Nadim Kobeissi in 2011
|Education||Lebanese American University, Beirut, 2008–2009 (psychology minor)
Concordia University, Montreal 2009–2013 (political science and philosophy)
|Employer||New America Foundation|
|Awards||16th Annual Webby Awards Honoree, social media category|
Nadim Kobeissi (born 1990) is a computer programmer and security researcher based in Montreal, Canada. He is known for having developed Cryptocat, an open-source encrypted web chat client, and for founding and managing Anapnea, a public access shell network that operated from 2007 to 2012. Kobeissi is also known for speaking publicly against Internet censorship and Internet surveillance. He currently serves at the New America Foundation's Open Internet Tools Project.
Early life and education
Kobeissi was born in Beirut, Lebanon. He studied psychology at the Lebanese American University in Beirut in 2008–2009, and graduated with a double major in political science and philosophy at Concordia University in Montreal in 2013.
Research and activism
In 2010, Kobeissi was one of the earliest supporters of the Bradley Manning Support Network. He organized a march through Montreal in December that year in support of WikiLeaks, ran a WikiLeaks mirror site, and defended WikiLeaks on various Canadian news publications. During 2011 and 2012, Kobeissi hosted CHOMP.FM, a radio program on Internet activism that ran weekly on Montreal's CKUT-FM radio station. The show included guests from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, security researcher Bruce Schneier and journalist Glenn Greenwald.
In 2012, Kobeissi presented Cryptocat at the HOPE hacker conference in New York City. During the following year, Kobeissi presented Cryptocat-related talks and research at Google's Internet at Liberty conference, Beirut's SHARE conference, the Chaos Computer Club's SIGINT2013 conference, at RightsCon in Rio de Janeiro and at Republika in Rijeka, Croatia.
In 2013, Kobeissi led an effort known as the Skype Open Letter which brought together more than forty organizations, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Reporters Without Borders and the Open Technology Institute, calling on Microsoft and Skype to release transparency reports regarding Skype monitoring and surveillance. The effort was successful, and Microsoft released its first transparency report shortly after the letter was published.
Kobeissi is also known for discovering a privacy issue in Windows 8, in which the operating system automatically reported to Microsoft what applications users were installing in an insecure fashion. Kobeissi's research was picked up by Gizmodo and Microsoft issued a response. Kobeissi is also a known proponent of browser cryptography and is a member of the W3C's Web Cryptography Working Group.
Detention and entrapment attempt
Kobeissi was detained and questioned at the U.S. border by the DHS in June 2012 about Cryptocat's censorship resistance. He tweeted about the incident afterwards, resulting in media coverage and a spike in the popularity of Cryptocat. Kobeissi was regularly searched and questioned whenever he flew in the U.S. in 2012.
In 2012, the FBI attempted to entrap Kobeissi using Sabu – an American hacker involved with LulzSec, an offshoot of Anonymous – as an undercover informant. Kobeissi responded on his blog: "To all young hackers out there – use your talents for research. Never acquiesce to anything illegal with anyone, even if they do it with you."
In mid-2013, critical vulnerabilities were discovered and fixed in the Cryptocat application suite, potentially exposing prior communication via the chat program for over a year. The vulnerability was limited to group chat and did not affect private one-on-one conversations. The ensuing controversy centered about the technical naïveté of Nadim and others who had worked on the project. Steve Thomas, the security researcher who discovered the vulnerabilities, blogged criticizing Cryptocat as "run by people that don't know crypto, make stupid mistakes, and [does not have] enough eyes [that] are looking at their code to find the bugs." However, this comment was removed in more recent versions of Thomas's blog post.
Meanwhile, other security blogs and news sites called the vulnerability a "responsible disclosure" and praised Cryptocat's transparency regarding vulnerabilities and Kobeissi's warnings regarding the experimental nature of the project. Adam Caudill, an independent security researcher noted that "[Cryptocat developers] didn't understand the data they were working with. [...] anyone [could] crack the keys in a frighteningly short amount of time." However, Caudill later also stated that even in light of the controversy, "Cryptocat still achieves its basic goal."
Kobeissi himself had been vocal in the past about other services using encryption. In a Forbes.com article investigating the security of encrypted storage service MEGA, Kobeissi, who voiced concern along with other security researchers, noted: "It's a nice website, but when it comes to cryptography they seem to have no experience". This made Cryptocat's own vulnerabilities a more high-profile discussion among security researchers. Nevertheless, MEGA eventually adopted Kobeissi's critique and implemented the suggested changes to their cryptographic code delivery methods.
- To Tackle Increasing Online Censorship, Surveillance, OpenITP Hires 2 Special Advisors
- 16th Annual Webby Awards Official Honorees
- Dwyer, Jim (17 April 2012). "Using His Software Skills With Freedom, Not a Big Payout, in Mind". The New York Times.
- For Cryptocat, see:
- Curtis, Christopher (17 February 2012). "Free encryption software Cryptocat protects right to privacy: inventor". Montréal Gazette.
- Knowles, Jamillah (3 March 2012). "Raspberry Pi network plan for online free-speech role". BBC News.
- Greenberg, Andy (27 May 2011). "Crypto.cat Aims To Offer Super-Simple Encrypted Messaging". Forbes.
- Kirk, Jeremy (14 March 2012). "Cryptocat Aims for Easy-to-use Encrypted IM Chat". PCWorld.
- For Anapnea, see:
- Resumé, nadim.cc, retrieved 12 May 2012.
- Resumé, nadim.cc, retrieved 12 May 2012.
- Nicks, Denver (2012). Private: Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks, and the Biggest Exposure of Official Secrets in American History. Chicago Review Press, p. 223.
- For the march, see Shingler, Benjamin (18 December 2010). "Demonstrators march to support WikiLeaks in Montreal", The Canadian Press.
- For the mirror site, see "Montreal student hosts mirror WikiLeaks site". CBC News. 8 December 2012.
- Magder, Jason (11 February 2012). "Proposed changes to copyright law go too far, protesters say". Montréal Gazette.
- Sengupta, Somini (12 March 2012). "A Hacker Charms and Disappoints". The New York Times.
- Kobeissi, Nadim (12 March 2012). "On Sabu and FBI Entrapment". nadim.cc.
- "Bad kitty! "Rookie mistake" in Cryptocat chat app makes cracking a snap".
- Personal website
- "Online chats, off the record: Cryptocat puts privacy back on the Web", RT, 20 April 2012.
- Curtis, Christopher. "Free encryption software Cryptocat protects right to privacy: inventor", Ottawa Citizen, 17 February 2012.
- "Nadim Kobeissi, a student at Concordia University, is helping to organize a rally ...", Daily Motion (video), 7 March 2011.