Archive for the ‘The Perfect Storm’ Category

More on ISIS

Monday, November 16th, 2015
  • Back on May 8th, 2015, while we were in Montreal, Canada, I wrote a piece on ISIS (here).  In it, I confessed I was mystified by many things about ISIS.  Such as where did it come from, how did it get so powerful, how did it have so much money and why did the west’s response to it seem so muted.
  • In the last day, I’ve read two articles have significantly enlightened me.
  • The first is entitled, “You can’t understand ISIS if you don’t know the history of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia” and which was penned by Alastair Crooke writing in The World Post
  • The second is entitled, “Why ISIS fights” by Martin Chulov writing for the Guardian in the U.K.
  • I highly recommend that you read them.  They are a bit long and dense with history and information but will be well worth your effort.  If you can only read one, then I recommend the first.
  • I am going to cut-to-the-chase, as they say, and tell you what I’ve gotten from reading them.  If you don’t like spoilers, then go read the articles now before you continue.  This will be a good thing to do because then you will be able to see if you come to the same conclusions as I have.

——-

  • The central thread that comes out of these articles is the long-standing and pervasive influence of Wahhabism (Wiki article on this here) in the Middle East and most especially in the Arabian Peninsula.
  • Wahhabism is considered to be a branch of Sunni Islam and it is a very conservative form of that faith which traces it roots to the 18th century and a man named, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab.
  • The fortunes of this branch of Islam and those of the Saud family, have waxed and waned in Arabia for nearly 150 years since al-Wahhab first began preaching.
  • It is key to note that Wahhabism is the variety of Islam that is practiced in Saudi Arabia today and that the Saud family became, and has been for many years, the Saudi Royal Family.

——

  • ISIS today is a reinvigorated version of Wahhabism.  A version that has reinvented itself to be true to its original tenants.
  • Pure Wahhabism is a very conservative faith and its ISIS practitioners strongly feel that the version of Wahhabism practiced now in Saudi Arabia has lost its way due to the influence of oil, the west and the Saud family itself.  They also feel that anything other than pure Wahhabism is simply wrong and such people only deserve killing.
  • And many very wealthy Saudis have sympathy for these fundamentalist Wahhabian views and herein lies the source of the vast wealth that underlies ISIS.
  • It gets worse.
  • Saudi Arabia, where these donors live, is a major ally of the United States in it struggle against other disruptive forces in the Middle East.  Struggles against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, for example and against the growing threat and influence of Iran.

——

  • So, for the U.S. and the west to go to war aggressively against ISIS is tantamount to confronting the most conservative elements in Saudi society and could unravel or seriously weaken the U.S.’s alliance with Saudi Arabia.

——

  • So, there we are.  If the U.S. and/or the other western powers seriously try to crush ISIS, other parts of the house of cards we’ve built in the Middle East, beginning with our alliance with Saudi Arabia, may well crumble and who knows where that will lead?
  • As just one factor, Saudi Arabia controls a serious percentage of the world’s oil.
  • And the Saudis have been well-armed (by the west, of course).

——

  • But, given ISIS’s monomaniacal focus to push unrelentingly for an Islam (their version of Islam) that dominates the world, a confrontation with them is going to be a hard confrontation to avoid.  Witness what just happened with the ISIS terrorist attacks in Paris in which 129 people died.
  • But at least I understand now where they’ve gotten their enormous supply of money and why the west has been slow off the mark to crush them.
  • But this problem is not going to go away.

 

– research thanks to Colette M., Piers L. and Kierin M.

Small town mayor relinquishes electronics and passwords to agents at SFO

Monday, October 5th, 2015
  • An interesting story. Prescient of our future?  
  • Just last month, I read in an American publication about a news conference held by the senior leaders of the NSA, the CIA, the FBI and several other security-related agencies.  The reason they held the conference was to say to the press and the American public that this ‘tension’ between them and the public needs to be toned down.  That they are only trying to protect our security interests and that they need to be free to get on with it.
  • Interesting that they failed to note that a lot of this started when Edward Snowdon pulled the covers back from their secret programs and the public found much of what was revealed deeply unpalatable.  No comment on that and little has been done about it save for imposing a few small limitations here and there.
  • But, if those limitations are reimplemented, we’ll never know about it because it will all be done behind those same secret curtains again (and for our own good, I’m sure).
  • So, here they are in this story forcing their way into a private citizen’s private affairs/data with no warrant, no probable cause and no comment when asked about it by the press.  Basically, “Nothing to see here.  Just move along now, move along.”
  • Is this how they are going to win the public’s trust again?
  • And, isn’t the deepest irony here that if the fellow searched had wanted to hide something, he simply could have dropped an encrypted copy of it onto any of a hundred places out in the Internet cloud and erased it from his phone before entering the country.  Once home, he grabs it again from the web, decrypts it and he’s done.
  • The only criminals and terrorists the Feds are going to capture these Bully-Boy methods are the dumbest of the dumb.  
  • So what is the point then?  Simple harassment of the public? A flexing of their muscles so we can all see how very powerful they really are?  Or just a profound example of bureaucratic ineptitude wherein the left hand has no idea what the right hand’s doing?
  • dennis

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As feds battle over privacy, mayor compares the situation to North Korea.

