Interview with Clipperz CEO, Marco Barulli

After mentioning Clipperz a few days ago, the co-founder and CEO, Marco Barulli, emailed in and thanked me for the mention. I never review anything with the expectation of hearing from the people involved, but it’s always nice when it happens. If it’s a good review, the company comes across and responsive and involved. If it’s a bad review, the company comes across as responsive and willing to stand up for their product.

The following is a brief interview we did.

1. Obviously, one of the challenges with a web service dedicated to helping people save passwords and credit card numbers online is that many people might feel unsafe storing such information with a third party. How does Clipperz address these security and privacy concerns?

Being completely transparent.

Clipperz source code is released under an open source licence (AGPL) and we provide tools and instructions for performing security reviews. And even the financial aspects of Clipperz are public!

The basic idea is to deliver a service where users have the ability to inspect and verify anything running in their browser. We want to drift the attention away from trusting us and let users focus on trusting the application.

Clipperz openness and transparency has also spurred a stimulating debate over privacy and freedom for web applications with a contribution from the very Richard Stallman.

2. With the all recent reports of laptop seizures at border crossings in the US, it makes even more sense to not store certain sensitive information on your hard drive. Assuming law enforcement could make such a request, what would happen if they demanded user information from Clipperz?

We will happily provide the law enforcement authority with everything we know about the specific user. Actually we can only make a complete copy of our database and hand over everything we know about _all_ our users. It doesn’t make a lot of difference since we know nothing about our users, not even their usernames, and therefore we are unable to isolate records belonging to a specific user. All information stored on our server is encrypted and the key is known only to the user.

However, some governments are implementing new regulations that authorize the police to request the keys to any encrypted material that is seized. Refusal to produce keys can then be treated as a crime in its own right. Therefore the police could force a user to reveal the credentials (username and passphrase) to access Clipperz.

An example is the RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act) in the UK.

3. Marco, web-based security seems like such an untapped area for development, if you had the opportunity to improve one other facet of how we use the Internet, what would it be? What new service would you create?

The same technology that powers Clipperz and same zero-knowledge architecture could be applied to countless contexts.

If we had enough resources we would love to write several zero-knowledge web apps that improve user privacy and freedom. Here are just a few of them:

  • An off-the-record web-based messaging system
  • An online application for physicians to manage their patients’ records
  • A social online gambling platform, i.e. a place where friends and families could enjoy gambling games in a secure and private online environment
  • An online ledger application to manage the accounting processes for small businesses
  • a wiki to store the knowledge base of a company without trusting any third party

4. What’s next for Clipperz and the Clipperz team? Any new features in the works?

We are currently working on a revamped interface that will add more functionalities (tags, search, sharing, …) and it will simplify the process for creating direct logins.

But you can also expect some exciting news for iPhone and iPod Touch owners.

On the other hand Clipperz is still looking for reputable and passionate investors that see the huge business opportunity arising from zero-knowledge web applications. The presentation below is our latest attempt to explain the benefits of our architecture to both users and investors. And donations are always welcome! :-)

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