Fredrik Blix, Department of Computer and Systems Sciences.
Fredrik Blix, the Department of Computer and Systems Sciences.

- It has gone so far that not even I, as an expert, can fully understand the consequences of my use of IT. I do not know who might be tracking where I am right now,” says Fredrik Blix from the Department of Computer and Systems Sciences (DSV).

Fredrik Blix began his doctoral studies at DSV in 1998, when public access to the Internet was something relatively new in Sweden. He could not imagine how quickly and far its development would go, or how important cyber security would become.

- All logistics, electricity, payment systems, defence systems; everything is controlled by IT. Our society is extremely vulnerable. Without these functions, which simply have to work, we will soon be in the dark, cold and hungry. We are a little naive as long as everything works fairly well. What we have seen so far are merely ripples on the surface compared to might may come next. I think we will soon have a major incident linked to poor cyber security.

One of the previous incidents he refers to are the distributed denial-of-service attacks on Swedish newspapers; another is when he helped the FBI find the creators of one of the most widespread computer viruses in history. The Melissa virus spread rapidly in 1999 and caused major damage around the world. Fredrik Blix and his colleagues managed to find a trail that allowed the FBI to arrest the programmer behind the virus.

Not a Facebook user

Computer viruses became a major industry at the time, and Fredrik Blix openly criticised the antivirus industry, where dubious operators were paying hackers to create new viruses. This market disappeared as computers received more secure built-in solutions.

In March, Fredrik Blix hacked a telephone live on the radio show P3 morgonpasset. He is happy to engage in public debates on cyber security, and not everything is about technology. Cyber security can have major political consequences, for example through influence operations or disinformation.

- We live in interesting times; cyber security has become completely central to democracy, Fredrik says.

Regarding his private use of IT, Fredrik Blix draws the line at Facebook. He thinks it is ethically wrong to have a business model where one seemingly provides a service, but in reality has another purpose.

- I do not want to expose myself to that type of mapping and risk. Facebook is a web service, but there are third-party vendors that receive all the information about you, and then you lose the ability to remove the information.

At DSV, Fredrik Blix is responsible for the group working on cyber security, research, and education. The research focuses of three main topics: cyber security, data protection, and digital forensics – securing technical evidence in connection with a crime. One of the projects, led by Professor Oliver Popov, studies serious international cyber crime taking place on the Tor network, the so-called “Darknet”.

Real future, not science fiction

Fredrik Blix’s research has mainly focused on methods for IT security management: how businesses and authorities can adopt an overall approach to security matters. Besides conducting research, he runs a consulting firm. He thinks it is important to have this secondary occupation in order to keep his knowledge relevant and up to date. He describes DSV as an organisation that has 50 years of experience but still has a pioneering spirit.

- We do not develop encryption algorithms or new firewalls, but we are advanced when it comes to the overall approach and how to implement the solutions. What we do should benefit society. The cheapest way to bring Sweden to its knees is to strike digitally. Our guard is too low. We are one piece of the puzzle of digital security; the students we train will go to businesses and authorities where they will contribute to a more secure society.

When Fredrik Blix talks about the future, it sounds like science fiction. He speaks of filter bubbles enhanced by AR (augmented reality) where simulated reality blends in with the real world, meaning you may not perceive the same things as other people around you. He also speaks of singularity, which is when artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence and machines begin to develop themselves.

From all of Fredrik Blix’s warnings, it is easy to get the impression that the IT expert actually dislikes this rapid development, but that is not the case.

- The benefits far exceed the risks, but we need constraints, Fredrik concludes.