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Paul Merrell

Commentary: Don't be so sure Russia hacked the Clinton emails | Reuters - 0 views

  • By James Bamford Last summer, cyber investigators plowing through the thousands of leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee uncovered a clue.A user named “Феликс Эдмундович” modified one of the documents using settings in the Russian language. Translated, his name was Felix Edmundovich, a pseudonym referring to Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky, the chief of the Soviet Union’s first secret-police organization, the Cheka.It was one more link in the chain of evidence pointing to Russian President Vladimir Putin as the man ultimately behind the operation.During the Cold War, when Soviet intelligence was headquartered in Dzerzhinsky Square in Moscow, Putin was a KGB officer assigned to the First Chief Directorate. Its responsibilities included “active measures,” a form of political warfare that included media manipulation, propaganda and disinformation. Soviet active measures, retired KGB Major General Oleg Kalugin told Army historian Thomas Boghart, aimed to discredit the United States and “conquer world public opinion.”As the Cold War has turned into the code war, Putin recently unveiled his new, greatly enlarged spy organization: the Ministry of State Security, taking the name from Joseph Stalin’s secret service. Putin also resurrected, according to James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, some of the KGB’s old active- measures tactics. On October 7, Clapper issued a statement: “The U.S. Intelligence community is confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of emails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations.” Notably, however, the FBI declined to join the chorus, according to reports by the New York Times and CNBC.A week later, Vice President Joe Biden said on NBC’s Meet the Press that "we're sending a message" to Putin and "it will be at the time of our choosing, and under the circumstances that will have the greatest impact." When asked if the American public would know a message was sent, Biden replied, "Hope not." Meanwhile, the CIA was asked, according to an NBC report on October 14, “to deliver options to the White House for a wide-ranging ‘clandestine’ cyber operation designed to harass and ‘embarrass’ the Kremlin leadership.”But as both sides begin arming their cyberweapons, it is critical for the public to be confident that the evidence is really there, and to understand the potential consequences of a tit-for-tat cyberwar escalating into a real war. 
  • This is a prospect that has long worried Richard Clarke, the former White House cyber czar under President George W. Bush. “It’s highly likely that any war that began as a cyberwar,” Clarke told me last year, “would ultimately end up being a conventional war, where the United States was engaged with bombers and missiles.”The problem with attempting to draw a straight line from the Kremlin to the Clinton campaign is the number of variables that get in the way. For one, there is little doubt about Russian cyber fingerprints in various U.S. campaign activities. Moscow, like Washington, has long spied on such matters. The United States, for example, inserted malware in the recent Mexican election campaign. The question isn’t whether Russia spied on the U.S. presidential election, it’s whether it released the election emails.Then there’s the role of Guccifer 2.0, the person or persons supplying WikiLeaks and other organizations with many of the pilfered emails. Is this a Russian agent? A free agent? A cybercriminal? A combination, or some other entity? No one knows.There is also the problem of groupthink that led to the war in Iraq. For example, just as the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and the rest of the intelligence establishment are convinced Putin is behind the attacks, they also believed it was a slam-dunk that Saddam Hussein had a trove of weapons of mass destruction. Consider as well the speed of the political-hacking investigation, followed by a lack of skepticism, culminating in a rush to judgment. After the Democratic committee discovered the potential hack last spring, it called in the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike in May to analyze the problem.
  • CrowdStrike took just a month or so before it conclusively determined that Russia’s FSB, the successor to the KGB, and the Russian military intelligence organization, GRU, were behind it. Most of the other major cybersecurity firms quickly fell in line and agreed. By October, the intelligence community made it unanimous. That speed and certainty contrasts sharply with a previous suspected Russian hack in 2010, when the target was the Nasdaq stock market. According to an extensive investigation by Bloomberg Businessweek in 2014, the NSA and FBI made numerous mistakes over many months that stretched to nearly a year. “After months of work,” the article said, “there were still basic disagreements in different parts of government over who was behind the incident and why.”  There was no consensus­, with just a 70 percent certainty that the hack was a cybercrime. Months later, this determination was revised again: It was just a Russian attempt to spy on the exchange in order to design its own. The federal agents also considered the possibility that the Nasdaq snooping was not connected to the Kremlin. Instead, “someone in the FSB could have been running a for-profit operation on the side, or perhaps sold the malware to a criminal hacking group.” Again, that’s why it’s necessary to better understand the role of Guccifer 2.0 in releasing the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign emails before launching any cyberweapons.
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  • t is strange that clues in the Nasdaq hack were very difficult to find ― as one would expect from a professional, state-sponsored cyber operation. Conversely, the sloppy, Inspector Clouseau-like nature of the Guccifer 2.0 operation, with someone hiding behind a silly Bolshevik cover name, and Russian language clues in the metadata, smacked more of either an amateur operation or a deliberate deception.Then there’s the Shadow Brokers, that mysterious person or group that surfaced in August with its farcical “auction” to profit from a stolen batch of extremely secret NSA hacking tools, in essence, cyberweapons. Where do they fit into the picture? They have a small armory of NSA cyberweapons, and they appeared just three weeks after the first DNC emails were leaked. On Monday, the Shadow Brokers released more information, including what they claimed is a list of hundreds of organizations that the NSA has targeted over more than a decade, complete with technical details. This offers further evidence that their information comes from a leaker inside the NSA rather than the Kremlin. The Shadow Brokers also discussed Obama’s threat of cyber retaliation against Russia. Yet they seemed most concerned that the CIA, rather than the NSA or Cyber Command, was given the assignment. This may be a possible indication of a connection to NSA’s elite group, Tailored Access Operations, considered by many the A-Team of hackers.“Why is DirtyGrandpa threating CIA cyberwar with Russia?” they wrote. “Why not threating with NSA or Cyber Command? CIA is cyber B-Team, yes? Where is cyber A-Team?” Because of legal and other factors, the NSA conducts cyber espionage, Cyber Command conducts cyberattacks in wartime, and the CIA conducts covert cyberattacks. 
  • The Shadow Brokers connection is important because Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, claimed to have received identical copies of the Shadow Brokers cyberweapons even before they announced their “auction.” Did he get them from the Shadow Brokers, from Guccifer, from Russia or from an inside leaker at the NSA?Despite the rushed, incomplete investigation and unanswered questions, the Obama administration has announced its decision to retaliate against Russia.  But a public warning about a secret attack makes little sense. If a major cyber crisis happens in Russia sometime in the future, such as a deadly power outage in frigid winter, the United States could be blamed even if it had nothing to do with it. That could then trigger a major retaliatory cyberattack against the U.S. cyber infrastructure, which would call for another reprisal attack ― potentially leading to Clarke’s fear of a cyberwar triggering a conventional war. President Barack Obama has also not taken a nuclear strike off the table as an appropriate response to a devastating cyberattack.
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    Article by James Bamford, the first NSA whistleblower and author of three books on the NSA.
Paul Merrell

