United States

Is Russia Conducting A Social Media War On America? (time.com) 441

An anonymous reader writes: Time magazine ran a cover story about "a dangerous new route for antidemocratic forces" -- social media. "Using these technologies, it is possible to undermine democratic government, and it's becoming easier every day," says Rand Waltzman of the Rand Corp., who ran a major Pentagon research program to understand the propaganda threats posed by social media technology." The article cites current and former FBI and CIA officials who now believe Russia's phishing emails against politicians were "just the most visible battle in an ongoing information war against global democracy." They cite, for example, a March report by U.S. counterintelligence which found "Russians had sent expertly tailored messages carrying malware to more than 10,000 Twitter users in the Defense Department." Each message contained links tailored to the interests of the recipient, but "When clicked, the links took users to a Russian-controlled server that downloaded a program allowing Moscow's hackers to take control of the victim's phone or computer -- and Twitter account...

"In 2016, Russia had used thousands of covert human agents and robot computer programs to spread disinformation referencing the stolen campaign emails of Hillary Clinton, amplifying their effect. Now counterintelligence officials wondered: What chaos could Moscow unleash with thousands of Twitter handles that spoke in real time with the authority of the armed forces of the United States?" The article also notes how algorithms now can identify hot-button issues and people susceptible to suggestion, so "Propagandists can then manually craft messages to influence them, deploying covert provocateurs, either humans or automated computer programs known as bots, in hopes of altering their behavior. That is what Moscow is doing, more than a dozen senior intelligence officials and others investigating Russia's influence operations tell Time."

The article describes a Russian soldier in the Ukraine pretending to be a 42-year-old American housewife. Meanwhile, this week Time's cover shows America's White House halfway-covered with Kremlin-esque spires -- drawing a complaint from the humorists at Mad magazine, who say Time copied the cover of Mad's December issue.
Security

Any Half-Decent Hacker Could Break Into Mar-a-Lago (alternet.org) 326

MrCreosote writes: Properties owned and run by the Trump Organization, including places where Trump spends much of his time and has hosted foreign leaders, are a network security nightmare. From a report via ProPublica (co-published with Gizmodo): "We parked a 17-foot motor boat in a lagoon about 800 feet from the back lawn of The Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach and pointed a 2-foot wireless antenna that resembled a potato gun toward the club. Within a minute, we spotted three weakly encrypted Wi-Fi networks. We could have hacked them in less than five minutes, but we refrained. A few days later, we drove through the grounds of the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, with the same antenna and aimed it at the clubhouse. We identified two open Wi-Fi networks that anyone could join without a password. We resisted the temptation. We have also visited two of President Donald Trump's other family-run retreats, the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., and a golf club in Sterling, Virginia. Our inspections found weak and open Wi-Fi networks, wireless printers without passwords, servers with outdated and vulnerable software, and unencrypted login pages to back-end databases containing sensitive information. The risks posed by the lax security, experts say, go well beyond simple digital snooping. Sophisticated attackers could take advantage of vulnerabilities in the Wi-Fi networks to take over devices like computers or smart phones and use them to record conversations involving anyone on the premises."
Government

Justice Department Appoints Former FBI Director Robert Mueller As Special Counsel For Russia Investigation (thehill.com) 603

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Hill: The Justice Department has appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate Russia's involvement in the U.S. election. Mueller, a former prosecutor who served a 12-year term at the helm of the bureau, has accepted the position, according to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. "In my capacity as acting attorney general I determined that it is in the public interest for me to exercise my authority and appoint a special counsel to assume responsibility for the matter," Rosenstein said in a statement. "My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination. What I have determined is that based upon the unique circumstances, the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command." UPDATE: President Trump has released a statement: "As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know -- there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly. In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country."
Republicans

The Republican Push To Repeal Net Neutrality Will Get Underway This Week (washingtonpost.com) 141

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Washington Post: Federal regulators will move to roll back one of the Obama administration's signature Internet policies this week, launching a process to repeal the government's net neutrality rules that currently regulate how Internet providers may treat websites and their own customers. The vote on Thursday, led by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, will kick off consideration of a proposal to relax regulations on companies such as Comcast and AT&T. If approved by the 2-1 Republican-majority commission, it will be a significant step for the broadband industry as it seeks more leeway under government rules to develop new business models. For consumer advocates and tech companies, it will be a setback; those groups argue that looser regulations won't prevent those business models from harming Internet users and website owners. The current rules force Internet providers to behave much like their cousins in the legacy telephone business. Under the FCC's net neutrality policy, providers cannot block or slow down consumers' Internet traffic, or charge websites a fee in order to be displayed on consumers' screens. The net neutrality rules also empower the FCC to investigate ISP practices that risk harming competition. Internet providers have chafed at the stricter rules governing phone service, which they say were written for a bygone era. Pai's effort to roll back the rules has led to a highly politicized debate. Underlying it is a complex policy decision with major implications for the future of the Web.
Government

