Monthly Archives: October 2015

Russia Possibly Testing Internet Kill Switch

Russian authorities are reportedly testing measures that they say will protect Russia’s Internet from foreign interference. But some worry the efforts are really aimed at finding ways to cut that nation off from the web during times of political crisis.

On Wednesday, communications minister Nikolay Nikiforov told the Russian state news service RIA Novosti that authorities were to begin testing various methods “to prevent Russia being cut off from the Internet from abroad.”

Nikiforov said much of Russia’s Internet traffic is actually routed through servers in Amsterdam, making the nation vulnerable to Western powers.

“We modelled what would happen if our respected foreign partners, under the influence of the latest mood of their politicians who play with sanctions, suddenly decide to take this or that measure against Russia,” Nikiforov told RIA Novosti. “Our task is to do what is needed so that the Russian Internet will carry on working independently of the opinion of colleagues, whatever sanctions policy decisions they decide to take.”

The Moscow-based news site Slon is reporting that Andrey Semerikov, head of the Russian telecommunications provider ER-Telekom, told reporters earlier in October that such tests took place in the spring of 2015. Semerikov is quoted as saying that the Russian Internet monitor Roskomnadzor sent Russian Internet service providers (ISPs) instructions how to block traffic from various foreign sources using a technique known as DPI, or deep packet inspection. DPI allows ISPs to scan the contents of data as it passes through network hubs.

Semerikov said the DPI tests were ultimately unsuccessful because hundreds of small Russian ISPs, over which Roskomnadzor has little influence, did not participate.

Roskomnadzor spokesman Vadim Ampelonskiy disputed that account, telling the Russia-based Interfax news service that no such tests occurred or have been scheduled. “Roskomnadzor had nothing to do with these actions and is not aware of their results,” Ampelonskiy said.

‘CIA project’

Russian officials have made no secret of their desire to exert more control over the web. Russian President Vladimir Putin famously called the Internet a “CIA project,” specifically designed to weaken Russia’s government and punish it economically. Putin has repeatedly vowed to build a Russia-only intranet to keep “false information” about his regime at bay and, in the words of blogger and Putin critic Andrei Malgin, has “vowed to kill off the blogosphere.”

Due to the Internet’s decentralized design, it’s not unusual for large portions of web traffic in and out of nations to be routed through switches thousands of miles away. Amsterdam is a key point for global inter-continental Internet traffic. It’s likely much of European web data flows through hubs in or near the Netherlands.

A Russia analyst at the cyber-security firm TAIA Global, who asked to remain unnamed, told VOA that a recent analysis showed a limited number of data pathways into and out of Russia, and concluded that all principal data exchange points into and out of that nation are government-controlled.

“My analytic conclusion, reached at the time, was that they were structuring the Internet so it could be disconnected quickly if desired,” the analyst told VOA via email. “Putin’s first ‘Concept on Russian Internet Security’ identified this as a problem in 2001 and, in my view, they’ve taken it seriously,” the analyst said.

The analyst went on to say that rapid disconnection from the Internet has been and remains a design objective of the Putin administration, and that key Internet infrastructure is either owned by Moscow or under its control.

That said, TAIA’s Russia analyst said it remains a very difficult thing for any nation to completely wipe itself from the global web, let alone a nation as large and with as much Internet access as Russia.

“No disconnect would be perfect, since people usually have unacknowledged satellite connections and could even connect via sat phones,” the analyst told VOA. “However, as a practical matter, they could disconnect and run an internal system.”


European Parliament votes against net neutrality amendments

Katie Collins at Cnet: The European Parliament passes legislation that would let companies pay to prioritize their Internet traffic. Opponents included Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and the likes of Netflix and Reddit.

The European Parliament has rejected key rules designed to secure the future of the open Internet, potentially threatening the way residents get their online fix.

Members of the European Parliament voted Tuesday to allow companies to pay for the privilege of having their traffic prioritized in “fast lanes” and did not eliminate the potential for Internet service providers to change traffic speeds.

For consumers, that could over time prove disruptive to their daily habits of watching streaming video, uploading photos to social media sites or doing online shopping. Some services could bog down if providers don’t pay for access to higher Internet speeds, or speedy services could end up costing more.