Stockton, California Mayor Anthony R. Silva attended a recent mayor’s conference in China, but his return trip took a bit longer than usual. At the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) this week, agents with the Department of Homeland Security detained Silva and confiscated his personal cell phone among other electronics. According to comments from the mayor, that may not even be the most alarming part.

“Unfortunately, they were not willing or able to produce a search warrant or any court documents suggesting they had a legal right to take my property,” Silva told SFGate. “In addition, they were persistent about requiring my passwords for all devices.”

The mayor’s attorney, Mark Reichel, told SFGate that Silva was not allowed to leave the airport without forfeiting his passwords. Reichel was not present for Silva’s interaction with the DHS agents, either. The mayor was told he had “no right for a lawyer to be present” and that being a US citizen did not “entitle me to rights that I probably thought,” according to the paper.

As of Friday, Silva had not yet received his property from the SFO detention. SFGate reports Reichel contacted the US Attorney’s Office in Sacramento, but they would not comment on whether they still had the mayor’s possessions. The paper also reached out to a spokesperson at US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but that office also refused comment. (Ars has reached out to the mayor’s office for any new information, and we’ll update this story accordingly if we hear back.)

Authorities demanding access to password-protected devices has become a hot-button issue across the country, highlighted in particular by the federal government’s ongoing battle with Silicon Valley over the lack of crypto backdoors in modern smartphones. At the end of last month, one US District Judge in Pennsylvania ruled that forcing suspects to surrender their passwords was unconstitutional on Fifth Amendment grounds.

Evidently, Silva was well aware of the situation and only had his concerns heightened by first-hand experience. Talking to SFGate, he briefly compared the government battle on privacy to notorious dictatorships worldwide.

“I think the American people should be extremely concerned about their personal rights and privacy,” Silva told the paper. “As I was being searched at the airport, there was a Latino couple to my left, and an Asian couple to my right also being aggressively searched. I briefly had to remind myself that this was not North Korea or Nazi Germany. This is the land of the Free.”

  • To the original in Ars Technica:  

Why are houses so expensive? (UK article)

Friday, September 18th, 2015
  • As time passes, my ideas about what and where our problems are shifting too.  
  • Currently, I’m focused on the idea that our representative democracies, which are primarily a balancing of self interests; one against each other, are, by their very nature, incapable of dealing with problems affecting our ‘commons’.
  • The housing cost problems described in this Guardian article make this point particularly well.  
  • It is in the majority’s common interests that most of us should be able to find and afford reasonably priced housing.  But a minority of us, well positioned to take advantage of the situation, have elevated their minority self interests over the majority and, in their greed, they are making a bad situation worse.
  • This has happened because ‘we’ the people have never decided to implement governments which look out for our common interests as their top priority.  
  • And you can be sure that those who are looking after their self interests and wealth are never going to support this.  They will, in fact, actively suppress the idea.
  • dennis

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There’s a sizeable chance that many people born before me in the late 1980s – and far more who were born after me – will never own their home in the UK. The goal for most people is now to get on “the housing ladder”: buy a small house or flat, and gradually move to a nicer area and bigger home as your profits increase. This wasn’t always the case. Back in the early 1980s, around half the population of the country owned their own home, and half rented – 30% in social housing, from their local council, and 20% from private landlords.

Margaret Thatcher’s introduction of right to buy meant that those who bought their council home saw the value of their subsidised purchase rise rapidly, meaning housing was seen less as a permanent home, more as an investment. At the same time, councils stopped building homes partly due to economic constraints, and partly due to the ideological shift away from renting and towards home ownership.

But now we’re in a crisis. Homes cost an awful lot in many places in the UK, and wages haven’t kept pace with inflation, or risen as much as house prices, post-recession. The young, in particular, find their earning potential and borrowing allowances have been harder hit than most. Meanwhile, the vast majority of new private-sector jobs are in the capital, where house prices are exorbitant.

The average house price for the UK was £282,000 in July according to the Office for National Statistics, which, if you live in London, sounds like nothing – the average house price there nudged £525,000 this month. But the average UK earner, who takes home £24,648 gross, including bonuses, can only afford a house worth around £110,000, if you imagine them taking out a mortgage worth 4.5 times their salary. To find a job paying that much and a house that costs that little isn’t easy – saving for a deposit while paying market rents is even harder.

