FORTUNE — One of the first decisions Gary Kovacs had to make after he was appointed CEO of the cybersecurity firm AVG was whether to keep a $100 million toolbar business that most people hated. The former Mozilla CEO bit the bullet and jettisoned the longstanding project — “It was the right thing to do,” he says — and has since moved on to figuring out how to solve an as-yet-unsolved problem: computer security for consumers.
During a recent visit to Fortune‘s New York offices, Kovacs explained why the future of computer security rests as much in the hands of regular people as it does the technologists that works for the world’s largest enterprises.
It’s the second in an occasional series we’re tentatively calling “Five Minutes on the Future.” (You can read our first, with Thrillist Media Group CEO Ben Lerer, here.) Here’s what Kovacs had to say.
The future of security is much broader than the history of security. And security means peace of mind as we’re doing things. The example I use is, I want to keep my credit card secure and so I take my credit card and I put it in my safe at home, but then I can’t use it. It’s effectively useless, but it’s secure.
What people care much more about is the use of something being secure. Security is moving from a reactive to a proactive [approach]. In that, it has to become an order of magnitude simpler, and less scary. As a result, if we can take something that is the universal security — security on the device, security about your data, security about you as a person through these devices — make it really, really simple as you start to use those devices to do more, then we’ve cracked the code.
The challenges are simplicity. I love the Mark Twain quote, “I wrote you a long letter; I would have written you a shorter letter but I didn’t have the time.” Security and simplicity are really, really difficult problems to solve. And they don’t come from just making good technologies. They come from making good technologies really simply. So I think the future of security just happens in the background. It has to. Five billion people coming online are not going to accept their data and their privacy are going to be compromised. And we don’t have to think about it. We don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to open up a big piece of software and it looks like Mission Control. I want to know what’s happening, and it will send me an alert proactively.
So the big trend is, how do we enable this algorithmically so that it’s proactive? So that it only sends me something when something happens? I don’t have to worry about it when nothing happens. And that it’s comprehensive and simple enough that I can trust that it’s happening.
We’re all hacked already, just like we’ve all been victims of crime. But that doesn’t stop us from trying to secure our property the best we can, to the limits of practicality. We monitor on a regular basis the research that’s going on in the black hat [hacker] world, and the majority of research now is how to hack into mobile phones. So that’s a leading indicator of what’s to come. They’re selling holes in products and holes in technologies that they can exploit for lots of money, and they’ve been selling them for years. So they’re only selling a hole because somebody’s hacked somebody. It’s a vibrant economy out there.
You know, the best metaphor for a consumer that I’ve thought of is, my car has glass windows, so it’s easy to break into if somebody wants to. But putting metal around it and covering it in chains and never taking it out in the open is not a practical solution. So I’m going to park it in the parking lot at a shopping center, but I’m just going to make sure there are no valuables in plain sight. I’m going to put them in the trunk. That’s what security needs to be. Just put it in the trunk! Just get it out of the way as a practical matter. We’ve all been hacked! We’re going to be hacked, our cards are going to be broken into. It’s just the way of the world. Don’t leave your valuable stuff sitting out in the open.