•Last week´s news about Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of Facebook data may be followed up this week by similar case of using data from large social media platforms to influence the outcome of the Brexit referendum in the UK. ARS Technica
Comment: Recent developments in the Facebook data controversy indicate that social media companies have more paying clients such as Cambridge Analytica than one might expect, and that their top priority is to satisfy the demands of these clients. It will be very difficult for the large social media companies (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Google) to change their business model, at least quickly, in order to regain trust from end users.
•Facebook is also accused of storing user phone call metadata (Android phones only, Apple phones have more strict security settings), including names, phone numbers, and the length of each call made or received. Facebook acknowledged the allegations on the allegations, but the number of incidents reported makes it difficult to ignore the story. KXLY.com , Twitter account
Comment: When it comes to this case one must wonder who the potential client would be and why Facebook bothers to store this data at all. Not being a telecom operator Facebook should have no obligation from regulatory bodies to store this kind of information.
JCPOA-DEAL ON THE LINE?
Back in January, President Trump said that European states have until May 12 to work with the US to improve the Iranian nuclear deal, or the US will withdraw from the agreement.
Of the three EU co-signatories (France, UK and Germany), France has come out as most intent on toughening the deal to keep the US from withdrawing, and, according to US officials, Germany as the “least cooperative”.
There are a number of non-nuclear/regional issues where the US wants stronger steps from her EU-partners. These are the so-called ‘sunset-clauses’ meaning that after a number of years, Iran will be free to pursue fuel-enrichment; Iranian missile-development; preventing ran to develop or test long-range ballistic-missiles; curbing Iranian support to terrorist-groups in the region such as Hezbollah and work against Iranian regional political scheming targeting Western allies such as KSA, UAE, Bahrain and Israel.
In the latest (on-going) talks over the JCPOA-deal, the issue of Hezbollah became the most recent obstacle to save the deal as is, and stop the US from withdrawing. The US wants the whole of Hezbollah to be designated a terror-organization, not just the so-called “military wing”. And Germany is stalling arguing against that.
In reality, there is of course no such thing as a military wing of the Hezbollah. As the head of Hezbollah (Hassan Nasrallah) himself have stated many times, Hezbollah is one unified organization with a central command, albeit with many different parts. This is obviously known to everybody, including the German government, but for economic reasons Germany is reluctant to risk the very lucrative trade it has with Iran at present (German exports rose from 2.6 Billion euros in 2016 to 3.5 Billion euros in 2017).
If this disagreement can’t be resolved before May 12, there is a very real risk that the US withdraws from the agreement. If that should happen, the Iranian government has said they will not feel bound by the agreement either, paving the way for a complete collapse. And with the appointment of hard-liner John Bolton (who’s been critical of the JCPOA-deal since it was signed) as a new National Security Adviser, President Trump just made that a lot more likely.
Since the de-escalation agreement between Jordan, the US and Russia in July 2017 – covering southwestern Syria – pressure has been building with fighting between rebel forces (who hold the Nasib border-crossing) and government forces, including units from Hezbollah.
It’s the recent uptick in fighting in Eastern Ghouta that have raised fears that the whole agreement is about to collapse. Government advances in the southwest is closing in on the de-escalation zone bordering Jordan and it’s especially in Amman that alarm-bells have gone off.
Jordan already hosts hundreds of thousands of refugees and is afraid that renewed fighting, and a collapse of the de-escalation agreement, will mean a new influx of refugees, something Jordan can ill afford.
Several cease-fire attempts have failed to stop the fighting in Eastern Ghouta and it’s increasingly clear that whatever agreements are reached at the UNSC, various actors in the Syrian war simply ignore those.
The de-escalation agreement included a mechanism – the Amman Center for Cease-fire Control in southern Syria – to deal with problems concerning the agreement, and that is being activated as the security situation in the south continues to deteriorate.