Part of the problem is scarcity. Britain simply isn’t building enough housing to meet the demand for homes. Part of that is due to a brick shortage that began before the recession, and a skills shortage: British workers predominantly don’t want to be builders, and the rhetoric against hiring in skilled workers from the EU and beyond also stymies attempts to build more.

But many people profit from rising house prices: landbanking is a huge problemthat exacerbates the housing crisis. In areas where homes are needed, it works in private companies’ interests to sit on land that could be developed, inflating its prices, and in turn inflating house prices.

Where housing expansion has happened is in private renting, the sector least likely to increase the home ownership rate in Britain. If you ask most people what is the biggest barrier to raising the capital necessary for a deposit, most will say that it’s high rents. It’s in landlords’ interests to keep people renting, rather than buying. An interest-only mortgage lets you cream off a considerable profit while buying more properties.

And once profits rise in houses, and people see property not as a home but as an investment opportunity, outside investors pour in. Concerns have been raised at the proportion of new-build properties in London being bought and treated as asset lockers in the capital – left empty, while appreciating in value at very little risk for the predominantly foreign buyers. Meanwhile, families flounder on the housing waiting lists, or are forced out to far-flung towns, away from their children’s schools or support networks.

Houses aren’t expensive simply because of supply and demand. As long as houses are expensive, people will work to keep them expensive – buy-to-let landlords with far more capital can buy up houses and rent them out at high costs, wealthy British and foreign investors can buy up land and new-build luxury property knowing that the likelihood of profit is a far better bet than with any other investment. Keeping families and individuals locked out of home ownership for a lifetime works as a financial racket, which is precisely what we’re dealing with.

There’s also the massive regional disparity – growing up, I remember working out exactly how much I’d need to earn to afford a mortgage on my own home. It seemed achievable, because I foolishly hadn’t assumed a global recession would cause stagnant wages while house prices continued rising unhindered. And to get a mortgage on a property where I grew up in Newport, at an average of £115,828I’d need to earn around £29,000 per year. I’ll admit to earning far more. But to buy the average home where I currently live near Clapham, I’d need to earn £182,809. I earn far less. Why do I stay, rather than returning home and snapping up a four-bed house? The same reason anyone does – friends, work opportunities, and an emotional investment in the local surroundings.

But across England and Wales, the average home costs 8.8 times the average salary. In Westminster, it’s 24 times the local salary, compared to 12 times a decade earlier. Everywhere in England and Wales, the house price/local salary ratio has risen since 2002. Part of the reason so many people want to buy is because renting conditions can be so poor, while rent is so high. Those hoarding properties can hike up house prices as people become increasingly desperate to get on “the ladder”.

Scarcity causes a number of responses: firstly panic – watch any queue outside a house in Walthamstow, or try to rent a room in London or Oxford, and realise how many people are scrabbling for any opportunity to solve their personal housing crisis. But it also encourages hoarding: the financially solvent notice an asset’s sharp increase in value and hoard that asset, inflating the price and their profits at the same time. One in five homes in the UK is now owned by a private landlord, yet landlords only account for 2% cent of the adult population.

But crises reach a head: at the moment, house prices are so expensive, many people will be unable to afford to buy at all, which impacts on birth rates, encourages people to move abroad, and affects the economy, both because people are spending more on rent and less on goods that boost the economy, and because housing is a precarious market to rely on to prop up GDP. It’s because the market has been allowed to grow unchecked, and landlords and investors allowed to distort and inflate the market, that houses are expensive. But to bring prices down, some homeowners have to lose out and end up in negative equity. It depends on who politicians value most – homeowners, or Generation Rent. Or, we can all sit tight and wait for the bubble to burst.

  • To the original in the Guardian:  

 

The California Drought Is Just the Beginning of Our National Water Emergency

Friday, August 21st, 2015

For years, Americans dismissed dire water shortages as a problem of the Global South. Now the crisis is coming home

The United Nations reports that we have 15 years to avert a full-blown water crisis and that, by 2030, demand for water will outstrip supply by 40 percent. Five hundred renowned scientists brought together by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that our collective abuse of water has caused the earth to enter a “new geologic age,” a “planetary transformation” akin to the retreat of the glaciers more than 11,000 years ago. Already, they reported, a majority of the world’s population lives within a 30-mile radius of water sources that are badly stressed or running out.

The Great Grief

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

“We seldom realize it, but we are living in something very similar to the Garden of Eden referred to in the Bible. An environment we are perfectly adapted to. An environment which is both extremely rare and extremely precious in the endless vacuum and hard radiation of space. And an environment which, like the Biblical Garden of Eden, once forfeited, will never be returned to us again as it was.

Our world is filled with plants and animals born of three and a half billion years of evolution and woven into incomprehensibly beautiful and complex patterns of interdependency. The elephants, the glaciers, the rain forests and the reefs with their long beaches of white sand. The annual migrations and the nests built with such care, the new cubs at play in their first year, the green mountains covered with ancient and dark conifers and the frogs that sing life’s song of longing to us from the ponds of our springs and summers.

