Moral encryption: founder of Wikipedia speaks at IP EXPO
“Encryption is the only moral thing to do’” says Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia.
IP Expo Europe 2015 opened with Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales giving a keynote speech titled “Tackling Cyber Security in the Digital Era”. Wales stepped in to replace Edward Snowden who initially had the top billing, however the gravitas and respect around Jimmy Wales better suited the theme of the event; Snowden’s virtual presence likely would have been sensationalised and probably distracted from many of the other high level talks.
For such a prestigious speaker to open what is billed as Europe’s leading event, with his views on Cyber Security, only serves to emphasise the importance of security in our growing technological world. Using Wikipedia to illustrate his views and experience gave credibility that is hard to beat, and showed how security underpins the other themes of the show.
“Wikipedia grew from one simple dream, to imagine a world where every person on the planet is given the sum of all human knowledge.” said Wales.
“However, we are always conscious of the safety and security of our volunteers because we get at least 500 million unique visitors every month, in 287 languages, 230 of which have at least 1000 entries. We are seeing strongest growth in the developing world, particularly with the development of mobile devices, and our presence and openness creates nervousness in some countries. It has even led to the arrest and torture of some of our contributors,” he added.
The development of security issues in the digital era can be illustrated by Wikipedia’s relationship with China over the years. Wales said. “In the pre Olympic era, the Chinese government initially censored the whole of Wikipedia. However, with the Beijing Olympics there came a thawing of attitude within the Chinese authorities and Wikipedia was allowed but the government continued to filter access to certain pages. Wikipedia grew to the top 50 most popular websites in China (and is in the top 5 or 10 in most other countries)”.
“In the early days it would have been too costly for Wikipedia to encrypt every page but technology has moved on a pace. Edward Snowdon’s revelations have increased consumers understanding of cyber security issues and because of this and with improvements in technology, we are seeing a huge growth in encryption with SSL”.
“Sandvine, who provide Internet analysis, have identified that in April 2015, 29.1 percent of Internet traffic is encrypted, 65 percent is not encrypted and 5.9 percent can’t, for various reasons, be identified. However, by 2016, 64.7 percent traffic will encrypted, 26.9 percent not encrypted and again 6 percent not known. This trend will grow to most Internet traffic being encrypted very soon, “ Wales continued.
“Encryption is being built into projects from the outset and this will encompass most of the Internet very soon. Wikipedia has now encrypted its pages and the result is that organisations can identify that someone has accessed Wikipedia but not what they have read. This effect can be seen on other sites with SEO optimisation where many companies are trying to track key words with increasing difficulty as encrypted sites don’t return that data.”
“The implication of this is that instead of “filtering pages” countries are now blocking access to sites; they block everything. I have a principal that Wikipedia will never cooperate with any censorship”, Wales emphasised. “Access to knowledge is a fundamental human right.” He continued.
“Encryption is now cheap to do and now it is the only moral thing to do.”
He went on to highlight that another growth area for encryption was in Internet communications as these are mainly used for personal communications. “Of the 39 most popular internet communications means, 22 have end to end encryption which is the highest level, and 8 have what is called a perfect score, essentially unbreakable”, he added.
David Cameron, the British Prime Minister said of this, “In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which we cannot read?” Wales’ response to the audience was “well Prime Minister, that time is here and the bottom line is that it is now harder for the security services to do what they feel they want.”
SecurityNewsDesk’s Philip Ingram asked Wales about the responsibilities of Internet companies to ensure we live in a safe and secure environment. Wales responded, “Tech companies have a responsibility to be very responsive to legitimate requests for information following a judicial process rather than allowing authorities to access everything.” In a subsequent follow up from Ingram asking if the move to encryption would likely stimulate our governments now to “hack” tech companies, Wales responded that he sees:
“Governments hacking internet communications providers because of encryption growth is almost inevitable”.
Wales concluded by saying: “The web is part of society and I remain opposed to zero privacy. We have to understand that there is a balance and human rights don’t go away just because we are on the Internet. Young people are increasingly aware of security and are choosing more secure online apps”.