Kremlin Denies Claim It Considered Giving Snowden As 'Gift' To Trump - 0 views

  • Amid reports that Moscow is considering handing over NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as a “gift” to U.S. President Donald Trump, a Russian government spokesperson said Monday that the Kremlin and the White House have not discussed the matter, Russia’s state TASS agency reported. “No, this issue (Snowden’s fate) was not raised,” presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday, adding that Russian officials have not taken a position on whether Snowden should be extradited to the U.S. or granted Russian citizenship. “The issue was not raised (during the Russian-US contacts),” Peskov said. “At the moment it is not among bilateral issues.” The statement comes after Snowden — who has lived in Russia since 2013, first with one-year temporary asylum then a residence permit — revealed in recent days that he is “not afraid” of being handed over to the United States, where he faces espionage charges for his explosive 2013 leak of documents on secret U.S. mass surveillance programs.
  • However, Snowden also said in an interview with Yahoo News that talk of a possible trade between Moscow and Washington makes him feel “encouraged” because it vindicates him in the face of accusations that he has been a spy for Russia by laying bare the fact that he has always been independent and “worked on behalf of the United States.” “Finally: irrefutable evidence that I never cooperated with Russian intel,” he tweeted on Friday. “No country trades away spies, as the rest would fear they’re next.” In the U.S., Snowden faces charges of theft of government property and violation of the Espionage Act on two counts, which each carry a maximum sentence of 10 years.
  • “What I am proud of,” Snowden told Yahoo News, “is the fact that every decision that I have made I can defend.” Snowden is set to be eligible to apply for Russian citizenship next year, according to his lawyer. Last month, Moscow extended his residence permit, which is now valid until 2020.
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    One of the bravest patriots in U.S. history, forced to live abroad. Ain't that life?
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

Russian Copyright Law Allows Entire News Site To Be Shut Down Over A Single Copied Article | Techdirt - 0 views

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    "from the funny-how-that-works dept We've noted for a long time now that copyright laws are regularly used as a tool for censorship. In Russia, abusing copyright law for censorship and to harass political opponents has become standard. Remember how the Russian government teamed up with Microsoft to use questionable copyright claims to intimidate government critics? And then how the MPAA gleefully got into bed with Russia's media censor to celebrate copyright? Of course, Russia also expanded its ability to use copyright to censor the internet, following pressure from short-sighted US diplomats, demanding that Russia better "respect" copyright laws. "
Paul Merrell

Race to Introduce Fascist Internet Regulations in Russia Continues - Now under the Banner of Child Protection - nsnbc international | nsnbc international - 0 views