It is a palette of life, this world – our birthplace. It is filled with millions of overlaid evolutionary brush stokes. And, in this small place, safe from the pitiless and vast nothingness beyond our sky, a vibrant and magical complexity has been building and feeding into itself for eons – self-replicating – driven and warmed by the bounty of the sun’s glow and spilling forth ever more beautiful forms keen of eye and glorious of leaf – a small and fragile garden in a universe of desert.

Sit outside on a warm day with a soft breeze blowing and the leaves singing. Before you, a small child, or a puppy or a kitten playing in the grass feeling the joy of life welling new and ask yourself what it is all worth – this natural world of ours.

If you have the freedom and ease to be able to do these things and feel what I’m talking about, then you are still among the lucky ones in this world. Many, even as the sun blesses our thoughts, cry for water and for food. Cry from disease and cold, from fouled water and repressive governments and brutality. The world is becoming a narrow and hard place. A world of haves and have nots, of wealth and poverty, of lives of beautiful indulgences and of grinding misery.

Some would say there have always been rich and poor and there’s always been disease and misery. Yes, but in recent centuries, things were getting better. Despots were giving way to governments for their people, Health care and sanitation were reaching further each year into the lives of the marginalized. Education was more freely available. Mankind was on a steady ascension towards the light of a fair and equitable world.

But, all of this, the summer sun, the joy of nature’s bounty and the steady rise towards social enlightenment are all now sliding towards an unimaginable edge beyond which they will simply be memories of what once was and what once could have been.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

– I penned all of that back in August of 2006.  And things have been sliding slowly and inexorably towards the edge in our world ever since.

-Yesterday, I talked with a brilliant fellow here in Vancouver, B.C., for several hours about all of this.  

– He told me that he is more ‘hopeful’ than I am and I was curious what he meant.

– What he meant was, yes, there’s going to be a major reset of the natural world and millions will die and most species existent will perish.  But, that’s change and change always comes.  Humankind will survive, even if we are driven down into the stone-ages. And we will ascend again using the rubble from our last rise to fuel our need for materials.  Yes, the children of those future times will never know a world like ours but they will be born into their world and it will seem natural to them.

– That was his optimism and hope – only that we will survive.

– I understood and agreed with a lot of his logic.  

– But I cannot help but feel such a deep grief that it doesn’t need to be this way.  There’s is, really, only the fact that we have little capacity to see the havoc we are causing and less capacity to do anything about it that causes all of this.  

– There is nothing inevitable about about the changes we are unleashing on the biosphere because of our activities and that’s the source of my personal grief.

– A friend forwarded me the article, below, and it fits this moment in time so very well.

– dennis

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The Great Grief:
How to cope with losing our world

by Per Espen Stoknes

To cope with losing our world requires us to descend through the anger into mourning & sadness, not bypass them to jump onto the optimism bandwagon or escape into indifference.

Climate scientists overwhelmingly say that we will face unprecedented warming in the coming decades. Those same scientists, just like you or I, struggle with the emotions that are evoked by these facts and dire projections. My children—who are now 12 and 16—may live in a world warmer than at any time in the previous 3 million years, and may face challenges that we are only just beginning to contemplate, and in many ways may be deprived of the rich, diverse world we grew up in. How do we relate to – and live – with this sad knowledge?

Across different populations, psychological researchers have documented a long list of mental health consequences of climate change: trauma, shock, stress, anxiety, depression, complicated grief, strains on social relationships, substance abuse, sense of hopelessness, fatalism, resignation, loss of autonomy and sense of control, as well as a loss of personal and occupational identity.

This more-than-personal sadness is what I call the “Great Grief”—a feeling that rises in us as if from the Earth itself. Perhaps bears and dolphins, clear-cut forests, fouled rivers, and the acidifying, plastic-laden oceans bear grief inside them, too, just as we do. Every piece of climate news increasingly comes with a sense of dread: is it too late to turn around? The notion that our individual grief and emotional loss can actually be a reaction to the decline of our air, water, and ecology rarely appears in conversation or the media. It may crop up as fears about what kind of world our sons or daughters will face. But where do we bring it? Some bring it privately to a therapist. It is as if this topic is not supposed to be publicly discussed.

This Great Grief recently re-surfaced for me upon reading news about the corals on the brink of death due to warming oceans as well as overfishing of Patagonian toothfish in plastic laden oceans. Is this a surging wave of grief arriving from the deep seas, from the ruthlessness and sadness of the ongoing destruction? Or is it just a personal whim? As a psychologist I’ve learned not to scoff at such reactions, or movements in the soul, but to honor them.

