Cyber Weapons Becoming Big Bucks

January 15, 2018

Cyberwarfare, meet capitalism. Here’s a twist we didn’t see coming. According to sources, digital weaponry and the defenses needed to fight them are now one of the hottest markets in the world. Just take a look at a recent SAT PR News story, “Cyber Weapon Market is Expected to Reach a Valuation of US $521.87 billion by the End of 2021.”

According to the story:

Governments, intelligence agencies, and other organizations have spiked their investment to identify zero-day exploits and use them against enemy networks when necessary. With an aim of capitalizing on the prevalent trend, several traditional arms manufacturing companies are expanding their businesses in the cyber security segment. This will in turn fuel the development of cyber weapons.


The market is also expected to gain from the increasing demand for security across critical infrastructure and utilities.

This should come as no surprise. Just as government contractors have cashed in on creating physical weaponry, the digital world is finally going to have its Raytheons. Look at this Fast Company story about how a company you’ve probably never heard of, Pegasus, is worth a billion dollars. Welcome to the new dot-com boom.

Watch our Dark Cyber video news program each week. The video is available at

Patrick Roland, January 15, 2018

Quote to Note: Digital Currencies and Old School Swiss Bank Accounts

January 13, 2018

I noticed “Bitcoin Shouldn’t Become the New Swiss Bank Account: Mnuchin.” In my DarkCyber video program, I have mentioned the efforts of authorities to put a dog harness on digital currencies. Now I have a quote to note:

Dominant digital currency bitcoin should not be allowed to become the Swiss bank account of the modern era used to hide illicit activity, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Friday.

One other factoid, assuming that the write up is accurate. Cooperative pressure on digital currencies is now a reality for fans of digital currencies. What countries are on Mr. Mnuchin’s team? The G20 countries. The list includes the European Union and others. I know this is almost 50 countries, but G20 has a bit of cachet.

That “follow the money” idea is tough for governments to shake.

Stephen E Arnold, January 13, 2018

Digital Currencies: A Bit of Push Back

January 11, 2018

The Beyond Search and Dark Cyber research teams have been watching the great “avoid regulated currency” movement. Our view is that when bad actors have access to something which makes their life easier, regular folks may want to look both ways before crossing the street. We noted this article today:

South Korea Plans to Ban Crypto currency Trading, Rattles Market

Our view is that this type of nation state action will pick up steam. There are tax implications, of course. But digital currencies are almost purpose built to make authorities nervous. Toss in the benefit of mostly untraceable use of digital currencies to buy contraband, and you have a cattle prod for government entities. Once these folks get rolling, it may be difficult to slow their regulatory and enforcement momentum. Just our view from Harrod’s Creek.

Stephen E Arnold,  January 11, 2018

Linguistic AI Research in China

January 4, 2018

How is linguistics AI fairing in the country with some of the most complex languages in the world? The linguistics blog Language Log examines “Linguistic Science and Technology in China.” Upon attending the International Workshop on Language Resource Construction: Theory, Methodology and Applications (PDF), writer Mark Liberman seems impressed with Chinese researchers’ progress. He writes:

The growing strength of Chinese research in the various areas of linguistic science and technology has been clear for some time, and the presentations and discussions at this workshop made it clear that this work is poised for a further major increase in quantity and quality. That trend is obviously connected to what Will Knight called “China’s AI Awakening” (Technology Review, 10/10/2017).

Liberman shares a passage from Knight’s article that emphasizes the Chinese government’s promotion of AI technology and links to other recent articles on the subject. He continues:

The Chinese government’s plan is well worth reading — and Google Translate does a good job of making it accessible to those who can’t read Chinese.  Overall this plan strikes me as serious and well thought out, but there seems to me to be a potential tension between one aspect of the plan and the current reality. One of the plan’s four ‘basic principles’ is ‘Open Source.’ … This is very much like the approach followed in the U.S. over the past half century or so. But it’s increasingly difficult for Chinese researchers to ‘Actively participate in global R & D and management of artificial intelligence and optimize the allocation of innovative resources on a global scale,’ given the increasingly restrictive nature of the ‘Great Firewall.’

Hmm, he has a point there. The write-up compares China’s plan to Japan’s approach to AI in the 1980s but predicts China will succeed where Japan fell short. Liberman embeds links to several related articles within his, so check them out for more information.

Cynthia Murrell, January 4, 2018

Will China Overtake the US in AI?

January 3, 2018

Is the U.S. investing enough in AI technology? Not according to DefenseTech’s piece, “Google Exec:  China to Outpace US in Artificial Intelligence by 2025.” Writer Matt Cox reports that the chairman of the Defense Innovation Board has warned that China is pursuing AI so vigorously that they will have caught up to the U.S. by 2020, will have surpassed us by 2025, and, by 2030, will “dominate” the field. However, Google’s Eric Schmidt, speaking at November’s  Artificial Intelligence and Global Security Summit at the Center for New American Security, disagrees. Cox quotes Schmidt:

Just stop for a sec. The government said that. Weren’t we the ones who are in charge of AI dominance in our country? Weren’t we the ones that invented this stuff? Weren’t we the ones who were willing to go and exploit the benefits of all this technology for betterment of American exceptionalism and our own arrogant view?” Schmidt asked. “Trust me. These Chinese people are good,” he continued.


