Cambridge: We Do It Huawei

September 28, 2021

Intelligence agencies are aware China has been ramping up its foreign espionage efforts, largely through civilian operatives. Now The Statesman reports, “Huawei Infiltrates Cambridge University.” We wonder what other universities have also been targeted. Perhaps our neighbor, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville? That institution not too far from an interesting government operation.

Huawei is China’s mammoth technology company and is largely viewed as a security threat, operating on behalf of the Chinese government. The U.S. maintains sanctions against the company and several countries have banned Huawei’s 5G technology over security concerns. The article tells us:

“Huawei has been accused of ‘infiltrating’ a Cambridge University research centre after most of its academics were found to have ties with the Chinese company, The Times, UK reported. Three out of four of the directors at the Cambridge Centre for Chinese Management (CCCM) have ties to the company, and its so-called chief representative is a former senior Huawei vice-president who has been paid by the Chinese government. The university insists that one former Huawei executive has never delivered services to the centre while the firm itself has said any suggestion of impropriety is absurd. Daily Mail reported that critics have claimed that the Huawei ties are a demonstration that the university has allowed the CCCM to be infiltrated by the Chinese company which has been banned from joining Britain’s 5G network. Johnny Patterson, policy director of the Hong Kong campaign group, told the newspaper the university should investigate the relationship between Huawei and the CCCM.”

Not surprisingly, money appears to be a factor. British politician Iain Duncan Smith asserts Cambridge has become reliant on Chinese funding in recent years. He proposes an inquiry into the role of Chinese funding throughout UK institutions and companies. We wonder how many other countries are seeing a similar pattern. It China trying to buy its way into world dominance? Is it working?

Cynthia Murrell, September 28, 2021

US Government Procurement: A Technology Brake?

September 27, 2021

I read “Study: Pentagon Reliance on Contractors Hurt US in 9/11 Wars.” I was not certain how to process the story. Was it a blockbuster exposé or was it another recycled Hummer tire?

The write up states:

Up to half of the $14 trillion spent by the Pentagon since 9/11 went to for-profit defense contractors, a study released Monday found. It’s the latest work to argue the U.S. reliance on private corporations for war-zone duties that used to be done by troops contributed to mission failure in Afghanistan. In the post-9/11 wars, U.S. corporations contracted by the Defense Department not only handled war-zone logistics like running fuel convoys and staffing chow lines but performed mission-crucial work like training and equipping Afghan security forces — security forces that collapsed last month as the Taliban swept the country.

Has the enshrinement of procurement methodology created the situation? Are there other forces at work; for example, people complain about meetings. Nevertheless, the work of some government professionals is meetings.

Who does the work?

Maybe contractors? Interns? People hired on Fiverr?

The write up states:

And up to a third of the Pentagon contracts went to just five weapons suppliers. Last fiscal year, for example, the money Lockheed Martin alone got from Pentagon contracts was one and a half times the entire budgets of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, according to the study.

Are the expenditures audited? Does anyone know where the money goes?

The write up wraps up with this statement:

Relying less on private contractors, and more on the U.S. military as in past wars, might have given the U.S. better chances of victory in Afghanistan…

Interesting.

Stephen E Arnold, September 27, 2021

China and That Old Time Religion: Oil and Water?

September 22, 2021

Chairman Mao Zedong infamously said, “Religion is the opiate of the people.” Since the communist takeover in China, the country’s government has not sanctioned any religion. In short, China does not like religion at all. China does not like Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, nor Islam.

Islam is a hot button issue for China, because of its extermination of Uyghurs Muslims. China has not formerly acknowledged the Uyghur genocide. China does not like the Uyghurs, because the the minor Islamic denomination are separating themselves from the main Chinese population. Under the Chinese government, all people are equal and the same. The government does not like it when people separate themselves into ethnic or religious groups. Uyghur adults are being sent to extermination camps, while Uyghur children are separated from their parents and reeducated. China’s population crisis is another issue.

