Our picksCombatting terrorism online; California’s 129 million dead trees; killer robots, and more

Published 4 September 2018

·  Top immigration official loses job over anti-Muslim posts

·  Experts see microwave weapons in sonic attacks on U.S. diplomats

·  California has 129 million dead trees. That’s a huge wildfire risk.

·  The rise of the cyber-mercenaries

·  US, Russia block formal talks on whether to ban ‘killer robots’

·  Iran’s fake news is a fake threat

·  Federal agencies consider identity platforms

·  Combatting terrorism online: Possible actors and their roles

Top immigration official loses job over anti-Muslim posts (Hamed Aleaziz, BuzzFeed News)
A U.S. Army director slated to become deputy director of U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services will reportedly no longer be filling the position after BuzzFeed discovered old Facebook posts in which he compared Muslims to members of the Nazi Party.

Experts see microwave weapons in sonic attacks on U.S. diplomats (William Broad, New York Times)
Experts examining the mysterious sonic attacks that affected dozens of U.S. diplomats in Cuba and China now believe microwave radiation may have been used to inflict brain injuries on the victims. Strikes using microwave radiation—once feared as a the next big weapon in Soviet psychological warfare and mind control—is now one of the main suspects in the 2016 phenomenon that left diplomats suffering from false sensations and with symptoms of brain trauma, according to the report.

California has 129 million dead trees. That’s a huge wildfire risk. (Umair Irfan, Vox)
But no one can afford to cut them all down.

The rise of the cyber-mercenaries (Neri Zilber, Foreign Policy)
What happens when private firms have cyberweapons as powerful as those owned by governments?

US, Russia block formal talks on whether to ban ‘killer robots’ (Janosch Delcker, Politico)
UN meeting concludes without moving closer to binding international rules.

Hackers increasingly target reputations through reviews sites, experts say (Olivia Beavers, The Hill)
Hackers are increasingly attempting to extort companies and individuals by threatening severe reputational harm through online reviews sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor, security experts tell The Hill. While internet extortion schemes are not new, their perpetrators now appear to be spamming sites where enough negative reviews can scare away firms’ customers.

Iran’s fake news is a fake threat (Eli Lake, Bloomberg)
If the Iranians were any good at social media trolling, it might be something to worry about.
As if the free world didn’t have enough to worry about with Russian fake news, now the world leader in state-sponsored terrorism is getting into the act: Iran is running a disinformation campaign on social media, and it is bigger than previously believed.
A closer look though at this propaganda, however, reveals a paper tiger. Iran’s network of Twitter handles, websites and Facebook fakes are amateurish and clumsy. Anyone foolish enough to trust information from something called the “Liberty Front Press,” or to believe that the opposition in the U.K. has its own website called “Britishleft.com,” is already an easy mark for the web’s many frauds and grifters.

Federal agencies consider identity platforms (Kimberly Underwood, Signal)
The federal government, building on existing identity management practices, is investigating how it can leverage passports and other state and federally issued ID cards to verify identity in the digital age. The need to validate a citizen’s identity in person and online is only going to grow across platforms, experts say. And absent a secure commercial solution, the government may have to provide verification of identity.

Combatting terrorism online: Possible actors and their roles (Zan Isacson, Lawfare)
For many Americans, the Islamic State gained notoriety through widely circulated beheading videos, beginning with the execution of American journalist James Foley. These grizzly videos demonstrated the monstrous tactics of the group, who filmed and disseminated gruesome murders for global consumption and disgust. Terrorism relies on publicity. Defeating the Islamic State and its successors will in part require removing their access to these technology platforms, which includes assigning responsibility for regulating this content. The preferred approach might lie with Congress deeming certain content inappropriate and mandating its removal, tech companies acting to self-regulate, or even inaction. This article surveys the costs and benefits of three very different approaches: government-led policy, private sector-led policy, and a passive approach.