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.


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