Currently, the United States does not have a national AI strategy, nor does it place a priority on funding basic research in AI and other science and technology endeavors, Schmidt said. “We need to get our act together as a country,” he said. “America is the country that leads in these areas; there is every reason we can continue that leadership.

Schmidt went on to note that today’s immigration restrictions are counterproductive, noting:

Iran produces some of the smartest and top computer scientists in the world. I want them here. It’s crazy not to let these people in. Would you rather have them building AI somewhere else or would you rather have them building it here?

Schmidt asserts the real problem lies within the gears of bureaucracy but suspects interdepartmental cooperation would improve drastically if we happened to be at war with a “major adversary.” I hope we do not have the chance to confirm his suspicion anytime soon.

Cynthia Murrell, January 3, 2018

Big Data Logic Turning Government on Its Ear

January 3, 2018

Can the same startup spirit that powers so many big data companies disrupt the way the government operates? According to a lot of experts, that’s exactly what is happening. We discovered more in a recent Next Gov article, “This Company is Trying to Turn Federal Agencies into Startups.”

According to the story:

BMNT Partners, a Palo Alto-based company, is walking various government agencies through the process of identifying pressing problems and then creating teams that compete against each other to design the best solution. The best of those products might warrant future investments from the agency.

The process begins when an agency presents BMNT with an array of problems it faces internally; BMNT staff helps them narrow down the problem scope, conduct market research to identify the problems that could pique interest from commercial companies, and then track down experts within the agency who can evaluate the solutions. BMNT also helps agencies create various teams of three or four employees who can start building minimum viable products. Newell explained those employees often are selected from the pool within the chief information officer’s or chief technology officers’ staffs.

This seems like a very plausible avenue. Federal agencies are already embracing machine learning and AI, so why not move a little further in this direction? We are looking forward to seeing how this pans out, but chances are this is something the government cannot ignore.

Patrick Roland, January 3, 2018

Sisyphus Gets a Digital Task: Defining Hate Speech, Fake News, and Illegal Material

January 2, 2018

I read “Germany Starts Enforcing Hate Speech Law.” From my point of view in Harrod’s Creek, Kentucky, defining terms and words is tough. When I was a debate team member, our coach Kenneth Camp insisted that each of the “terms” in our arguments and counter arguments be defined. When I went to college and joined the debate team, our coach — a person named George Allen — added a new angle to the rounded corners of definitions. The idea was “framing.” As I recall, one not only defined terms, but one selected factoids, sources, and signs which would  put our opponents in a hen house from which one could escape with scratches and maybe a nasty cut or two.

The BBC and, of course, the author of the article, Germany, and the lawmakers were not thinking about definitions (high school), framing (setting up the argument so winning was easier), or the nicks and bumps incurred when working free of the ramshackle structure.

The write up states:

Germany is set to start enforcing a law that demands social media sites move quickly to remove hate speech, fake news and illegal material.

So what’s hate speech, fake news, and illegal material? The BBC does not raise this question.

I noted:

Germany’s justice ministry said it would make forms available on its site, which concerned citizens could use to report content that violates NetzDG or has not been taken down in time.

And what do the social media outfits have to do?

As well as forcing social media firms to act quickly, NetzDG requires them to put in place a comprehensive complaints structure so that posts can quickly be reported to staff.

Is a mini trend building in the small pond of clear thinking? The BBC states:

The German law is the most extreme example of efforts by governments and regulators to rein in social media firms. Many of them have come under much greater scrutiny this year as information about how they are used to spread propaganda and other sensitive material has come to light. In the UK, politicians have been sharply critical of social sites, calling them a “disgrace” and saying they were “shamefully far” from doing a good job of policing hate speech and other offensive content. The European Commission also published guidelines calling on social media sites to act faster to spot and remove hateful content.

Several observations:

  1. I am not sure if there are workable definitions for the concepts. I may be wrong, but point of view, political orientation, and motivation may be spray painting gray over already muddy concepts.
  2. Social media giants do not have the ability to move quickly. I would suggest that the largest of these targeted companies are not sure what is happening amidst their programmers, algorithms, and marketing professionals. How can one react quickly when one does not know who, what, or where an action occurs.
  3. Attempts to shut down free flowing information will force those digital streams into the murky underground of hidden networks with increasingly labyrinthine arabesques of obfuscation used to make life slow, expensive, and frustrating for enforcement authorities.

Net net: We know that the BBC does  not think much about these issues; otherwise, a hint of the challenges would have filtered into the write up. We know that the legislators are interested in getting control of social media communications, and filtering looks like a good approach. We know that the social media “giants” are little more than giant, semi-organized ad machines designed to generate data and money. We know that those who allegedly create and disseminate “hate speech, fake news and illegal material” will find communication channels, including old fashioned methods like pinning notes on a launderette’s bulletin board or marking signs on walls.