Gizmodo Went Phishing With the Trump Team -- Will They Catch a Charge? (arstechnica.com) 122

Earlier this month, technology publication Gizmodo published a report on how it "phished" members of the administration and campaign teams of President Donald Trump. The blog said it identified 15 prominent figures on Trump's team and sent e-mails to each posing as friends, family members, or associates containing a faked Google Docs link. But did the publication inadvertently break the law? ArsTechnica reports: "This was a test of how public officials in an administration whose president has been highly critical of the security failures of the DNC stand up to the sort of techniques that hackers use to penetrate networks," said John Cook, executive editor of Gizmodo's Special Projects Desk, in an e-mail conversation with Ars. Gizmodo targeted some marquee names connected to the Trump administration, including Newt Gingrich, Peter Thiel, (now-ex) FBI director James Comey, FCC chairman Ajit Pai, White House press secretary Sean Spicer, presidential advisor Sebastian Gorka, and the administration's chief policymakers for cybersecurity. The test didn't appear to prove much. Gingrich and Comey responded to the e-mail questioning its provenance. And while about half of the targeted officials may have clicked the link -- eight devices' IP addresses were recorded accessing the linked test page -- none entered their login credentials. The test could not determine whose devices clicked on the link. What the test did manage to do is raise the eyebrows of security experts and some legal experts. That's because despite their efforts to make it "reasonably" apparent that this was a test, Gizmodo's phishing campaign may have violated several laws, ignoring many of the restrictions usually placed on similar tests by penetration-testing and security firms. At a minimum, Gizmodo danced along the edges of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).
Communications

FCC Suspends Net Neutrality Comments, As Chairman Pai Mocks 'Mean Tweets' (gizmodo.com) 184

An anonymous reader writes:Thursday the FCC stopped accepting comments as part of long-standing rules "to provide FCC decision-makers with a period of repose during which they can reflect on the upcoming items" before their May 18th meeting. Techdirt wondered if this time to reflect would mean less lobbying from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, but on Friday Pai recorded a Jimmy Kimmel-style video mocking mean tweets, with responses Gizmodo called "appalling" and implying "that anyone who opposes his cash grab for corporations is a moron."

Meanwhile, Wednesday The Consumerist reported the FCC's sole Democrat "is deploying some scorched-earth Microsoft Word table-making to use FCC Chair Ajit Pai's own words against him." (In 2014 Pai wrote "A dispute this fundamental is not for us five, unelected individuals to decide... We should also engage computer scientists, technologists, and other technical experts to tell us how they see the Internet's infrastructure and consumers' online experience evolving.") But Pai seemed to be mostly sticking to friendlier audiences, appearing with conservative podcasters from the Taxpayer Protection Alliance, the AEI think tank and The Daily Beast.

The Verge reports the flood of fake comments opposing Net Neutrality may have used names and addresses from a breach of 1.4 billion personal information records from marketing company River City Media. Reached on Facebook Messenger, one woman whose named was used "said she hadn't submitted any comments, didn't live at that address anymore and didn't even know what net neutrality is, let alone oppose it."

Techdirt adds "If you do still feel the need to comment, the EFF is doing what the FCC itself should do and has set up its own page at DearFCC.org to hold any comments."
Government

Nuclear Experts Form International 'Nuclear Crisis Group' (teenvogue.com) 63

Slashdot reader Dan Drollette shares an article by the executive director and publisher of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:On Friday, an elite group of the world's nuclear experts and advisers launched a Nuclear Crisis Group, to help manage the growing risk of nuclear conflict. The group includes leading diplomats with decades of experience, and retired military officers who were once responsible for launching nuclear weapons if given the order to do so. China, India, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States, all countries that have nuclear weapons, are represented. The group intends to create a "shadow security council," or an expert group capable of providing advice to world leaders on nuclear matters...

Building on grass-roots support, the Nuclear Crisis Group could serve as a brake on nuclear escalation and be an early step in reversing the downward nuclear security spiral. Not only will they be able to offer expertise to inexperienced leaders who are dabbling in nuclear security, but they will be able to develop and endorse proposals that could make the world safer such as expanding the decision time that leaders have to respond to a nuclear threat, further protecting nuclear systems against cyber attacks and unintended escalations, reenergizing the appetite for arms control negotiations, and questioning global nuclear upgrade programs.

