Cryptocat - Nadim Kobeissi

Nadim Kobeissi

Cryptocat - Nadim Kobeissi

Share Beirut 2012cryptographyInternet freedomhacktivism

As a student of Computer Science as well as Political Science, Philosophy, and Human Rights, Nadim Kobeissi is a computer wizard with a sense of civil awareness who likes cryptography and cats.

He was born in Beirut and travelled to Montreal where he continues his studies. As a public opposer of Internet censorship he founded Anapnea, a free public access Linux shell network, hosted CHOMP.FM, a radio program on Internet activism, organized a march in Montreal in support of Internet freedom, and developed Cryptocat, an open source web chat platform that aims to leverage both the ease of use and accessibility afforded by web applications and the security provided by client-side cryptography to offer group instant messaging, encrypted file sharing, and more.

Trying to make this fullscreen. Hi! This is a talk called Nadim Super Adventure, and it’s about my super adventure around the world for the past year. It’s also about Cryptocat, which is my cool project that I’m going to be talking about.

I’m back, I am actually lebanese, يعطيكون العافية. إذا مابتعرفو إنجليزي, فيكون تاخدو شي بترجم,بس جبروني أحكي إنجليزي لأنو هون العالم بتحكي أنجليزي اجمالا[Thank you for your effort. If you don’t know English, then you can take something that translates, cause they forced me to speak in English, considering that people here generally speak English], but I’m going to have to continue in english, I’ve only been in Canada for the past three years and I am back as a hiatus from my university education to communicate ideas, which I’m going to do today.

I think things like Share are very important, I’m currently missing class, I’m barely going to arrive back in time to study for an exam because this thing is worth much more. Events like Share are actually capable of establishing the internet and technology as a really viable infrastructure in a city like Beirut which really needs that to happen, we really need that to happen here, because, quite frankly, this country has been through a lot of war and is going through a lot of civil strife and also is situated uniquely in a place that is a vantage point for both eastern ideology and western ideology, so we end up being the victims of everyone. I mean, you already know this. I want to talk to you about Cryptocat, but I also want to talk about the larger context of Cryptocat which is an event like this and the surrounding culture which is hacker culture, which is the culture of using technology for artistic, political, for a civil society, for cultural initiatives, which is exactly what Beirut needs. This is exactly an infrastructure that can bring us together, that can make us really do a lot of interesting things and establish and take back our civil society, المجتمع المدني (Civil society) Ultimately, I want to tell you that, without being a Steve Jobs wannabe, Cryptocat is just one iteration of what every single group of friends here should be doing, that is my mission.

I’ll talk about Cryptocat first, because there’s a logo on every one of the slides. It’s my project, it’s just like Facebook chat or Google Talk, it’s an instant messaging client that works on your browser, but the difference is that it uses encryption, pretty good encryption, in the sense that you can use it to chat with your friends very normally, but all the messages are encrypted in your browser before being sent to someone else or even leaving your computer screen. That makes it so that even I, the Cryptocat developer or the other developers, cannot see what you are discussing. It also makes it so that messages, hopefully, cannot be intercepted by other third parties. What Cryptocat does is make encryption technology, which has usually been extremely difficult to use, only meant for militaries and spies and what have you, usable to talk to your girlfriend about stuff, I don’t know, it’s useful for anything. That’s the point, it’s to bring privacy technologies that were previously inaccessible to be accessible to anyone and you don’t need to be a super master hacker to use it.

Now it’s cartoon time! I’m going to show you a Cryptocat cartoon. [Cartoon plays]
That’s basically it, it goes on for a while. Thank you, I’m glad you liked it. Some people complained that it was too long, namely Hadi, he’s somewhere around here, but I hope you enjoyed it, it’s a nice little cartoon. Cryptocat has this 8-bit aesthetic that I really like because my mom spoiled me by buying me a computer when I was four. I had to learn to use it myself though. She’s in the audience. What happened with that is that I made this project and it really sucked at first because I sucked at programming. If any of my friends abroad hear this, that’s me admitting that I sucked at programming at first. The hacker community caught wind of Cryptocat and they thought it was an interesting project. I managed to get it funded by a non-profit and ,suddenly, I was travelling the world, very unprepared, learning how to make Cryptocat great because I was meeting with a lot of people who I had, in some instances, even idolised when I was a kid, because they were part of an information freedom movement, they were technically capable people who knew how to program, knew how to secure a computer system, knew how to, basically, fuck with intelligence agencies. This is what I wanted to do with Cryptocat, I wanted to make it so that people could rely on it for their privacy more than the relied on their government for privacy. What happened is that I met with those people that had a mission. They’re in their late twenties, early thirties, mid thirties. People who had taken it upon themselves to make internet culture, to make information freedom, to establish a culture of innovation throughout the internet that’s worldwide that is absolutely meritocratic. They guard the intellectual and moral integrity of that movement and they spend their lives full time on doing so. Here in Beirut, I wouldn’t be surprised if you had just heard about those people in books, because that was the case for me, I traveled. A lot of those people are spending the weekend in Beirut right now, and this is not something that happens usually and this is why you should take full advantage of this opportunity.

This is why Share is important, this is why it is important to bring this culture here, because people of that initiative can really change the cultural fabric and improve the civil society fabric of this country because they know how to do it worldwide. People like the Tor Project, which was mentioned in the previous talk and I thought it was excellent that it was mentioned. The Tor Project’s usage can be directly related to revolutionary activity in Iran, Egypt and Syria. People used Tor more on the same hour, on the same day, that more protests happen. And Tor, as you saw in the previous talk, is an anonymity network that makes it so that you can use the internet anonymously, more securely, and even circumvent censorship. I owe a lot the people of the Tor Project for how much they’ve helped with Cryptocat. Also, the Guardian Project, which does mobile phone security. GlobaLeaks, which is trying to make it so that anyone can launch their own WikiLeaks and they can do so securely, because the people at GlobaLeaks are taking every single step to making it so that it’s both easy to deploy and actually secure, because they are professionals at this sort of thing. All of those projects are just like Cryptocat, they are open, all the research is available for free. You can see the code for free, you can look at the research yourself and you can verify. And you can criticise Tor or Cryptocat or any of those projects if they fail to meet your security standards, I mean, Cryptocat itself has been criticised itself a lot, especially by those people who helped improve it. We solved many problems, we made Cryptocat’s encryption more reliable, by relying on standards that have been under development for many years such as Off The Record protocol, designed mainly by Ian Goldberg. We also made its delivery to your browser more secure, so, when Cryptocat is sent to your browser, it is delivered as a browser extension and that prohibits Cryptocat code from being manipulated by sources as it arrives on your computer. This wouldn’t have been possible if it hadn’t been for the guidance of people like the Tor Project.

This is the culture, this is the environment that this hacker culture inspires. It teaches people how to teach other people how to teach themselves and how to improve themselves. If you can spread this technical ideology worldwide, you can see people who want infrastructure to support their civil society, their artistic ambitions, this can start happening. I am addressing my childhood friends, I’m addressing people that I knew growing up that I met in university, people that hated my for my entire stay in Beirut, all of them had in common that they wanted a better infrastructure for better social expression, better freedom of expression, better civil society, better accountability of government. I’ve met people here who want to start a Hackerspace, and this wasn’t a reality when I left this country three years ago, and that’s why I left this country three years ago. I’ll come back to that later.

I want to just close off with Cryptocat, and I want to say that because of this it’s maturing into a gold standard. It works on Chrome, Firefox and Safari, it’s available in 22 languages and it’s used by eighty thousand individuals every month these days, which is something that I’m really proud of. This is just a screenshot of Cryptocat in Arabic, because it took us awhile to do this, we translated in twenty two languages. محادثات خصوصية وآمنة لجميع الأشخاص (Private and secure conversations for all people) it’s like an old Yes commercial. احصل على كريبتوكات لGoogle Chrome (Get Cryptocat for Google Chrome) Every time I read a website in Arabic, I read it like the old commercials I used to see on Teleliban. This is the Lolcat translation: “I CAN HAZ PRIVATE CONVERSASHUNS”, I don’t know how many of you get that joke. You know Lolcats? Never mind. This is just a screenshot of what a typical Cryptocat chat looks like. This is Cryptocat 2, the new version, as you can see here, there’s a conversation list that you can have private conversations if you click on someone or group conversations if you click on the group conversation thing. It’s pretty cool, there’s a lot of features and it looks nice. It’s important for things to look nice so that people actually use them. If you go to country x and these people have to use software y because it will save their lives, they won’t use it if it requires two hours of training for everyone else that needs to use it, and then people die, get tortured or whatever, terrible consequences. That’s something that I’m trying to address. That’s not to say that Cryptocat is ready to be used in those countries, I don’t know. It might be, but I simply don’t know because I haven’t tested it yet. I don’t know whether Cryptocat is ready to be entrusted with your life. It probably isn’t, because it’s only a year and a half old, Tor turned ten in September. This technology provides pretty good encryption, pretty good privacy, but we just don’t know how good it is because we just haven’t had it deployed in too many places yet. We’re just scared, we don’t wanna promise people false hope. We’re very open, transparent, but also slow and careful with our development process. Some people think we’re not very careful at all, but we do our best.

So, segueing, Cryptocat is a civil society technology, تكنولوجيا بخدمة المجتمع المدني (Technology in the service of civil society) because this technology can serve as an infrastructure for the support of any civil society initiative. إذا أنا بدي المجتمع المدني لحتى تصير الأرجيلة أرخص, أو بدي المجتمع المدني لحتى سرع الأنترنت, أو بدي المجتمع المدني لحتى جاري يزيح سيارتو من قدام باب بيتي... ما بعرف؟ (If I want the civil society so that Hookah “Arguileh” becomes cheaper, or I want the civil society to have faster internet, or I want the civil society so that my neighbor will remove his car from in front of my front door... I don’t know?) This is technology can help us justify ourselves as a society, and this is what I am going to do. من هلأ لموت يعني هيك حأعمل (From now till I die, that’s what I’m gonna do) People like you can use the technology to support the right of everyone including yourselves and your friends and the marvellous thing about this technology is that there are no borders, there are no linguistic borders, I’m speaking in english and you’re understanding me. There are no geographic, linguistic or cultural borders. A cultural slightly, actually, the cultural one is the biggest, but it’s still small compared to جريدة النهار, حايلا جريدة مو بس جريدة النهار (“Al-Nahaar” magazine, any magazine actually, not just “Al-Nahaar” magazine) Who uses Cryptocat? Eighty thousand people! Who are they? Schoolteachers, human rights workers, gay people in countries that don’t like gay people, journalists, your friends, anyone. This is not about Cryptocat’s userbase, this is about the userbase of any technology you can make that is like Cryptocat. You can make anything as long as you publish it openly, it will get reviewed by people who are twenty million times as good as I am, and that’s what happened to me and that’s what could happen to you. أنا كمان لبناني و صار معي هيك, فأنتو ممكن يصير معكون هيك, هادا يلي عم حاول قولو, أنو نحنا مش... مبدئيا, أنو عفوا نحنا نعل السباط على راسي وعيني, بس أنو هاد الشي بعلينا شوي, هادا يلي عم حاول قولو (I’m Lebanese and that’s what happened to me, so it can happen to you as well, that’s what I’m trying to say. --Untranslatable content-- and this is the thing that will improve us a little, that’s what I’m trying to say)
Cryptocat would have never matured if it weren’t for the hacker community, and the hacker community changed Cryptocat from miserable code with a number of universal variables that can be accessed from another code based, and two comments on two thousand lines of code, and it can change Beirut from, you know, just like my code sucked, it became better, Beirut sucks, it can become better. What I just told you is a story about technology, society, civil awareness and political enabling, all those things, coming together to form one big thing that everyone uses. Eighty thousand people! Why don’t you تروحو مع رفئاتكم وتعدو بالسيارة تفكرو بشي (go with your friends and sit in the car and think of something) You can do this. لأنو أنا عم أدرس علوم سياسية بالجامعة يعني مالي فطحل ففيكون تعملو أنتو كمان هيك شي (because I’m studying political sciences in college, I mean I’m not a genius. So you can do something like this as well) One story out of many and every one of you should do this, and that’s what hacker culture is all about.

This is also what hacker culture is about! حدا بيعرف هادا اللوغو؟ إذا عم تزأفولي زأفولون ألن, هنن أهم بكتير. لأنو أنا فالل, هنن باقين وأنتو لازم تبقو معون (Anyone knows this Logo? If you’re clapping for me you should clap for them, they’re way more important, because I’m eventually leaving, but they’re still gonna be here, and you should stick with them) These guys are Lamba Labs. They are Lebanon’s first Hackerspace. A Hackerspace is a place... إذا انت هلأ حبيت تعمل شي متل الخلق بتروح لهون, في محل بيثبتلك (So now if you wanted to do something distinguished, you go there, this is a place that will support you) This is what I’m trying to do. There’s a place of people like you that can meet up and they have the same goals that you have and they wanna learn the same things you wanna learn, they want to learn what you know that they don’t know, and you want to learn what they know and you don’t know and you can combine and you can have a democratic process. You can reach conclusions about things that you wanna learn and et cetera. I don’t need to repeat myself, because you know what I’m saying, and if you don’t, please, I have a one hour Q&A session, you can ask me what you want. Lamba labs, you should go talk to Marc Farra. Marc? Marc? Marc! This is Marc Farra, he is awesome, look, he’s so cute. Ok, Maya, come on! They have a after after me, بس عم حضركون (I’m just preparing you) These two are the directors of Lamba Labs. Please talk to them, they’re very identifiable, Marc is especially identifiable. I’m just bringing them on stage, they are going to give a talk actually, I don’t know why I did that. That’s about it. By the way, more shameless plugs, I am performing tonight at the afterparty, I actually used to be a DJ for three years before starting to work on Cryptocat and I am performing a set at Yukunkun at 1 AM, it’s gonna be really amazing, I would use a lot of metaphors to explain it, but half of them are psychedelic and the other are sexual, so I won’t. You should really come, it’s at Yukunkun at 1 AM tonight. Other than that, cute cartoon and end of story.

Thank you!

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