  • Russian lawmaker Vitaly Milonov, on Monday, proposed a bill aimed to ban children under the age of 14 from social media. Although the bill is touted under the banner of child protection, it also aims to introduce the mandatory submission of passport data. In January Russia introduced semi-fascist regulations to severely curb the rights of bloggers and independent media.
  • Vitaly Milnov, generally known for being ultra-conservative, introduced the controversial bill on Monday. Touting the bill under the banner of wanting to protect children and limit their access to social media the bill has far deeper implications. Parents could very well self-regulate their children’s access to social media. The bill, however, implies that it would become mandatory for social media users to submit their passport data. Moreover, the bill also proposes that the use of pseudonyms will be banned. The proposed legislation also aims to introducing strict rules, requiring two-party consent before the publication of screenshots of online correspondence. The bill reads, among others: “Social networks create a special virtual world where a person spends significant part of their life, contacting other people and essentially doing everything that they would do in real world. This world can’t be left unregulated by law. Especially now, when growing number of users are falling victim to different types of fraud.” Even though Milonov is generally viewed as ultra-conservative, there are about 62 percent of Russians who according to polls support the ban of social networks for children while 39 percent supported using passport data to create an online account, a poll by the state-funded pollster VTsIOM revealed Monday.
  • Social media has come under intense scrutiny in Russia in recent months. Disturbingly, there are very few Russians who have received independent information about the not so overtly advertised implications of this scrutiny, of the proposed bill, and of plans to create a “Russian internet” to filter “unwanted foreign content. Russia also cracks down on independent bloggers and journalists. On January 1, 2016 the Russian Federation implemented amendments to laws that further censor the internet and potentially independent media. These laws are being sold under the guise of empowering internet users and the right to protect personal information. The amendments follow legislation from 2014 that infringed on the rights of bloggers.
Paul Merrell

Censorship in the Age of Large Cloud Providers - Lawfare - 2 views

  • Internet censors have a new strategy in their bid to block applications and websites: pressuring the large cloud providers that host them. These providers have concerns that are much broader than the targets of censorship efforts, so they have the choice of either standing up to the censors or capitulating in order to maximize their business. Today’s internet largely reflects the dominance of a handful of companies behind the cloud services, search engines and mobile platforms that underpin the technology landscape. This new centralization radically tips the balance between those who want to censor parts of the internet and those trying to evade censorship. When the profitable answer is for a software giant to acquiesce to censors' demands, how long can internet freedom last? The recent battle between the Russian government and the Telegram messaging app illustrates one way this might play out. Russia has been trying to block Telegram since April, when a Moscow court banned it after the company refused to give Russian authorities access to user messages. Telegram, which is widely used in Russia, works on both iPhone and Android, and there are Windows and Mac desktop versions available. The app offers optional end-to-end encryption, meaning that all messages are encrypted on the sender's phone and decrypted on the receiver's phone; no part of the network can eavesdrop on the messages. Since then, Telegram has been playing cat-and-mouse with the Russian telecom regulator Roskomnadzor by varying the IP address the app uses to communicate. Because Telegram isn't a fixed website, it doesn't need a fixed IP address. Telegram bought tens of thousands of IP addresses and has been quickly rotating through them, staying a step ahead of censors. Cleverly, this tactic is invisible to users. The app never sees the change, or the entire list of IP addresses, and the censor has no clear way to block them all. A week after the court ban, Roskomnadzor countered with an unprecedented move of its own: blocking 19 million IP addresses, many on Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud. The collateral damage was widespread: The action inadvertently broke many other web services that use those platforms, and Roskomnadzor scaled back after it became clear that its action had affected services critical for Russian business. Even so, the censor is still blocking millions of IP addresses.
Paul Merrell

Russia passes law to force websites onto Russian servers | Reuters - 0 views

  • (Reuters) - Russia's parliament passed a law on Friday to force Internet sites that store the personal data of Russian citizens to do so inside the country, a move the Kremlin says is for data protection but which critics see an attack on social networks. The law will mean that from 2016, all Internet companies will have to move Russian data onto servers based in Russia or face being blocked from the web. That would likely affect U.S.-based social networks such as Facebook, analysts say.
  • Putin, an ex-KGB officer who has called the Internet a "CIA project", denied he was restricting web freedoms, saying his main concern was protecting children from indecent content.
Paul Merrell

