Fight Fake News with Science

February 1, 2017

With all the recent chatter around “fake news,” one researcher has decided to approach the problem scientifically. An article at Fortune reveals “What a Map of the Fake-News Ecosystem Says About the Problem.” Writer Mathew Ingram introduces us to data-journalism expert and professor Jonathan Albright, of Elon University, who has mapped the fake-news ecosystem. Facebook and Google are just unwitting distributors of faux facts; Albright wanted to examine the network of sites putting this stuff out there in the first place. See the article for a description of his methodology; Ingram summarizes the results:

More than anything, the impression one gets from looking at Albright’s network map is that there are some extremely powerful ‘nodes’ or hubs, that propel a lot of the traffic involving fake news. And it also shows an entire universe of sites that many people have probably never heard of. Two of the largest hubs Albright found were a site called Conservapedia—a kind of Wikipedia for the right wing—and another called Rense, both of which got huge amounts of incoming traffic. Other prominent destinations were sites like Breitbart News, DailyCaller and YouTube (the latter possibly as an attempt to monetize their traffic).

Albright said he specifically stayed away from trying to determine what or who is behind the rise of fake news. … He just wanted to try and get a handle on the scope of the problem, as well as a sense of how the various fake-news distribution or creation sites are inter-connected. Albright also wanted to do so with publicly-available data and open-source tools so others could build on it.

Albright also pointed out the folly of speculating on sources of fake news; such guesswork only “adds to the existing noise,” he noted. (Let’s hear it for common sense!) Ingram points out that, armed with Albright’s research, Google, Facebook, and other outlets may be better able to combat the problem.

Cynthia Murrell, February 1, 2017

Advocacy Groups Back Google over Right to Be Forgotten Conflict

January 31, 2017

Does a European’s  “right to be forgotten” extend around the globe? (And if not, is one really “forgotten”?) Can one nation decide what the rest of the world is allowed to see about its citizens? Thorny questions are at the heart of the issue MediaPost examines in, “Google Draws Support in Showdown Over ‘Right to Be Forgotten’.”

Privacy-protection rights, established by European judges, demand Google remove search-result links that could embarrass a European citizen at the subject’s request (barring any public interest in the subject, of course). French regulators want Google to extend this censorship on its citizens’ behalf around the world, rather than restrict access just within that country’s borders. No way, says Google, and it has some noteworthy support—the Center for Democracy & Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch, and other organizations agree that what France is attempting sets a dangerous precedent.  Writer Wendy Davis elaborates:

Google argues that it can comply with the ruling by preventing links from appearing in the results pages of search engines aimed at specific countries, like Google.fr, for French residents. But the French authorities say Google must delete the links from all of its search engines, including Google.com in the U.S. Earlier this year, France’s CNIL [Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés ]rejected Google’s position and fined the company $112,000. Google is now appealing that ruling, and the Center for Democracy & Technology and others are backing Google’s position.

The CDT argues in a blog post that authorities in one country shouldn’t be able to decide whether particular search results are available in other countries—especially given that authorities in some parts of the world often object to material that’s perfectly legal in many nations. For instance, Pakistan authorities recently asked Google (unsuccessfully) to take down videos that satirized politicians, while Thai authorities unsuccessfully asked Google to remove YouTube clips that allegedly insulted the royal family.

Google itself has argued that no one country should be able to censor the Web internationally. ‘In the end, the Internet would only be as free as the world’s least free place,’ global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer wrote on the company’s blog last year.

Indeed. As someone whose (most) foolish years occurred before the Web was a thing, I sympathize with folks who want to scrub the Internet of their embarrassing moments. However, trying to restrict what citizens of other countries can access simply goes too far.

Cynthia Murrell, January 31, 2017

The Internet Is Once Again Anonymous

January 19, 2017

Let us reminiscence for a moment (and if you like you can visit the Internet archive) about the Internet’s early days, circa late 1990s.  It was a magic time, because there were chatrooms, instant messaging, and forums.  The Internet has not changed these forms of communication much, although chatrooms are pretty dead, but one great thing about the early days is that the Internet was mostly anonymous.  With the increase in tracking software, IP awareness, and social media, Internet anonymity is reserved for the few who are vigilant and never post anything online.    Sometimes, however, you want to interact online without repercussions and TechCrunch shares that “Secret Founder Returns To Anonymous Publishing With Launch Of IO.”

David Byttow, Secret co-founder, started the anonymous publishing app IO that is similar to Postcard Confessions.  IO’s purpose is to:

IO is a pseudo-resurrection of Secret that Byttow told us in November came into being partly because “the downsides of current social media products MUST be addressed,” an imperative he felt was especially urgent following the results of the last U.S. election. IO’s stated mission is to achieve “authentic publishing,” by which Byttow means that he’s hoping users having an option to publishing either anonymously, using a pseudonym or as their actual selves will allow for easier sharing of true thoughts and feelings.

