Climate Camp to London police: We won’t tell you where the next camp is because you keep beating us up

August 25, 2009

Climate Camp organisers demonstrate a cracking expertise with web media and the power of decentralised decision-making.

Having trouble with the authorities ruining your social activities?  Getting beat up frequently by the police?

Leverage the web to humiliate your opponent and gain the upper hand in a smashing example of modern, technology enabled social activism.


Is Huawei behind GhostNet?

July 8, 2009

huawei_logo_001

Huawei is the state run Chinese telecom infrastructure provider, who’s aggressive pricing and high quality devices have made them the favourite of many national IT backbones (including Britain).  Are they involved with GhostNet and could they be used for further international espionage?

IT security threats and web wars are an integral component of today’s security and humanitarian landscape.  Much has been made about Twitter’s role in the recent Iranian social unrest, for example.  A recent Reuters report suggests that Isreal is turning to cyberwarfare for increasingly sophisticated jamming attacks and offensives.

“Asked to speculate about how Israel might target Iran, Borg said malware — a commonly used abbreviation for “malicious software” — could be inserted to corrupt, commandeer or crash the controls of sensitive sites like uranium enrichment plants.

Such attacks could be immediate, he said. Or they might be latent, with the malware loitering unseen and awaiting an external trigger, or pre-set to strike automatically when the infected facility reaches a more critical level of activity.”

Organised and swarm-based attacks on central state infrastructure has become so common as to barely warrant news mention.  A North Korean bot net is currently attacked dozens of US government websites in Seoul (“North Korea Launches Massive Cyberattack on Seoul“)  From Slashdot:

“A botnet composed of about 50,000 infected computers has been waging a war against US government Web sites and causing headaches for businesses in the US and South Korea. The attack started Saturday, and security experts have credited it with knocking the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) web site offline for parts of Monday and Tuesday. Several other government Web sites have also been targeted, including the Department of Transportation.”

GhostNet

Although these attacks are from North Korea, many others originate in China.  A recent study from by the InfoWar Monitor uncovered a “massive Chinese espionage network,” called GhostNet.  The Guardian reports:

“GhostNet appears to target embassies, media groups, NGOs, international organisations, government foreign ministries and the offices of the Dalai Lama.

After 10 months of study, the researchers concluded that GhostNet had invaded 1,295 computers in 103 countries, but it appeared to be most focused on countries in south Asia and south-east Asia, as well as the Dalai Lama’s offices in India, Brussels, London and New York. The network continues to infiltrate dozens of new computers each week.

There was a similar article in the New York Times, Vast Spy System Loots Computers in 103 Countries“.

The Huawei Connection

No definite proof has been found linking the Chinese state to these actions.  Yet many are worried that the Chinese government may play a role in such attacks.  A recent white paper from the University of Cambridge, entitled “The Snooping Dragon“, claims to have documented concrete evidence of state officials using malware to infiltrate pro-Tibet activist computers.

The link to China’s state communications company, Huawai, appears particularly suspect.  Huawei technology is at the core of BT’s new 10 billion communications upgrade.  A NetworkedWorld article discusses the close connections between Huawei and the Chinese military.  It reports,

Huawei maintains deep ties with the Chinese military, which serves a multi-faceted role as an important customer, as well as Huawei’s political patron and research and development partner.

Both the government and the military tout Huawei as a national champion, and the company is currently China’s largest, fastest-growing, and most impressive telecommunications equipment manufacturer.

In a related report entitled “Spy Chiefs Fear Chinese Security Threat”, The Times Online reports,

INTELLIGENCE chiefs have warned that China may have gained the capability to shut down Britain by crippling its telecoms and utilities.
According to the sources, the ministerial committee on national security was told at the January meeting that Huawei components that form key parts of BT’s new network might already contain malicious elements waiting to be activated by China.
Working through Huawei, China was already equipped to make “covert modifications” or to “compromise equipment in ways that are very hard to detect” and that might later “remotely disrupt or even permanently disable the network”, the meeting was told.
This would be likely to have a “significant impact on critical services” such as power and water supplies, food distribution, the financial system and transport, which were dependent on computers to operate.

INTELLIGENCE chiefs have warned that China may have gained the capability to shut down Britain by crippling its telecoms and utilities.

According to the sources, the ministerial committee on national security was told at the January meeting that Huawei components that form key parts of BT’s new network might already contain malicious elements waiting to be activated by China.