A growing body of research has brought evidence from focus groups and interviews with people affected by droughts, floods, and coastal erosion. When elicited, participants express deep distress over losses that climate disruptions are bringing. It is also aggravated by what they perceive as inadequate and fragmented local, national and global responses. In a study by researcher  Susanne Moser on coastal communities, one typical participant reports: “And it really sets in, the reality of what we’re trying to hold back here. And it does seem almost futile, with all the government agencies that get in the way, the sheer cost of doing something like that – it seems hopeless. And that’s kind of depressing, because I love this area.” In another study by sociologist Kari Norgaard, one participant living by a river exclaims: “It’s like, you want to be a proud person and if you draw your identity from the river and when the river is degraded, that reflects on you.” Another informant experiencing extended drought explained to professor Glenn Albrecht’s team that even if “you’ve got a pool there – but you don’t really want to go outside, it’s really yucky outside, you don’t want to go out.”

A recent climate survey by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication had this startling statistic: “Most Americans (74%) say they only ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ discuss global warming with family and friends, a number that has grown substantially since 2008 (60%).” Emphasis mine.

These quotes and statistics underscore the reality that many prefer to avoid or not dwell in—this Mordor-esque land of eco-anxiety, anger, despair, and depression. One of denial’s essential life-enhancing functions is to keep us more comfortable by blotting out this inner, wintry darkness.

The climate survey, however, also has this encouraging finding: “Americans are nine times more likely to lean toward the view that it is people’s responsibility to care for the Earth and its resources (62%) than toward the belief that it is our right to use the Earth and its resources for our own benefit (7%).”

So, what if instead of continuing to avoid this hurt and grief and despair, or only blaming them—the corporations, politicians, agrobusinesses, loggers, or corrupt bureaucrats—for it, we could try to lean into, and accept such feelings. We could acknowledge them for what they are rather than dismissing them as wrong, as a personal weakness or somebody else’s fault. It seems, somehow, important to persist and get in touch with the despair itself, as it arises from the degradation of the natural world. As a culture we may uncover some truths hinted at by feelings we tend to discredit as depressive. These truths include that they accurately reflect the state of ecology in our world. More than half of all animals gone in the last forty years, according to the Living Planet Index. Most ecosystems are being degraded or used unsustainably, according to the Millennium Assessment Report. We’re living inside a mass extinction event, say many biologists, but without hardly consciously noticing.

In order to respond adequately, we may need to mourn these losses. Insufficient mourning keeps us numb or stuck in anger at them, which only feeds the cultural polarization. But for this to happen, the presence of supportive voices and models are needed. It is far harder to get acceptance of our difficulty and despair, and to mourn without someone else’s explicit affirmation and empathy.

Contact with the pain of the world, however, does not only bring grief but can also open the heart to reach out to all things still living. It holds the potential to break open the psychic numbing. Maybe there is also community to be found among like-hearted people, among those who also can admit they’ve been touched by this “Great Grief,” feeling the Earth’s sorrow, each in their own way. Not just individual mourning is needed, but a shared process that leads onwards to public re-engagement in cultural solutions. Working out our own answers as honestly as we can, as individuals and as communities, is rapidly becoming a requirement for psychological health.

To cope with losing our world requires us to descend through the anger into mourning and sadness, not speedily bypass them to jump onto the optimism bandwagon or escape into indifference. And with this deepening, an extended caring and gratitude may open us to what is still here, and finally, to acting accordingly.

? Per Espen Stoknes is a psychologist, economist & entrepreneur. He has cofounded clean-energy companies, and spearheads the BI Norwegian Business School’s executive program on green growth. The above excerpt was adapted from his latest book What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming (Chelsea Green 2015). Publ. here 15.5.2015

– research thanks to Kathy G.

– thanks for the conversation to Jim L.

– To the original article:

 

 

Spyware demo shows how spooks hack mobile phones

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

Intelligence agencies’ secretive techniques for spying on mobile phones are seldom made public.

But a UK security firm has shown the BBC how one tool, sold around the world to spooks, actually works.

It allows spies to take secret pictures with a phone’s camera and record conversations with the microphone, without the phone owner knowing.

Hacking Team’s software was recently stolen from the company by hackers and published on the web.

Almost any data on a phone, tablet or PC can be accessed by the tool and it is fascinating how much it can do.

When Joe Greenwood, of cybersecurity firm 4Armed, saw that source code for the program had been dumped online by hackers, he couldn’t resist experimenting with it.

Although he had to fiddle with the code to make it work, it only took a day before he had it up and running.

The software consists of the surveillance console, which displays data retrieved from a hacked device, and malware planted on the target device itself.

4Armed was careful to note that using it to spy on someone without their consent would be against the law.

Listening in

After testing the software on his own PC, Mr Greenwood soon realised the scope of its capabilities.

“You can download files, record microphones, webcam images, websites visited, see what programs are running, intercept Skype calls,” he told the BBC.

The software even has some in-built features to track Bitcoin payments, which can be difficult to associate with individuals without additional data about when and how transactions were performed.

