Web Summit 2021: Garry Kasparov and Ondrej Vlcek on taking back control of the internet

Grace Macej 22 Nov 2021

Garry Kasparov and Ondrej Vlcek discuss digital freedom in this new era of the internet

In an exclusive Web Summit 2021 presentation, chess grandmaster and Avast Security Ambassador Garry Kasparov shared the stage with Avast CEO Ondrej Vlcek for a discussion about the evolution of the internet, starting from its nascence in the 1960s, up through its mass commercial growth in the late 90’s, and finally to its current form in all its ubiquitous glory. They talked about the way the threats have changed and what we need to do to maintain our digital freedom in the era of identity theft. The name of the discussion – “Taking back control of the internet.”

“I’m a little bit wary about this title,” admitted Garry at the beginning of the talk. “Because we’ve never had control of the internet, and I don’t think we ever will have control over the internet. Because it’s growing. It keeps growing. And it’s too fragmented.”

Ondrej talked about the idealism that accompanied the early days of the internet – the optimism of information exchange, the potential for education and innovation. “But it got dangerous,” he lamented to Garry. “We live in a world where the estimated damage caused by cybercrime is in the trillions of dollars. We’re living in a world where the power of big data, the power of machine learning and AI is used for mass surveillance on a nation-state level. And also where manipulation is happening and is being used to form people’s opinions, not only about what to buy or what to like or what to dislike, but also who to vote for.”

Ondrej added that according to Freedom on the Net, 75% of the population live in a country where people have been imprisoned or arrested because of something they posted online, and 72% live in a country where people have been injured or killed for something they posted online. 

Garry and Ondrej both agreed that China is the main offender with its harsh censorship and mass surveillance. Ondrej noted that this “surveillance economy,” where the most valuable jewel on the market is data, has only grown during the pandemic. In a global survey conducted by Avast, 60% of participants said that their dependency on the internet has increased dramatically since the pandemic started, and that’s nothing but good news to cybercrime gangs.

Whereas the internet’s big bads in the 90s and 00s were malware and viruses, the main antagonists of the 10s and 20s are data theft and data manipulation. These are not situations easily solved by an antivirus. They require much more dynamic security.   

Garry reminded the audience that in a unified system of parts, like a smart home, the entire system is only as strong as its weakest device. He also brought up the most important component when it comes to cybersecurity – the user. With 12345678 being the most popular password, and 123456789 being the second-most popular, it’s safe to say that users need to take a more active role in defending themselves. After buying a new connected device, most people leave them on their default security settings. It’s time to change that.

Speaking about the resources available to users, Ondrej commented, “I think that the situation is serious enough that the whole cybersecurity industry needs to be slightly reimagined.” What would that look like? For starters, Ondrej thinks data bases should be decentralized. One server holding the private records of millions of customers is too easy a target for today’s cybercriminals. Data protection should be embedded in emergent new tech. Additionally, governments need to create stronger legal frameworks to discourage and prevent data theft.

The conversation could have gone on all night, but that’s the beauty of the annual Web Summit – the topics are fascinating and the experts are passionate. Garry summed it all up by telling the crowd not to expect an easy push-button solution. It’s a new era, and we need thinkers from all areas of the security industry to come to the table with their best ideas. “With our combined efforts,” he said, “I expect us to make a lot of improvements.” 

Then, as day turned to evening, Garry had to get a good night’s rest. After all, he was playing 10 chess games the next day – all at the same time! And in chess, you always have to think several moves ahead of your opponent. 

Wait a minute, does that sound the same as cybersecurity?


For more, check out Garry and Ondrej's complete presentation.

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