Robert Knapp is CEO at CyberGhost. Hello Robert, hello and thank you for taking the time to chat with me. Perhaps we can start with you explaining what CyberGhost is?
CyberGhost is a Privacy as a Service (PaaS) company that has the mission to provide everyone in the world with unrestricted access to information and protect their privacy. Therefore, we have built a Consumer VPN Service that is trusted by over 15 million people all over the world.
CyberGhost is headquartered in Romania. Can you please explain why Romania is a great place to be based when it comes to privacy?
There are two crucial factors that affected our decision to locate the company here: Tech factors and legal factors. Regarding technology when it comes to cybersecurity, Eastern Europe has been for decades a wonderful place for successful companies in this space. We could find here the high skilled cybersecurity experts that we needed to build CyberGhost VPN as well as the needed infrastructure and supporting talent. On the legal side, we needed a legislation that does not force us the store user data or implement backdoors given that the privacy of our users is our main priority. And we have found that this is the case in Romania, which is part of the European Union that is known for its high data security standards.
Although based in Romania, you seem very keen to point out that your software is “German made,” and that your Research & Development team is based in Germany. Why is this so important to you?
Yes, indeed, I think we are the only Eastern European company that outsourced their development to Western Europe. It’s kind of funny, because usually it’s the other way around. But we believe, especially when it comes to engineering, that Germany is one of the best places to be. When it comes to IT security standards, the level in Germany is very high. And the educational system is quite good. Our German R&D centre is close to Aachen with its top-notch universities where we get our cryptography experts from. So, for us “Made in Germany” combined with “Headquartered in CEE” is the perfect mix.
CyberGhost has recently been acquired by Crossrider PLC – a company headquartered in Tel Aviv and registered in the Isle of Man (a self-governing UK Crown dependency). The UK has “just legalised the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy,” and the Israeli government enjoys a close working relationship with the United States’ NSA. So does CyberGhost’s acquisition by Crossrider have any privacy implications for your customers?
Nothing changed for our customers. We are still operating from Romania and there are no plans to change that.
It is my understanding that Crossrider is investing heavily in CyberGhost. What improvements has this made to your service, and what can we expect moving forward? Do you have any exciting new developments planned?
Crossrider helped us to extend the team substantially, especially on the professional level. That means that we could hire more qualified managers and more specialists. We extended our server park now to over the magic number of 1.000 servers and expanded to additional locations as well. We have done a lot of “under the hood” improvements to the service; growing connectivity and quality and we have been very successful in delivering those to our customers.
Finally, we will shortly release new versions to our mobile applications. Now that we have extended R&D resources and can launch mobile first designed apps. We will also launch an updated version for Mac that will be stunning, and we are working on a couple of future developments to come.
As a no logs VPN provider, is it fair to assume that CyberGhost considers privacy to be an important issue?
Privacy is not just something we enjoy. It is something that is necessary for us to develop who we are. If we have privacy or not decides the type of society that we live in. Whether we like it or not constant data collection about everything we do shapes and produces our actions. So, yes, we consider privacy is one of the most important issues that we are facing right now.
I like to think of a good VPNs as being a vital tool that should be in everyone’s digital privacy toolkit. What other tools do you recommend people use?
Use your brain. That’s the most important tool. Understand that every internet connected device is until further notice a bugging device. Every email and online chat is until further notice a public conversation. Act accordingly.
What do you think CyberGhost does better than any of its rivals in the increasingly competitive VPN market space?
I think the main difference is that a lot of our competitors like to take the elevator while we still love to walk the stairs. What this means in practice is that we don’t rush to be at the top, we enjoy the way up and want to learn and know every detail of the issues we are dealing with. That is why we have rock solid foundations, we are for example ISO 27001+9001 certified, our server park is like a cyborg ship that automatically assimilates new servers, our core technology is based on an own API, so form and function can be divided. That’s why I said in the beginning: We are a Privacy as a Service company and not a VPN company. We are not a VPN company that builds some tech. We are a high tech company that builds a VPN – that makes us different and better at what we do.
It seems that government surveillance of citizens’ online activities and state-sponsored censorship of internet content is increasing all over the world. Do you agree that this is the situation, do you think it is problem, and if so, what do you think can be done about it?
Yes, I think George Orwell was an optimist and that the situation is worse than he has imagined. We live indeed in the golden times of mass surveillance and I think it is a massive problem. I believe we need to do two things:
- Secret services like the NSA and others are stepping all over our constitutions. That means we need to reform them.
- The paranoia around surveillance is a reality. We need continuous encryption of all relevant communication on the side of hardware, software, and provider. Encryption should be the standard.
In your opinion, who represents the greatest danger to ordinary internet users’ privacy: governments or private companies such as Google and Facebook?
Governments who allow Secret Services like the NSA and companies like Google and Facebook to step all over our civil and human rights.