In a live demonstration of the system, Mr Greenwood showed how an infected phone could be made to record audio from the microphone, even when the device was locked, and use the phone’s camera without its owner knowing.

“We can actually take photos without them realising.

“So the camera in the background is running, taking photos every number of seconds,” explained Mr Greenwood.

It was also possible to listen in on phone calls, access the list of contacts stored on the device and track what websites the phone user was visiting.

 

Both Mr Greenwood and 4Armed’s technical director, Marc Wickenden, said they were surprised by the sleekness of the interface.

Both point out, though, that customers could be paying upwards of £1m for the software and would expect it to be user-friendly, especially if it was intended for use by law enforcers on the beat.

For the tracked user, though, there are very few ways of finding out that they are being watched.

One red flag, according to Mr Greenwood, is a sudden spike in network data usage, indicating that information is being sent somewhere in the background. Experienced spies, however, would be careful to minimise this in order to remain incognito.

At present, spy software like this is only likely to be secretly deployed on the phones and computers of people who are key targets for an intelligence agency.

Spy catcher

The version of the spyware distributed online is now likely to be more easily detected by anti-virus programs because companies analysing the source code are in the process of updating their systems to recognise it.

Security expert Graham Cluley said it should be as easy to detect as malware.

“The danger will be that malicious hackers could take that code and augment it or change it so it no longer looks like Hacking Team’s versions, which might avoid detection,” he added.

The best course of action, said Mr Cluley, is to keep operating systems and software as up to date as possible.

In a statement, a spokesman for Hacking Team said it advised its customers not to use the software once the breach was discovered.

“As soon as the event was discovered, Hacking Team immediately advised all clients to discontinue the use of that version of the software, and the company provided a patch to assure that client surveillance data and other information stored on client systems was secure.

“From the beginning Hacking Team has assumed that the code that has been released is compromised,” he said.

The spokesman added that the software would be operated by clients of Hacking Team, not Hacking Team itself, and therefore no sensitive data relating to ongoing investigations had been compromised in the breach.

“Of course, there are many who would use for their own purposes the information released by the criminals who attacked Hacking Team.

“This was apparently not a concern of the attackers who recklessly published the material for all online.

“Compiling the software would take considerable technical skill, so not just anyone could do that, but that is not to say it is impossible,” he said.

– To the original:  

 

HOW COVERT AGENTS INFILTRATE THE INTERNET TO MANIPULATE, DECEIVE, AND DESTROY REPUTATIONS

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

– This piece was written by Glenn Greewald on 24 Feb 2014 but it is still relevent.

– dennis

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One of the many pressing stories that remains to be told from the Snowden archive is how western intelligence agencies are attempting to manipulate and control online discourse with extreme tactics of deception and reputation-destruction. It’s time to tell a chunk of that story, complete with the relevant documents.

Over the last several weeks, I worked with NBC News to publish a series of articles about “dirty trick” tactics used by GCHQ’s previously secret unit, JTRIG (Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group). These were based on four classified GCHQ documents presented to the NSA and the other three partners in the English-speaking “Five Eyes” alliance. Today, we at the Intercept are publishing another new JTRIG document, in full, entitled “The Art of Deception: Training for Online Covert Operations.”

By publishing these stories one by one, our NBC reporting highlighted some of the key, discrete revelations: the monitoring of YouTube and Blogger, the targeting of Anonymous with the very same DDoS attacks they accuse “hacktivists” of using, the use of “honey traps” (luring people into compromising situations using sex) and destructive viruses. But, here, I want to focus and elaborate on the overarching point revealed by all of these documents: namely, that these agencies are attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself.

Among the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are two tactics: (1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable. To see how extremist these programs are, just consider the tactics they boast of using to achieve those ends: “false flag operations” (posting material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of the individual whose reputation they want to destroy), and posting “negative information” on various forums. Here is one illustrative list of tactics from the latest GCHQ document we’re publishing today:

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Websites can track us by the way we type

Friday, July 31st, 2015

– Here’s an article explaining how websites can identify who is typing by watching patterns in how we touch the keys.  I.e., how long you hold particular keys down and how much time elapses between different keystrokes.

– And the article describes a Google Chrome add-on that will mask this for you so you can become anonymous again.

– It is getting harder and harder to move about in the world anonymously.  There are some who would say, “If you are not doing anything wrong, why would you care?”  I don’t subscribe to that.  We are, by common social agreement and oftentimes by the rule of law, innocent until proved guilty.

– The people that hold and use these tools may be benign towards us today but there’s no guarantee that they will remain so in the future.  So, it seems obvious to me that if someone wants to exert greater control over us in the future, they will already have all the tools they need to win the battle to control us before a shot is fired.

– dennis

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Meet KeyboardPrivacy: a proof-of-concept Google Chrome extension that masks how long your fingers linger on each key you depress as you type and how much of a time lag there is between each of your key presses.

