Visible to the public Cyber Scene #29 - Geopolitics, Trade and Tech: No "Global-exit"Conflict Detection Enabled

Cyber Scene #29

Geopolitics, Trade and Tech: No "Global-exit"

No News Is Not Good News

Like fake news, no news turned out to be bad news for the Tribune press conglomerate on 29 December as its printing system experienced a disruption in their universe due to a malware attack from outside the US. From California to Florida to New York and Chicago in between, both the Tribune family and some of its former "children" (e.g., the LA Times) across the US scurried to restart. The digital versions were unaffected. No, it was not an elusive option for erasing fake news, but rather another reminder of the frailty of our digital life and quite a different, heavy-handed approach than subtle Russian 2016-and-beyond election meddling in the US and EU including, for at least the next 8 weeks, the UK. The Russians have been careful in picking their poison.

Another Not-So-Mighty Goliath Pen Versus Little David Hacker

German politicians, celebrities, and yes, once again journalists were subjected (Economist 12 Jan. "cyber-crime" Germany finds G0d") to dealing with G0d--a most ungodlike 20-year old hacker ("script kiddie") named December G0d who released the victims' phone numbers, addresses, credit card info, and sometimes private photos on Twitter. Sparing the "Alternative for Germany" far-right end of the country's political spectrum, the hacker said he was annoyed at the centrist and left-leaning Germany's politicians. But unlike most of the rest of the world who may empathize regarding at least distrust and dismay at many flavors of politicians but who have not taken up digital arms, he snatched code from some other hackers and apparently acted alone.

Despite the new European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), discussed in several prior Cyber Scenes, the Economist article cites Matthias Schultze from a German think tank who observes that Germany has lagged behind some of its neighbors, seeking help from the US in this script kiddie case, and from the Brits in the 2015 probable Russian cyber-attack on the Bundestag's servers. Rounding up a lone wolf cub in his parents' house, cliche that it is, continues to hound global cyber users. The article closes with an admonishment, inter alia, to users to take personal action to use better passwords as "cleanliness is next to G0dliness."

For a deeper dive into this German attack, including discussion of why the "cub reporter" selected only those critical of the German far right and the political implications of this action, see Melissa Eddy's NYT piece (1/5/19), "Hackers Leak Details of German Lawmakers Except for Those on Far Right."

Beyond password composition suggestions, cautionary tales of consequences, past and future, abound. Cyber/intelligence reporter David Sanger reports in the NYT on the Marriott breach discussed in the past included unencrypted passport numbers of up to 5.25 million. Unlike the credit cards that were breached in the heist in which "all but 354,000 had expired by September 2018," passports are good for 10 years. State Department said not to panic, given that the newer passports are hard to recreate, and although Sanger notes that Marriott offered to pay for a new passport if it could be connected to a verifiable fraudulent event, it did not offer to replace those stolen. Sanger concludes by noting that the absence of verifiable fraud points to governmental foreign spies, vice a "lone wolf cub" (your author's term) in the basement, as the former would seek info for their own and larger nefarious purposes vice short-term financial gain. As this article "goes to press," the US Government shutdown is showing signs of resolution in the coming weeks (back to that empathy re: politicians!) so State Department might be able to replace your compromised passport and the TSA security contingent at your local airport may be working in full, paid force, along with air traffic controllers. And the Secret Service? (oops, not furloughed).

Cyber Alchemy: Data into Ads

The implementation of the GDPR is, however, taking hold. Ask Google, just fined on 20 January by the French for a whopping $57 million (Euros 50 million) due to not disclosing properly the collection of user data on search engines, Google Maps and YouTube. This is the fourth and largest GDPR fine so far, and certainly not the last. Google did receive a larger fine prior to GDPR: Euros4.3 billion for mobile phone market abuse. The GDPR is now being cast as "Europe's Aggressive Watchdog."

Apple's CEO Tim Cook, however, asked for US rules that would mirror the GDPR. As Cyber Scene has discussed in the past, US legislators are struggling with how to proceed on this issue. Regulation surfaced repeatedly in the Google CEO testimony in mid December before the House Judiciary Committee discussed in the most recent Cyber Scene.

Voters Bought a New House

Now that the new, post-mid-term Members of Congress are taking their seats (save one, it seems), there may well be more regulatory bipartisan action on the issue of GDPR-like regulation. Readers may be interested to see the breakdown of the 116th Congress Standing, Select and Joint Committees in the House and Senate.

As observant readers have noticed, the Senate and House do not standardize their web pages, just as they distinguish party affiliation on line in different manners. They do agree on this: that Chairs (#1) are always the majority party, and Ranking Members (#2) hail from the minority party. If you missed it, they split in the Nov. 2018 midterms: the Senate remains Republican but House flipped Democratic, so leadership changes have taken place on all House committees whereas retirements or defeats or personal preference changes among Members of the Senate result in far fewer committee assignment changes this round.

Is Free Trade Really Free?

The following scientific research national breach is not exactly "trade" and not free for the victim: Robert Pear (NYT 1/7/19) looks at NIH-funded scientists and researchers who now need to better protect US universities' biomedical research which may be on a fast cyber boat to China. In a scientific panel out-brief on "foreign influences on research integrity," NIH Director Dr. Francis S. Collins and FBI Director Christopher Wray referred to nontraditional collectors of information whereby data thieves in "shadow laboratories" share data with the Chinese government.

