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It’s Safer Internet Day, but what does that mean? In a recent F-Secure poll, 50% of respondents said they trust the Internet very little or not at all when it comes to their security and privacy. I spoke with F-Secure’s Chief Research Officer Mikko Hypponen, known worldwide for fighting viruses and defending the Net, about the state of the Internet today, the innovation he’s most excited about, and what he’d miss the most if it all came to an end.
The theme of Safer Internet Day this year is “Let’s create a better internet together.” What would you say is the state of the Internet today?
The Internet is a wonderful thing, but there are things going wrong in the online world. Malware spread by cybercriminals of course, governments using the technology to spy on their own citizens, and all the other privacy concerns that technology creates. We have two roads we can go down: we can either continue the slide away from our digital freedoms, or we can take action to try to preserve a free and open Internet.
Lately you’ve been talking about some of the pitfalls of Internet innovations (Bitcoin, Internet of Things, etc.). So are there any services or innovations out there you’re really excited about, that you think really hold promise for creating a better Internet?
I’m a strong believer in crowdsourcing. Two examples: Wikipedia and crowd funding like Kickstarter. Wikipedia is the greatest collection of knowledge for mankind. To today’s teens, the idea that an encyclopedia would be written by just five people, the way they used to be, is totally foreign. Today’s teens think “how could you even trust that?”
With crowd funding, you have a network of people with a niche interest who previously would never have found each other, like, say, people who collect pink ribbons. They can get together and fund something unique they’re all passionate about. You would never find enough in one city to make a difference, but on the Internet they can find each other and have the power to do something they care about. I have funded over 20 Kickstarters myself.
You’ve said that you’re concerned that we might not have an Internet to pass down to our children. What did you mean by that? What could possibly happen to the Internet?
I didn’t mean the Internet will cease to exist. What I meant is we’ve gotten to enjoy a free and open Internet, but there are so many ways we can screw it up. I would hate for our children to have a less free, open Internet than we have because of our inactivity. Back when the Internet was born, the powers that be didn’t pay it any attention. Nowadays the powers that be realize very well its power and that’s why they want to control it, restrict it, monitor it. There is a price to pay to enjoy a free and open Internet and that price is that you have to defend it. It’s your – and all of our – responsibility.
Safer Internet Day has a strong focus on children. What are your observations about kids online?
Kids don’t think about the Internet at all – simply because they don’t know of a world without it. To talk to them about a world where that isn’t the norm is like reading them a book about the 18th century. It’s as natural to them as electricity. But of course it’s different from things like electricity in that it has to be defended.
OK, so the Internet isn’t going to completely collapse. But let’s say it did, today…if that happened, what would you miss the most?
Serendipity. Randomly surfing the Internet and randomly learning about things you never heard of before, never knew existed.
What thought would you like to leave us with?
We’re seeing things going wrong in the online world and very few people are taking action. Some people say there’s nothing that can be done, so give up trying to do anything. Just get used to it. But I don’t believe in that. When we see things going wrong, we should try to stop it. We can’t all become activists, but even so there are small things we can all do.
Check out Mikko’s ideas for practical ways we can all take action.