Interview with Robert Knapp, Co-founder and CEO at CyberGhost

We’re pleased to announce an exciting new interview series here at VPN Creative. Every week, we’ll interview people behind the VPN companies we trust and use. Our inaugural interview is with Robert Knapp, co-founder and CEO at CyberGhost. CyberGhost is based in Bucharast, Romania and one of the few companies who offer a free VPN service (albeit with some limitations compared to their premium product). CyberGhost is growing fast and gaining market-share across the world. We asked Mr. Knapp about his favorite security tricks, his reaction to the recent Snowden leaks on NSA and much more. If you have additional questions to Mr. Knapp, please use the comment section below.

— What’s your workspace like?

You know, there is this saying that organisation is the last refuge of a tired mind…

— What does a typical workday look like for you?

A good workday starts with a good coffee. During the coffee I have a look on our numbers like: revenue, user evolution, traffic trend and so on. And from there every day is different because I am in charge with every aspect of CyberGhost VPN like sales and marketing, product management and the internal things you have to care about when you have twenty Ghosties working together.

— What’s your best security trick?

There is no 100% security. If you are aware of that, you can start to build a good level of security in your life. You will use security tools with common sense.

Facts

Name: Robert Knapp
Current job: Co-founder and CEO at CyberGhost SRL
Location: Bucharest, Romania
Background: Self-employed since ever, learned everything by own mistakes.
Current computer: Lenovo ThinkPad T Serie – I <3 it
Current mobile devices: HTC Windows Phone 8X – It’s a love-hate relationship
One word that best describes how you work: Lean

— What security apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

It all starts with an Internet Security Solution, with a firewall and antivirus. I also can’t live without encryption tools for the hard drive, emails and passwords. And for sure, there is no digital life possible without a Consumer VPN and CyberGhost VPN is my one and only choice for that.

— What’s the best security advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t hit on her, she is married with a boxer!

— Why do we need online privacy, anyway?

Privacy makes a difference! It is one of the most crucial ingredients of a personality and the # 1 foundation of individuality. No free citizen, be it in Berlin, New York, London, Paris, Bucharest, Rome, Buenos Aires, or Madrid can ever do without it, for privacy is necessary to express yourself and tell the world: “Hey, that’s me! I’m important and I’m not a number!” Or, to be more precise, one actually can do without it for some time, but then will be reduced to being just a citizen of, say, Peking or Pyongyang. Being watched, you don’t tell the world “Hey, that’s me”, for you might not be appropriate, wanted or acceptable the way you are. Being watched you’d instead quite probably tell the world “Hey, that’s what I think you’d like me to be”. If you still feel like telling the world anything at all.

Robert Knapp at his office

Robert Knapp in his office

— Would you say that 100% anonymity is possible in today’s day and age while staying within the boundaries of legal regulations/laws?

We are simply service providers. CyberGhost VPN does not operate outside the legal system and therefore cannot ignore the legislation in force. If there is a data communication request issued by a court, and we don’t check up on that person, we would violate the legal provisions.

Nevertheless, even if there were a court request, we cannot identify a user of our network. The same mechanisms that offer protection to respectable citizens, journalists and other persons against data espionage and more serious deeds make it impossible for us to identify or track users suspected of having committed crimes using the CyberGhost VPN network.

There is only the theoretical possibility to intercept them, based on a court order, to record future surfing on a specific account (for example, to survey the activities of a terrorist cell). However, such operations require that, in addition to the court request, the relevant investigation authorities communicate us a connection IP or log-in data. In practice, this theoretical hypothesis is almost completely void of significance, and we have never used it.

— What’s your opinion on the balance between respecting customer privacy and legal risk management?

The overall interception of all our data online goes way too far. The responsible public authorities lost any relation to reality. Their operations are illegal and not covered by any constitution of any free and democratic country. We, the citizens, don’t control them, they control us. That’s scary and wrong in so many ways. And, the worst thing is: It does not make the world a more secure place. All the official statements and numbers about crimes they allegedly avoided turned out so far as a flop.

An email is still a letter, a chat is still a private communication and a Google hangout is still, well, a hangout. The Privacy we take for granted in a lot of countries when sitting on our porch or in our living rooms deflagrates in a blink of an eye, when we enter the Internet or pick up our phone. And that is not acceptable for a civil society!

— Did your company participate in NSA’s PRISM program?

Heaven forbid! No!

— How has Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA’s PRISM program changed your view on online security?

As Edward Snowden exposed the NSA program Prism, I was surprised to find out that reality is far worse than any science fiction scenario or conspiracy theory. Even as a co-founder and CEO of a VPN company, I found the scale of these operations through an US government agency hard to believe until everything was confirmed and approved.

Then, it all got even worse with Tempora, the program assigned with the full record of all internet traffic through the British secret service, GCHQ. And from there on it was pretty clear that Prism and Tempora are just small pieces of the puzzle.

The next level was to realize that our politicians are either not willing or able to defend our basic human rights, such as privacy. Then I heard Barak Obama, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate reacting to the scandal by stating that we can’t have 100% security and 100% privacy. In other words, we all should have 0% privacy to maybe get a bit more security. Hans-Peter Uhl, the German spokesman for interior security of the CDU/CSU faction in the Bundestag says that the state anyway can’t help and people should encrypt their data by their own, if they want to have privacy. Sounded like they were making fun of each and every single one of us.

And I felt the first time, that what we do at CyberGhost VPN might have an impact on the future of the internet. Here at CyberGhost, we believe that privacy is for everyone and with our daily work, we’ve been striving to make it accessible and convenient.

— What’s the future of online security?

We will see a change from protecting devices to protecting people. The next big winners will be companies that make all kind of encryption technologies easy to use for people with no technical background.

— Where do you see your company in five years?

I am more convinced than ever that CyberGhost VPN has the basics and assets for becoming a truly meaningful global player in the field of online security. Our strategy is to evolve on the long term into an “Amazon AWS” for VPN. We work right now on an amazing API that will allow everybody to build great Apps based on our award winning VPN technology.

In five years, CyberGhost will be the market leader for Consumer VPN technology. We will run the world’s biggest network of VPN nodes and distribute a remarkable amount of the internet’s global traffic – but encrypted.

— Is there anything else you’d like to add?

It’s now my second year as CyberGhost’s CEO. Since CyberGhost VPN started in 2004 and then moved to Bucharest, Romania to settle our headquarters here, our service grew from a few hundred users to more than 2.5 Million people with around 300.000 unique users logging in to our network every single month. CyberGhost developed from a two men show into a staff of more than 20 employees in various different countries. Every single day, around 3.500 new CyberGhost accounts are created, delivering us a constant growth and market expansion. I simply wish to thank our users, for their constant trust and support over the years and that they give us the possibility to build this great company. I am deeply grateful for that.

— Who would you suggest us to interview for this series, who would you like to read about?

Oh, ask every single CEO of an Antivirus company if their products also scan and detect Trojan horses initiated by governmental organisations. I would be curious about the answers…