Banks accounts can be wiped out, photos and confidential files stripped from home computers, hard drives held hostage by cyber data kidnappers, social security numbers, credit card information and passwords can be pick-pocketed by hi-tech thieves working anonymously and undetected thousands of miles away - believed to be located primarily in Eastern Europe.
“One day I woke up at Microsoft and I wondered why we are not dealing with some of these trends and issues among competitors with the understanding that none of us can do this alone. We need to put our competitive differences aside and focus on the cyber criminals. Then it was all about spam and phishing, but now other vulnerabilities have emerged,” says Spiezle.
“I never expected to continue this as a career, but as I got more involved, it followed me from Microsoft when I left in 2009,” adds a soft-spoken Spiezle. “The organization continues to grow it as an important area, and it is somewhere I think where we can make a difference.”
While still at Microsoft, Spiezle founded Online Trust Alliance (OTA), a non-profit, charitable organization funded by stakeholders in the wired world, government grants, advertising organizations and private donations. Among its current concerns is rampant spread of “malvertising” - unauthenticated ads, loaded with dangerous viruses designed to steal, corrupt or monetize valuable private information, and strategically placed on trusted websites by cyber thieves.
“Consumers can’t discern between good versus malicious ads or determine how their device was infected,” says Spiezle. In short, he believes they need protection.
And Spiezle isn’t the only one worried about malware rampaging through the worldwide web. He was very recently called to testify before a Homeland Security and Government Affairs Subcommittee in Washington DC, along with representatives from Google and Yahoo, two of the world’s most powerful search engines.
Spiezle told the Committee that service providers must “vouch for the authenticity of the ads they deliver” in order to maintain trust in the Internet highway that is critical to the economy and to our infrastructure.
Although recognized as a problem, Google’s representative described the amount of malware as “a tiny sliver” and both providers reject any liability for harm done by ads they distribute.
“A tiny sliver?” barked Senator John McCain from the Homeland Security Committee. “That’s not much comfort to someone who has had their bank account wiped out!”
Spiezle, on the other hand, says the OTA has 200,000 documented cases of damage done by malware and believes the problem is unreported by a factor of 100 percent. He is determined to see consumers get protection by getting service providers to work together and abide by “an enforceable code of conduct.
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“In the physical world, there is no guarantee someone is not going to break into your home or do something in a shopping mall, but we have reasonable expectation of security. I believe that also applies when we enter someone’s website,” he says.
Indeed Spiezle may be one of those critically important people you have never heard of. He is the guy wearing the big white hat in the new wild, wild, west of the web-connected world. There are others that share his views. But his scope of understanding, his fluid thinking earned him an invite to Capitol Hill and the ear of some major lawmakers.