Working through Huawei, China was already equipped to make “covert modifications” or to “compromise equipment in ways that are very hard to detect” and that might later “remotely disrupt or even permanently disable the network”, the meeting was told.

This would be likely to have a “significant impact on critical services” such as power and water supplies, food distribution, the financial system and transport, which were dependent on computers to operate.

Discussion

Many wonder how Huawei might accomplish these security breaches.  WTWU at SpyBlog suggests that it would be silly for Huawei to do so.  They write,

It would be incredibly risky for the Chinese Government to attempt to insert such trojan horse “backdoors” into Huawei manufactured equipment, especially into the hardware, where the evidence cannot be deleted after a Denial of Service attack etc.

The cost of using such a capability, if it even exists, would be to immediately destroy the multi billion pound Huawei company commercially.

Yet in a recent confidential interview, an ex-Huawei employee suggested that the speed of sales and the level of complexity of such systems has little to no quality control checking or safety assurance of the components.

It would therefore be close to impossible to monitor the security of the commercial services sold by Huawei, given the tremendous volume of such sales.

Worse than hardware might be a software backdoor, which is easily modifiable and less risky than hardware breaches.

Although there is no evidence that Huawei is related to the kinds of cyberattacks and web espionage efforts such as GhostNet, there does appear to be a plausible connection.

The impact of such a link, and its relationship to development and humanitarian aid, may be worthy of monitoring and consideration.


Us Now: a new film about the power of mass collaboration, government and the internet

May 11, 2009

“In a world in which information is like air, what happens to power?”

A new film highlights some of the amazing possibilities and new potentials of mass collaboration and its impact on governance.

From the website:

New technologies and a closely related culture of collaboration present radical new models of social organisation. This project brings together leading practitioners and thinkers in this field and asks them to determine the opportunity for government.

“We are living in a different world now. THe value of the human being, the connected human being is coming through.” - JP Rangaswami

The site has an amazing collection of clips and interviews, which can be found here.  I was struck by how one Alan cox, an open source software pioneer, reflected upon the impact of these approaches on political power.  In the video below, he states that such tools aren’t having that big of an impact on power yet, because the people who benefit from them are so far down the political food chain.  But as with projects such as the One Laptop Per Child programme, such tools offer the benefit of vast amounts of education and information to those traditionally deprived from it, this sowing the seeds, potentially, for future change.  This is a beautifully real assessment of open-source which gets beyond much of the management hype.

Explore the entire site, or skip directly to the page with wonderful video interview clips.


US electric grid has been penetrated by spies

April 23, 2009

The Wall Street Journal reports on vulnerabilities in the US electric and infrastructure grids.  Another emerging threat facing complex, interconnected urban environments.

From the article:

“The Chinese have attempted to map our infrastructure, such as the electrical grid,” said a senior intelligence official. “So have the Russians.”

The espionage appeared pervasive across the U.S. and doesn’t target a particular company or region, said a former Department of Homeland Security official. “There are intrusions, and they are growing,” the former official said, referring to electrical systems. “There were a lot last year.”

Many of the intrusions were detected not by the companies in charge of the infrastructure but by U.S. intelligence agencies, officials said. Intelligence officials worry about cyber attackers taking control of electrical facilities, a nuclear power plant or financial networks via the Internet.

Authorities investigating the intrusions have found software tools left behind that could be used to destroy infrastructure components, the senior intelligence official said. He added, “If we go to war with them, they will try to turn them on.”

Officials said water, sewage and other infrastructure systems also were at risk.

It doesn’t take much imagination to forecast such an attack may occur in any major first world city, potentially in combination with other forms of sabotage or terrorist action.  Full article here.


Is Twitter bad for ethical decision making?

April 13, 2009

On the back of a string of interesting posts about crowdsourcing in general, and Twitter in particular, a new study has just been published which suggests that Twitter-like information processing may be bad for moral decision making.

A University of Southern California study found that emotions related to moral judgement “awaken slowly” in the mind, require time for reflection, and may be short circuited by quick response, rapid fire information processing needs; especially those related to fear and pain.

The study, “Tweet this: Rapid-fire media may be bad for your moral compass“, used brain scanning to measure the onset time of different emotions.

Fear and pain are rapid onset, rapid response emotions.  Compassion and admiration, on the other hand, take much longer to occur yet persist longer.