China banning the Koran reader is not any different from banning the Bible, Torah, or other religious documents. China notoriously bans literature and other media that the government finds contrary to its ideals. A developer named Ameir tweeted on Twitter that he uploaded the Koran reader to the China Apple App Store and he was told:

“I got notified from Apple that the Quran Reader has been removed from sale in China because it has ‘content that is illegal in China as determined by the Cyberspace Administration of China.’It’s literally just the Quran.”

Another user replied that China does not allow the Bible online either.

Whitney Grace, September 22, 2021

Cough, Cough: A Phrase to Praise?

September 20, 2021

I read “Critics Warn of Apple, Google Chokepoint Repression.” The article contains a phrase which may become one to praise: “A convenient chokepoint.”

The write up is arriving a couple of decades too late. The chokepoints have been building, reinforcing, and lobbying for many years. Wall Street loves the Apples and Googles of the Silicon Valley money engines.

One doesn’t have to be much of a student of political science or have an MBA in nudging to figure out what’s going to happen. When threatened with financial loss, some of these outstanding American business entities will respond.

My hunch is that rolling over at the snap of fingers in China, Russia, and elsewhere will become predictable behavior. Instead of a treat, the obedient get to make money. The alternative is a kick in the digital ribs.

Stephen E Arnold, September 20, 2021

 

A US Tool Repurposed by Taliban

September 17, 2021

China is the notorious Big Brother of Asia, but the now Taliban run Afghanistan will be using US-made tools to technologically repress people. According to Market Beat article: “US-Built Databases A Potential Tool Of Taliban Repression,” the United States designed databases for the democratically lead Afghanistan. The databases were designed to help Afghanis by promoting law, government accountability, and modernize the country.

The databases were built without much security and they are now in the Taliban’s hands. There are many databases, including ones that include biometrics for identify verification. The Taliban could use the databases for government surveillance and harm Taliban detractors. Former American allies or possible anti-Taliban people have already received threatening messages and taking precautions.

The Taliban claims they are not interested in retribution and are seeking International aid and unfreezing foreign held assets. The world is waiting with bated breath about what the Taliban will do to Afghanis.

The US created the Afghanistan Automated Biometric Identification Database and former officials in the country state the entire database was erased before the pullout. There are still other databases the Taliban has access to:

“Among crucial databases that remained are the Afghanistan Financial Management Information System, which held extensive details on foreign contractors, and an Economy Ministry database that compiled all international development and aid agency funding sources, the former security official said.

Then there is the data — with iris scans and fingerprints for about 9 million Afghans — controlled by the National Statistics and Information Agency. A biometric scan has been required in recent years to obtain a passport or a driver’s license and to take a civil service or university entrance exam.”

It is also possible that voter registration databases and an anti-fraud database of government officials could be under Taliban control.

Unexpected consequences? Exciting.

Whitney Grace, September 17, 2021

Big Tech Defines Material: What Does That Really Mean to Oligopolistic-Type Outfits?

September 16, 2021

I noted a US government study called “Non HSR Reported Acquisitions by Select Technology Platforms: 2010-2019: FTC Study.” The report, assuming it is spot on, suggests that large companies interpreted the word “material” differently from what some financial / accountant types think it means; for example, “Items are considered to be material when they have an excessive impact on reported profits, or on individual line items within the financial statements.” [Source: The Google, of course.] Some MBAs and accountants have remarkably flexible connotative skills. Is this a Deloitte Touche-type touch?

The report states:

image

My hunch is that standard deviation is not a hot topic at Zoom happy hours. The standard deviations in the table above suggest that the big tech outfits in the study pretty much redefined “material,” bought stuff and did not make a big deal about it, and chugged along in their cheerfully unregulated state during the period of the study.

The report states:

The five technology platform 6(b) respondents identified 616 non-HSR reportable transactions above $1 million, in addition to 101 Hiring Events and 91 Patent Acquisitions. The respondents reported an additional approximate 60 transactions below $1 million and 160 financial investments. Voting Security (Control) and Asset acquisitions comprise 65% of all of the above transactions. When excluding Hiring Events, Patent Acquisitions, and transactions below $1 million, Voting Security (Control) and Asset acquisitions comprise 85% of the transactions.