Bloomberg Business also launched a huge 14 January edition focused on globalized trade from multiple cyber-related perspectives. From the individual to the global, let us begin with Fortnite. Bloomberg's Shawn Donnan looks both at its US-Sino child, Epic Games Inc. in North Carolina, and includes it among the dual citizen status of "new agents of globalization." The author tracks Fortnite's nascent "popular video game" status to its "full-fledged worldwide cultural phenomenon" ascent last year, allowing everyone (including a certain 8-year old whose Fortnite playing with American, Australian, and Chinese probable teenagers was witnessed over hours by your author) to engage with most corners of the earth. Donnan raises the issue of whether the likes of Fortnite should also be included in global trade. The unified economic growth is good for both the US and China. Cyber unites us, as our tech leaders remind us, and this "trade" is better than free: it is profitable.

But Bloomberg's Prasso and company play devil's advocate regarding China, citing its increasingly stronger near monopoly on digital activity in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa where China has a virtual lock on the sub-continents telecommunications. This is part of China's strategic plan regarding particularly broadcasting and surveillance technology in line with its "Digital Silk Road" subset of its "Belt and Road" initiative. Marco Polo need not apply to implement this plan, which pumps in $79Billion into worldwide projects, according to RWR Advisory Group, a D.C. think tank that tracks Chinese investments. The authors cast this as a "Digital Iron Curtain." The article also includes jaw-dropping charts indicating China's footprint regarding fiber cables, "smart city" initiatives and surveillance, telecom equipment, and internet-connected appliances. China's cyber corollary to its physical belt and road, as well as construction of parliamentary buildings abroad, and airports, etc., calls to mind the repurposed adage: "If they build it, they will come, and come again" or perhaps, digitally stay.

Thirdly, Joshua Brustein continues the Bloomberg analysis looking at "how fraught a trade war could be for Huawei, Apple and every other big tech company." He cites Tim Cook (see para 8 above if you forgot him) who in May 2018 told his Apple investors he wasn't worried about the US President's trade war with China, as they were intertwined (like Fortnite). However, on 2 January 2019, he admitted that the trade war had cut Apple's market by 10% and for the first time in 15 years, Apple's revenue projections. Brustein digs into the ZTE "death penalty" inflicted by POTUS, and the reverberating impact on Big Tech companies such as Apple.

Separately, the 24 January Economist cover casts the future of global commerce as "Slowbalisation", but the Fortnite fans are not abdicating, nor can the interwoven fabric of digital global life be undone.

Relatedly, NYT's tech reporter Jack Nicas projected on 5 January that Apple's Cook may be in for a hot kitchen (not Nicas' expression) in the coming "tougher times." This is due to several issues, but Nicas underscores the CEO's bet on China possibly backfiring (and POTUS knowing where iPhones are made) as well as the challenge for a tech company to innovate again and again. Nicas does close with the possibility of Apple pioneering marketable augmented reality devices--digital interface with what people see. This would be quite an innovation.

And let's not overlook FANG #1, as promised last Cyber Scene. Yes, Facebook is facing opting out among users on a broad level given increasing revelations in December 2018 of its exposure of 6.8 million users' photos. Wired's Brian Barrett provides a mid-December wrap-up for Facebook users of exactly what was compromised, and when it was discovered (25 September 2018). He notes that the GDPR (see how it crops up!), effective since May 2018, requires companies to notify authorities within 72 hours of a breach. In this case, it was months. This follows on the heels of the Wall Street Journal's 5 December "Facebook Emails Shed Light on Tactics" which followed the UK's Parliament's release of internal Facebook emails discussing ways to monetize the data they collect. There is no international exit from Facebook problems but many individuals have unfriended Facebook even if their passwords are still weak.

The international impact of Facebook is also captured by NYT's Max Fisher who examines Facebook's "Secret Rulebook for Global Political Speech." He traces how moderators implement 1,400 pages of rules and regs to enforce community standards. These of course may vary from country to country. Fisher in fact cites cyber experts from several corners of the world regarding this impact, but notes that the fear of misreading or misinterpreting, in a given country/political context, all these byzantine rules without a yes/no easy answer weighs heavily on the moderators who deal with billions of posts per day. Such is the heavy crown which lays on Facebook's head as its role becomes, per Balkans expert Jasmin Mujanovic, " hegemonic, so monopolistic, that it has become a force unto itself."

Is the Future Looking Up? Godel, Escher, Einstein

As we terrestrials struggle with digital globalization constrained by GDPR and its offshoots, trade wars or compromise, and technological challenges of continued innovation, celestial thoughts on quantum computing error-correcting code provide a glimmer of a black hole version of Lester Holt's NBC "Inspiring America" finish. Natalie Wolchover, writing for Quanta Magazine on 3 January, looks at what appears (to this novice) to be an exciting correlation between error correction in quantum computing and space-time and gravity. Ahmed Almheiri, who is at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, has calculated a bend in the space-time fabric and believes that "everything traces back to black holes." Over to you, gentle readers, to give it your professional consideration for the future of our digital life. Congress will be hard-pressed to regulate this anytime soon!