U.S. Embedded Spyware Overseas, Report Claims - NYTimes.com - 0 views

  • The United States has found a way to permanently embed surveillance and sabotage tools in computers and networks it has targeted in Iran, Russia, Pakistan, China, Afghanistan and other countries closely watched by American intelligence agencies, according to a Russian cybersecurity firm.In a presentation of its findings at a conference in Mexico on Monday, Kaspersky Lab, the Russian firm, said that the implants had been placed by what it called the “Equation Group,” which appears to be a veiled reference to the National Security Agency and its military counterpart, United States Cyber Command.
  • It linked the techniques to those used in Stuxnet, the computer worm that disabled about 1,000 centrifuges in Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. It was later revealed that Stuxnet was part of a program code-named Olympic Games and run jointly by Israel and the United States.Kaspersky’s report said that Olympic Games had similarities to a much broader effort to infect computers well beyond those in Iran. It detected particularly high infection rates in computers in Iran, Pakistan and Russia, three countries whose nuclear programs the United States routinely monitors.
  • Some of the implants burrow so deep into the computer systems, Kaspersky said, that they infect the “firmware,” the embedded software that preps the computer’s hardware before the operating system starts. It is beyond the reach of existing antivirus products and most security controls, Kaspersky reported, making it virtually impossible to wipe out.
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  • In many cases, it also allows the American intelligence agencies to grab the encryption keys off a machine, unnoticed, and unlock scrambled contents. Moreover, many of the tools are designed to run on computers that are disconnected from the Internet, which was the case in the computers controlling Iran’s nuclear enrichment plants.
Paul Merrell

Moscow tells Twitter to store Russian users' data in the country - 0 views

  • Moscow has warned Twitter that it must store Russian users' personal data in Russia, under a new law, the national communications watchdog told AFP on Wednesday. Legislation that came into force on September 1 requires both Russian and foreign social media sites, messenger services and search engines to store the data held on Russian users on servers located inside the country. The controversial law was adopted amid Internet users' growing concerns about the storage of their data, but also as Russia has moved to tighten security on social media and online news sites that are crucial outlets for the political opposition. Non-compliance could lead Russia's communications watchdog Roskomnadzor to block the sites and services. Roskomnadzor spokesman Vadim Ampelonsky confirmed to AFP that Russia had changed its initial position on US-based Twitter, which it had previously said did not fall under the law. Twitter must comply because it now asks users to supply their personal data, Ampelonsky said, confirming earlier comments by the head of Roskomnadzor Alexander Zharov to Russian media.
Paul Merrell

Russia gears up to build its own 'independent internet' | The Times of Israel - 0 views

  • The Russian government is reportedly considering building an “independent internet infrastructure” that it can use as an alternative to the global Domain Name System, or DNS system. Last month, Russia’s Security Council asked the government to start building a backup DNS system citing “the increased capabilities of Western nations to conduct offensive operations.”
  • However, some defense experts say the move could “have more to do with Moscow’s own plans for offensive cyber operations,” according to the Defense One website. The alternative DNS would also serve the so-called BRIC nations — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — and would operate independently of international organizations.
  • Russian president Vladimir Putin set a deadline of August 2018 to complete the infrastructure.
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

"Media: when oligarchs go shopping" - RSF's latest report | RSF - 0 views

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    "It was in Russia that the word "oligarchs" was first used to denote very rich businessmen. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has adopted the term to refer to billionaires who create or take over media empires to serve their business or political interests. There is a worldwide trend towards increasingly concentrated ownership of conglomerates that combine media outlets (TV channels, radio stations, newspapers and news websites) with banks, telecoms, property firms and construction companies. All this suits the rulers of countries such as China that espoused capitalism in order to better suppress democracy. "
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    "It was in Russia that the word "oligarchs" was first used to denote very rich businessmen. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has adopted the term to refer to billionaires who create or take over media empires to serve their business or political interests. There is a worldwide trend towards increasingly concentrated ownership of conglomerates that combine media outlets (TV channels, radio stations, newspapers and news websites) with banks, telecoms, property firms and construction companies. All this suits the rulers of countries such as China that espoused capitalism in order to better suppress democracy. "
Paul Merrell

The BRICS "Independent Internet" Cable. In Defiance of the "US-Centric Internet" | Global Research - 0 views

