Category: Internet & social media

You’ll never guess where Russian spies are hiding their control servers

ARS Technica:

According to a report published Tuesday by researchers from antivirus provider Eset, a recently discovered backdoor Trojan used comments posted to Britney Spears’s official Instagram account to locate the control server that sends instructions and offloads stolen data to and from infected computers. The innovation—by a so-called advanced persistent threat group known as Turla—makes the malware harder to detect because attacker-controlled servers are never directly referenced in either the malware or in the comment it accesses.

Very clever.

Digital Privacy Is Making Antitrust Exciting Again

Wired:

A COUPLE WEEKS ago, during an unassuming antitrust conference at Oxford University, a German bureaucrat uttered a few words that should send a chill through Silicon Valley. In front of a crowd of nearly 200 competition law experts—including enforcement agents, scholars, and economic policy-makers from the United States and Europe—Andreas Mundt, president of Germany’s antitrust agency, Bundeskartellamt, said he was “deeply convinced privacy is a competition issue.”

It’s a conviction major tech platforms are listening to closely, especially since Mundt’s agency is in the midst of a high-profile investigation into whether Facebook abused its dominance as a social network by forcing customers to agree to unfair terms about the way the company uses their data. Mundt’s words may have sounded mundane, but his implication was anything but: the world’s foremost antitrust regulators were publicly discussing whether they should intervene if a transaction weakens consumer privacy protections, a pervasive concern in the era of big data.

A few years ago, to suggest that enforcement agents should act based on privacy would have be heretical to accepted antitrust dogma, particularly as it’s been practiced in the US. The underlying aim of antitrust regulation is to keep the market humming by promoting competition and limiting barriers to entry (this is why the field is known as competition law outside of the US).

For decades, antitrust philosophy in America, and to some extent in Europe, has been shaped by the Chicago School, a highly influential conservative framework that favored big business. Its proponents argued that intervention was only necessary if a business deal hurt consumer welfare, not, for example, smaller competitors. The scope was narrowed further by measuring consumer welfare primarily by whether people had to pay higher prices.

This anti-interventionist approach has led to consolidation across the board, from healthcare to pharmaceuticals to telecom. But the fixation on price has been a boon for tech platforms, which have mastered the art of making money off of free products. An intellectual shift among antitrust experts could ultimately pose an existential threat to Silicon Valley—especially to the idea that its companies are simply scrappy, innovative upstarts that won out rather than heavyweight incumbents using valuable data troves and network effects to dominate one niche after the other.

My emphasis.  A very interesting new angle of attack.

Notes From An Emergency

Via Charles Arthur, another great observation from Maciej Cieglowski in Idle Words:

Facebook is the dominant social network in Europe, with 349 million monthly active users. Google has something like 94% of market share for search in Germany. The servers of Europe are littered with the bodies of dead and dying social media sites. The few holdouts that still exist, like Xing, are being crushed by their American rivals.

In their online life, Europeans have become completely dependent on companies headquartered in the United States.

And so Trump is in charge in America, and America has all your data. This leaves you in a very exposed position. US residents enjoy some measure of legal protection against the American government. Even if you think our intelligence agencies are evil, they’re a lawful evil. They have to follow laws and procedures, and the people in those agencies take them seriously.

But there are no such protections for non-Americans outside the United States. The NSA would have to go to court to spy on me; they can spy on you anytime they feel like it.

This is an astonishing state of affairs. I can’t imagine a world where Europe would let itself become reliant on American cheese, or where Germans could only drink Coors Light.

In the past, Europe has shown that it’s capable of identifying a vital interest and moving to protect it. When American aerospace companies were on the point of driving foreign rivals out of business, European governments formed the Airbus consortium, which now successfully competes with Boeing.

A giant part of the EU budget goes to subsidize farming, not because farming is the best use of resources in a first-world economy, but because farms are important to national security, to the landscape, to national identity, social stability, and a shared sense of who we are.

But when it comes to the Internet, Europe doesn’t put up a fight. It has ceded the ground entirely to American corporations. And now those corporations have to deal with Trump. How hard do you think they’ll work to defend European interests?

 

 

The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked

Carole Cadwalladr in The Guardian does a useful roundup of her horrifying investigation into influencing the electoral and referendum process.

What’s been lost in the US coverage of this “data analytics” firm is the understanding of where the firm came from: deep within the military-industrial complex. A weird British corner of it populated, as the military establishment in Britain is, by old-school Tories. Geoffrey Pattie, a former parliamentary under-secretary of state for defence procurement and director of Marconi Defence Systems, used to be on the board, and Lord Marland, David Cameron’s pro-Brexit former trade envoy, a shareholder.

Steve Tatham was the head of psychological operations for British forces in Afghanistan. The Observer has seen letters endorsing him from the UK Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office and Nato.

SCL/Cambridge Analytica was not some startup created by a couple of guys with a Mac PowerBook. It’s effectively part of the British defence establishment. And, now, too, the American defence establishment. An ex-commanding officer of the US Marine Corps operations centre, Chris Naler, has recently joined Iota Global, a partner of the SCL group.

This is not just a story about social psychology and data analytics. It has to be understood in terms of a military contractor using military strategies on a civilian population. Us. David Miller, a professor of sociology at Bath University and an authority in psyops and propaganda, says it is “an extraordinary scandal that this should be anywhere near a democracy. It should be clear to voters where information is coming from, and if it’s not transparent or open where it’s coming from, it raises the question of whether we are actually living in a democracy or not.”

Update:  28 June 2017, Order-Order, noted for future reference:

Last night Newsnight aired a 13 minute video investigating whether Leave.EU “hypnotised” – Newsnight’s word – the British public into voting for Brexit. The package, complete with comically sinister music, was based on a conspiracy theory by a tin foil hatted journalist called Carole Cadwalladr that a shadowy American company working for Leave.EU stole the referendum. This is bonkers. Leave.EU weren’t even the official Leave campaign. The swivel-eyed Remain media can’t bring itself to believe people voted Leave of their own accord, they want to believe it was stolen. The Beeb is giving credence to a huge amount of nonsense at the moment…

My emphasis.  It will be interesting to see how this turns out.  I don’t think they can both be right.