The authors write,

The study raises questions about the emotional cost—particularly for the developing brain—of heavy reliance on a rapid stream of news snippets obtained through television, online feeds or social networks such as Twitter.

“If things are happening too fast, you may not ever fully experience emotions about other people’s psychological states and that would have implications for your morality,” Immordino- Yang said.

They go on; “In a media culture in which violence and suffering becomes an endless show, be it in fiction or in infotainment, indifference to the vision of human suffering gradually sets in.”

Could too much Twitter be bad for the humanitarian brain, already stressed to the limit with images of human suffering?  


Twitter and the online revolution in Moldova

April 7, 2009

 

An anonymous reader on slashdot writes:

“Reacting to allegedly fraudulent election procedures, students are storming the presidency and parliament of the small eastern European country of Moldova. It is reported that they used Twitter to organize. Currently twitter and blogs are being used to spread word of what is happening since all national news websites have been blocked. If the 1989 Romanian revolution was the first to be televised, is this the first to be led by twitter and social networks?”

Jamie points out this interesting presentation (from March 2008) by Ethan Zuckerman about the realities of online activism, including how governments try to constrain it.

UPDATE 1 - Daniel Korski from Global Dashboard writes:

Text messaging played a key role in Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, but in Moldova they have gone one step further and are using Twitter to organise the days’ events. As this blogpost explains,  the most popular discussions on Twitter in the last 48 hours have been posts marked with thetag “#pman“, which is short for “Piata Marii Adunari Nationale”, the main square in Chisinau, where the protesters began their marches.

The BBC reports here.


OECD eXplorer online: beautiful and useful data visualization tool

April 7, 2009

oecd

The OECD recently announced a new version of its OECD eXplorer [stats.oecd.org], a well concieved and useful web-tool for analyzing regional statistics. The new online geographic visualization focuses on regional and state, has a range of powerful features, and a very useful and attractive user interface.  

The data is based on OECD Regional Database, containing 30 indicators measuring demography, economic and labour market performance, education, healthcare, environmental outputs and knowledge-based activities.

The tool lets you view trends over time through animation, explore the structure of regional economies through a scatterplot and a parallel coordinate panel, presenting very compelling stories bout the statistics through interactive visualization.  You can even load and explore your own data, write your own stories and share them with others.


Mobile phone viruses; ruining a crowdsource near you soon

April 6, 2009

virus-spread1

A new study by network analysts suggest that mobile phones may soon pass a critical threshold, after which viruses could become a crippling fact of life.

Academic paper here, supporting web material here, and a very good CBC summary here.

From the CBC article:

There have been no major outbreaks of computer viruses among smartphones because no smartphone operating system is popular enough to let a virus to spread effectively — yet, a new study suggests.

The data also predict that once a single smartphone operating system gains a critical percentage of the entire mobile phone market, viruses could start to pose “a serious threat” to mobile communications, said the study released Thursday in Science Express.

Smartphones “are poised to become the dominant communication device in the near future, raising the possibility of virus breakouts that could overshadow the disruption caused by traditional computer viruses,” said the paper by Pu Wang and other researchers at Northwestern University.

The implications for the excitement around crowdsourced, mobile mapping, and similar mobile technologies for humanitarian aid should be obvious and terrifying.


G20 update; crowdsourced crisis information live

April 1, 2009

crisisjpg

More cameras than protesters?

It appears that the amount of media presence, Internet and otherwise, is having a large magnifying effect on the perception of the protests themselves.  A Google blog search at 16:36 found over 997,000 blog hits for “G20 protesters“, over 3 million web pages, and nearly 15,000 news items.  That is probably several orders of magnitude higher than the number of protesters actually at the site.

Traffic on Twitter seems mixed, with a large amount of discussion on the role and impact of the media.  Notes such as;

4.28pm:
On Twitter, Snufkin21 says Stop the War protesters booed the mediapresent “for hyping up the G20 violence”. The huge media presence has been criticised by a number of people on Twitter who believe it’s encouraged extreme elements to “play to the gallery”.

Are intermixed with live accounts such as;

4.07pm: 
Police on horses have carried out two charges down Threadneedle Street in a bid to disperse protesters, says Alok Jha, who is at the scene. Alok said everything had been calm beforehand and demonstrators have not been impressed by the police response.

