Category Archives: Technology

silicon valley & technology news

IS May Sustain Virtual Caliphate After Battlefield Losses, Experts Say

With the Islamic State group almost defeated on the ground in Iraq and Syria and its territorial hold dramatically reduced, the terror group and its sympathizers continue to demonstrate their ability to weaponize the internet in an effort to radicalize, recruit and inspire acts of terrorism in the region and around the world.

Experts charge that the terror group’s ability to produce and distribute new propaganda has been significantly diminished, particularly after it recently lost the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, its self-proclaimed capital and media headquarters.

But they warn that the circulation of its old media content and easy access to it on social media platforms indicates that the virtual caliphate will live on in cyberspace for some time, even as IS’s physical control ends.

“Right now we have such a huge problem on the surface web — and [it’s] really easy to access literally tens of thousands of videos that are fed to you, one after the other, [and] that are leading to radicalization,” Hany Farid, a computer science professor at Dartmouth College and adviser for the group Counter Extremism Project (CEP) in Washington, said Monday.

Little headway

Speaking at a panel discussion about the rights and responsibilities of social media platforms in an age of global extremism at the Washington-based Newseum, Farid said the social media giants Facebook, Google and Twitter have tried to get radical Islamist content off the internet, but significant, game-changing results have yet to be seen.

Farid said social media companies are facing increasing pressure from governments and counterterrorism advocates to remove content that fuels extremism.

Earlier this year, Facebook announced it had developed new artificial intelligence programs to identify extremist posts and had hired thousands of people to monitor content that could be suspected of inciting violence.

Twitter also reported that it had suspended nearly 300,000 terrorism-related accounts in the first half of the year.

YouTube on Monday said Alphabet’s Google in recent months had expanded its crackdown on extremism-related content. The new policy, Reuters reported, will affect videos that feature people and groups that have been designated as terrorists by the U.S. or British governments.

The New York Times reported that the new policy has led YouTube to remove hundreds of videos of the slain jihadist Anwar al-Awlaki lecturing on the history of Islam, recorded long before he joined al-Qaida and encouraged violence against the U.S.

The World Economic Forum’s human rights council issued a report last month, warning tech companies that they might risk tougher regulations by governments to limit freedom of speech if they do not stem the publishing of violent content by Islamic State and the spread of misinformation.

IS digital propaganda has reportedly motivated more than 30,000 people to journey thousands of miles to join IS, according to a report published by Wired, a magazine published in print and online editions that focuses on how emerging technologies affect culture, the economy and politics.

An ongoing struggle

Experts say measures to restrict cyberspace for terrorist activities could prove helpful, but they warn it cannot completely prevent terror groups from spreading their propaganda online and that it will be a struggle for some time.

According to Fran Townsend, the former U.S. homeland security adviser, terrorist groups are constantly evolving on the internet as the new security measures force them onto platforms that are harder to track, such as encrypted services like WhatsApp and Telegram and file-sharing platforms like Google Drive.

She said last month’s New York City attacker, Sayfullo Saipov, used Telegram to evade U.S counterterrorism authorities.

“This guy was on Telegram in ISIS chat rooms. He went looking for them, he was able to find them, and he was able to communicate on an encrypted app that evaded law enforcement,” Townsend said during Monday’s panel on extremism at the Newseum.

U.S. officials said Saipov viewed 90 IS propaganda videos online, and more than 4,000 extremism related images were found on his cellphones, including instructions on how to carry out vehicular attacks.

As the crackdown increases on online jihadi propaganda, experts warn the desperate terror groups and their lone wolf online activists and sympathizers could aggressively retaliate.

Last week, about 800 school websites across the United States were attacked by pro-IS hackers. The hack, which lasted for two hours, redirected visitors to IS propaganda video and images of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Similar attacks were also reported in Europe, including last week’s hacking of MiX Megapil, a private radio station in Sweden where a pro-IS song was played for about 30 minutes.

A global response

Experts maintain that to counter online extremism and terrorism, there is a need for a coordinated international response as social media platforms continue to cross national borders and jurisdictions.

Last month, Facebook, Twitter, Google and the Group of Seven advanced economies joined forces against jihadi online propaganda and vowed to remove the content from the web within two hours of its being uploaded.

“Our European colleagues — little late to this game, by the way — have come into it in a big way,” Townsend said.

She said the U.S-led West had given more attention to physical warfare against IS at the expense of the war in cyberspace.

“We have been very proficient in fighting this in physical space. … But we were late in the game viewing the internet,” she said.

Townsend added that the complexity of the problem requires action even at the local level.

“The general public can be a force multiplier,” she said, adding, “As you’re scrolling through your feed and you see something … it literally takes 50 seconds for you to hit a button and tell Twitter, ‘This should not be here and it’s not appropriate content.’ And it will make a difference.”