Four significant amendments were rejected just before the Parliament voted to adopt legislation governing Net neutrality, the concept that all online traffic should be treated equally. A premise behind Net neutrality is that every company can start on equal footing when competing in the digital economy.

The rejected amendments were supported by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, and a long list of rights groups, academics and businesses, including Netflix, Reddit, Tumblr, Etsy and BitTorrent. In a blog post ahead of the vote, Berners-Lee reminded politicians that he built the Web on the principle of openness and that this principle led to its current ubiquity.

The amendments ensure “economic growth and social progress” in Europe, he said in a blog post. Rejecting them would “threaten innovation, free speech and privacy, and compromise Europe’s ability to lead in the digital economy,” he added.

What will now follow is a nine-month consultation period during which rights groups and regulators will seek to clarify the legal text and to establish how the Internet should be governed.


Cnet – European votes puts Net neutrality in peril

Web Foundation – Net Neutrality in Europe: A Statement from Sir Tim Berners-Lee

SXSW Cancels Panel on Harassment Citing Threats of Violence

Author: Cassandra Vinograd
Source: NBC Tech News

The popular South by Southwest festival said it was cancelling two panel discussions about harassment and the online gaming community due to threats of violence.

The festival — known as SXSW — said it had hoped that hosting the two panels “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community” and “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” would lead to a “valuable exchange of ideas.”

However, it said SXSW had received “numerous threats of on-site violence” related to the programs in the week since the March 2016 SXSW Interactive event panels were announced. It did not detail the nature of the threats.

Official SXSW statement: “SXSW prides itself on being a big tent and a marketplace of diverse people and diverse ideas,” it said in a blog post. “If people can not agree, disagree and embrace new ways of thinking in a safe and secure place that is free of online and offline harassment, then this marketplace of ideas is inevitably compromised.”

The “Level Up” panel was due to feature experts on online harassment discussing how to combat and move away from harassment.

The Online Abuse Prevention Initiative’s Randi Harper was one of the panelists, and she posted what appeared to be the SXSW cancellation email on Twitter which said the festival had canceled sessions that “focused on the GamerGate controversy.”

The Opening Gaming Society said the “disheartening” move to cancel the panel came “as a shock.” It said that SXSW had been in touch to explain the decision — which came after receiving countless emails, phone calls and social-media messages about the panels.

“SXSW feels that both the organization and its staff have been under siege from all sides and from all parties since they announced the panels,” it said in a statement urging gamers not to attack the festival over its decision. “They want to encourage open discussions, but they don’t want to fuel a vicious online war between two sides who are extremely opposed to one another.”

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Gaps in Global Internet Governance Growing

It is understood and agreed that over 40% of the world’s population is online in some capacity and that the Internet is amazing in the way it has revolutionized the way in which people communicate worldwide. With the absence of a global governance institution to police the fast evolving technology and the proliferation of actors with Internet access as well as determine what is permissible, the gap between the 40% online and the 60% offline is widening. This is according the the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and their Global Governance Monitor.

First launched in 2009, the CFR’s International Institutions and Global Governance (IIGG) program and their digital and cyberspace policy program produced this interactive guide to assess the current global challenges of governing in cyberspace including privacy, online espionage, cybersecurity, trade, and freedom of expression. The Monitor used video, images, interactive maps, and text all to track the multilateral efforts to address the aforementioned challenges. The guide also monitors global cooperation and recommends policy options to potentially improve the world’s capacity to tackle other challenges like armed conflict and climate change.

It is the hope that with tools like this, the gaps in online access as well as in global governance will be quickly addressed.


U.N. Report Calls on Governments to Protect Whistleblowers Like Snowden, Not Prosecute Them

The U.N. envoy charged with safeguarding free speech around the globe has declared in a dramatic new report that confidential sources and whistleblowers are a crucial element of a healthy democracy, and that governments should protect them rather than demonize them.

The report by David Kaye, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, also highlights the harsh treatment of whistleblowers in the U.S., most notably former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who is living in Russia as fugitive from the U.S. government.

Snowden has been charged with three felonies, including two under the heavy-handed World War I-era Espionage Act, which does not allow defendants to make the argument that their actions were in the public interest.

Kaye, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, notes in his report that “Snowden’s revelations of surveillance practices” made “a deep and lasting impact on law, policy and politics.”