Worth watching how these “factors” interact, morph, and innovate.

Stephen E Arnold, January 2, 2018

Investigating Cybercrime

December 29, 2017

The devastating Equifax breach is being pursued by federal investigators who know what they are doing, we learn from the piece, “Cybercrimes Present Unique Challenges for Investigators” at SFGate. AP Writer Kate Brumback writes:

The federal investigators looking into the breach that exposed personal information maintained by the Equifax credit report company are used to dealing with high-profile hacks and the challenges they present. The U.S. attorney’s office and FBI in Atlanta have prosecuted developers and promoters of the SpyEye and Citadel malware toolkits, used to infect computers and steal banking information. They’ve helped prosecute a hack into Scottrade and ETrade that was part of an identity theft scheme, and aided the international effort that in July shut down AlphaBay, the world’s largest online criminal marketplace.


The U.S. Attorney’s office has confirmed that, along with the FBI, it is investigating the breach at Atlanta-based Equifax, which the company said lasted from mid-May to July and exposed the data of 145 million Americans.

Though investigators would not tell Brumback anything about this specific investigation, they shared some of what it is like to pursue cybercrime in general. For example, one prosecutor notes that for every conviction there are about 10 times as many investigations that dead-end. Aliases and invite-only forums make it difficult to identify perpetrators; often, success is the result of a slip-up on the part of the bad actor. Another complication—as we know, the internet transcends boundaries, and several foreign governments do not extradite to the U.S. (or do, but slowly). Once we do catch the bad guys, they can be punished, but the issue of restitution tends to be prohibitively complicated. With a focus on prevention, investigators are now working with many companies before breaches occur.

Cynthia Murrell, December 29, 2017

You Cannot Search for Info If the Info Is Not Indexed: The Middle Kingdom Approach

December 26, 2017

I noted two items this morning as I geared up to video the next Dark Cyber program. (Dark Cyber is a new series of HonkinNews programs from the creator of this blog, Beyond Search.)

Item one’s title is “China Shuts Down Thousands of Websites in Internet Network Crackdown.” As I understand the article, Chinese authorities remove information to reduce the likelihood that problems will arise from unfettered information access, exchange, and communication. The article quotes one source as saying, “These moves have a powerful deterrent effect.” That’s true to some degree; however, squeezing the toothpaste tube of online content may result is forcing that information into channels which may be more difficult to constrain. Nevertheless, I find the action suggestive that the Wild West days of the Internet are drawing to a close in the Middle Kingdom.

Item two’s title is “China Sentences Man to Five Years in Jail for Running VPN Service.” The main idea is that the virtual private network approach to obfuscating one’s online activities is under scrutiny in China. Apple, as you may recall, removed VPN apps to comply with Chinese guidelines. I noted this passage in the source document:

Wu’s [the fellow who gets to sojourn 60 months in a prison] VPN service reportedly had 8,000 foreign clients and 5,000 businesses. However, he had failed to apply for a state permit. While his isn’t the first sentence since another person was sent to jail for nine months on similar charges, this is the first time that such a dramatic sentence has been approved, raising concerns about the government’s growing interest in controlling information that comes into the country.

What happens if one adds one plus two? The answer is, “You can’t search for information if it is not indexed.” What information in the US accessible indexes is not online.

This weekend I was looking for a story about a Norwich, UK, man who was sentenced to prison and placed on the UK register of sex offenders. The story was not in Google News. I located the story in Bing’s news index. I found this interesting, and you can get the gist of the arrest in the January 2, 2017, HonkinNews “Dark Cyber” program.

Stephen E Arnold, December 26, 2017

If You Want Search Engines to Eliminate Fake News, Cautiously Watch Russia

December 21, 2017

There is a growing rallying cry for social media and search to better police fake news. This is an admirable plan, because nobody should be misled by false information and propaganda. However, as history has told us, those in charge of misinformation and propaganda can often use changes like this to their advantage. Take, for example, the recent Motherboard story, “How Russia Polices Yandex, Its Most Popular Search Engine,” which detailed how Russia aimed to get rid of its “fake news” but really only encourages more of it.

The story says,

This year, the “news aggregator law” came into effect in Russia. It requires websites that publish links to news stories with over one million daily users (Yandex.News has over six million daily users) to be responsible for all the content on their platform, which is an enormous responsibility.


‘Our Yandex.News team has been actively working to retain a high quality service for our users following new regulations that impacted our service this past year,’ Yandex told Motherboard in a statement, adding that to comply with new regulations, it reduced the number of sources that it aggregated from 7,000 to 1,000, which have official media licenses.’

In short, since the government oversees part of Yandex, the government can make it harder to publish stories that are not favorable to itself. It’s food for thought, especially to the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world calling for more government oversight in social media. You might not get exactly what you hoped for when a third party starts calling the shots.

Patrick Roland, December 21, 2017

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