  • The President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff announces publicly the creation of a world internet system INDEPENDENT from US and Britain ( the “US-centric internet”). Not many understand that, while the immediate trigger for the decision (coupled with the cancellation of a summit with the US president) was the revelations on NSA spying, the reason why Rousseff can take such a historic step is that the alternative infrastructure: The BRICS cable from Vladivostock, Russia  to Shantou, China to Chennai, India  to Cape Town, South Africa  to Fortaleza, Brazil,  is being built and it’s, actually, in its final phase of implementation. No amount of provocation and attempted “Springs” destabilizations and Color Revolution in the Middle East, Russia or Brazil can stop this process.  The huge submerged part of the BRICS plan is not yet known by the broader public.
  • Nonetheless it is very real and extremely effective. So real that international investors are now jumping with both feet on this unprecedented real economy opportunity. The change… has already happened. Brazil plans to divorce itself from the U.S.-centric Internet over Washington’s widespread online spying, a move that many experts fear will be a potentially dangerous first step toward politically fracturing a global network built with minimal interference by governments. President Dilma Rousseff has ordered a series of measures aimed at greater Brazilian online independence and security following revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency intercepted her communications, hacked into the state-owned Petrobras oil company’s network and spied on Brazilians who entrusted their personal data to U.S. tech companies such as Facebook and Google.
  • BRICS Cable… a 34 000 km, 2 fibre pair, 12.8 Tbit/s capacity, fibre optic cable system For any global investor, there is no crisis – there is plenty of growth. It’s just not in the old world BRICS is ~45% of the world’s population and ~25% of the world’s GDP BRICS together create an economy the size of Italy every year… that’s the 8th largest economy in the world The BRICS presents profound opportunities in global geopolitics and commerce Links Russia, China, India, South Africa, Brazil – the BRICS economies – and the United States. Interconnect with regional and other continental cable systems in Asia, Africa and South America for improved global coverage Immediate access to 21 African countries and give those African countries access to the BRICS economies. Projected ready for service date is mid to second half of 2015.
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    Undoubtedly, construction was under way well before the Edward Snowden leaked documents began to be published. But that did give the new BRICS Cable an excellent hook for the announcement. With 12.8 Tbps throughput, it looks like this may divert considerable traffic now routed through the UK. But it still connects with the U.S., in Miami. 
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

And The Movie File-Sharing Capital of The World Is.... | TorrentFreak - 0 views

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    " Ernesto on June 22, 2014 C: 27 News New data collected by piracy monitoring firm MarkMonitor shows that the latest Hollywood blockbusters are most frequently shared from Russia, with America and Italy trailing behind. Per capita the results are completely different. Here the United Arab Emirates is in the lead, followed by Israel and Estonia."
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    " Ernesto on June 22, 2014 C: 27 News New data collected by piracy monitoring firm MarkMonitor shows that the latest Hollywood blockbusters are most frequently shared from Russia, with America and Italy trailing behind. Per capita the results are completely different. Here the United Arab Emirates is in the lead, followed by Israel and Estonia."
Paul Merrell

Information Warfare: Automated Propaganda and Social Media Bots | Global Research - 0 views

  • NATO has announced that it is launching an “information war” against Russia. The UK publicly announced a battalion of keyboard warriors to spread disinformation. It’s well-documented that the West has long used false propaganda to sway public opinion. Western military and intelligence services manipulate social media to counter criticism of Western policies. Such manipulation includes flooding social media with comments supporting the government and large corporations, using armies of sock puppets, i.e. fake social media identities. See this, this, this, this and this. In 2013, the American Congress repealed the formal ban against the deployment of propaganda against U.S. citizens living on American soil. So there’s even less to constrain propaganda than before.
  • Information warfare for propaganda purposes also includes: The Pentagon, Federal Reserve and other government entities using software to track discussion of political issues … to try to nip dissent in the bud before it goes viral “Controlling, infiltrating, manipulating and warping” online discourse Use of artificial intelligence programs to try to predict how people will react to propaganda
  • Some of the propaganda is spread by software programs. We pointed out 6 years ago that people were writing scripts to censor hard-hitting information from social media. One of America’s top cyber-propagandists – former high-level military information officer Joel Harding – wrote in December: I was in a discussion today about information being used in social media as a possible weapon.  The people I was talking with have a tool which scrapes social media sites, gauges their sentiment and gives the user the opportunity to automatically generate a persuasive response. Their tool is called a “Social Networking Influence Engine”. *** The implications seem to be profound for the information environment. *** The people who own this tool are in the civilian world and don’t even remotely touch the defense sector, so getting approval from the US Department of State might not even occur to them.
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  • How Can This Real? Gizmodo reported in 2010: Software developer Nigel Leck got tired rehashing the same 140-character arguments against climate change deniers, so he programmed a bot that does the work for him. With citations! Leck’s bot, @AI_AGW, doesn’t just respond to arguments directed at Leck himself, it goes out and picks fights. Every five minutes it trawls Twitter for terms and phrases that commonly crop up in Tweets that refute human-caused climate change. It then searches its database of hundreds to find a counter-argument best suited for that tweet—usually a quick statement and a link to a scientific source. As can be the case with these sorts of things, many of the deniers don’t know they’ve been targeted by a robot and engage AI_AGW in debate. The bot will continue to fire back canned responses that best fit the interlocutor’s line of debate—Leck says this goes on for days, in some cases—and the bot’s been outfitted with a number of responses on the topic of religion, where the arguments unsurprisingly often end up. Technology has come a long way in the past 5 years. So if a lone programmer could do this 5 years ago, imagine what he could do now. And the big players have a lot more resources at their disposal than a lone climate activist/software developer does.  For example, a government expert told the Washington Post that the government “quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type” (and see this).  So if the lone programmer is doing it, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the big boys are widely doing it.
  • How Effective Are Automated Comments? Unfortunately, this is more effective than you might assume … Specifically, scientists have shown that name-calling and swearing breaks down people’s ability to think rationally … and intentionally sowing discord and posting junk comments to push down insightful comments  are common propaganda techniques. Indeed, an automated program need not even be that sophisticated … it can copy a couple of words from the main post or a comment, and then spew back one or more radioactive labels such as “terrorist”, “commie”, “Russia-lover”, “wimp”, “fascist”, “loser”, “traitor”, “conspiratard”, etc. Given that Harding and his compadres consider anyone who questions any U.S. policies as an enemy of the state  – as does the Obama administration (and see this) – many honest, patriotic writers and commenters may be targeted for automated propaganda comments.
Paul Merrell