Mixed messages

There are a variety of conflicting claims being made, about the magnitude of violence, the presence of the media, and the reaction of the police.  Reading the Twitter feed directly (Twitter search, #G20) yields a confusing array of opinion, advice, updates, and news items.  Including the following excerpts;

DanSpringWell done the Police today at #G20. Felt safe in Romford disaster recovery office!

pgb63Stephen Harper tasered at G20!

AcostafGetting far away from #G20, Cannon st and London Bridge working as normal

Protests + Internet = Force Multiplier

This is an interesting mix of content, coming fast and furious from all angles.  It is reminiscent of  many aspects of the ongoing discussion between Paul Currion and Patrick Meier, about the issues around crowdsourced crisis data.  Paul writes that, “crowdsourcing is unfamiliar, it’s untested in the field and it makes fairly large claims that are not well backed by substantial evidence.”

Among it’s dangers, we argue, is the rapid magnification of false or intentionally deceptive data.  Patrick calls this “crisis magnification“.  We discussed it in depth in here.  What we are seeing with the G20 protests in an excellent example of this.  No matter what is actually happening on the ground, there is a massive, unfiltered, and confusing amount of information being generated. 

Here comes everysource

While we can argue that this massive generation of fresh live content is a good thing (as Patrick does here), it is clearly a new thing, with uncertain outcomes and value.  Clay Shirky, author of “Here Comes Everybody”, writes about the problem of filtering this massive amount of information.

The old ways of filtering were neither universal nor ideal [referring to TV and print]…  Mass amateurization has created a filtering problem vastly larger than we had with traditional media; so much larger, in fact, that many of the old ways are simply broken.

What is interesting, he notes, is that although it is possible to for everyone to read anyone’s blog, Twitter feed, or website, it is not possible for anyone to read everyone’s information.  

In fact this isn’t the way it works.  The vast majority of this content is generated by people close to or within your social network (personal or professional) and is intended for people close to or within your social network.  Web 2.0 and social media has taught us that although there may be over 250 million blogs on the Internet, the vast majority of this information is local, read by practically no one, and only intended for your friends and colleagues. 

Crowdsourced crisis information FOR YOUR FRIENDS

Could the same principle apply to crowdsourced crisis information?  Crowdsourced crisis information won’t be broadcast in the traditional sense, with millions of people listening to a single source.  Instead, communities of trust and relationships will build over time, with individual air workers, responders, and agencies building networks of trusted information sources just as we build networks of trusted friendships.

It isn’t as if field workers and disaster responders will go to any old Twitter feed they find and trust any bit of information they get texted about.  As in all social media, they will go to the ones they trust first.  Crowdsourcing doesn’t change this, it just lower the bar of entry for participating in the conversation.

Paradoxically, this new flood of information might end up having the opposite effect; crisis responders who only pay attention to their trusted sources and ignore the “weak signals” flooding in from all sides at once.  

Or maybe the opposite might happen?  Maybe the promise of crowdsourced crisis information has nothing to do with aid responders.  Maybe it will work just like Facebook, MySpace, and other forms of social media work.  A bomb goes off in your neighbourhood, you text your friends, who Twitter their work colleagues, who call their parents, who write a blog post read only by their cousins.  Maybe the AP will pick it up, maybe there will be value for figuring out how many dead and wounded need treatment.  

But at the end of the day, perhaps crowdsourced crisis information isn’t all that different from any kind of shared information; it all depends on who you talk to.


G20 protests live and networked

April 1, 2009

axes1

There are a series of very interesting developments around the G20 protests in London today, indicative of new uses of technology for advocacy and collaboration.

Twitter / live blogging

The Guardian has a liveblog of protest related events, found here.  They post an interesting Twitter roundup, as below:

9.18am: 
Twitter round up:

Last Hours: “Cops & security guards on every corner of the city.”

Christian Action: “Lots of jeans & trainers in City today. Strange air of anticipation.”

Russell Brand: “Today at the Bank at noon I shall be protesting by being enraptured with joy and beauty and not being bludgeoned into tedium.”

Pop Chris “Staff @ RBS, Bishopsgate are told that once in, they cannot leave the building until end of business. Expecting the worst.

Visualization

Also from the Guardian, a very beautiful interactive visualization, scenario planning style, of different groups involved in the protests.

Live video

G20 Voice is streaming live video from different events, here.  They also have a Twitterstream here.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.