Facebook and the French: Some Tension Perhaps?

January 15, 2021

For the first time Facebook is calling out a individuals connected to a Western military for conducting a propaganda campaign on its platforms. CNN reports, “Facebook Accuses People Tied to French Military of Running Troll Accounts.” Even more intriguing, the accounts resembled and interacted with similar Russian troll accounts. Reporter Donie O’Sullivan writes:

“The deceptive tactics allegedly used, which include using Facebook to pose as locals in the targeted countries, mirror misinformation campaigns run by the Russian government. … According to Facebook, the operations targeted the ‘Central African Republic and Mali, and to a lesser extent Niger, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire and Chad.’ Facebook removed the accounts and also announced on Tuesday that it had removed accounts, also posing as Africans, that were linked to Russian troll group. In some cases, Facebook said, the fake French and Russian accounts even interacted with each other.”

Though it is not new to see influence campaigns target the same regions, their actively engaging each other is. Facebook says it found the two sides commenting on each other’s posts, befriending each other, and denouncing each other for being fake. Russian trolls operating in Africa, we’re told, are connected to the group that allegedly acted to influence the 2016 US presidential election. O’Sullivan continues:

“Facebook said the alleged French accounts ‘posted primarily in French and Arabic about news and current events including France’s policies in Francophone Africa, the security situation in various African countries, claims of potential Russian interference in the election in the Central African Republic (CAR), supportive commentary about French military, and criticism of Russia’s involvement in CAR.’ Elections are due to take place in CAR later this month. One post in French read, ‘The Russian imperialists are a gangrene on Mali! Watch out for the tsarist lobotomy!’ The alleged Russian accounts, in turn, criticized the French.”

Wow—gangrene imperialists and tsarist lobotomies! I suppose trolls are not known for their subtlety. Facebook has removed about 100 Facebook and Instagram accounts, with a total of about 5,000 followers, tied to the alleged French operation. It also shuttered two networks of pages linked to Russia, which had about 6 million followers. For its part, the French Defense Ministry neither confirmed nor denied its involvement. Russia continues to deny it has ever engaged in such tactics.

Cynthia Murrell, January 15, 2021

UFO Data: Online and Available

January 13, 2021

I am not into little green entities. There are some people who are. For that group, I offer this link. You may download the US Central Intelligence Agency’s publicly available unidentified flying object or unidentified aerial phenomena information. I want to point out that the art work for the story does not display the new logo. Are there more data to come? Yep, within the next couple of months allegedly more US government data will be made available. Am I excited? Nope, not too much.

Stephen E Arnold, January 13, 2021

Hong Kong Telecom Connections

December 23, 2020

I read a good write up called “Hong Kong’s Hutchison Group, Which Runs Mobile Carrier 3, Protests as USA Puts It on New China Ban List.” I want to mention that Li Ka-shing — the father of Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, the chairman of the Board and Group Managing Director of CK Hutchinson Holdings Limited and Richard Li, the chairman of Hong Kong Telecom — is rumored to have had reasonably cordial relations with certain Chinese government officials. If one takes the time to work through the deals, the tie up, and staff of these two firms, several interesting factoids surface quickly; for example:

  • These allegedly competitive companies may not be as competitive as they appear in the media
  • The father Li Ka-shing had a number of interesting business deals in his long career. He is allegedly still alive and has a few bucks to make his sundowning semi acceptable
  • The brothers and “competitors” have investments spanning a number of countries. These businesses may provide a useful flow of information about a range of topics; for example, financial transactions, mobile traffic, interesting messages, etc.

Someone in the US government believes that Hutchinson, one of the Li Ka shing tinged entities, warrants an entry on the US China ban list. Presumably someone in the Department of Commerce or other Federal agency has created a visual map of the Li Ka shing related companies, business partners, relationships, and lines of business.

I am confident that the US researchers noted this reference to the father’s connections to China.

Stephen E Arnold, December 23, 2020

Security Vendors: Despite Marketing Claims for Smart Software Knee Jerk Response Is the Name of the Game

December 16, 2020

Update 3, December 16, 2020 at 1005 am US Eastern, the White House has activate its cyber emergency response protocol. Source: “White House Quietly Activates Cyber Emergency Response” at Cyberscoop.com. The directive is located at this link and verified at 1009 am US Eastern as online.

