Cyber-news from the dark side: Er, who said you could sell my data?

January 28 is my aunt Olga’s birthday. It also happens to be Data Privacy Day. And my aunt Olga still isn’t aware! But she should be! For digital data is the currency of the new millennium. Accumulated knowledge of trillions of clicks and transactions – it’s a gold mine for any business. And multimillion-dollar businesses – lots of them – are based on the sale of these cyber-resources.

Global IT companies have more access to personal data than do countries. As a result, this topic is extremely important; it’s also toxic.

And, wherever there’s money – there are always bad guys. Cyber-bad-guys getting up to no good with folks’ data are forever multiplying in numbers. But even respectable companies may get up to no good with folks’ data too, and they seem to get away with – mostly. But more on that later…

Now, I’d like to ask a simple question – one to which, at least in global IT, there is no answer yet: ‘What is good and what is bad?’ I mean: where is the line between universal human morals and business ethics? Where is that fine line?

Alas, the question of cyber-ethics and cyber-morals is a very ambiguous one. Meanwhile, I can assure you that with the introduction of 5G and further sharp increases in the number of IoT devices, our data will be collected all the more. And more, and more…

Now for some detail: broken down into the main, most-pressing, interesting matters:

Lawyers, lawmakers, journalists, politicians, pundits, social commentators, philosophers… – not one of them can answer this question: ‘Who does data belong to?’ To users? To governments? To businesses? It would nice to think that users’ personal data belongs to those users themselves; at least up until when they may decide to voluntarily share it: when they fill in a form on a website, enter their name, telephone number and email to register for a newsletter, or thoughtlessly place a check in an app without reading through the small print of a lengthy legal agreement. Formally, from that moment on we give certain third parties the legal ability to handle our data, analyze it, sell it and whatever else is written (but rarely read) in the respective agreement. So does that mean that from that moment the data belongs to those third parties, too?

Much of the problem lies in the fact that the term ‘personal data’ is very vague and ephemeral – not only from the standpoint of the user but also from the legal one. Laws often can’t keep up with technological development. Nevertheless, on the whole over recent years the tendency has been clear: new laws being passed on the protection of personal data and the updating of existing legislation. In parallel, people’s attitudes toward personal data and privacy have become a lot more serious – something that of course I’m very happy to see.

Enough of my ‘intro’; let’s move on to the main dish…

Last week there was quite the scandal reported in the press involving Avast, one of the major players in the AV market.

Vice published an expose detailing how Avast has for years been giving data of its users that it collects to one of its subsidiaries – Jumpshot – which in turn then sells it to third-party companies. Those third-party companies thus got access to information on the online behavior of users: what websites were visited, movements from sites to sites, GPS coordinates of users of Google Maps, YouTube viewing histories, and lots more besides. And though the data wasn’t associated with specific individuals, IP addresses or emails – in other words it was anonymous – the data did come with identifiers, which keep working up until when a user may delete their Avast antivirus from their computer

Of course, this is nothing short of scandalous from an ethical point of view. We here at K have never allowed such a thing to happen, and never would; and we firmly believe that any earnings made from data of your users is simply beyond the pale.

The epilogue of this sorry tale was a formal apology from Avast’s CEO, in an announcement about the termination of Jumpshop. In my view, that was the only appropriate thing to do. I understand it mustn’t have been easy, and there will have been big financial losses, but still. Well done for doing the right thing in the end.

For us, the matter of data storage and its usage has long been a priority. Back in 2017 we launched our Global Transparency Initiative, moved our data processing for European users (plus other countries) to Zurich, since then have opened two more Transparency Centers, and are soon to open two more. Projects like this aren’t cheap; but we feel we simply must set new standards of openness and a serious attitude to personal data.

More details about our principles of data processing, about how our cloud-based KSN works, anonymization of data, and other important things you can find here. But I just want to add, addressing all our users, that, rest assured: we never make any compromises with our conscience – ever.

Often, the collection and sale of data is carried out by free antivirus software, covering things like surveillance of users for advertising purposes and the trade in their confidentiality, all to make money. As you’ll know, we also have a free version of our AV, based on the same protection-tech as our other, paid-for products, whose effectiveness is constantly confirmed in independent tests. And though the functionality of the free version is rather stripped down, it’s still a piece of AV we’re very proud of, delivering users solid and reliable protection and leaking no personal data for advertisers. Users deserve the best protection – without annoying adverts and privacy trading. But I’ve been saying that years.