In a statement accompanying the report in response to Kaye’s questionnaire, U.S. officials acknowledged that government employees who deal with classified material are not covered by the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. But they insisted that those employees “retain the ability to report any perceived government fraud, waste, or abuse to appropriate inspectors general, other executive branch oversight entities, and certain members of Congress while preserving any national security interests at issue.”

The U.S. statement maintained that criminal charges are reserved for people who disclose secrets “with the intent, or with reason to believe, that the information is to be used, or could be used, to injure or harm the United States, or to advantage a foreign nation.”

But those assertions were quickly condemned by whistleblower advocates as farcical.

Jesselyn Radack, a lawyer who represents whistleblowers, said the U.S. statement in response to Kaye’s questions “grossly overstates the protections for whistleblowers and journalists in the U.S. and turns a blind eye to the many shortfalls in current U.S. law and U.S. policies that chill freedom of expression and interfere with investigative journalism.”

“National security and intelligence community whistleblowers have no meaningful legal protections,” she noted.

Snowden, in a video from Human Rights Watch, declared that “a whistleblower almost has to become comfortable with the idea of becoming a martyr, because the probability of retaliation is so certain.” Here is the Human Rights Watch video:

In the report, Kaye sets out clear standards for how governments should treat sources and whistleblowers. For instance, he says that law enforcement and justice officials need to “publicly recognize the contribution of sources and whistleblowers sharing information of public relevance and condemn attacks against them.” He also asserts the importance of letting whistleblowers make the case that their disclosure was in the public interest.

Rules allowing journalists to keep their sources confidential “should not be reserved simply for professional journalists,” he writes, but should also extend to anyone “who may be performing a vital role in providing wide access to information of public interest.”

Finally, he says that “disclosure of human rights or humanitarian law violations should never [be] the basis of penalties of any kind.”

In a report in May, Kaye also asserted that encryption is an essential tool needed to protect the right of freedom of opinion and expression in the digital age because it creates “a zone of privacy to protect opinion and belief.”

CISA is Back

The controversial Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) has returned to congress and, if ratified, it promises sweeping new powers of government to spy on Americans in the name of protecting Americans from hacking. In recent days, companies behind major platforms (Apple, DropBox, Yelp, reddit, Twitter, Wikimedia) have issued statements speaking out against the bill.

Other companies negotiating through an alternate group called the Computer and Communications Industry Association that represents their interests (namely Google, Facebook, and Yahoo) have voiced concerns in this alternate venue, in order to be part of the discussion instead of outright denying the efficacy of the bill.

Placing heavy emphasis on the value of expertise, Senator Ron Wyden (D.-Oregon) added that the sheer quantity of tech companies standing up to this bill is a testament to the way in which the bill lacks privacy safeguards.

In an effort to drastically expand evaluation of this law, even before its implementation, Individuals can represent themselves in this dialogue by signing up to petition CISA here:


The Washington Post: Apple and DropBox say they’re against a key cybersecurity bill, days before a crucial vote

China Heads Microsoft’s list of requests to pull Internet content

The data released by the company on Wednesday sheds some light on its interactions with governments and copyright holders. China receved the majority of content pull requests, which points to a larger conversation about Western standards for what contitutes safe/unsafe content outside of the U.S. borders.

More Information

Facebook Will Notify You If The Government Hacks Your Account

Facebook has launched a new feature that notifies users if their accounts have been targeted by government-sponsored hackers.

In a one billion-plus users about how to secure their accounts—Facebook’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos said users would be notified “if we believe your account has been targeted or compromised by an attacker suspected of working on behalf of a nation-state.”

The notification will advise users to turn on a feature called Login Approvals, which sends them a new security code that must be inputted each time an account is accessed from a new device or browser.

Stamos said that receiving such a notification was not an indication that Facebook’s central systems had been compromised but rather that the user’s computer or mobile may be infected with malware and should be rebuilt or replaced if possible.

Facebook would not reveal how it attributed certain attacks to state-sponsored actors, Stamos added, but that it would only use the notification system “where the evidence strongly supports our conclusion.”

In 2013, conducting widespread surveillance operations, including the allegation that the U.S. National Security Agency hacked directly into the servers of nine internet firms including Facebook.

