massive data analysis systems are listening to us, filtering, watching, looking for keywords.”
Our mobile phones and computers designed to spy on!
In the last few years, we have managed to build and develop genius decentralizing technologies, take Blockchain for example, but the question puzzling many is whether these technologies are secure enough from cyber criminals.
Many in the financial industry are so enthusiastic to rip out old systems and replace them with quicker and cheaper Blockchain technology, but is it that bullet-proof?
McAfee explains that what we have done for the distributed systems, and more specifically, things like Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, what we have done by depending upon the existing mobile devices and personal computers is the equivalent of when the automobile was invented, but we still used horse carriages to move them around.
“That’s exactly where we are – for cryptocurrency to be universally accepted we cannot rely on existing facilities. It is madness, it makes no difference how secure your system is or how clever you have been in creating a hack-proof application, hack-proof Blockchain, or a hack-proof cryptocurrency, it doesn’t matter if you are running them on a device designed to spy on.”
In his opinion, cryptocurrencies have to evolve into a separate hardware, into a separate software. If we want this technology to be secure, we have to change the paradigm; we have to realize that along with developing applications we have to develop a new platform, we cannot use the existing facilities:
“It is the equivalent of building a missile defense system and choosing to float it in the ocean so all I have to do is sink your platform - yes, your missile defense system is bulletproof, but in this case, it is totally useless.”
On fake news
Recently there has been booming of fabricated news stories presented as serious journalism, which is not only helping some writers to make money, what is worse – they are influencing and shaping public opinion.
The printed press is being taken over by the Internet. If something is happening somewhere, the first source to turn to for updates is the online news platforms. How do we find, however, a reliable source of information that we can turn to for facts?
“What everyone is doing now is kind of stealing the news and making it look like the subject of the news is a horrific person. If we just dig enough into the story, we are all going to be shocked, but that sells and that’s the tragedy of it. We do not take the time to cross-reference the things we read, the things that we see on the Internet, we just blindly suck it all in. But we can’t do that anymore, we have to start taking responsibility for ourselves, for our actions, not just in terms of understanding the fake news, but more importantly for protecting ourselves, protecting our privacy and protecting our security.”
McAfee shares his concern that a few people actually do that, as we would rather abdicate this responsibility to our smart devices and software because of being afraid to take our own responsibility.
To tech devs: “Wake up, see the reality”
There have been a lot of discussions about the ongoing decentralization in various industries. McAfee thinks, however, that what we are actually building is moving in the opposite direction:
“Yes we are decentralizing technologically, but there are people who think: “Yeah, great! Keep doing that, because I know how to put it all back together to own you forever, your children and your grandchildren”, he explains. “We have to wake up and see the truth of this.”
All those developing decentralizing technologies are for sure building wonderful things that will change the world (and actually are already changing the world). McAfee says that it is important, however, to keep both feet on the ground to be able to understand own limitations as well as the limitations of technology:
“The younger you are, the more you think is possible. The older you get – the more you hope might be done. Why do you go to work – because you are doing something that will change the world? But do it realistically. First and foremost you have to understand how much privacy and security you are giving up building technology. Just wake up a little, see the reality.”
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