Government

Expiring Section 702 of FISA Helped US Conclude Russia Hacked Election To Help Trump, NSA Chief Says (reuters.com) 390

Dustin Volz, reporting for Reuters: A top U.S. intelligence official said Thursday a controversial surveillance law that allows the broad electronic spying of foreigners played a major role in understanding Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election. The statement from Admiral Mike Rogers, the director of the U.S. National Security Agency, may bolster efforts by intelligence agencies to fully preserve the authority, known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, before it expires at the end of the year. Privacy advocates have for years said Section 702 allows for excessively broad surveillance, including warrantless access to some American communications, and should be reformed to include new curbs. "I would highlight much, not all, much of what was in the intelligence community's assessment, for example, on the Russian efforts against the U.S. election process in 2016, was informed by knowledge we gained through (Section) 702 authority," Rogers said. Rogers said allowing the statute to expire on Dec. 31, unless Congress votes to reauthorize it, would degrade U.S. intelligence agencies' ability to provide "timely warning and insight" on a variety of criminal and national security threats.
Security

Hackers Came, But the French Were Prepared (nytimes.com) 285

Adam Nossiter, David E. Sanger, and Nicole Perlroth, reporting for the New York Times: Everyone saw the hackers coming. The National Security Agency in Washington picked up the signs. So did Emmanuel Macron's bare-bones technology team. And mindful of what happened in the American presidential campaign, the team created dozens of false email accounts, complete with phony documents, to confuse the attackers (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source). The Russians, for their part, were rushed and a bit sloppy, leaving a trail of evidence that was not enough to prove for certain they were working for the government of President Vladimir V. Putin but which strongly suggested they were part of his broader "information warfare" campaign. The story told by American officials, cyberexperts and Mr. Macron's own campaign aides of how a hacking attack intended to disrupt the most consequential election in France in decades ended up a dud was a useful reminder that as effective as cyberattacks can be in disabling Iranian nuclear plants, or Ukrainian power grids, they are no silver bullet. The kind of information warfare favored by Russia can be defeated by early warning and rapid exposure.
Government

IT Worker Who Trained H-1B-Visa-Holding Replacement Aims For Congress (computerworld.com) 134

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Computerworld: Craig Diangelo was an IT worker at Northeast Utilities in Connecticut until he completed training his H-1B-visa-holding replacement. He was one of about 200 who lost their jobs in 2014 after two India-based IT offshore outsourcing firms took over their work at what is now called Eversource. Diangelo, at first, was quiet, bound by severance agreements signed with the company. Then he started speaking out. Now, Diangelo is running for Congress. offering up a first-hand perspective on IT outsourcing that resonates with many other workers in his state. "I've seen the injustices that have been done to us," said Diangelo, who is not optimistic lawmakers will deliver on H-1B reform. "You can't let this matter die down, because when you stop talking about it nothing seems to get done." Diangelo isn't a one-issue candidate or political novice. He previously served two terms as an alderman in his hometown of New Britain and remains involved in city planning work. The 64-year-old has filed the necessary papers to run for office, has a campaign manager, a website and knows he has to raise an awful lot money to challenge Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Esty, now in her third term. But Diangelo has no illusions about his odds. Even so, he may be the only person to run for Congress, at least in recent times, who has trained his replacement. He went to college hoping to be come a teacher, but when that proved difficult, he wound up at Travelers Insurance in Hartford -- in the company's data processing center.
Government

Trump Fires FBI Director James Comey (washingtonpost.com) 809

The White House said today that President Trump has fired FBI director James Comey. Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement: "President Donald J. Trump informed FBI Director James Comey that he has been terminated and removed from office. President Trump acted based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 'The FBI is one of our Nation's most cherished and respected institutions and today will mark a new beginning for our crown jewel of law enforcement,' said President Trump. A search for a new permanent FBI Director will begin immediately." The Washington Post reports: Earlier in the day, the FBI notified Congress that Comey misstated key findings involving the Hillary Clinton email investigation during testimony last week, saying that only a "small number" of emails had been forwarded to disgraced congressman Anthony Weiner, not the "hundreds and thousands" he'd claimed in his testimony. The letter was sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, more than a week after Comey testified for hours in defense of his handling of the Clinton probe. In defending the probe at last week's hearing, Comey offered seemingly new details to underscore the seriousness of the situation FBI agents faced last fall when they discovered thousands of Clinton aide Huma Abedin's emails on the computer of her husband, Anthony Weiner. "Somehow, her emails were being forwarded to Anthony Weiner, including classified information," Comey said, adding later, "His then-spouse Huma Abedin appears to have had a regular practice of forwarding emails to him for him I think to print out for her so she could then deliver them to the secretary of state." At another point in the testimony, Comey said Abedin "forwarded hundreds and thousands of emails, some of which contain classified information." Neither of those statements is accurate, said people close to the investigation. Tuesday's letter said "most of the emails found on Mr. Weiner's laptop computer related to the Clinton investigation occurred as a result of a backup of personal electronic devices, with a small number a result of manual forwarding by Ms. Abedin to Mr. Weiner." The letter also corrected the impression Mr. Comey's testimony had left with some listeners that 12 classified emails were among those forwarded by Abedin to Weiner.
Government

