Monday

29th May 2017

Focus

Russian anti-virus guru predicts future passports for internet access

A global internet police force, digital passports in order for users to go online, cyber crime as an 'integrated part' of virtual reality - this is how Russian anti-virus expert Eugene Kaspersky sees the future of the online world.

"It is not possible to eliminate cyber crime just as you can't eliminate football hooliganism without forbidding football or forbidding humans," the 45-year old CEO of Kaspersky Labs, which produces anti-virus software, said Tuesday (14 June) at a cyber security conference organised by the Business Software Alliance, a Brussels-based lobby group.

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  • Russian anti-virus expert Eugene Kaspersky wants to see an 'internet police' go into action (Photo: BSA)

A contested product in the cyber security world, anti-viruses detect only known and rather simplistic bugs, but are incapable of preventing targeted attacks or sophisticated infiltration schemes.

Kaspersky admitted that his programme cannot offer complete security for internet users, but maintains that many of the people behind a computer screen - even highly trained ones - can often become victims of very simple malware.

Trained in the late 1980s at an institute for computer science and cryptography, which was co-sponsored by the Russian ministry of defence and the sceret srevices, the then KGB, Kaspersky likes to provoke his audience with jokes and ironic comments about the state of cyber crime around the world.

"The last five years have been a 'golden age' for cyber criminals. They have expensive cars and highly valued property - at least those who have been caught and that we know of," he said, noting that the talent of Russian hackers gives them the upper hand in exploiting vulnerabilities of mostly Western-designed software.

"They don't see it as a crime. I often read their blogs and they say they only target people outside the country, which means that the profits are some sort of an 'investment' in the local economy," he said.

Asked how he assesses the Russian government's attitude towards cyber crime, Kaspersky said: "The Russian government has oil and gas. They're not after cyber crime. And judges still don't understand the cyber world, which makes cyber police very frustrated when they see someone whom they put a lot of effort in catching walk away with three years on probation."

He claims that his vision - global policing, uniform laws and online passports which can be revoked for abusive users - will one day become reality, since "crime is integrated in the cyber world just as much as it is in the real one."

His view of crime and of police dominating the internet is rather simplistic, experts say however.

"There is no doubt that internet security has to be based on international co-operation of law enforcement. But I would be very cautious when asking for a passport to access the internet. Increasing identification brushes against privacy, a fundamental principle in the EU," said Chris Gow, a privacy policy officer with Cisco Systems, a US giant in computer technology.

Jesus Villasante from the EU commission, also present at the conference, replied that while Kaspersky is focusing on cyber crime only, "we are just at the very beginning and have no idea how technology will evolve in 20-50 years."

"Twenty years ago there were no mobile phones. So technology will drive changes," he added.

On the passport issue, Villasante noted that while traditional IDs contain the name and birth date of a person, digital passes already exist when it comes to someone access to a bank account or to a secure communication line.

"My identity on the internet will not be so much about name and address, but rather about what I do, what services I use, whom I talk to, what books I read. And legislation will have to reflect this," he said.

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Faced with increasing cyber attacks, the EU is looking at a new law criminalising the use of 'zombie' computers and is setting up a 'cyber crime' agency and special teams of IT firefighters. But specialists and data privacy defenders remain unconvinced.

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Cloud computing, smartphones, viruses attacking nuclear plants. In the October Focus, the EUobserver turns its attention to cyber security and EU's attempts to set up rules for safer navigation on the internet.

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European companies selling online surveillance technology have come under increasing criticism from NGOs and the European Parliament after it emerged their products had helped regimes in Iran, Egypt and Libya to clamp down on protesters.

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