Something else I’ve been talking about for years is my own paranoid very serious attitude to my own personal data. One more time: I only ever give it out when it is wholly necessary, which I recommend you do too. I understand it’s difficult to fully realize the importance of this, when its so intangible and when the ‘price’ of our data is impossible to estimate. Just remember – every click, every site you visit – someone (rather – something), somewhere is making a record of it, and it never gets deleted. So come on folks, lets get serious about our digital footprint; and more serious about how we view the companies and products to which you entrust your personal – private – data.

PS: We recently launched a useful site with detailed recommendations for protecting your personal digital life. Here you can find the most important privacy settings for popular social networks, online services and operating systems. Have a look!

African Adventure 2020 – Namibia: day two – Skeleton Coast.

Our second day in Namibia started very early – before the crack of dawn even. We were showered and packed before breakfast in the hotel was served. And this early-bird tendency stayed with us throughout the whole trip. Then, after our breakfast of a morning would follow concentrated levels of tourism, planned perfectly (or as near as darn it) so that we’d arrive at our next hotel (rarely the same hotel twice) around dusk, shower, have supper, and turn in for the night. Clockwork, basically ). Repeat 10 times! We call it ‘tourism till you drop’. And it suits us just fine!…

So. Day two: dedicated completely to Skeleton Coast

Read on…

Flickr photostream

Instagram photostream

African Adventure 2020 – Namibia: day one (and full of surprises).

All righty. Finally, let me get this African series fully underway. On today’s menu, my initial impressions of Namibia, particularly – its roads and the scenery viewed therefrom, plus its sandy beaches, and whatever else I’ll be reminded of as I sort through my many photos…

Now, for various historical reasons, it turns out that Africa is my least-traveled-to continent. Out of the 50+ countries I’ve visted, only 10 have been African (not including the Seychelles or Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, which technically are also African). What’s more, only four of those were business trips (with a spot of tourism on some); the rest were visited exclusively for a vacation.

My impressions of the African continent tend to coincide with those of the majority – especially as concerns the Sub-Sahara: poor, and in some places – unsafe. Astonishing nature and wildlife, but with poorly-developed governments. But when in May of last year (2019) I visited Rwanda, my impressions started to change. // Have a read of that link – it truly is an extraordinary, curious place. Rwanda is sometimes called the ‘African Switzerland’. It’s a most atypical country for this continent.

I’d heard a few things about Namibia before: about it’s natural beauty, and its, too, being something a bit special for Africa – a cut above its neighbors somehow. Well, having now been there myself, I can confirm this to be true. Namibia isn’t Africa as we tend to know it. At first, it felt like we were in Australia! The bluest sky, endless expanses, excellent roads, pretty houses and neatly mowed lawns. For example, as you drive through the Namibian coastal city of Swakopmund, it feels like you’re in a provincial Australian town/city like Katoomba or Warrnambool.

Read on…

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Africa 2020 – aperitif.

Once upon a time, my like-minded exotic-travel-buff friends and I spun a globe, closed our eyes, and placed our fingers on said globe. The continent with the most ‘pokes’? Africa!…

And the rest, as they say, was history: it was with this highly-scientific method that we chose the destination for our next spot of adventurous tourism. Then, one early morning just after New Year, we were up early, grabbed our packed bags with photo-video kit with fully-charged batteries and empty memory, and headed for the airport. Hours later, we were up in the air; direction: south…

…I wish! I wish it were so simple! But no – it isn’t. It’s a lot more difficult…

Read on…

The extraordinary things I’ve done and seen – in the year of the Lord of twenty-nineteen!

Hi folks, and – belatedly – Happy New Year!

Trust you all had happy, jolly, merry holidays. I sure did!…

All righty. Let’s get on… by looking back.

So, as per usual on these here blogpages of mine around this time of year, herewith, my round-up of last year: a summary of the facts and figures and countries and flights and tourisms and volcanoes and excursions and monasteries and walkabouts and treks and all the rest; woah – already for the sixth time (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018)!

But… why?

Well, over-self-indulgence plays a part, for sure (especially when it comes to things like my total number of flights and other stats:). However, I’m lucky enough to travel to and experience a lot of highly interesting places/stuff, which I’m fairly certain will be of interest to some of you, dear readers. And you might not have read every post of the year (there are a lot of them). Accordingly, surely, a pint-sized review of the ‘greatest hits’ of the year (including ringing in the New Year in the Ecuadorian mountains in a hot-spring swimming-pool some 3600 meters above sea level!) will be worth something? I hope so, anyway. OK, so – ~rationale out the way, let’s get on with this…

The just-mentioned hot springs in Ecuador:

Read on…

A port with the fragrant smell of incense.