Update 2, December 16, 2020 at 1002 am US Eastern. The Department of Treasury has been identified as a entity compromised by the SolarWinds’ misstep. Source: US “Treasury, Commerce Depts. Hacked through SolarWinds Compromise” at KrebsonSecurity.com

Update 1, December 16, 2020, at 950 am US Eastern. The SolarWinds’ security misstep may have taken place in 2018. Source: “SolarWinds Leaked FTP Credentials through a Public GitHub Repo “mib-importer” Since 2018” at SaveBreach.com

I talked about security theater in a short interview/conversation with a former CIA professional. The original video of that conversation is here. My use of the term security theater is intended to convey the showmanship that vendors of cyber security software have embraced for the last five years, maybe more. The claims of Dark Web threat intelligence, the efficacy of investigative software with automated data feeds, and Bayesian methods which inoculate a client from bad actors— maybe this is just Madison Avenue gone mad. On the other hand, maybe these products and services don’t work particularly well. Maybe these products and services are anchored in what bad actors did yesterday and are blind to the here and now of dudes and dudettes with clever names?

Evidence of this approach to a spectacular security failure is documented in the estimable Wall Street Journal (hello, Mr. Murdoch) and the former Ziff entity ZDNet. Numerous online publications have reported, commented, and opined about the issue. One outfit with a bit of first hand experience with security challenges (yes, I am thinking about Microsoft) reported “SolarWinds Says Hack Affected 18,000 Customers, Including Two Major Government Agencies.”

One point seems to be sidestepped in the coverage of this “concern.” The corrective measures kicked in after the bad actors had compromised and accessed what may be sensitive data. Just a mere 18,000 customers were affected. Who were these “customers”? The list seems to have been disappeared from the SolarWinds’ Web site and from the Google cache. But Newsweek, an online information service, posted this which may, of course, be horse feathers (sort of like security vendors’ security systems?):

Read more

A Plan for a Recurring Google Tax Takes Shape

December 16, 2020

I spotted what looked like another ho hum the EC wants to penalize Google again story. “Tech Giants Face Fine of Up to 10% of Turnover for EU Rule Breaches -EU Source” contains a couple of nuggets. The first is that not just Google is a target. Now the goal is a company defined as a “technology” firm is fair game. With companies explaining that their operation is based on information, it is possible for the Google Tax to apply to companies different from the Google; for example, a health care company or a logistics outfit.

Second, this passage opens the door to financial and market data disclosures and may institutionalize a permanent penalty tax, maybe a tariff to just operate in the ED:

The rules, known as the Digital Markets Act, set out a list of dos and don’ts for online gatekeepers to ensure a level playing field for rivals and users. This could include requiring dominant companies to share certain kinds of data with rivals and regulators while practices such as companies favoring their own services could be outlawed.

This is likely to give some other nation states ideas for institutionalizing additional fees on “technology” companies. Who will pay these fees? Probably users.

Also, the write up does not identify a source. This is an interesting way to create “real” news when one is a trusted outfit. At least the source lives in the EC, maybe?

Stephen E Arnold, December 16, 2020

FTC List of Entities of Interest

December 15, 2020

I read “FTC Issues Orders to Nine Social Media and Video Streaming Services Seeking Data About How They Collect, Use, and Present Information.” In the write up are the names of the entities about which information is sought. Here these organizations are:

  • Amazon
  • ByteDance (TikTok)
  • Discord Inc.
  • Facebook, Inc.
  • Reddit, Inc.
  • Snap Inc.
  • Twitter, Inc.
  • WhatsApp Inc. (This is a Facebook property)
  • YouTube LLC. (This is a Google property)

What interesting to me is that the FTC is taking action at this time. Here’s the list with the date on which the company began operating:

  • Amazon, 1994, 26 years ago
  • ByteDance (TikTok), 2012, 8 years ago
  • Discord Inc., 2015, 5 years ago
  • Facebook, Inc., 16 years ago
  • Reddit, Inc., 15 years ago
  • Snap Inc., 9 years ago
  • Twitter, Inc., 14 years ago
  • WhatsApp Inc., 2009, 11 years ago
  • YouTube LLC., 15 years ago.

What’s this date information reveal? The mean time for the FTC to recognize a potential issue and begin an investigation is the lifespan of a boxer dog.

A Federal investigation, the legal proceedings, and the appeals if necessary can reach eight years. Thus, it is possible that by 2028, the action begun in 2020 may be resolved.

What’s this suggest, gentle reader? Act now, apologize if snagged by a legal hook, and keep movin’ on down the information highway.

Lax regulation and what it fosters may not permit appropriate, prompt resolution.

Stephen E Arnold, December 15, 2020

How Will MindGeek Get Paid? Umm, Encrypted and Anonymous Digital Currencies Maybe

December 11, 2020

I have followed the strong MasterCard and Visa response to revelations about MindGeek’s less-than-pristine content offerings. The Gray Lady wrote about MindGeek and then other “real” news sites picked up the story. A good example is “Visa, MasterCard Dump Pornhub Over Abuse Video Claims.” The write ups appear to have sidestepped one question which seems obvious to me:

How will MindGeek collect money?

