03/11/2020 15:45:08

‘There’s no limit to human capacity for work’

This MIPT graduate has been working with information for his entire life but thinks we’ve got to consume less of it. He considers himself an engineer but is not in favor of MIPT switching to more engineering tracks. He knows about the benefits of a dictatorial rule but lets his children decide what they want to do with their lives. Filtering out the information noise, serving in the army, learning languages, and Joseph Stalin’s midlife crisis are among the things we discussed with Stanislav Protasov, Acronis co-founder and senior vice president for software design and development.


Q: How is someone living in the year 2017 supposed do deal with the massive amount of information that we’re exposed to? What part of that information can we even process?

A: It’s a good question. But it’s unknown. No one understands how we process information. How does one deal with it? By filtering content. Not letting the junk fill up one’s head.

I read about this in an article in the New York Times. If you do an experiment, where you have an average person stop monitoring and reading the news feeds, and you carefully note how the person’s decisions change, you will surprisingly find that they don’t change at all. The barrage of background information that we’re experiencing on Facebook and other social media or TV has essentially no effect on our day-to-day decisions. It doesn’t help us, it doesn’t hurt us, it doesn’t do anything. It’s just junk.

A great way to do more is to push yourself into a position where you have to work. For example, it’s very easy to schedule your work in Outlook, Google Calendar, etc., whatever you prefer. Once you have a plan, it becomes a whole lot easier to work.

Q: What else do you do to be more efficient?

A: It’s a good question. I probably no longer do things specifically aimed at maximizing efficiency, because with age, the capacity for change declines.

But the very basic things do work. I’ve heard about them all my life: from my dad, from teachers, from MIPT professors. It’s just that for the first 40 years, I though I was much smarter than those people, so I never listened to anyone. A daily routine helps. And it doesn’t matter much whether you get up at 6 or at 10 o’clock. What matters is consistency. This routine should account for 80 percent of the time. Naturally, humans are made in such a way that if someone only sticks to the routine, eventually they want to hang themselves. So your plan has to include deviations from the plan.

Q: How do you relax in your leisure time?

A: I’ve always been suffering from sleep deficit. It’s a problem that haunts me because I want to do a lot of stuff. Well, sometimes I take my children to the movies, sometimes we do other things together.

Q: What was the last movie you saw?

A: I’m not sure. When I go to the movies, I watch my kids. I don’t really care what the movie is. I find watching the children and their reaction much more interesting. As for me, well, I don’t know, I think I watched “Kingsman: The Secret Service” the last time. I really liked it. It’s a good film, a decent production.

Q: What is your guess as to how much damage cybercriminals are doing to the Russian (and global) economy?

A: Well, I don’t have a guess, but there are lots of other people guessing. For example, Cybersecurity Ventures estimate the total damage at $3 trillion now, projecting $6 trillion by 2020. Naturally one can’t make a direct calculation, and the numbers are enormous, frightening. But mind that this estimate accounts for everything: corrupt data, lost data, falsified data, stolen intellectual property, trade secrets, and so on.

Q: Is there such a thing as an ex-hacker?

A: Well, first of all, the term “hacker” originally did not have any negative connotations. It simply referred to an advanced tech specialist. And that’s exactly the way I see it. A hacker does not necessarily steal money or use malware to delete your data. What’s more, many people do “hacking” without even knowing.

When I worked at Parallels, we were doing some fairly subtle stuff in the Linux and Windows kernels. At some point the code written by one of our programmers resurfaced in a notorious Trojan called Zeus. This malware caused a lot of fuss back then — a global network was involved. So the FBI come calling and naturally they say our staffer will be arrested as soon as he sets foot on American soil. But we’ve always been a company that sticks to the laws of all countries we operate in. So we talked to the programmer. And it turned out that he posted online some bits of code that he found interesting, from his programs. And he signed them with his corporate email. So his code inadvertently ended up in that piece of malware, the Trojan.

Turned out that the FBI people are normal people, after all. They ultimately figured out what had happened and were satisfied by our explanation. That said, does this qualify as “hacking”? No, he was not a “hacker,” in the sense that he didn’t try to steal someone’s money. He merely shared his ideas. But does he have the qualification to be a “hacker”? By all means.

When it comes to people stealing stuff, I always have the urge to at least talk to them carefully and find out what had happened. But I would generally avoid working with such people, because if someone engages in illegal activities, it means that something must’ve gone slightly wrong in their head.

Q: Are the thieves always ahead of those protecting data, or is it the other way round?

A: Naturally, the attacker is always one step ahead. By definition. There is no point in bolstering the armor if there is no gun capable of penetrating it. And it’s the same here: If there are no hackers, why protect data?

However, the human nature is complex. It’s a blend of the good and the bad, the beautiful and the awful. This means that there are indeed people trying to breach your security system to learn your secrets or steal your money. Consequently, there are also the people who counteract them.

Q: That is, without the bad things, no progress would be possible …

A: A person that is permanently happy is an idiot. To experience happiness, one needs to be unhappy from time to time. Once someone has entered a state of never-ending happiness, it means their cognitive processes have been shut down.

I don’t know one person who wouldn’t at times think they are utterly worthless and that everything is hopeless. And that applies to people from all walks of life.

Q: Will you influence your children’s choice of occupation?

A: I won’t. Naturally, I’ll do my best to ensure that they get a decent basic scientific background at school and then, if they want to, at university as well. But it’s up to them to choose what they want to do. Someone said that the greatest tragedy is for children to live the lives that their parents wanted for themselves.

When I was young, I held it for a long time that a person is born pure, like a cloned template, and then it’s all about what you feed into the brain. But now, looking at my own kids, I understand that it’s not so. They have different faculties, different dispositions. Each child is unique, so making the choice for him or her seems to be, at the very least, unfair.