European Human Rights Court Deals a Heavy Blow to the Lawfulness of Bulk Surveillance | Just Security - 0 views

  • In a seminal decision updating and consolidating its previous jurisprudence on surveillance, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights took a sideways swing at mass surveillance programs last week, reiterating the centrality of “reasonable suspicion” to the authorization process and the need to ensure interception warrants are targeted to an individual or premises. The decision in Zakharov v. Russia — coming on the heels of the European Court of Justice’s strongly-worded condemnation in Schrems of interception systems that provide States with “generalised access” to the content of communications — is another blow to governments across Europe and the United States that continue to argue for the legitimacy and lawfulness of bulk collection programs. It also provoked the ire of the Russian government, prompting an immediate legislative move to give the Russian constitution precedence over Strasbourg judgments. The Grand Chamber’s judgment in Zakharov is especially notable because its subject matter — the Russian SORM system of interception, which includes the installation of equipment on telecommunications networks that subsequently enables the State direct access to the communications transiting through those networks — is similar in many ways to the interception systems currently enjoying public and judicial scrutiny in the United States, France, and the United Kingdom. Zakharov also provides a timely opportunity to compare the differences between UK and Russian law: Namely, Russian law requires prior independent authorization of interception measures, whereas neither the proposed UK law nor the existing legislative framework do.
  • The decision is lengthy and comprises a useful restatement and harmonization of the Court’s approach to standing (which it calls “victim status”) in surveillance cases, which is markedly different from that taken by the US Supreme Court. (Indeed, Judge Dedov’s separate but concurring opinion notes the contrast with Clapper v. Amnesty International.) It also addresses at length issues of supervision and oversight, as well as the role played by notification in ensuring the effectiveness of remedies. (Marko Milanovic discusses many of these issues here.) For the purpose of the ongoing debate around the legitimacy of bulk surveillance regimes under international human rights law, however, three particular conclusions of the Court are critical.
  • The Court took issue with legislation permitting the interception of communications for broad national, military, or economic security purposes (as well as for “ecological security” in the Russian case), absent any indication of the particular circumstances under which an individual’s communications may be intercepted. It said that such broadly worded statutes confer an “almost unlimited degree of discretion in determining which events or acts constitute such a threat and whether that threat is serious enough to justify secret surveillance” (para. 248). Such discretion cannot be unbounded. It can be limited through the requirement for prior judicial authorization of interception measures (para. 249). Non-judicial authorities may also be competent to authorize interception, provided they are sufficiently independent from the executive (para. 258). What is important, the Court said, is that the entity authorizing interception must be “capable of verifying the existence of a reasonable suspicion against the person concerned, in particular, whether there are factual indications for suspecting that person of planning, committing or having committed criminal acts or other acts that may give rise to secret surveillance measures, such as, for example, acts endangering national security” (para. 260). This finding clearly constitutes a significant threshold which a number of existing and pending European surveillance laws would not meet. For example, the existence of individualized reasonable suspicion runs contrary to the premise of signals intelligence programs where communications are intercepted in bulk; by definition, those programs collect information without any consideration of individualized suspicion. Yet the Court was clearly articulating the principle with national security-driven surveillance in mind, and with the knowledge that interception of communications in Russia is conducted by Russian intelligence on behalf of law enforcement agencies.
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  • This element of the Grand Chamber’s decision distinguishes it from prior jurisprudence of the Court, namely the decisions of the Third Section in Weber and Saravia v. Germany (2006) and of the Fourth Section in Liberty and Ors v. United Kingdom (2008). In both cases, the Court considered legislative frameworks which enable bulk interception of communications. (In the German case, the Court used the term “strategic monitoring,” while it referred to “more general programmes of surveillance” in Liberty.) In the latter case, the Fourth Section sought to depart from earlier European Commission of Human Rights — the court of first instance until 1998 — decisions which developed the requirements of the law in the context of surveillance measures targeted at specific individuals or addresses. It took note of the Weber decision which “was itself concerned with generalized ‘strategic monitoring’, rather than the monitoring of individuals” and concluded that there was no “ground to apply different principles concerning the accessibility and clarity of the rules governing the interception of individual communications, on the one hand, and more general programmes of surveillance, on the other” (para. 63). The Court in Liberty made no mention of any need for any prior or reasonable suspicion at all.