Both Jordan and Israel (who was not party to the agreement) fear a Syrian government retake of the area today held by rebel-groups, because this will mean a military presence of Iranian and/or Hezbollah units close to both borders. Israel, who has extended medical aid to Syrians in the Golan Heights for years, has clearly stated that this is unacceptable and will take whatever measures deemed necessary to stop an Iranian military presence close to its borders.
If the fighting does extend from Eastern Ghouta towards the south and southwest, the risk of a complete collapse of the de-escalation agreement is thus very real.
On March 13, an explosion targeted a convoy ferrying PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and PA Intelligence Chief Majed Faraj. They both escaped unhurt but several people were wounded. The attack took place in the Gaza strip and PA President Abbas was quick in pointing a blaming finger at the rulers of Gaza, Hamas. Hamas denied any involvement and accused (as usual) Israel.
The attack also put another wrench in the on-again/off-again reconciliation process between Hamas and the PA. And it is in the reconciliation process that the answer to who’s behind the attack may lie.
Abbas quick accusation of Hamas stems from his deep frustration with the new Gaza-leader, Yahya Sinwar (with Ismail Haniyeh as overall leader) and the fact that he is pressured by Egypt and UAE to compromise and clinch the deal with Hamas. The major bone of contention between Hamas and PA is control over security, including weapons. Abbas is adamant that it’s not enough to take over the administration and borders, but he wants total control over domestic security as well and that is something Hamas can’t concede.
And then there is also the long-running conflict between Abbas and Mohammad Dahlan, who was forced out of PA in 2011 and now lives in exile in the UAE. With support from UAE, Egypt and with excellent ties to many other actors (like Israel and KSA for example) Dahlan is in a good position to gain a prominent role in the PA once Abbas resign or die (he’s 83 this year) and Abbas is very determined to make sure that never happens. His options are limited however and with real enemies all around, are acutely aware of the fact that his days at the helm of the PA are numbered.
But those political enemies of Abbas have nothing to gain by killing him. And the attack itself points more to either a small group of Salafists or a Hamas-unit gone rouge and wanting to stop the reconciliation-process.
As for the others, their best option is to keep pressuring Abbas, wait for his demise – one way or another – and then step in with a new policy in place.
In a move that is bound to reverberate around the Middle East, the Israeli Foreign Ministry has announced that Israel, for the first time, will broadcast the Soccer World Cup free of charge over satellite, using Israel’s national broadcaster KAN via an Arabic-language transmission. This means that the whole Arab Middle East will be able to watch the World Cup, complete with pre-game discussions and live comment in Arabic.
This is a big deal. Four Arab countries – Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Saudi-Arabia – qualified this year, more than any time before. But none of these countries bought the rights to broadcast the games and to be able to watch, eager fans would have to buy a special subscription from Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based and run network.
Now though, every interested Arab can watch the games free of charge through the easily accessed KAN-network. This will hurt more than Al-Jazzera’s revenues and Qatar’s prestige. Since the GCC boycott of Qatar, there’s been an ongoing back-and-forth between Qatar and her adversaries (including Saudi-Arabia and Egypt) and this move by Israel will undoubtedly give a boost to Qatar’s enemies. The fact that Qatar is scheduled to host the games in 2022 will only add to the mixture and it’s a fair guess that this issue of broadcasting and purchasing power will extend for a long time.
MOSCOW RULES II
With the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury last week, and British Prime Minister May stating that it was “highly likely that Russia was responsible”, relations between Russia and the UK reached a new low. Britain expelled 23 Russian diplomats and before that Russia had threatened the UK with retaliatory and dire moves if London would point a finger at Moscow, which is what happened on March 14.
Skripal is not the first Russian attacked on British soil of course. To name just a few of the more high-profile cases, Putin opponents Alexander Litvinenko and Boris Berezovsky were both killed in unclear circumstances, but with a lot of signs pointing to Moscow. And in the case of Sergei Skripal, the poison (a military-grade nerve agent called Novichok) used was of old Soviet stock produced in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
In fact there are more spies London now than during the Cold War according to a former employee of the GCHQ and with the city teeming with Russians, both friends and adversaries and opponents to Putin’s regime (with many of the dissidents having received political asylum in the UK), there is a clear interest from Moscow to keep tabs on people. With the killings of Litvinenko and Berezovsky and most lately with the mysterious death of Nikolai Glushkov in London, it seems London will be forced to re-think its policy towards Russian operations on its home-soil. May’s decision to expel Russian diplomats is possibly a first step in that direction.
