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Christian Bennefeld, eBlocker: “great technology always works silently in the background”

As society tends to ignore cyber threats and cyber awareness is still going through a growing process, the cybersecurity sector seeks to develop all-in-one solutions for every user to prevent online attacks.

The increasing number of seen cybersecurity tools ads online is informing us about the importance of a protected browsing experience. And along with its growing importance, the market of cybersecurity has been working on being able to offer easy-to-use top-notch solutions.

Even though most of us already have a VPN and a password manager installed on our devices, we still tend to overlook security gaps. To find out what measures can help manage cybersecurity in the most efficient way, we have interviewed Christian Bennefeld, the CEO & Co-Founder of eBlocker – free local hardware protection.

How did the idea of eBlocker come about? What has your journey been like?

I’m a serial entrepreneur and founded etracker – which does the opposite of eBlocker – in the year 2000. etracker is top-tier web analytics and web tracking company in Europe serving thousands of businesses. At etracker I learned a lot about the web tracking industry – and the dangers involved in creating personality profiles across multiple websites, apps, and devices: People get spied on constantly and unknowingly manipulated. Since my heart beats for democracy and self-determination, I wanted to claw back privacy for all Internet users: this was where the idea for eBlocker was born. A centralized, easy-to-use network device that filters trackers and malicious traffic before they can do any harm.

Initially, we started eBlocker in 2014 as an IoT company, had two great crowdfunding campaigns, and shipped some 20,000 eBlocker units. Due to issues with a growth financing round, we, unfortunately, had to close the hardware business and re-established ourselves as a software-only organization in 2020.

Can you tell us a little bit about what you do? What are the main challenges you help navigate?

The eBlockerOS is free software that turns the popular Raspberry Pi mini-computer into an eBlocker. Once the eBlocker is connected to a router, it protects all devices in the network from leaving traces on the Internet. By using an innovative, patent-pending network filtering approach, it blocks all trackers, Internet and video ads, malware as well as phishing attempts. Additionally, eBlocker can cloak expensive devices like an iPhone – as a cheap Linux computer, for instance - to fight dynamic pricing based on device identifiers. For people with strong privacy needs, eBlocker can also change the visible IP address by routing their traffic through the Tor anonymization network or any VPN provider to make the user completely anonymous. Families appreciate the built-in parental controls to restrict content, manage access times, and monitor duration on the Internet across all their kid’s devices.

In brief, eBlocker is the all-in-one protection solution for the whole family that works on the network level – without any extra client software installation. Plug and play protection for everyone.

It is evident that open source is an important part of eBlocker. Would you like to share more about your vision?

With our reorientation in 2020, our aim was to position eBlocker as a non-profit organization to allow everyone to have Internet privacy, free of charge. Our vision was to build an open community of volunteer privacy enthusiasts working together to continuously improve eBlocker. Publicly releasing the source code under the GPL/EUPL was necessary for building trust and establishing an enthusiastic collaboration. Today, eBlocker is an investor independent organization run by about 20 volunteers worldwide – financed only by donations – and it’s become a labor of love for all of us.

Do you think the recent global events altered the way people approach cybersecurity?

Yes, certainly! Recent global events have brought security to the forefront of the public’s attention and we see a change in their attitude towards improving their cybersecurity footprint, for a while at least. For instance, in the past, we have seen strong reactions after Edward Snowden’s revelations, after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and after big security breaches like the specter/meltdown. Unfortunately, this public awareness for better security is only brief and people tend to forget the learnings from the past. Nevertheless, global interest and awareness for security have raised over the years – and will continue to do so the more breaches and issues become public.

In your opinion, what are some of the most concerning Internet threats nowadays?

For home users, phishing and malware are the most concerning as they can significantly harm the financial and social standing of their target. But also hacking of IoT devices for raising bot networks and the omnipresent privacy breaches due to user tracking are constantly on the rise.

Businesses are also facing phishing and malware attacks designed to gain access to company resources. Here the main financial and operational risks come from Ransomware distributed via those attacks.

Especially for critical infrastructure, there are risks of undiscovered security breaches where malicious software is secretly installed that can be invoked remotely at any time. This bears major risks for our society and the economy especially if there are power, water, or gas outages resulting from such attacks.

Why do you think sometimes individuals and even organizations are unaware of the dangers hiding in their networks?

Great Technology always works silently in the background whilst seamlessly facilitating our private and working life. This naturally bears the risk that we tend to forget about the complexity involved in today’s modern networks and technology. Unless there is an ongoing diligent process for reminding and training users we will probably not solve this awareness issue. For businesses it’s important to assign board-level management attention to cybersecurity, constantly monitoring risks and continuously training staff awareness.

What cybersecurity tools do you think should be a part of everyone’s daily lives?

The most important tool is the user’s brain – constant warnings need to be issued: not to click on unknown email links, enter data on unknown websites or install arbitrary software and apps from unverified sources. Next to the brain, a good router that includes a state-of-the-art firewall with constant firmware updates (preferably automatic) should be mandatory to keep the worst threats off of our networks. All network clients should be required to run up-to-date operating systems with anti-virus software either built-in to the OS or separately installed. And lastly, eBlocker is great at preventing invisible tracking, annoying ads, and known malware as well as protecting our kids from unwanted content.

What data privacy issues would you like to see solved in the next few years?

For more than 20 years I have wished for global legislation that grants users the right to prohibit data collection and tracking. Europe has achieved a great starting point with the GDPR, and in theory, that right already exists. Unfortunately, the reality is, that companies, especially the big US players, are ignoring and circumventing the laws to continue establishing their data business. My only wish for the future is that the data giants respect the user’s privacy and ask transparently for the data instead of fooling everyone, purely to increase shareholders at the expense of the users and our society.

What does the future hold for eBlocker?

Today, eBlocker is ‘feature complete’ in the area of privacy protection and we are pretty good at discovering known malware and phishing attempts. Since new threats emerge daily, we are planning to release artificial intelligence (AI) based protection in the future. With this AI approach we hope to discover traffic anomalies before the attack vector is known, so we can mitigate or even prevent unknown threats before they develop harm.

On the business side, we are looking to partner with network equipment suppliers to enhance their software with eBlockerOS components – bringing eBlocker to the mass market scenario we initially built it for.

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