North Korea was also accused of state-sponsored hacking after the December 2014 cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, which resulted in the personal details of around 6,000 Sony employees being leaked online, as well as information about upcoming films and salaries of the company’s top executives. North Korea denied any involvement.

During his recent visit to the U.S., Chinese President Xi Jinping denied that Beijing engages in state-sponsored hacking.

-Yahoo Tech:

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Subliminal Messaging Behind Subtitle Ban: Censorship on Piracy Movie in China


It is no secret that Xi Jinping’s administration is taking a hard line on internet regulation. Last November 18th’s blocking of EdgeCast’s Content Delivery Network or CDN illustrates just how far censorship authorities will go to control their domestic network. The CDN was host to a ‘mirror’ which provided internet users in mainland China unimpeded access to the Google search engine. It was thought that authorities would not block the Google mirror as doing so would risk disabling thousands of other innocuous websites hosted on the same network. Undeterred, officials blocked the EdgeCast network and ushered in a new era of internet censorship, one that signals China’s willingness to decouple itself from the global internet in pursuit of a relatively small number of offending targets. Google’s tumultuous history with the Chinese government is well known, but other less visible trends in internet management are emerging. In November last year, and, both extremely popular subtitle-sharing websites were apparently forced to close by authorities. Both websites have their roots in volunteer translation communities that have been translating foreign TV and movies for over a decade, making the shows accessible to the general Chinese audience. has closed permanently while closed temporarily for a content “clean up.” China Daily reported that the action was prompted by a renewed crackdown on pirated content. Indeed, had been labeled by the Motion Picture Association of America as among the worst copyright offenders. While it is likely that China will gradually improve IPR protection over time, it seems unlikely that subtitles for foreign videos are a high priority for Chinese authorities. Instead it seems probable that their closure marks a new stage in China’s web crackdown; one that is motivated not by politics or business but by concerns of cultural invasion.

Just days before closed its doors, China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television (SAPPRFT) issued a sweeping order that banned a long list of acts from videos streamed within the country. The order banned depiction of extramarital affairs, prostitution, excessive violence, supernatural phenomena, gore, “intense” murders, suicide, kidnapping and drugs, among others. Interestingly, the regulation also took aim at the subtitles accompanying the videos as well as the videos themselves. One might conclude that China is simply ratcheting up control of overseas-produced content to aid domestically-produced competitors. However, one possible explanation that isn’t getting much play in the West is that the ‘crackdown’ could be a natural byproduct of administrative restructuring conducted in 2013. The restructuring saw the merger of China’s two main media regulators, the General Administration of Press and Publication and the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television, into the SAPPRFT. Prior to the merger there was no clear division of responsibility for online media regulation. It is also worth noting that unlike many countries, China lacks a ratings system for movies and television. With no rating system to safeguard children from viewing violent or lewd content, all media in the country has long been regulated to be acceptable to general audiences. When viewed in this light, the ‘crackdown’ on online media is not really a crackdown at all but rather an attempt at harmonizing regulation between traditional and new media. After all, for years traditional content has been subject to far stricter regulation compared to those online.

Viewed against this backdrop of tightening control of the arts, it seems likely that IPR protection is merely an afterthought for what amounts to a broad campaign meant to cleanse internet media and harmonize regulation between traditional and new media. Indeed, this last year has seen a steady stream of new restrictions issued on the part of the SAPPRFT, which include requiring all foreign videos to receive permits before they can be streamed online after 1 April 2015. While it may be impossible to completely eradicate unapproved videos from the internet, it is possible to disrupt the community of volunteer translators that provide subtitles and make the videos watchable for millions of Chinese. In absence of easily accessible subtitles, the cat and mouse game of hunting down unapproved content is no longer as pressing. Viewed in this light, however, we might also come to the conclusion that the Chinese government has endorsed a new kind of internet management. Previously, videos and other media were permitted inside the ‘great firewall’ as long as they weren’t blatantly pornographic or political. Recent moves and comments on the part of the Chinese government, however, lend growing evidence that the Xi administration also sees foreign cultural influence as a dividing force that is not compatible with his vision of “positive” or “correct” art. We will have to wait and see just how far authorities will take the new directives. Issuing orders is one thing, but only implementation will determine that this is more than rhetoric.