And just why would you need to disguise these typing traits – also known as periodicity – which are as unique to individuals as fingerprints?

Because there’s technology out there that can measure our typing characteristics, on the scale of millisecond-long delays and key presses, and use the data to profile us with such a high degree of accuracy that – Tor or no Tor – you won’t stay anonymous when browsing online.

Examples include profiling technology from a Swedish company called BehavioSec that can identify site visitors, based on their typing habits, with a session score of 99% and a confidence rate of 80%.

That type of success comes after the technology has been trained on a mere 44 input characters.

The extension, designed to obfuscate our typing patterns, comes from security researchers Per Thorsheim and Paul Moore.

On Tuesday, Moore said on his blog that UK banks are rumored to be actively trialing such technology to try to detect and minimize the risk of fraud.

That rumor is backed up by news reports mentioning that, as of March 2013, BehavioSec counted Sweden’s top ten national banks – along with Samsung – among its clients.

Why would the researchers want to fight off banks’ efforts to detect fraudulent activity on our accounts?

And why would bank customers want to reduce security by throwing a monkey wrench – or, really, in this case, it’s more like introducing the technical equivalent of a highly accurate cat walking across our keyboards – into banks’ efforts?

Because as it is, we’re trading privacy for security, Moore said.

…More:

 

Climate change threat must be taken as seriously as nuclear war – UK minister

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

In foreword to Foreign Office report, Baroness Joyce Anelay highlights holistic risks of global warming, including food security, terrorism and lethal heat levels

The threat of climate change needs to be assessed in the same comprehensive way as nuclear weapons proliferation, according to a UK foreign minister.

Baroness Joyce Anelay, minister of state at the Commonwealth and Foreign Office, said the indirect impacts of global warming, such as deteriorating international security, could be far greater than the direct effects, such as flooding. She issued the warning in a foreword to a new report on the risks of climate change led by the UK’s climate change envoy, Prof Sir David King.

The report, commissioned by the Foreign Office, and written by experts from the UK, US, China and India, is stark in its assessment of the wide-ranging dangers posed by unchecked global warming, including:

  • very large risks to global food security, including a tripling of food prices
  • unprecedented migration overwhelming international assistance
  • increased risk of terrorism as states fail
  • lethal heat even for people resting in shade

The world’s nations are preparing for a crunch UN summit in Paris in December, at which they must agree a deal to combat climate change.

Monday’s report states that existing plans to curb carbon emissions would heighten the chances of the climate passing tipping points “beyond which the inconvenient may become intolerable”. In 2004, King, then the government’s chief scientific adviser, warned that climate change is a more serious threat to the world than terrorism.

“Assessing the risk around [nuclear weapon proliferation] depends on understanding inter-dependent elements, including: what the science tells us is possible; what our political analysis tells us a country may intend; and what the systemic factors are, such as regional power dynamics,” said Anelay. “The risk of climate change demands a similarly holistic assessment.”

The report sets out the direct risks of climate change. “Humans have limited tolerance for heat stress,” it states. “In the current climate, safe climatic conditions for work are already exceeded frequently for short periods in hot countries, and heatwaves already cause fatalities. In future, climatic conditions could exceed potentially lethal limits of heat stress even for individuals resting in the shade.”

It notes that “the number of people exposed to extreme water shortage is projected to double, globally, by mid century due to population growth alone. Climate change could increase the risk in some regions.”

In the worst case, what is today a once-in-30-year flood could happen every three years in the highly populated river basins of the Yellow, Ganges and Indus rivers, the report said. Without dramatic cuts to carbon emissions, extreme drought affecting farmland could double around the world, with impacts in southern Africa, the US and south Asia.

Areas affected by the knock-on or systemic risks of global warming include global security with extreme droughts and competition for farmland causing conflicts. “Migration from some regions may become more a necessity than a choice, and could take place on a historically unprecedented scale,” the report says. “It seems likely that the capacity of the international community for humanitarian assistance would be overwhelmed.”

“The risks of state failure could rise significantly, affecting many countries simultaneously, and even threatening those that are currently considered developed and stable,” says the report. “The expansion of ungoverned territories would in turn increase the risks of terrorism.”

The report also assesses the systemic risk to global food supply, saying that rising extreme weather events could mean shocks to global food prices previously expected once a century could come every 30 years. “A plausible worst-case scenario could produce unprecedented price spikes on the global market, with a trebling of the prices of the worst-affected grains,” the report concludes.

The greatest risks are tipping points, the report finds, where the climate shifts rapidly into a new, dangerous phase state. But the report also states that political leadership, technology and investment patterns can also change abruptly too.

The report concludes: “The risks of climate change may be greater than is commonly realised, but so is our capacity to confront them. An honest assessment of risk is no reason for fatalism.”