As part of my plans I have a brief one-and-a-half-day stopover in Hong Kong. If memory serves me correctly, the Chinese name of the city 香港 means “fragrant port”. It’s always useful to check these things though… Well, I was almost right – it’s closer to “incense harbor”. The meaning of these hieroglyphs were once explained to me a long time ago by a Chinese man who wasn’t that fluent in English :)

“Incense harbor”. What a beautiful name! For some reason, I got to singing the golden oldie by Vertinsky: “Your fingers smell of incense, and sorrow sleeps in your eyelashes…”.

A beautiful city! … I’m not here to discuss prices and the quality of housing or any other problems or troubles. As a tourist with less than two days to spare, the city is fantastic! Both at night and during the day.

Read on…

Hanoi by night.

My lightning business trip is coming to an end. It started with the Moscow-Delhi route, but now I’m sat on my suitcase again and am about to fly more or less back the way I came. It all worked out well, almost like the last time I spent three weeks to a month travelling around the world :) But there’s no need for such heroism now. All the lands have been cultivated (except Antarctica, Atlantis, the Moon and Mars); the right people are tending them, weeding and watering them, pests are kept away and the crops are harvested. In some places several times a year :) And by doing so, they are saving everyone from global cyberthreats. But I still have to travel back and forth to boost the yield and to access new crops.

It was especially fun this time. India-Vietnam-Hong Kong. There were 15 business meetings and interviews, mostly in a suit (but without a tie), they were most welcoming everywhere and there are some great prospects. That’s the very brief summary. More details can be found on the internet – it has already been covered in various local media. There was one and then two installments sent from Vietnam (I should warn you that clicking requires a knowledge of Vietnamese). And I’m starting to learn Vietnamese… as long as it’s spoken. For example: “kaamoon”, “tsuk-tsuk-kwe”…

And for those who can’t, here you go :)

I try not to forget about the touristy things too. After all, every story should be accompanied by at least some interesting photos or video material (ideally, both). And since the report from Delhi was quite downbeat, I will try to compensate by highlighting all the positive things that followed.

So, let’s start. Hanoi – the view from my room in yet another hotel:

Read on…

The daily life and sights of Delhi.

Delhi. This is the third time I’ve been here, and finally I decided to do some tourism. On the previous occasions, I’ve had to do press conferences, meetings and was always on the go. I did make it to the Taj Mahal once. But if we’re being honest, there are two things that get in the way of proper tourism here: the polluted air (see below for more), and the chaotic traffic. You step out of your hotel, leaving behind the cleansed, air-conditioned environment, and you are met with the smoke of the local neighborhood.

At the beginning of the week, when we had two days in Delhi according to our approved travel plan, a third obstacle made itself felt to would-be tourists: protests against some reforms taking place right next to some of the city’s main historical sites that are a must-see for every curious tourist. Unfortunately, they were closed. But Delhi has quite a few places to see!

Some of the main ones were still open to visitors though. One was the Emperor Humayun’s tomb. This is an interesting construction. If you don’t have time to do the Taj Mahal (which is much higher up the list, but constructed later), then make sure to see this place.

As a matter of interest, many buildings of importance in this part of India were built in the times of the Great Moguls who were partially descended from the Mongol Empire. For example, the aforementioned Humayun was born in Kabul, a descendant of Tamerlane, etc. In the pictures, he has a typically Mongolian appearance, at least to me. It was these guys who got the ball rolling with the “industrialization” in these parts.

Read on…

Mathematics – the queen of sciences.

Hi all!

There will be two topics today: 1) where to go to study; and 2) a brain teaser – how can you obtain all the numbers from 0 to 100 using the digits 1, 4, 0, and 9. Let’s start with number one.

1) I often get asked: “What sort of education should my kid get? Which subjects are likely to be in demand in the future?”

I do not pretend to be an all-knowing visionary, but I have absolutely no doubt about the answer to this one: teach your kids mathematics! It’s the most fundamental, most indispensable and the greatest of all the sciences. Learning it opens the door to lots of different and wonderful professions. Good mathematicians can then become anything they want, including a perfectly successful humanities major (there are numerous areas where mathematics is applied in humanities, and this number will only keep growing).

Or, to look at it another way, I can safely say I’ve never heard of a humanities student becoming a successful mathematician… It’s just unheard of. Looking back at my life, I think that if it hadn’t been for the Kolmogorov Physics and Mathematics Boarding School (aka AESC MSU), many things in my life may have turned out very differently.

The school maintained very high standards – our brains were permanently going into overdrive. We had classes six days a week, several different math disciplines, advanced physics classes with lab sessions, plus all the other classes as per the regular school curriculum. Despite the heavy academic workload, we had a very happy and interesting time at school. A childhood imbued with physics and mathematics…

That’s why I was very glad when last year, as part of the Mathematical Vertical project, an experimental Grade 7 class was opened in Moscow school 1409. It is the first building block in the foundation of that Mathematical Vertical that has the same name as my company – MVK for short.

Year 7 became year 8, and will then become year 9, and, in cooperation with the school, we will draft a new class or two each year. That way, the desired vertical will be constructed: there will be the specialized classes 7, 8 and 9, then, after such serious preparation, there will be the engineering classes for years 10 and 11. The graduate students will then be able to enter the best technological universities. And then the kids will come to work for us! (said with a sly squint while rubbing my hands) :) And everyone’s a winner! Well, everyone except the cybercriminals of course :)

The Mathematical Vertical project was designed by the Moscow Department of Education as a necessary upgrade of the entire system of teaching math in years 7-9 – a radically new model. If, in a couple of years, it proves to be successful, it will become the benchmark for the entire country. Meanwhile, we are acting as an ally and partner for School 1409 in the implementation of the project. Kaspersky employees are taking an active part in the educational process, teaching the Information Security course to the MVK class and to interested students from the year 10 and 11 engineering classes.

Picture by Anastasia Shayakhmetova, Class 8M

Last Friday, I finally had time to visit the school and talk to the students under our patronage, giving them some math problems and steering them onto the true, highly interesting, albeit complicated, path and revealing a mass of opportunities. In short, I told them why they need to study hard and then work hard.

I’ve actually visited the school a couple of times before, and was pleasantly surprised. Many universities would love to have the sort of teaching equipment they have: apart from hundreds of computers, dozens of interactive whiteboards and robotics sets, the engineering and medical classes are equipped with a 3D printer, a 3D scanner, an atomic molecular microscope and other technological miracles. Back in my day, the equipment was usually limited to desks, chairs and a blackboard :)

I was pleased with my visit: the kids’ eyes were shining with enthusiasm, they asked interesting questions, and they promised to solve the tasks I set! I’ll check the next time I visit.

2) This is the main problem I set them:

You are given the digits 1, 4, 0, 9. Use the math knowledge you have received in school, namely the basic arithmetic operations (adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing), plus raising to a power, extracting a root and factorial, to obtain all the numbers from zero to 100. You can glue numbers together and rearrange them in any order you want. For example:

0 = 0*149. Or, in a more crafty way: = 0! – 149
10 = 10 * ( √9- √4 )

You cannot turn numbers upside down, i.e., you cannot make a 6 from a 9 by turning it upside down. However, you can make a 6 from a 9 using a square root and a factorial:

6 = (√9)!

UPD1: You can use the digits just once (this is somewhat obvious, otherwise “1+1+…+1+0*49” to make any natural number).

UPD2: it’s not permitted to round numbers. Otherwise, that would be simply cheating with roots and factorials.

I wonder if all numbers from 0 to 100 can be derived from such actions. If not – what other knowledge from the school mathematics course needs to be added to the conditions?

Biometrics. Lord of the ring!

It’s now perfectly normal to unlock your phone or computer with a fingerprint – nobody would bat an eyelid. In fact, more and more biometric data is being collected, whether it be facial, voice or iris recognition. This type of authentication appears to be very reliable because every human’s physical and behavioral features are unique. However, very few think of where all that data is stored and how it’s protected. What if somebody gains access to it?

According to our experts, in Q3 2019 alone, 37% of computers used to store and process biometric data faced the risk of a malware infection at least once. Of these, more than 5% were infected with spyware. The main sources of infection were the internet, removable media such as flash drives, and email clients.

When your password is leaked, it’s annoying, but it’s easy to change it. But what do you do if cybercriminals get access to your fingerprints? You don’t have a spare set of fingers! We’ve given the problem some thought … and come up with a solution! :)

In early December in Milan, together with Swedish designer Benjamin Waye, we presented a unique prototype ring used for authentication.

Read on…