I interpret this to mean that the big tech outfits in the sample decided what to report and what to ignore; that is, the deals were not material. There’s that MBA word again.

Here’s another passage I circled:

Most of the transactions that were classified into technology categories were concentrated in the categories of Mobility (mobile devices and device-based software and content, which comprised more than 10% of the acquired firms), Application Software (front-end applications such as CRM, ERP, SCM, BI, commerce and vertical business software, which comprised more than 9% of the acquired firms), and Internet Content & Commerce (internet destination and internet-enabled services, which comprised more than 6% of the acquired firms). In the Mobility and Application Software categories, the number of transactions peaked in 2015; in the Internet Content & Commerce category, the number of transactions peaked in 2011.

Observations:

  1. Fancy dancing is popular among the companies in the sample; notably, Alphabet/Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft
  2. Regulators, probably with MBAs, looked the other way
  3. The power of unregulated commercial enterprises makes clear who is in charge of many important technical and social activities.

Interesting stuff, and I am confident that a lawyer with an MBA can explain this misalignment about the meaning of “material.” I wonder if the hints about the behavior of the companies in the sample suggest that we now live in a digital banana republic with the centers of power concentrated among a few corporate entities in their plantation houses.

Stephen E Arnold, September 16, 2021

Just a Little Help from Friends Government Style

September 16, 2021

Nothing should be surprising anymore when it comes to online privacy and targeted ads, but The Guardian shares how governments are trying to alter behavior in the article: “Study Finds Growing Government Use of Sensitive Behavior To ‘Nudge’ Behavior.” Governments have turned to targeted ads on search engines and social media platforms to shape or “nudge” their citizens’ behaviors.

This is a new move “stems from a marriage between the introduction of nudge theory in policymaking and an online advertising infrastructure that provides unforeseen opportunities to run behavioural adjustment campaigns.” Implementing this type of behavior modification could create a perfect feedback loop:

“’With the government, you’ve got access to all this data where you can see pretty much in real time who you need to talk to demographically, and then on the other end you can actually see, well, ‘did this make a difference?’,’ said Ben Collier, of the University of Edinburgh. ‘The government doing this supercharges the ability of it to actually work.’”

Government behavioral modification programs are not new. Countries across the globe have long histories of altering citizens’ behaviors. The United Kingdom is currently employing targeted ad campaigns to deter minors from becoming online fraudsters. Identified at-risk minors online activities are monitored collect data on them that are then used for “influence policing” campaigns with targeted ads. Another influence policing campaign the UK dealt with fire safety. People who purchased candles or matches on Amazon were sent targeted fire safety messages.

The targeted ads appear innocuous and helpful, but the government farms out the work to third party companies. Governments and companies could become lackadaisical with people information and it could impart disinformation. For example, minors targeted with anti-knife violence campaigns might believe that more people carry knives than reality. This could inspire minors to start carrying knives. The anti-fraudster campaigns could also inspire minors to become online bad actors, while the fire safety ads might encourage playing with fire.

Cue the music, please.

Whitney Grace, September 16, 2021

Triggering the Turtle Response: A Cyber Security Misstep?

September 15, 2021

One noble idea is to ask each and every organization to report a cyber attack and data breach. How are noble ideas like this greeted by commercial organizations or government bureaucrats with one eye on SES and one on retirement on a full pension? My hunch is that certain noble ideas are going to be ignored, sidestepped, or bulldozed under legal briefs.

I read “Exclusive: Wide-Ranging SolarWinds Probe Sparks Fear in Corporate America.” The trustworthy outfit Thomson Reuters says:

The SEC is asking companies to turn over records into “any other” data breach or ransomware attack since October 2019 if they downloaded a bugged network-management software update from SolarWinds Corp, which delivers products used across corporate America, according to details of the letters shared with Reuters. People familiar with the inquiry say the requests may reveal numerous unreported cyber incidents unrelated to the Russian espionage campaign, giving the SEC a rare level of insight into previously unknown incidents that the companies likely never intended to disclose.