– to the original article:

 

Privacy groups walk out of US talks on facial recognition guidelines

Monday, July 6th, 2015

– Yes, I have a problem with systems that require us to ‘opt out’ before we can avoid them.

– In New Zealand, recently, one of the airlines was selling its passengers insurance that they specifically had to opt out of if they didn’t want to buy it.

– This one, having to do with facial recognition, is outrageous. It is a simple case of what’s good for the average Joe vs. what’s good for the corporations. And IMHO, the balance should always come down to favoring the average Joe and not the corporations.

– Look at how blatant the corporations are: “Not a single industry representative would agree on the most basic premise: that targets of facial recognition should opt in before companies identify them.

– dennis

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A 16-month effort to set guidelines for use of facial recognition technology that satisfy consumers’ expectations of privacy and meet existing state laws went up in flames on Tuesday.

That’s when all nine civil liberties and consumer advocate groups participating in talks with trade associations on a voluntary code of conduct for US businesses to use facial recognition walked away from the table.

Their reason?

Not a single industry representative would agree on the most basic premise: that targets of facial recognition should opt in before companies identify them.

They’d been at it since February 2014, when the US Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA) brought together industry representatives and privacy advocates to come up with voluntary guidelines.

The nine pro-privacy advocates, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Digital Democracy and other consumer advocates, put up a joint statementexplaining their move.

From the statement:

At this point, we do not believe that the NTIA process is likely to yield a set of privacy rules that offer adequate protections for the use of facial recognition technology. We are convinced that in many contexts, facial recognition of consumers should only occur when an individual has affirmatively decided to allow it to occur. In recent NTIA meetings, however, industry stakeholders were unable to agree on any concrete scenario where companies should employ facial recognition only with a consumer's permission.

According to The Washington Post, the camel’s back broke last Thursday, at the NTIA’s 12th meeting on the issue.

Insiders told the newspaper that this is how it went down:

First, Alvaro Bedoya, the executive director of Georgetown University's Center on Privacy and Law, asked if companies could agree to making opt-in for facial recognition technology the default for when identifying people - meaning that if companies wanted to use someone's face to name them, the person would have to agree to it. No companies or trade associations would commit to that, according to multiple attendees at the meeting.

That’s right: not a single company would agree that consumers should have the say-so in facial recognition.

But while this industry/advocates collaboration on voluntary guidelines has fallen apart, the images companies are collecting without any federal direction haven’t gone anywhere.

Face-slurping companies include tech giants Facebook, Google and Apple.

For its part, Facebook is facing a class action lawsuit over facial recognition, started by an Illinois man who claims the social network violated state privacy laws by not providing him with written notification that his biometric data was being collected or stored.

Also in the mix are retailers, such as Wal-Mart, which love to spot who’s looking at what and for how long inside their stores.

In the UK, things are very similar: Tesco, the UK’s largest supermarket chain, in 2013 announced it was to install facial recognition technology in all 450 of its petrol station forecourts – all the better to target-market at you, my pretty.

The companies trying to hammer out guidelines in the US have turned away not only from the basic premise of opt-in, but also from a specific, concrete scenario of opt-in that was offered up by Justin Brookman, the director of the Center for Democracy & Technology’s consumer privacy project.

According to The Washington Post, Brookman sketched out the concrete scenario like so:

What if a company set up a camera on a public street and surreptitiously used it [to] identify people by name? Could companies agree to opt-in consent there?

The results were the same: not a single company went for opt-in, even under such specific circumstances.

Privacy advocates have said that their withdrawals from the multi-stakeholder process will be a fatal blow to the perceived legitimacy of the NTIA’s efforts, now that it’s just the foxes – as in, the companies implementing facial recognition – guarding the hen house (the hens being all us being surveilled).

But the NTIA says the talks will go on.

An agency spokesperson said this to The Washington Post:

NTIA is disappointed that some stakeholders have chosen to stop participating in our multi-stakeholder engagement process regarding privacy and commercial facial recognition technology. A substantial number of stakeholders want to continue the process and are establishing a working group that will tackle some of the thorniest privacy topics concerning facial recognition technology. The process is the strongest when all interested parties participate and are willing to engage on all issues.

The privacy advocates said in their letter that the barest minimum privacy expectation should be that we can simply walk down the street without our every movement being tracked and without then being identified by name, all thanks to the ever-more-sophisticated technology of facial recognition.

Unfortunately, we have been unable to obtain agreement even with that basic, specific premise. The position that companies never need to ask permission to use biometric identification is at odds with consumer expectations, current industry practices, as well as existing state law.

It might look good, at least on the surface, that the industry representatives are apparently playing ball by not walking away from the official guidelines-setting process.

But it’s hard to imagine anything privacy-positive coming out of that process now that the privacy advocates have walked away.

And without any guidelines, these companies will continue to use facial recognition in an unregulated environment.

– To the original: