Privacy is a growing concern among many technology users. Technology and their ever increasing advancements mean more of our personal and intimate details are ending up online in some form or another, whether it is social media or some other platform. This is true for both our personal and professional lives. From a business perspective, there are many tools out there that are convenient and easy to use but don’t necessarily consider our ‘private’ information important enough to protect it properly. However, there are some companies out there that specifically use the business model of keeping our private information completely and entirely secure. These companies use a model called Zero Knowledge – I will define what that means in a moment.
For this article I am going to focus specifically on cloud storage systems, but keep in mind that the Zero Knowledge paradigm can be applied to any system or platform, in so far as, that particular company is willing to lose access to your personal information. When enlisting the services of an online cloud platform there are some important questions you should ask yourself. One, is my privacy worth protecting? Two, should I allow someone other than myself to control my private information, and three, should I blindly trust that a company has my best interest at heart when it comes to that information? The answers to those questions should be fairly clear.
So what exactly is a Zero Knowledge System? Let me first give you some examples of what are not Zero Knowledge Systems. They would include cloud platforms like, Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive. These platforms are easy to use and they offer convenient ways to access your data from anywhere. However they are not completely secure, because those companies have access to your encryption keys which means they have access to your data. This puts your privacy at risk, hackers can more easily gain access to that information and two Government entities can also more easily gain access to your personal information. A Zero Knowledge System (ZKS) is the complete opposite of those platforms listed above. Zero Knowledge Systems provide a platform for you to securely store your data, they provide the means to encrypt that data, but they themselves do not actually have access to that data – they do not have access to your encryption key. This means for examples, a hacker couldn’t hack into their servers and gain access to millions of encryption keys. It also means that government entities cannot coerce or subpoena companies to give them access to your data because they do not actually have the encryption keys to that data – the government would have to get a warrant and come directly to you for your encryption key.
A good example of a company that provides a Zero Knowledge platform is SpideOak. They provide three basic, yet very important services. One is called Semaphor, Semaphor is a real-time collaboration tool that allows for encrypted conversation and easy file sharing, it is similar to Skype, but safer from a privacy perspective. Second is SpiderOak One, SpideOak One is a cloud storage platform that allows you to securely access your data anywhere. The third one is Encryptr, which is a Zero Knowledge password manger.
In many cases I think people associate technology with a loss of privacy and as such, they accept it as something that is inevitable. However, I would argue and I think Zero Knowledge Systems are proof that technology actually has the means to both makes our lives easier and increase our privacy, so long as we, as users, align ourselves with companies (like SpideOak) that operate on a platform of true and genuine privacy.