Tired of waiting for your website to load? $1/ mo Hosting + Free domain!

Vietnam’s Largest IT Company Touts Free Trade for Growth

Eleven countries meeting at the APEC summit in Da Nang agreed Saturday to seek a trans-pacific free trade agreement, despite the world’s largest market – the United States – pulling out of the deal.  Vietnam is expected to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of freer trade as it expands rapidly growing exports, including technology.  VOA’s Daniel Schearf visited Vietnam’s largest technology company, FPT, and has an exclusive interview with its chairman in Danang.

Tired of waiting for your website to load? $1/ mo Hosting + Free domain!

The Most-Advanced U.S. Manned Spy Plane

Before advanced satellites and drones started collecting military intelligence, the U.S. relied on high-flying supersonic aircraft that could quickly penetrate the airspace of adversary countries, take pictures and exit before being caught. The last of those planes, retired in 1998, still holds several world records. But now, spy planes can only be found in museums. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Tired of waiting for your website to load? $1/ mo Hosting + Free domain!

Report: Crack Down on Internet Freedoms Continues to Undermine Democracy

U.S. intelligence agencies say that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election in part through online propaganda. But a new report shows the United States was not the only target. According to the 2017 “Freedom on the Net” report, disinformation campaigns are increasing as Internet freedom declines globally. VOA’s Jesusemen Oni has the findings of the report.

Tired of waiting for your website to load? $1/ mo Hosting + Free domain!

Study: Internet Freedom Worsens in Pakistan

A new independent study places Pakistan among the top four countries, including Brazil, Mexico and Syria, where people have been murdered in each of the last three years for writing about sensitive subjects online.

The annual “Freedom on the Net” report, released Tuesday by U.S.-based Freedom House, is based on an assessment of internet freedom in 65 countries, accounting for 87 percent of internet users worldwide. The latest study primarily focused on developments between June 2016 and May 2017.

The research declared Pakistan “not free” for a sixth consecutive year, noting internet freedom has deteriorated due to violence and intimidation related to social media activists.

“Internet shutdowns, a problematic cybercrime law, and cyberattacks against government critics contributed to the ongoing deterioration. Political speech online is vulnerable to restriction as Pakistan enters an election year in 2018,” the report noted.

The most frequent targets, it says, seem to be online journalists and bloggers covering politics, corruption and crime, as well as people who express religious views that may contrast with or challenge the views of the majority.

The study went on to conclude that perpetrators of the reprisal attacks remained unknown “but their actions often aligned with the interests of politically powerful individuals or entities.”

The report documented incidents of violence and intimidation during the research period. The government of Pakistan has not commented on the findings.

In June, a Pakistani court sentenced to death earlier this year an internet user, Taimoor Raza, for committing blasphemy on Facebook. In April, university student Mashal Khan was killed in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province by a mob who accused him of posting blasphemous content online.

Khan’s murder sparked widespread outrage across Pakistan. An anti-terrorism court is hearing the lynching case against 57 suspects indicated by the court.

“Such attacks often succeed in silencing more than just the victim, encouraging wider self-censorship on sensitive issues like religion. The state’s failure to punish perpetrators of reprisal attacks for online speech perpetuates a cycle of impunity,” according to the report.

The Pakistani government enacted the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act in August 2016, introducing stronger censorship and surveillance powers with inadequate oversight, say critics.

Earlier this year, five bloggers known for criticizing the powerful military and religious militancy were abducted for few weeks. One of them later told media a government institution had detained and tortured him. Authorities had distanced themselves from the alleged abductions.

Tuesday’s report also criticized the government for the prolonged suspension of mobile internet services in parts of Pakistan, including the violence-plagued northwestern federally administered tribal areas, where security forces have been conducting anti-militancy operations.

Tired of waiting for your website to load? $1/ mo Hosting + Free domain!

About 15 Percent of US Federal Agencies Detected Kaspersky on Networks

About 15 percent of U.S. federal agencies have reported some trace of Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab software on their systems, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official told Congress on Tuesday.

Jeanette Manfra, assistant secretary for cybersecurity at DHS, told a U.S. House of Representatives panel that 94 percent of agencies had responded to a directive ordering them to survey their networks to identify any use of Kaspersky Lab products.

The Trump administration in September ordered civilian U.S. agencies to remove Kaspersky Lab from their networks, saying it was concerned the Moscow-based cybersecurity firm was vulnerable to Kremlin influence and that using its anti-virus software could jeopardize national security.

Kaspersky Lab has repeatedly denied the allegations.

Reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama.

Tired of waiting for your website to load? $1/ mo Hosting + Free domain!

