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Trend Micro head Eva Chen on Snowden: PRISM surveillance helped us

Following Edward Snowden's explosive keynote at South By Southwest, the world has once more been set alight with talk of probably the most hated triumvirate of abbreviations the world has ever known: yes, the NSA, GCHQ and PRISM aren't going away any time soon.

The former National Security Agency contractor this week made more headlines through his highly-anticipated – and, if you work for the US or UK governments, much-dreaded – speech at the Texas conference, with his line claiming that the NSA and GCHQ are "setting fire to the future of the Internet" gaining particular attention.

ITProPortal caught up with Trend Micro CEO and co-founder Eva Chen, to chat about the PRISM surveillance programme, and whether Snowden's infamous revelations have indeed dramatically damaged the world of technology. I'm particularly keen to dissect this topic with Chen, who was recently identified by Forbes as one of Asia's top 50 "power businesswomen".

Her views of the spying programme are multiple, intriguing and certainly divisive. As a business leader, a security figurehead and a human being, she is simply unable to analyse the shady lovechild of the NSA and GCHQ from one single standpoint.

She first speaks to me with the mindset of the head of a non-American security firm. "Trend Micro is a Japanese company, so actually... we benefitted [from the PRISM scandal] because we saw companies, especially in Europe, start to say, 'I'm not sure I want to use US companies' services.'" Through no coincidental stroke of good luck, Chen's company gained a lot of new customers in the aftermath of the great exposé, many of whom even asked Trend Micro to sign official documents promising that it wouldn't hand their data over to authorities.

On the other hand Chen recognises that, while the US and UK spy agencies stand by their original claims that they were simply attempting to foil potential criminals and murderers, they may have actually done more harm than the people they were allegedly trying to thwart.

"Every country needs to have some sort of way to trace cybercriminals or terrorists," she says. "But they really did not do a good job. Personally, I do think that the NSA went over the top." Whether you sympathise with PRISM or not, it is difficult to disagree with this assessment.

Simultaneously, however, Chen cannot help but look past the emotional chaos surrounding the programme and analyse the situation with the cool composure of a security specialist. "I think the biggest problem in the whole Snowden situation is... how on earth can he see all of this data?" After all, the US government managed to collect an incredible amount of extremely sensitive information but was powerless to prevent an employee from sticking it all on a flash drive and leaking it to the press.

"That is the bigger problem," she says.

It's a shocking, almost unbelievable - and admittedly rather entertaining - story, that wouldn't look out of place on the bestsellers list of a decent bookshop. At once it represents both an all-encapsulating, seemingly unstoppable net of doom rendering the rest of the world powerless, and an all-too-common issue affecting all organisations on a daily basis.

The value of data is increasing at a rapid rate and the importance of strong security systems and number of reported data breaches are following suit. Whether the threat is internal (a la Snowden) or external (a la PRISM), people and businesses cannot afford to take their eyes off the ball. As Apple CEO Tim Cook last year alluded to in his take on Nokia's demise, resting on your laurels can ultimately kill you.