Pat Pilcher: Mega's chief tech man Mathias Ortmann

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Mega chief technology officer Mathias Ortmann. Photo / NZ Herald
Mega chief technology officer Mathias Ortmann. Photo / NZ Herald

Launching a new online service may be a huge deal, but when that service is Mega and it is fronted by Kim Dotcom under the glare of global media and salivating copyright lawyers, things can get very challenging indeed. I caught up with Mega's CTO, Mathias Ortmann to see how things were faring now that the post launch dust has settled.


PP: Now the dust has settled after Mega's high profile launch, how is it all going?

MO: The technical infrastructure is now running smoothly, but that doesn't mean that we're indulging in boredom - significant usability improvements and new features are in the making, and being the small team that we are, this means sixteen hours of work a day, seven days a week, which is great fun!

PP: What were the big challenges in those first few chaotic weeks after the launch?

MO: Exposing a complex software system developed from scratch to millions of users from one second to the next is not something that you would normally do. However, with all of our assets still restrained, we had to build the site with minimal resources and simply didn't have the luxury of extensive pre-launch software and infrastructure testing. Nevertheless, the teething troubles were remarkably moderate, and within 72 hours, all major soft- and hardware bottlenecks were resolved.

PP: Has there been much activity from the authorities?

MO: We have been very transparent with the authorities in the time leading up to MEGA's launch, keeping them in the loop about what we were doing and giving them ample opportunity to intervene or raise objections. The fact that they chose not to is quite telling - we suspect that they have consulted with competent intellectual property lawyers who triple-checked every aspect of MEGA and found it to be compliant with the law.

PP: What do you say to accusations that Mega is a haven for piracy?

MO: MEGA is a powerful tool and can be used for both good and bad things. Just like on any other service that stores or transmits data on its users' behalf, some infringing activity is taking place - however, it is hard to quantify how much exactly: Privacy laws prohibit us from inspecting files, we lack the necessary context, and all data is encrypted by our users, who also control the keys.

Basic statistics indicate that the vast majority of them are using our service for lawful purposes - e.g., less than 0.05 per cent of the files stored on MEGA get deleted through copyright complaints. MEGA acts in strict accordance with provider safe harbour regulations: We process takedown notices (much faster than the industry average), and accounts found to be in repeated breach of MEGA's terms of service are terminated. Also, while we ensure the privacy of stored data, we do not anonymise user identities, and we will respond to search warrants and subpoenas.

PP: Has anyone claimed the prize put up to test Mega's encryption?

MO: Our vulnerability reward program stands as a perpetual challenge to the expert community. While a total of nine significant security-relevant implementation issues have been reported and eliminated so far, MEGA's core cryptographic security model keeps withstanding scrutiny. We are confident that it is sound, but we don't want to rely solely on our own judgment. Independent peer review is essential to our security strategy.

PP: What plans are there for the future of Mega?

MO: We want to make it feature complete, release client applications for all major desktop and mobile platforms and grow to be one of the major players in the cloud storage arena. We are also aiming at taking the company public in the next 18-24 months.

PP: What functionality could we expect to see with Mega? I've heard rumours about bitcoin, online chat and email services?

MO: We already accept bitcoin payments today through resellers. Our development roadmap includes secure email and instant messaging, real-time audio/video communication and advanced client tools.

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