Cambodian Netizens Face New Risks as Government Tightens Online Controls

In Cambodia, one of Asia’s poorest countries, the rapid improvement in internet connectivity and availability of affordable smartphones has been a great leveler.

Many of its roughly 15 million urban and rural inhabitants have gained, in a short time, access to mobile internet and social media, which provide relatively free communication and independent, nongovernment sources of information.

Some tech-savvy Cambodian activists, like Ngeth Moses, began to harness the internet to foster social change years ago.

Ngeth Moses, head of the Media/ICT Unit with the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights in Phnom Penh, has campaigned online through social media platforms for political freedom and human rights causes.

Ngeth Moses has also trained dozens of members of NGOs and youth organizations on how to use online campaigning and online expression platforms, such as Open Cyber Talk.

In the past year or so, however, the optimism among activists about the positive impact of greater internet access has given way to growing fears as the Cambodian government stepped up efforts to curtail online freedom of expression and political opposition.

“I’m more cautious now before posting or commenting [on] anything political online,” Ngeth Moses said, because of the growing state scrutiny of online content and the increase in reprimands or arrests of netizens.

At the same time, however, Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) have actively raised their online profile ahead of the national elections next year in an attempt to reach millions of new social media users.

Tightening online control

In early 2016, a new law increased the government’s authority over the telecommunications industry to include “overbroad surveillance powers” that pose “a threat to the privacy of individual users,” according to the U.S. think tank Freedom House.

The law includes punishments for several offensives, among them a prison term of seven to 15 years for threatening “national security,” a charge that the local human rights group Licadho said is vague and open to political abuse.

A pending cybercrime law is also raising concerns about legal limits on what users are allowed to post on the internet.

In 2016, the court used an older law to punish online dissent when it sentenced university student Kong Raiya to 18 months in prison for incitement over a Facebook post that criticized the CPP.

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has been increasingly targeted over online statements.

Senator Hong Sok Hour was sentenced to seven years in prison for allegedly posting false documents on Facebook in 2016. On October 25, King Norodom Sihamoni pardoned him at Hun Sen’s request.

Last month, a 20-year-old fruit vendor was arrested in western Cambodia and reportedly charged with incitement and public insult for Facebook posts said to defame Hun Sen and the Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk.

“The situation of internet freedom in Cambodia is of increasing concern,” said Ramana Sorn, who coordinates the Protecting Fundamental Freedoms Project of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, adding that the government’s technological ability to collect the communications and social media data from individual users has expanded exponentially.

“In the current political climate, social media users must be keenly aware of the risks related to what they are posting and sharing on Facebook and other web platforms,” Ramana Sorn said.

Nop Vy, media director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, echoed these concerns, saying, “Human rights and social workers who are using the social media platforms feel insecure in communicating and publishing their information.”

​Government plays down concerns

Government spokesmen told VOA Khmer that the activists’ criticism was overblown and that prosecutions over online content concerned only those who defamed others or posed genuine threats.

“We need those multiple opinions, but we do not want those insulting or organizing any subversive campaigns against other people’s reputations — they will face legal consequences,” said Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers.

“Only those having a hidden agenda are concerned about it,” CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said. “Those who have nothing to hide, they need not worry about being surveilled or monitored.”

The rising online repression comes, however, amid a nationwide crackdown on political opposition and independent media ahead of the July 2018 national elections.

On September 3, CNRP Chairman Kem Sokha was arrested and charged with treason.

Hun Sen announced the CNRP would be dissolved, and many party members, including deputy party leader Mu Sochua, have fled Cambodia since the first week of October, fearing arrest.

Also in September:

The 24-year-old independent English-language newspaper The Cambodia Daily closed after receiving a $6 million tax bill;
The Phnom Penh office of U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia Khmer-language news broadcaster was closed;
Local FM radio stations were ordered to stop carrying the Khmer news broadcasts by RFA and the Voice of America; some independent FM stations were shut down;
And the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute was expelled after years of operation. 

This crackdown, seen as the worst in 20 years, prompted widespread international condemnation and threats of action from the European Union and the United States, but Cambodia, which relies on China’s political support and largesse, appears unmoved.

​Greater access to information

Despite the broad crackdown, millions of Cambodians are now on Facebook and connected through digital communications apps, sometimes encrypted.

Experts said any repressive government will find it hard to check the spread of independent information that can inform the public of politically sensitive issues.

In 2015, internet/Facebook became the main information channel for Cambodians, with 30 percent of netizens using it to access information, surpassing the more state-controlled TV (29 percent) and radio (15 percent), according to an Asia Foundation report.

The improved access to online information “often wakes people up and makes [them] more likely to be critical of the government,” said Mike Godwin, an internet freedom expert and a senior fellow with the U.S.-based R Street Institute.