Whether the connected home will be a success or failure depends very much on the level of security the IoT devices will carry when they enter the citizen’s homes. Today the IoT devices (internet connected household devices, cameras, fridges, gaming consoles etc.) come from businesses that traditionally did not have to consider this aspect since they in many cases were not connected to the outside world. Now for instance the average UK home has some 10 connected devices and 2020 the estimation is an 50% increase to 15, making it 420 million devices in the UK alone.
Today applying patches is either impossible or at least time consuming since not all devices are reprogrammable or possible to reprogram remotely. Since the roll out of IoT devices is ongoing we will have a big legacy challenge to handle in just a few years where massive amounts of new, secure equipment must be purchased and deployed. This comes at a cost and in the meantime many devices will more or less open for malicious attacks.
Many attacks today are targeting IoT equipment for the reasons mentioned above and everyone should consider the following when procuring equipment for IoT solutions.
- setting default passwords on devices that are unique and hard for hackers to crack
- making sure all sensitive information about you is transmitted securely using encryption
- ensuring you can delete any personal data on connected products if you want to sell them.
Recommended reading at Which? - https://goo.gl/gfKRBV
In the so called Karla trilogy, John le Carré alludes to Moscow rules in a dialogue between Smiley and Strickland. Moscow rules are invoked as Soviet agent is killed in Hampstead in London by Soviet assassins.
This episode came to mind when Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia was found catatonic and unconscious on a park-bench in Salisbury. Skripal – formerly a Colonel in Russian military Intelligence – was arrested and convicted on treason in 2004. In 2010 he was released and came to Britain as part of a spy exchange with the US.
Skripal’s wife died of cancer in Britain in 2012 and his son, 43, died during a visit to St Petersburg last year, and now maybe the father and his daughter are dying too.
This is not the first case of Russian (and earlier Soviet) playing by ‘Moscow rules’ in the UK, so one can be forgiven for wondering what’s happening. The British being British is of course going by the rule-book (not the Moscow one obviously) and haven’t said anything incriminating about Russia. The investigation is on-going to find a cure for Skripal and his daughter, but their conditions are critical.
So why does this keep happening in the UK? One reason put forth is the fact that the British were such active players during the cold war and that is probably one reason as to why a disproportional number of killings have taken place on British soil. The effortless ease with which Soviet secret services slipped into Russian ones, made this old history (and animosity) between the two countries easy to transfer to new political settings.
But the reason for the many assassinations is not just historical. At many periods it has also been due to the political and diplomatic reluctance of many British governments to match the professionalism and determination of their intelligence services with appropriate sanctions following acts of murder on their soil.
Despite the clear involvement of Russian operatives with links to the Kremlin in the 2006 death by poisoning of former KGB and FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko, the British government didn’t conduct a public inquiry or demand any explanations from Russia, formal or otherwise. Litvinenko was poisoned by polonium, a radioactive substance produced in nuclear reactors and not available to any regular assassins on the open market.
Britain also preferred not to delve too deeply into other cases in which oligarchs with information on the dealings of Russia’s leadership died mysteriously on its territory, as in the cases of Boris Berezovsky in 2013 and Alexander Perepilichny in 2012. A theory is that the City of London’s addiction to the billions deposited in its banks by post-Soviet oligarchs (many of them close to Putin) has had a dampening effect.
Regardless, it’s interesting how the British handling of ‘Moscow rules’ compares to what the Israelis have done. No ex-spy, Oligarch or other dissident from Russia has ever been killed in Israel, despite the many different individuals from both Russia and its far and near enemies (such as the Ukraine for example) in the country, often simultaneously. It’s hard not to think about the clear red lines put down by Jerusalem in dealings with Russia’s involvement in Syria as a clue to the kind of relations Jerusalem and Moscow have. These ground-rules were laid down some time ago and here is, perhaps, a model for relations worth exploring in London as well.