  • In Weber, reasonable suspicion was addressed only at the post-interception stage; that is, under the German system, bulk intercepted data could be transmitted from the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) to law enforcement authorities without any prior suspicion. The Court found that the transmission of personal data without any specific prior suspicion, “in order to allow the institution of criminal proceedings against those being monitored” constituted a fairly serious interference with individuals’ privacy rights that could only be remedied by safeguards and protections limiting the extent to which such data could be used (para. 125). (In the context of that case, the Court found that Germany’s protections and restrictions were sufficient.) When you compare the language from these three cases, it would appear that the Grand Chamber in Zakharov is reasserting the requirement for individualized reasonable suspicion, including in national security cases, with full knowledge of the nature of surveillance considered by the Court in its two recent bulk interception cases.
  • The requirement of reasonable suspicion is bolstered by the Grand Chamber’s subsequent finding in Zakharov that the interception authorization (e.g., the court order or warrant) “must clearly identify a specific person to be placed under surveillance or a single set of premises as the premises in respect of which the authorisation is ordered. Such identification may be made by names, addresses, telephone numbers or other relevant information” (para. 264). In making this finding, it references paragraphs from Liberty describing the broad nature of the bulk interception warrants under British law. In that case, it was this description that led the Court to find the British legislation possessed insufficient clarity on the scope or manner of exercise of the State’s discretion to intercept communications. In one sense, therefore, the Grand Chamber seems to be retroactively annotating the Fourth Section’s Liberty decision so that it might become consistent with its decision in Zakharov. Without this revision, the Court would otherwise appear to depart to some extent — arguably, purposefully — from both Liberty and Weber.
  • Finally, the Grand Chamber took issue with the direct nature of the access enjoyed by Russian intelligence under the SORM system. The Court noted that this contributed to rendering oversight ineffective, despite the existence of a requirement for prior judicial authorization. Absent an obligation to demonstrate such prior authorization to the communications service provider, the likelihood that the system would be abused through “improper action by a dishonest, negligent or overly zealous official” was quite high (para. 270). Accordingly, “the requirement to show an interception authorisation to the communications service provider before obtaining access to a person’s communications is one of the important safeguards against abuse by the law-enforcement authorities” (para. 269). Again, this requirement arguably creates an unconquerable barrier for a number of modern bulk interception systems, which rely on the use of broad warrants to authorize the installation of, for example, fiber optic cable taps that facilitate the interception of all communications that cross those cables. In the United Kingdom, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation David Anderson revealed in his essential inquiry into British surveillance in 2015, there are only 20 such warrants in existence at any time. Even if these 20 warrants are served on the relevant communications service providers upon the installation of cable taps, the nature of bulk interception deprives this of any genuine meaning, making the safeguard an empty one. Once a tap is installed for the purposes of bulk interception, the provider is cut out of the equation and can no longer play the role the Court found so crucial in Zakharov.
  • The Zakharov case not only levels a serious blow at bulk, untargeted surveillance regimes, it suggests the Grand Chamber’s intention to actively craft European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence in a manner that curtails such regimes. Any suggestion that the Grand Chamber’s decision was issued in ignorance of the technical capabilities or intentions of States and the continued preference for bulk interception systems should be dispelled; the oral argument in the case took place in September 2014, at a time when the Court had already indicated its intention to accord priority to cases arising out of the Snowden revelations. Indeed, the Court referenced such forthcoming cases in the fact sheet it issued after the Zakharov judgment was released. Any remaining doubt is eradicated through an inspection of the multiple references to the Snowden revelations in the judgment itself. In the main judgment, the Court excerpted text from the Director of the European Union Agency for Human Rights discussing Snowden, and in the separate opinion issued by Judge Dedov, he goes so far as to quote Edward Snowden: “With each court victory, with every change in the law, we demonstrate facts are more convincing than fear. As a society, we rediscover that the value of the right is not in what it hides, but in what it protects.”
  • The full implications of the Zakharov decision remain to be seen. However, it is likely we will not have to wait long to know whether the Grand Chamber intends to see the demise of bulk collection schemes; the three UK cases (Big Brother Watch & Ors v. United Kingdom, Bureau of Investigative Journalism & Alice Ross v. United Kingdom, and 10 Human Rights Organisations v. United Kingdom) pending before the Court have been fast-tracked, indicating the Court’s willingness to continue to confront the compliance of bulk collection schemes with human rights law. It is my hope that the approach in Zakharov hints at the Court’s conviction that bulk collection schemes lie beyond the bounds of permissible State surveillance.
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