Many organizations bite the bullet and keep cyber breach info under wraps. Examples include outfits dealing with financial transactions and juicy pharma companies, among others.

What’s going to happen? Investigators will find interesting information to explore and, in the manner of investigators, and piece together.

What’s one method of dealing with this intriguing government request? The turtle response. Pull one’s head into a shell and hope the legal eagles can make it safe to return to pre-SolarWinds’ practices.

Stephen E Arnold, September 15, 2021

Australia Channels China: What Is Next Down Under?

September 13, 2021

Should one be alarmed about the power that social media has. Should one sorry when governments, after decades of indifference, exert their authority over social media. The Conversation discusses a new Australian law and its implications in, “Facebook Or Twitter Posts Can Now Be Quietly Modified By The Government Under New Surveillance Laws.” The new law updates the Surveillance Devices Act 2004 and Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979. The addendum gives law enforcement officials in Australia to modify, add, copy, or delete online during an investigation.

The Human Rights Law Centre says the bill could violate free speech, while the Digital Rights Watch pointed out that the Australian government ignored recommendations to limit powers in the new bill. Not to mention, legal hacking could make it easier for bad hackers.

The new bill allows authorities to copy, delete, or modify data, with a warrant collect data, and assume control of a social media account. It also contains “emergency authorization” for law enforcement to do any of the above without a warrant.

Prior legislation of this nature included better privacy protections, but the new bill gives law enforcement free rein and force individuals to assist them or face prison time. On one hand the ill makes sense:

“According to the Department of Home Affairs, more and more criminal activity makes use of the “dark web” and “anonymising technologies”. Previous powers are not enough to keep up with these new technologies. In our view, specific and targeted access to users’ information and activities may be needed to identify possible criminals or terrorists. In some cases, law enforcement agencies may need to modify, delete, copy or add content of users to prevent things like the distribution of child exploitation material. Lawful interception is key to protecting public and national security in the fight of global community against cybercrimes.”

On the other hand, third parties could be subject to law enforcement. Individuals’ freedoms could be violated too.

Channeling China? Trying to control speech? What’s next?

Whitney Grace, September 13, 2021

Why Big Tech Is Winning: The UK Admission

August 31, 2021

I read “UK’s FCA Say It Is Not Capable of Supervising Crypto Exchange Binance.” This is a paywalled story, and I am not sure how much attention it will get. As Spotify is learning from locking up the estimable Joe Rogan, paywalls make sense to a tiny slice of one’s potential audience.

The story is an explanation about government helplessness when it comes to fintech or financial technology. The FCA acronym means Financial Conduct Authority. Think about London. Think about the wizards who cooked up some nifty digital currency methods at assorted UK universities less than one hour from the Pickle. Think about the idea that a government agency with near instant access to the wonks at the National Crime Agency, the quiet ones at Canary Wharf, and the interesting folks in Cheltenham. Now consider this passage from the write up:

… the Financial Conduct Authority said that Binance’s UK affiliate had “failed to” respond to some of its basic queries, making it impossible to oversee the sprawling group, which has no fixed headquarters and offers services around the world. The admission underscores the scale of the challenge facing authorities in tackling potential risks to consumers buying frequently unregulated products through nimble crypto currency businesses, which can often circumvent national bans by giving users access to facilities based overseas.

Hello? Rural Kentucky calling, is anyone at work?

Let’s step back. I need to make one assumption; that is, government entities’ have authority and power. What this write up makes clear is that when it comes to technology, the tech outfits have the authority and the power.

Not good in my opinion for the “consumer” and maybe for some competitors. Definitely not good for enforcement authorities.

Who finds sun shining through the clouds after reading this Financial Times’s story? I would wager that tech centric outfits are thinking about a day or more at the beach. No worries. And look. Here comes Snoop Dog handing out free beer. What a day!

Stephen E Arnold, August 31, 2021

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