I hadn't befriended this person -- I hadn't even given him my last
name -- but he mysteriously found my phone number and called to invite
me to meet his wife. Despite the fact that I declined every invitation
and rarely even talked to him, he sent me a letter offering to bring me
in on the ground floor of a new business venture, because I seemed like
such a "sharp guy." Those and other actions over the next few weeks so
perfectly reflected the FBI agent's version of "how it is done" --
right down to the catch phrases the agent said those people use -- that
it nearly scared me out of my wits. Fortunately, when I finally told
the guy to buzz off, he took the hint and I never heard from him again.
Open source closes doors
My point is simple. That experience made me a lot less flippant about
security. I am convinced that it is not paranoia to assume that foreign
governments (or even our own government agencies) are capable of
invading our privacy and willing to do so. And you can get fodder for
blackmail much more easily by digging through people's computers than
you can by trying to seduce someone in Europe.
Fortunately, open source closes backdoors, as ironic as that may sound.
I am reasonably sure that my Linux-based machines have no NSA-enabled
or other secret backdoors. Even if it were possible to insert such
patches without Linus Torvalds or the other kernel maintainers
noticing, those secret patches would be discovered by many other Linux
So I advise you or your company to commit to open source to the extent
that it is possible for you. That means putting pressure on companies
like Microsoft to provide the source code for Windows and other
applications in a form that allows us to recompile and reinstall them.
If Microsoft refuses to do so and we must abandon it altogether, so be
We may not have enough power over our own privacy, but we do have some.
I strongly recommend that we exercise what power we have by committing
to open source.