Home News Cyber ​​security expert for HN: War in Ukraine? A critical factor is secure communication

Cyber ​​security expert for HN: War in Ukraine? A critical factor is secure communication

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Cyber ​​security expert for HN: War in Ukraine?  A critical factor is secure communication

The importance of secure mobile communication is constantly increasing. This is also shown in the ongoing war in Ukraine. Is it equally important in other areas?

Undoubtedly yes. First of all, I would like to remind you that secure communication is far from only related to war conflicts, or countries neighboring a warring state, which includes Slovakia. It is also important in peace. A lot depends on the groups that can be critical in this regard. That is, politicians, private entrepreneurs, organizations that do big business or have direct contact with it. Everyone here is usually under scrutiny and at risk of having their communications eavesdropped. Therefore, they should concentrate primarily on making it really safe.

What is a proven recipe from this point of view?

You should mainly use end-to-end encryption. This means ensuring that messages or voice communications are encrypted as they are being recorded into the microphone on the first phone and are only decrypted at the end, on the other side. And that only when the user opens the message or receives a phone call. This is extremely important in war conflicts, but also in peaceful conditions, especially in neighboring countries, beyond whose borders conflicts take place. Ultimately, we see this even now in Ukraine, where secure communication is really a critical factor for the development of the situation.

How would you evaluate the situation in Ukraine in terms of communication?

We saw how the Russians completely destroyed the entire military infrastructure right from the start. Ukrainians were relegated to using Starlink. In addition, Elon Musk did not allow them to use it in the Crimea region due to certain war restrictions. We can also see from this that every state should have secure encrypted communication that no one can access. It should not be underestimated especially by politicians, especially representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Defense, but also the army as such and basically all important or interest groups in the state.

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From your point of view, who threatens secure communication the most? Are they states like Russia, or individuals or organized groups?

I think it’s happening from all sides. We have seen state-sponsored hacking operations or attacks on secure communications by the Russians, Chinese and others. Several enemy states are operating in this direction. Each of them tries to get some information about the other side, so this happens on a regular basis. But we also see it in the case of private companies.

At which ones?

For example, you have companies with so-called mass market products, such as Facebook or WhatsApp, which are not too secretive about the fact that they collect information and personal data of users. They collect photos, files or other data from mobile phones or profiles, which are then used commercially for resale. It should be remembered that many companies do not have their own infrastructure properly secured, or it is not in their power to secure it sufficiently. After all, we have seen many times that even large IT companies have been attacked.

Can you mention any specific example?

For example, e-mail communications of the director of Microsoft were recently published. On another occasion, they stole customer databases from a number of large companies. There are many similar issues and it is happening on all fronts. That is also why, first of all, the state should ensure secure communication for itself, for the government and for the entire state administration. However, even private users should take care not to unnecessarily give out their personal information or messages that could harm them. In short, they should treat it somehow.

Safe communication is the domain of the Silentel system, which is the flagship of your company. Is its launch on the market related to the current worsening of the security situation?

Not at all, we started developing Silentel maybe 15 years ago, so it is not a new product. Thanks to him, however, we were the first company in the world to enter the NATO product catalog at the level of restricted, i.e. reserved for NATO in Slovak. It is a North Atlantic Alliance certified product for use on standard mobile phones, which is again very important. Until then, there were many systems that were safe, but very clumsy, so they were poorly handled. For this reason, users simply did not want to carry them with them and did not use them.

What was their main problem?

In my practice, I had the opportunity to see many special telephones that are difficult to operate. People often need another charger or other devices. State officials therefore did not want to use them. The market lacked an easy-to-use product designed for both Android and iOS. We have brought a system with a military degree of certification, which provides comfort for users and at the same time high security of the phone and the information that is transmitted through it. We have probably the best compromise of both worlds – the right balance between guaranteed security and user comfort. From this point of view, we are the leader on the world market.

Can you describe how this system works?

It’s similar to apps like WhatsApp or Signal, but it’s much more secure in the background. The customer operates it 100% at their own premises. It is intended especially for large organizations, for state administration, soldiers or policemen.