There are some online ad outfits which have been able to place ads on Dark Web sites and on some other sites offering specialized content, not very different from MindGeek’s glittering content array. Amped up advertising seems one play.

But what about MindGeek’s paying customers?

Perhaps MindGeek, nestled in the Euro-centric confines of Montréal, will come up with the idea to use a digital currency. Invoices can be disseminated in secret messaging systems like those favored by the Russian based Edward Snowden. The payments can flow via encrypted digital currencies. Now many transactions can be tracked by government authorities in a number of countries. Nevertheless, making this type of shift is likely to increase the burden on investigators.

Just as killing off Backpage created additional work for some law enforcement professionals. The MasterCard and Visa termination may have a similar effect. Yes, the backlog can be resolved. But that is likely to add friction to some enforcement activities. A failure by regulatory agencies to get a handle of payments systems (encrypted and unencrypted) is now evident to some.

Stephen E Arnold, December 11, 2020

China: Control and Common Sense. Common Sense?

November 25, 2020

I must admit that I saw some darned troubling things when I last visited China and Hong Kong. However, I spotted an allegedly accurate factoid in “China Bans Spending by Teens in New Curbs on Livestreaming.” In one of my lectures about the Dark Web I pointed out livestreaming sites which permitted gambling, purchase of merchandise which is now called by the somewhat jarring term “merch,” and buying “time” with an individual offering “private sessions.” I pointed out examples on Amazon Twitch and on a service called ManyVids, an online outfit operating from Canada. (Yep, dull, maple crazed Canada.)

Here’s the passage of particular significance in my opinion:

Livestreaming platforms now must limit the amount of money a user can give hosts as a tip. Users must register their real names to buy the virtual gifts, in addition to the ban on teens giving such gifts. The administration also asked the platforms to strengthen training for employees who screen content and encouraged the companies to hire more censors, who also will need to register with regulators. The media regulator will create a blacklist of hosts who frequently violate the rules, and ban them from hosting livestreaming programs on any platform. [Emphasis added by Beyond Search]

Okay, spending controls will force buyers (sometimes known as “followers”) to be more creative in the buying time function.

But the killer point is “real names.”

No doubt there are online consumers who will bristle at censorship, registration, and blacklisting. Nevertheless, “real names” might be a useful concept for online services not under the watchful eye of party faithful grandmas in a digital hotong. What a quaint idea for outfits like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other online content outputters to consider.

Stephen E Arnold, November 25, 2020

Drone Roads: Surveillance and Taxation Opportunities?

November 23, 2020

I learned about a Canadian company called AirMatrix. The firm’s tagline is:

The drones are coming. With AirMatrix, we can see clear skies ahead.

The company seeks to define drone highways. Why? AirMatrix states:

Many drone operators create routes on GPS maps that are errored up to 6 meters. In tight urban spaces, a 6-meter error can be a collision or even injury. This means they can’t go beyond visual line of sight without compromising safety. It also makes it difficult to scale any autonomous flights in shared airspace. AirMatrix solves this problem by building our maps to millimeter-level precision, based on proprietary datasets of real time traffic, geospatial data, and weather.

The company points out that:

Our drone roads help pave the way for government, civil, commercial, and public service drones to share airspace safely and efficiently. Drone operators can pilot multiple autonomous drones simultaneously, confident that the airspace is under control – even as more and more drones take flight. With every use, local governments will benefit from toll collection, providing a new revenue stream for the city. Not only will you make back your investment, but your drone road system can generate income without adding long-term cost to your constituents. Cities will also gain the ability to govern this new transportation infrastructure, with full transparency and control of its users.

The company’s FAQ provides additional information.

Interesting concept. Fascinating use cases: Surveillance, use taxes, take off and destination data, and drones which “drop off” the system, among others.

Stephen E Arnold, November 23, 2020

Size of the US Secret Service?

November 16, 2020

I read “Expansive White House Covid Outbreak Sidelines 10% of Secret Service.” If the headline is accurate, the US Secret service consists of 1,300 officers in the “uniformed division.” The key phrase is “uniformed division.” To the untrained eye, these officers appear in uniforms similar to those of other police. However, there are non-uniformed Secret Service officers. A list of USSS field offices is here. A year ago I learned at a law enforcement conference that there were more than 7,000 employees in the USSS. Net net: The USSS has a reasonably deep roster and can cooperate with the US Capitol Police to deal with events of interest. (The USCP is responsible for Congress; the USSS, the White House. When the vice president moves from the White House to Capitol Hill, the protective duties shift as well.) The article left me with the impression that Covid has impaired the USSS. In my opinion, the USSS is on duty and robust.

Stephen E Arnold, November 16, 2020

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