IO really does not do much.  You can type something up, hit publish, but it is only shared with other people if you attach social media links.  You can remain anonymous and IO does include writing assistance tools.  I really do not get why IO is useful, but it does allow a person to create a shareable link without joining a forum, owning a Web site, etc.  Reddit seems more practical, though.

Whitney Grace, January 19, 2016

 

Royal Mail, Delivering Narcotics Efficiently

January 17, 2017

Unsuspecting Royal Mail postmen are delivering narcotics and drugs ordered over Dark Web to punters and buyers with much efficiency. Taking cognizance of the fact, The Home Office is planning an investment of GBP 1.9 billion over next five years to fight this new face of crime.

The Sun in an article titled Royal Mail Postmen Unknowingly Deliver Drugs Parcels Bought From the Dark Web says:

Royal Mail postmen are unknowingly delivering drug parcels bought from the dark web, it has been revealed. Millions of pounds of drugs are bought online every day via the dark web and shipped to punters anonymously.

The postmen, however, cannot be blamed as they are ill-equipped to find out what’s hidden inside a sealed parcel. Though drug sniffing dogs exist on paper for the Royal Mail, many postmen say they never saw one in their service life. Technology is yet to catch-up with dogs that can sniff out the drugs.

As the postmen are being put at risk delivering these packages, the Home Office in a statement said:

We have committed to spending £1.9bn on cybersecurity over the next five years, including boosting the capabilities of the National Crime Agency’s National Cyber Crime Unit, increasing their ability to investigate the most serious cybercrime.

Law enforcement agencies, including the ones in the US will have to invest in detecting and preventing such crimes. So far the success ratio has been barely encouraging. Till then, unsuspecting people will be used as pawns by cybercriminals, royally!

Vishal Ingole, January 17, 2017

Exploring Dark Web Motivations

January 13, 2017

The Dark Web continues to be under the microscope. Sophos’ blog, Naked Security, published an article, The Dark Web: Just How Dark Is It? questioning the supposed “dark” motivations of its actors. This piece also attempts to bust myths about the complete anonymity of Tor. There is an entry guard, which knows who the user is, and an exit node, which knows the user’s history and neither of these are easy to avoid. Despite pointing out holes in the much-believed argument full anonymity always exists on Tor, the author makes an effort to showcase “real-world” scenarios for why their average readers may benefit from using Tor: 

If you think a web site is legitimate, but you’re not completely sure and would like to “try before you buy,” why not take an incognito look first, shielding your name, your IP number, even your country? If you’re investigating a website that you think has ripped off your intellectual property, why advertise who you are? If you want to know more about unexceptionable topics that it would nevertheless be best to keep private, such as medical issues, lifestyle choices or a new job, why shouldn’t you keep your identity to yourself? Similarly, if you want to offer online services to help people with those very issues, you’d like them to feel confident that you’ll do your best to uphold their privacy and anonymity.

We’re not convinced — but perhaps that is because the article put its foot in its mouth. First, they tell us Tor does not provide full anonymity and then the author attempts to advocate readers use Tor for anonymity. Which is it? More investigation under a different lens may be needed.

Kenny Toth, January 13, 2017

Medical Records Are the Hot New Dark Web Commodity

January 10, 2017

From emails to Netflix and Uber account information to other personally identifiable information has long been for sale on the Dark Web. A recent article from Fast Company, On The Dark Web, Medical Records Are A Hot Commodity, shares that medical records are the latest offerings for sale on the Dark Web. Medical records sold in these marketplaces usually include an individual’s name, birthdate, social security number and medical information. They fetch the relatively high price of $60 a piece, in comparison to social security numbers at $15. The article explains more,

On the dark web, medical records draw a far higher price than credit cards. Hackers are well aware that it’s simple enough to cancel a credit card, but to change a social security number is no easy feat. Banks have taken some major steps to crack down on identity theft. But hospitals, which have only transitioned en masse from paper-based to digital systems in the past decade, have far fewer security protections in place.

Cybercrime of medical records is potentially life-threatening because oftentimes during the theft of medical records, data showing allergies and other vital information is erased or swapped. Hopefully, the amount of time it took the medical industry to transition from paper to electronic health records is not representative of the time it will take the industry to increase security measures.

Megan Feil, January 10, 2017

Victims of Their Own Foolishness

December 15, 2016

Incidences of law enforcement agencies arresting criminals for selling their services on Dark Web are increasing. However, their success can be attributed to the foolishness of the criminals, rather than technological superiority.