Officials Fear Russia Could Try To Target United States Through Kaspersky AV (go.com) 173

Russia's growing aggression toward the United States has deepened concerns among U.S. officials that Russian spies might try to exploit one of the world's most respected cybersecurity firms to snoop on Americans or sabotage key U.S. systems, according to an ABC News investigation. From the report: Products from the company, Kaspersky Lab, based in Moscow, are widely used in homes, businesses and government agencies throughout the United States, including the Bureau of Prisons. Kaspersky Lab's products are stocked on the shelves of Target and Best Buy, which also sells laptops loaded by manufacturers with the firm's anti-virus software. But in a secret memorandum sent last month to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Senate Intelligence Committee raised possible red flags about Kaspersky Lab and urged the intelligence community to address potential risks posed by the company's powerful market position. "This [is an] important national security issue," declared the bipartisan memorandum, described to ABC News by congressional sources.
The Internet

Pepe the Frog Is Dead (theguardian.com) 358

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The creator of Pepe the Frog has symbolically killed off the cartoon frog, effectively surrendering control of the character to the far right. Matt Furie, an artist and children's book author, created the now-infamous frog as part of his "Boy's Club" series on MySpace in 2005. Pepe took on a life of its own online as a meme, before being eventually adopted as a symbol by the "alt-right" in the lead-up to last year's U.S. election. In September, Hillary Clinton identified Pepe the Frog as a racist hate symbol, and Pepe was added to the Anti-Defamation League's database of hate symbols. Furie launched a campaign to "Save Pepe," flooding the internet with "peaceful or nice" depictions of the character in a bid to shake its association with white supremacy and antisemitism. But he now seems to have conceded defeat, killing the character off in a one-page strip for the independent publisher Fantagraphics' Free Comic Book Day. It showed Pepe laid to rest in an open casket, being mourned by his fellow characters from Boy's Club.
Facebook

Facebook Takes Out Full-page Newspaper Ads To Help UK Citizens Detect Fake New (venturebeat.com) 82

An anonymous reader writes: Facebook has today taken out full-page ads in U.K. newspapers ahead of the general election that's scheduled to take place next month. These ads are designed to educate the public about how to spot fake news online. Appearing in nationwide publications, including the Guardian and the Telegraph, Facebook's "Tips for spotting false news" ad is similar to the one it published in France last month and covers such areas as being skeptical of misleading headlines, spotting manipulated images, and checking the URL of the story. The advice offered may not always help, however -- under "Consider the photos," for example, the text reads: "You can search for the photo or image to verify where it came from." But anyone requiring advice on how to spot fake news through a newspaper ad likely isn't tech savvy enough to know how to do that or to even understand what it means. Alongside these ads, Facebook also revealed that is has deleted "tens of thousands" of accounts that it believes were deliberately spreading fake news and that it is also updating its algorithms to demote articles it suspects of carrying dubious messaging.
Government

EPA Dismisses Half the Scientists on Its Major Review Board (nymag.com) 279

An anonymous reader shares a report: A few weeks after the election, pro-Trump commentator Scottie Nell Hughes heralded the dawn of a new era when she declared, "There's no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts." In the age of Trump there's little need for people who've devoted their lives to studying scientific facts, and over the weekend the administration finally got around to dismissing some of them. According to the Washington Post, about half of the 18 members on the Environmental Protection Agency's Board of Scientific Counselors have been informed that their terms will not be renewed. The academics who sit on the board advise the EPA's scientific board on whether its research is sound. The academics usually serve two three-year stints, and they were told by Obama administration officials and career EPA staffers that they would stay on for another term. But on Friday some received emails from the agency informing them that their first three-year term was up and they would not be renominated. Republican members of Congress have complained for some time that the Board of Scientific Counselors, as well as the 47-member Science Advisory Board, just rubber-stamp new EPA regulations. A spokesman for EPA administrator Scott Pruitt confirmed that he's thinking of replacing the academics with industry experts (though the EPA is supposed to be regulating those companies). Gretchen Goldman, research director at the Center for Science and Democracy, expressed her disappointment and asked, "What's the scientific reason for removing these individuals from this EPA science review board? It is rare to see such a large scale dismissal even in a presidential transition. The EPA is treating this scientific advisory board like its members are political appointees when these committees are not political positions. The individuals on these boards are appointed based on scientific expertise not politics. This move by the EPA is inserting politics into science."

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