Leaders at two top tech security firms have warned that American businesses are being hurt by concerns about US online surveillance in Europe and the growing “Balkanisation” of the internet in the wake of Edward Snowden’s disclosures.
“You can feel this Balkanisation starting. It’s going to impact a lot of companies that are trying to do business globally,” said Kevin Mandia, chief operating officer at FireEye and founder of Mandiant, in an onstage interview at a Vanity Fair event in San Francisco on Wednesday.
European anger over the extent of the US National Security Agency’s online snooping “is starting to cause challenges in the ability for American companies to do business abroad”, said John Hering, co-founder and executive chairman of Lookout, a mobile security firm which raised $150m in venture funding this summer.
“The internet is becoming more closed, not open.”
Mr Hering told attendees at the New Establishment summit that this Balkanisation was already taking its toll on US tech companies, including Lookout.
“We are inherently global businesses,” he said. “We are starting to see infringement in our ability to operate freely because of this.”
The tech chiefs’ comments come amid a growing struggle between European regulators and Silicon Valley companies over issues ranging from privacy to taxation.
Yet the US security services have been unapologetic for their online eavesdropping programmes as cyber attacks continue to rise.
Speaking at the same event, General Keith Alexander, former NSA director and former commander of US cyber command, again condemned the leaks by Mr Snowden, a former NSA contractor, for risking American security and benefiting Russia.
“What’s being hurt here? We are – our best government intelligence capabilities and our companies,” General Alexander said.
General Alexander defended the NSA’s record of using the data it collects to prevent terrorism, which he insisted had appropriate oversight from American judges and lawmakers.
However, he warned that critical elements of the US national infrastructure remained at risk of cyber attacks from states such as North Korea and Iran.
Despite recent hacker intrusions into the networks of US banks such as JPMorgan Chase, General Alexander said he was confident these companies would “take care of it”.
It was revealed on Wednesday that Fidelity was among the 13 financial institutions hacked by what is believed to be the same group that targeted JPMorgan Chase, in one of the largest thefts of consumer data on record.
General Alexander said he was more concerned about cyber attacks on utilities such as power companies.
“When I look at the financial institutions, they do more to protect our cyber credentials than any other industry, JPMorgan included,” he said. “I would be more worried about losing power . . . than I would be about our bank accounts being driven to zero.”