Search Engines Need Regulating to Reduce Piracy, Russia Says - TorrentFreak - 0 views

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    " Andy on December 11, 2015 C: 28 News Russian telecoms watchdog Roskomnadzor says it will create a working group to look into the regulation of search engine results. The move is part of a package of initiatives designed to make pirated content harder to find. Also on the table are discussions on how to make anti-piracy techniques less prone to circumvention."
Paul Merrell

Moscow ready to launch its own Internet and Swift systems - 0 views

  • It may well be the case that Russia soon leaves the two systems of international connection: Internet and Swift
  • According to President Putin’s Adviser on Telecommunications, German Klimenko, the US Department of Commerce persists in refusing to internationalize control of the internet network. According to Klimenko, Russia would have been ready from the beginning of March to withdraw from the US system and to launch its own telecommunication systems.
Paul Merrell

Asia Times | Say hello to the Russia-China operating system | Article - 0 views

  • Google cuts Huawei off Android; so Huawei may migrate to Aurora. Call it mobile Eurasia integration; the evolving Russia-China strategic partnership may be on the verge of spawning its own operating system – and that is not a metaphor. Aurora is a mobile operating system currently developed by Russian Open Mobile Platform, based in Moscow. It is based on the Sailfish operating system, designed by Finnish technology company Jolla, which featured a batch of Russians in the development team. Quite a few top coders at Google and Apple also come from the former USSR – exponents of a brilliant scientific academy tradition.
  • No Google? Who cares? Tencent, Xiaomi, Vivo and Oppo are already testing the HongMeng operating system, as part of a batch of one million devices already distributed. HongMeng’s launch is still a closely guarded secret by Huawei, but according to CEO Richard Yu, it could happen even before the end of 2019 for the Chinese market, running on smartphones, computers, TVs and cars. HongMeng is rumored to be 60% faster than Android.
  • Aurora could be regarded as part of Huawei’s fast-evolving Plan B. Huawei is now turbo-charging the development and implementation of its own operating system, HongMeng, a process that started no less than seven years ago. Most of the work on an operating system is writing drivers and APIs (application programming interfaces). Huawei would be able to integrate their code to the Russian system in no time.
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  • The HongMeng system may also harbor functions dedicated to security and protection of users’ data. That’s what’s scaring Google the most; Huawei developing a software impenetrable to hacking attempts. Google is actively lobbying the Trump administration to add another reprieve – or even abandon the Huawei ban altogether. By now it’s clear Team Trump has decided to wield a trade war as a geopolitical and geoeconomic weapon. They may have not calculated that other Chinese producers have the power to swing markets. Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo, for instance, are not (yet) banned in the US market, and combined they sell more than Samsung. They could decide to move to Huawei’s operating system in no time.
  • The existence of Lineage operating system is proof that Huawei is not facing a lot of hurdles developing HongMeng – which will be compatible with all Android apps. There would be no problem to adopt Aurora as well. Huawei will certainly open is own app store to compete with Google Play.
Paul Merrell

Medvedev proposes Creative Commons-style copyright scheme for Russia | Society | RIA Novosti - 0 views

  • Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has proposed setting up a new flexible copyright scheme on the Runet, as the Russian-language part of the internet is known. In a statement released on the Kremlin's website on Thursday, Medvedev instructed the country's communications ministry to draw up amendments "aimed at allowing authors to let an unlimited number of people use their content on the basis of free licensing."
Paul Merrell

Chinese State Media Declares iPhone a Threat To National Security - Slashdot - 0 views

  • "When NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden came forth last year with U.S. government spying secrets, it didn't take long to realize that some of the information revealed could bring on serious repercussions — not just for the U.S. government, but also for U.S.-based companies. The latest to feel the hit? None other than Apple, and in a region the company has been working hard to increase market share: China. China, via state media, has today declared that Apple's iPhone is a threat to national security — all because of its thorough tracking capabilities. It has the ability to keep track of user locations, and to the country, this could potentially reveal "state secrets" somehow. It's being noted that the iPhone will continue to track the user to some extent even if the overall feature is disabled. China's iPhone ousting comes hot on the heels of Russia's industry and trade deeming AMD and Intel processors to be untrustworthy. The nation will instead be building its own ARM-based "Baikal" processor.
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

Court Orders Web-Blocking Monitoring Site To Be Blocked - TorrentFreak - 0 views

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    " Andy on February 13, 2016 C: 22 Breaking A human rights organization that monitors web-censorship and pirate site blockades in Russia has been ordered to be blocked by a local court. After a legal challenge failed to convince prosecutors, RuBlacklist was advised this week that it has just three days left before local Internet service providers block the site ."
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