I was up until 4:00AM wondering what to make of this:
The half-hour ‘keynote’ event by Hypponen and Hasselhoff was actually different from typical media events on digital rights, in that it wasn’t intended to cover old ground on mass surveillance – there are only so many ways the Snowden ‘revelations’ can be made to sound new and exciting. I think there was an eagerness by Hypponen to skip all that and promote readily-available solutions (namely Freedome and younited.com) and a manifesto that might carry a bit of weight this time.
One of the biggest problems (apart from the metadata thing, which Freedome kind of takes care of) is unauthorised access of data stored in ‘the cloud’, and anything that would have been genuinely secure in the United States is either shut down (such as Lavabit and SilentCircle), backdoored or compromised in some other way. Essentially it’s a simple matter of government request goes in, personal data goes out. Businesses already seem to be aware of how it’s undermining trust, and I reckon that was a major contributing factor to Alert Logic setting up operations in the UK recently.
F-Secure now has a European cloud service called ‘younited’, which I had a look at yesterday. You can install clients for Windows, Mac, iPhone and Android, but it works perfectly as a stand-alone browser application. F-Secure has hinted at this being the start of some future social network thingy perhaps to rival FaceBook, Google+ et al.
And the interface is rendered nicely in both Firefox and smartphone browsers. It’s possible to add groups, share documents within those groups, and possibly do some email-type messaging in future. Best of all, it provides online storage in Helsinki, where legal protections against unauthorised access are apparently somewhat stronger.
Files are encrypted on the server, but for various reasons F-Secure retains the crypto keys – younited is designed for sharing malware-free content. I typically apply my own encryption to anything sensitive before uploading for good measure, and it should be possible to use younited.com in conjunction with the Freedome VPN service.
I’ve also successfully managed to swap EncFS containers between machines as .zip archives via younited.com – just like using EncFS with DropBox, but over a VPN and in a way that no traces of the decrypted files exist locally. Although this is initially cumbersome for non-technical users, it’s a decent method of protecting sensitive information from warrantless searches while travelling between countries or states.
For those of us without access to some bespoke virtual-desktop-over-VPN service, Freedome and younited could be extremely useful as an integrated paid-for solution, if F-Secure does release a desktop version of the VPN client.
The European Alternative
But younited.com is just one service. One of Hypponen’s key points is that Europe needs its own alternative to Silicon Valley, but doing that in a way that protects digital rights would be a colossal task. It would mean competition with a market in which users are the commodity, unless enough individuals care about privacy to pay financial costs for the services. But with US-based firms you’re subject to the blanket surveillance either way.
With a European alternative, I’d imagine privacy-oriented services (such as StartMail, Freedome and younited) would become utilities that we pay small amounts for. Some government-owned solutions could materialise as a result of the manifesto.