Cyber In Sight in a news report titled IcyEagle: A Look at the Arrest of an Alleged Dark Web Vendor, the reporter says:

the exact picture of how law enforcement has managed to track down and identify Glende remains unclear, the details released so far, provide an interesting behind the scenes view of the cybercrime-related postings we often highlight on this blog.

The suspect in this case inadvertently gave details of his service offerings on AlphaBay. Cops were able to zero on his location and managed to put him under arrest for drug peddling. The report reveals further:

An undercover officer purchased stolen bank account information from IcyEagle in March and April 2016, according to the indictment. Interestingly, Glende was also arrested by local police for selling drugs around the same time. A tip from U.S. Postal Inspectors led to police officers finding a “trove” of drugs at his Minnesota home in March.

It is thus apparent that the criminals, in general, are of the opinion that since they are selling on Dark Web, they are untraceable, which clearly is not the case. The trace, however, was possible only because the suspect handed it over himself. Hackers and real cyber criminals are still out of the ambit of law enforcement agencies, which needs to change soon.

Vishal Ingole, December  15, 2016

Googles Bid for AI Dominance

December 14, 2016

Google‘s dominance on our digital lives cannot be refuted. The tech giant envisages that the future of computing will be Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the search engine leader is all set to dominate it once again.

Arabian Business in a feature article titled Inside Google’s Brave New World, the author says:

The $500bn technology giant is extending its reach into hardware and artificial intelligence, ultimately aiming to create a sophisticated robot that can communicate with smart-device users to get things done.

The efforts can be seen in the form of company restructuring and focus on developing products and hardware that can host its sophisticated AI-powered algorithms. From wearable devices to in-home products like Google Home, the company is not writing powerful algorithms to answer user queries but is also building the hardware that will seamlessly integrate with the AI.

Though these advances might mean more revenue for the company and its shareholders, with Google controlling every aspect of our working lives, the company also needs to address the privacy concerns with equal zeal. As the author points out:

However, with this comes huge responsibility and a host of ethical and other policy issues such as data privacy and cybersecurity, which Google says its teams are working to resolve on a day-to-day basis.

Apart from Google, other tech companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and Apple too are in the race for AI dominance. However, the privacy concerns remain there too as the end user never knows, how and where the data collected will be used.

Vishal Ingole, December  14, 2016

DuckDuckGo Makes Search Enhancements by Leveraging Yahoo Partnership

December 13, 2016

The article on Duck.co titled New Features from a Stronger Yahoo Partnership relates the continuation of the relationship between DuckDuckGo and Yahoo. DuckDuckGo has gained fame for its unique privacy policy of not tracking its users, which of course flies in the face of the Google Goliath, which is built on learning about its users by monitoring their habits and improving the search engine using that data. Instead, DuckDuckGo insists on forgetting its users and letting them search without fear of it being recorded somewhere. The article conveys some of the ways that Yahoo is mingled with the David of search engines,

In addition to the existing technology we’ve been using, DuckDuckGo now has access to features you’ve been requesting for years: Date filters let you filter results from the last day, week and month. Site links help you quickly get to subsections of sites. Of course our privacy policy remains the same: we don’t track you. In addition, we’re happy to announce that Yahoo has published a privacy statement to the same effect.

Paranoid internet users and people with weird secretive fetishes alike, rejoice! DuckDuckGo will soon be vastly improved. The article does not state an exact date for this new functionality to be revealed, but it is coming soon.

Chelsea Kerwin, December 13, 2016

Tor Phone to Take on Google

December 13, 2016

Tor users have nil or very limited options to surf Underground Web anonymously as Android-powered phones still manage to scrape user data. The Tor Project intends to beat Google at its own game with Tor-enabled smartphone.

An article that appeared on arsTechnica and titled Tor Phone Is Antidote to Google “Hostility” Over Android, Says Developer, says:

The prototype is meant to show a possible direction for Tor on mobile. We are trying to demonstrate that it is possible to build a phone that respects user choice and freedom, vastly reduces vulnerability surface, and sets a direction for the ecosystem with respect to how to meet the needs of high-security users.

The phone is powered by custom-made CopperHead OS and can be run only on Google Nexus or Pixel hardware phones. Of course due to high technicalities involved, it is recommended only for Linux geeks.

For voice calls, according to the article:

To protect user privacy, the prototype runs OrWall, the Android firewall that routes traffic over Tor, and blocks all other traffic. Users can punch a hole through the firewall for voice traffic, for instance, to enable Signal.

Google’s Android is an Open Source platform that OEMs can customize. This creates multiple security threats enabling hackers and snoopers to create backdoors. CopperHead OS, on the other hand, plugs these security holes with verified boot and also stops Google Play Store from overriding native apps. Seems the days of mobile Tor are finally here.

Vishal Ingole, December  13, 2016

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