“In fact, efforts to suppress [online] dissent probably will not work as well as they had hoped because they may have the effect of awaking citizens to their unhappiness,” he said.

When popular political analyst Kem Ley was assassinated last year, his funeral march in the capital, Phnom Penh, drew hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom reportedly learned of the event through online messages and posts that quickly went viral.

Cambodia’s capacity and effort to control online content, however, are still less than those of its mainland Southeast Asian neighbors, according to Freedom House, which ranked the country on its 2016 Freedom on the Internet Index as “partly free.”

​Strongman seeks ‘likes’

Amid the tightening government control on online dissent, Hun Sen and his CPP have sought to expand their social media use to reach out to the public ahead of the national elections next year. In 2013 elections, the CPP narrowly beat the CNRP in a disputed result.

The 65-year-old strongman has urged officials to use Facebook, and he has presented a warm, revitalized image on his Facebook page, which he began in 2015 and has 8.5 million followers. Some photos show him driving passenger cars, attending family outings and frequently exercising.

Some researchers have said that the Cambodian government has formed a nationwide program with “cyberunits” run at local levels, which spread countless pro-CPP messages, denounce the opposition and attack government criticism on social media.

Ngeth Moses, the tech-using activist, said the CPP’s recent embrace of social media only belied the worsening freedom of expression in Cambodia, as could be seen in the controls exercised over pro-CPP Facebook pages. 

“Commenters on the prime minister’s [Facebook] page have been followed and if these comments contained inappropriate words, there were people who got the commenters to apologize,” he said. “On the surface, the internet freedom in Cambodia looks better than in some other countries in ASEAN [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations], but in practice it is not.”

Tired of waiting for your website to load? $1/ mo Hosting + Free domain!

Bots Battle for Ball, and Globe, in Robot Olympiad

The World Robot Olympiad, being held in Costa Rica this weekend, shows human athletes still have little to worry about: Sweat and glory do not compute well when relegated to faceless automatons.

But the same may not be true for workers, especially those in menial or transport activities where robots are steadily taking over. Think factory assemblers and sorters, or even self-driving cars.

Some of the technology behind the robot revolution could be seen in the Olympiad, which gathered more than 2,500 people from more than 60 countries in a vast hall on the outskirts of Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose — the first time the event, now in its 14th year, has been held in the Americas.

Pint-sized robots packed with sensors and rolling on plastic wheels showed their football skills by battling rivals on miniature soccer fields.

Others rolled across tables seeking out blocks of certain colors and sizes to grab and place within demarcated zones.

It was all more than child’s play for the contestants representing their countries, aged from 6 to adult.

“It’s so difficult,” said Hassan Abdelrahem Alqadi, 17, from the United Arab Emirates.

“We have to do it in the system and make the robot take the color and go to the pieces that we want. So it’s very difficult,” he said.

The teen, who hopes to be a mechanical engineer in the oil industry, admitted he had picked up tips from watching other competitors’ practice sessions. He and other tech-savvy youngsters crowded around dozens of tables — computers or robots in their hands — to observe.

Environmental theme

At one table, a group of Australian teens fine-tuned their contraptions trying to win possession of a palm-sized transparent “soccer” ball containing a sensor. The robots were able to detect the ball, grab it while fending off rivals, and protect the goal area.

Being at the Olympiad, surrounded by equally bright peers from around the world, was eye-opening for the teens.

“We’ve never been to an international competition before, so it’s a new experience. I can really only compare it to the competitions we’ve had in Australia — in Australia, we’ve done pretty well,” said Tiernan Martin, 13.

The competition over the weekend was being judged in several age categories, as well as in the football, university and open tournaments.

This year, the environment was the overriding theme — an area in which Costa Rica is at the forefront.

Thus, robots had to show their usefulness in sustainable tourism (identifying protected areas), carbon neutrality (planting trees) and clean energy (seeking out the best places to set up wind turbines.

Robots ‘help humanity’

Costa Rica’s science and technology minister, Carolina Vasquez Soto, told AFP her country won the right to host the Olympiad — hitherto held mostly in Asia — “for the participation we’ve had in sustainability, because we are contributing to that with more and bigger resources.”

On the larger question of what robots and artificial intelligence now represent for human workers, the national organizer for the World Robot Olympiad, Alejandra Sanchez, was upbeat.

While some see robots as a threat to jobs, she said she saw them as an opportunity.

“I think it’s really good. It’s good they replace human beings in some tasks. But we are not being discarded — we’re changing the functions for human beings,” she said.

“Before, a human being was the one painting cars, for example. Now we have a robot painting vehicles and a human being controlling the robot. … So, it’s a personal opinion, but I believe robots are here to stay, and here to help humanity.”

Tired of waiting for your website to load? $1/ mo Hosting + Free domain!