Has the number of its users increased since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine more than two years ago?

Certainly yes. Today, we have customers in more than 50 countries around the world. I can’t talk too much about them, because we have signed confidentiality agreements with most of them – the so-called Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). However, what I can mention and what has already been published in the press is the fact that one of our biggest customers is the Austrian government. We started specifically with the Department of Defense, and in the meantime our system has gradually expanded to almost the entire government.

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I assume you keep updating it and expanding its features…

Yes, our system is expanding every year and the number of users in the world is also increasing rapidly. It is also related to the fact that people whose goal is to eavesdrop and abuse other people’s communications are not idle either. You probably had a chance to watch what happened a few weeks ago in Germany. At one conference there, the Germans talked about the Taurus system cruise missiles. The Russians intercepted their communication and published it in its entirety.

What was the problem?

So far, all we know about the whole matter is that it was a commercial WebEx communication system from Cisco. There weren’t that many users at that conference. The problem was that there were talks about possible targets on Russian territory. The Russians are now promoting and abusing it in a huge way in their media. They even talk about the third world war. They say that the Germans want to attack Russia. Of course, it’s not good at all.

Why do you think there was such a failure in the first place?

I personally see one major reason why this happened. We know of one of our direct competitors that sells products to the German state administration and the German army. Despite the fact that these are safe systems, German officers probably did not want to use them. And that is precisely because they are quite complicated and complex. Therefore, they used a system intended for normal communication, i.e. WebEx from Cisco.

What kind of system is it?

Basically, it is a standard conference call product, i.e. classic mass market. Unfortunately, I would say that safety is always on the other side in such cases. These systems are usually suitable for organizations, but certainly not for state administration and certainly not for soldiers. But precisely because it is quite easy to use and available, it was also chosen for this conference, which was definitely a huge mistake. On the other hand, it must be said that one hundred percent security does not exist anywhere.

Is it really impossible to develop a system that would be absolutely safe? Can hackers hack everything?

I usually say that nothing is completely safe in the world today. A few years ago there was a case where Scada systems were hacked. These are even completely disconnected from the Internet – they are used in enterprises to control operations, nuclear power plants and the like. And despite the fact that they are cut off from the Internet and quite well secured, several attacks have been made on them.

In other words, you are not 100% protected anywhere, but with appropriate measures you can significantly limit the threats…

Exactly. Look at it the way you would a car. Today, no one drives without airbags or ABS or ESP systems. You can never be 100% sure that you will avoid an accident, but thanks to these features you can significantly increase your safety.

And here is the parallel with security in communication…

Yes, also in IT, everyone should protect themselves to the maximum extent possible. There is a huge difference when, with a high-quality communication system, a possible attack will require huge computing capacities and take several years, or the deployment of several direct agents for eavesdropping, and when you use a simple system such as WhatsApp or Signal. Breaking it is very simple and does not require much effort.

Can you say something about cooperation with NATO? Are allies using your system in practice in Ukraine?

As for NATO, we have NDAs signed there as well, so I can’t talk too much about that. And I shouldn’t even talk about whether our system is used in Ukraine. By the way, I can say that she was our customer in the past, so our system was there. However, I really don’t know if it is still used there and to what extent. Well, even if I knew, I couldn’t tell you (smile).

Can ordinary people use it on their mobiles?

Certainly yes. As I said before, from the user’s point of view, the system is very similar to, say, WhatsApp. You can use it to communicate in various ways, to conduct phone conversations or conference calls. There is a video call with screensharing, you can send text messages, to which you can then attach various classic files or photos. So yes, it can be used by individuals as well, in any case, the system is built more or less for large organizations or for state administration. In the case of smaller users, we run it as a service.

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Secure communication is also important for the media…

Yes, if they want to communicate some sensitive topics and do not want someone to eavesdrop, it is essential to have a high-quality and secure communication system. The same applies to smaller entrepreneurs or various local politicians who do not want to install the entire system.

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