The Kurds in North-East Syria (an area they call Rojava) have for six years been able to build a semiautonomous state. This is often called the Rojava revolution because of its major impact on the conservative social climate the Kurds have challenged. And by far, the greatest shift is the empowerment of women that the new Kurdish-dominated rulers have ushered in. Clashes between the Kurds and the very conservative Arab population are common, but there is no denying that the impact has fundamentally changed the lives of people in the area (NYT).
Legally, the traditional patriarchal society has been challenged and the rights of women greatly enhanced, meaning for example that women were immediately given the right to divorce, previously a right reserved to men; to inherit property on an equal basis and to keep their children and their homes in a marital breakup. Gone were long-observed Shariah law provisions that gave a woman’s testimony in court only half the weight of a man’s.
Also by law, every government institution in Kurdish-controlled Syria has a co-president or cochairman of each sex, and most government boards and committees have to be equally mixed by gender as well — except for women’s institutions, which are led by only women. And the armed force of the Kurds in Syria – the YPG – has a women-only force called the YPJ (the women’s protection units). That women are not only given legal equality with men, but also that they can carry weapon and take part in the fighting, is an earth-shaking change in the conservative and rural Arab areas taken over by the Kurds. Not the least Arab women have come to embrace those changes. Given the resistance from many Arab men, and also the sometime heavy-handed Kurdish enforcement of the reforms, it’s unclear if all this will survive the continuous war and political upheavals in Syria.
In some areas, such as Kobani, polygamy was outlawed and even in the Arab-majority city of Manbij where an exemption had to be made due to severe protests, women were told and informed that if a husband takes another wife, they could divorce him and walk away with the children and half the property. Especially in cases concerning child-marriage and polygamy, these changes have resulted in an unprecedented amount of divorces initiated by women.
The background to all this is the ideology of the imprisoned PKK-leader Abdullah Öcalan. Turkey, the US and the EU still regard the PKK as a terrorist-group (and Turkey still view the PYG in Syria as an outgrowth of the PKK, hence its bloody attack on the Kurds in Northern Syria) but his ideology is very popular and gender-equality is an integral part of that.
The years in which the Rojava has been in existence has meant that these ideological tenets have been tried and tested in a real-life political setting and theirs is little doubt that it has had an impact and given women in the region a taste of real freedom never experienced before.
The problems with different kinds of frauds against cryptocurrencies, or rather crypto-assets since one can argue whether we are talking about real currencies, will not disappear in 2018. The problems will most likely evolve and increase.
Focus will most likely move away from attacks on online banking services and the use of ransomware that we have witnessed during the last couple of years. Such methods are rather difficult, dangerous, and actually not that effective. Now the criminals can find less dangerous and perhaps more lucrative ways to make money by using botnets to do crypto-mining through home computers, company servers and by using malicious scripts on websites.
Miners has now started to look beyond these sources. There is the whole vulnerable internet of things for them to feast on: IP cameras, smart-homes, fridges, vacuum cleaners, coffee machines and what have you. They’re much easier to hijack into botnets because their security is often weak and security updates are for some reason generally of lower priority than for other components in the network. Examples of this - the Mirai and BrickerBot botnets demonstrated this perfectly.
And not least - miners are starting a process of legalization. In the small print in the licensing agreement (or in a pop-up in the interface), the product will inform the user that it will take a small bite of processor power as payment. Software, hardware, web services, media content – practically everything on the internet can be monetized through the use of mining. The users will in many cases be aware of this and be for it, at least until it takes up all capacity in the CPU making access to the device non-existing. People working in companies with supercomputers have been noticed using the CPUs for mining off office hours (sometimes during office hours) and is something for CTIOs out there to watch out for since it can empose devastating effects on your business and reputation.
Contribution from Infosphere staff