• The WhatsApp-NSO Group Lawsuit and the Limits of Lawful Hacking

    On 29 October, WhatsApp sued the Israeli cybersecurity company NSO Group for installing surveillance malware on the phones of more than a thousand WhatsApp users, including journalists and human rights activists. (The WhatsApp vulnerability that NSO Group exploited was publicly reported in May 2019 and patched shortly thereafter.) WhatsApp sued primarily under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), the main federal law criminalizing computer hacking, which also permits private lawsuits. Alan Z. Rozenshtein writes that the complaint is notable for what it doesn’t include: the identity of the “customers” on whose behalf NSO Group installed the malware. But it’s pretty easy to figure out.

  • Islamic State after the Death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

    As its so-called caliphate expanded across Syria and Iraq, Islamic State (IS) promised its followers an apocalyptic battle to come. Eager jihadist propagandists predicted that a final victory over the “crusader armies” would usher in the day of judgment and give birth to a new world. The man who was to lead that battle, the self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, instead blew himself up in a tunnel in Syria on October 26th, murdering two of his own children as he died. The Economist writes that “His suicide, to avoid capture by American forces, marks the end of an era for IS,” “Yet this does not mark the end of IS.”

  • The Coming Middle East Conflagration

    Israel is girding for the worst and acting on the assumption that fighting between Israel and Iran, or between Israel and Iran’s regional proxies, could break out at any time. Michael Oren writes that it’s not hard to imagine how it might arrive. “The conflagration, like so many in the Middle East, could be ignited by a single spark. Israeli fighter jets have already conducted hundreds of bombing raids against Iranian targets in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. Preferring to deter rather than embarrass Tehran, Israel never comments on such actions. But perhaps Israel miscalculates, hitting a particularly sensitive target; or perhaps politicians cannot resist taking credit. The result could be a counterstrike by Iran, using cruise missiles that penetrate Israel’s air defenses and smash into targets like the Kiryah, Tel Aviv’s equivalent of the Pentagon. Israel would retaliate massively against Hezbollah’s headquarters in Beirut as well as dozens of its emplacements along the Lebanese border. And then, after a day of large-scale exchanges, the real war would begin.”

  • Depoliticizing Foreign Interference

    Russian interference in the 2016 election was one of the most effective and dangerous foreign operations ever conducted against the United States. Even worse, the risk of foreign meddling is likely to grow in the coming years. Jessica Brandt writes with just a year left before the next presidential election, U.S. leaders are still grappling with foreign interference in the last election. Postmortems of the 2016 campaign—in testimony from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller and a bipartisan report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence—have brought renewed attention to the ongoing risks, which have been made more difficult by new actors and new technologies. “As the threat has grown, the political polarization that surrounds election interference has deepened,” she writes, adding:. “Despite this bleak picture, progress is possible.

  • Why Adding Client-Side Scanning Breaks End-To-End Encryption

    Recent attacks on encryption have diverged. On the one hand, we’ve seen Attorney General William Barr call for “lawful access” to encrypted communications, using arguments that have barely changed since the 1990’s. Erica Portnoy writes that we’ve also seen suggestions from a different set of actors for more purportedly “reasonable” interventions, particularly the use of client-side scanning to stop the transmission of contraband files, most often child exploitation imagery (CEI).

  • The Money Farmers: How Oligarchs and Populists Milk the E.U. for Millions

    Before 1990, under Communism, farmers in the rich-soil fields west Budapest were growing wheat and corn for a government that had stolen their land. The New York Times reports that today, their children toil for new overlords, a group of oligarchs and political patrons who have annexed the land through opaque deals with the Hungarian government of Victor Orban. “Every year, the 28-country bloc pays out $65 billion in farm subsidies intended to support farmers around the Continent and keep rural communities alive. But across Hungary and much of Central and Eastern Europe, the bulk goes to a connected and powerful few. re is a twist: these land barons are financed and emboldened by the European Union.” The Times adds: “Europe’s farm program, a system that was instrumental in forming the European Union, is now being exploited by the same antidemocratic forces that threaten the bloc from within.”

  • The Danger Is Real: Why We’re All Wired for ‘Constructive Conspiracism’

    Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic magazine, says that the tendency to believe in conspiracy theories should not be dismissed as a mere folly. Rather, we should adopt the concept he calls “constructive conspiracism”: “Sometimes ‘they’ really are out to get you, so it pays to be careful,” Shermer writes. “Imagine you lived three million years ago on the plains of Africa as a tiny small-brained bipedal primate that was highly vulnerable to the region’s many terrifying predators. You hear a rustle in the grass. Is it just the wind or is it a dangerous animal?” Over time, those who imagined the rustle in the grass to be a predator will survive, while those who imagined the rustle to be nothing but the wind will be eaten by the predator, if there was a predator. “Conspiracy theorists have dedicated their lives to searching the long grass for the still-hidden creatures that supposedly engineered these tragedies. They’ll never find them because they don’t exist. But given all the very real predators that have tried to devour us over the eons, you can’t blame them for looking.”

  • FBI Investigating More than 2,000 Cases Tied to Foreign Terrorist Organizations

    The FBI says it is investigating more than 2,000 cases tied to groups designated by the United States as foreign terrorist organizations, a figure that reflects the persistent threat posed by outfits such as al-Qaida and Hezbollah. There are currently 68 individual groups on the U.S. State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.

  • First Statewide Testing of ShakeAlert in the United States

    Earlier this month, the U.S. Geological Survey and the State of California pressed the “go” button to allow the first-ever statewide public testing of the California Early Earthquake Warning System, which is powered by USGS’s earthquake early warning alerts, called ShakeAlerts. Alerts will be delivered by two independent methods, first over the federal Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system and second through the University of California Berkeley’s MyShake smartphone app.

  • What America Never Understood About ISIS

    The Islamic State indulged in some of the most ostentatious brutality and sadism of recent decades. If any extremist group deserves the adjective evil, this would be it. But it is precisely our disgust, which ISIS has well earned, that makes it difficult to talk about what the group was and what it meant—and what it may still mean. Shadi Hamid writes that it is understandable that some fear that talking about ISIS in terms of how it governed rather than how many it killed might provide it with a sheen of legitimacy after the fall of the group’s so-called caliphate. “The notion that we should call ISIS the worst names we can muster and leave it at that is to set ourselves up for future failure. And that is worth worrying about, since there will be attempts to replicate ISIS’s governance model in the coming decades,” Hamid writers.

  • Russia Tests New Disinformation Tactics in Africa to Expand Influence

    Russia has been testing new disinformation tactics in an enormous Facebook campaign in parts of Africa, as part of an evolution of its manipulation techniques ahead of the 2020 American presidential election. Unlike past influence campaigns from Russia, the Africa campaign targeted several countries through Arabic-language posts. Russians also worked with locals in the African countries to set up Facebook accounts that were disguised as authentic to avoid detection. The effort was at times larger in volume than what the Russians deployed in the United States in 2016 to help Donald Trump win the presidential election. The campaign underlined how Russia is continuing to aggressively try different disinformation techniques, even as it has come under scrutiny for its online interference methods.

  • The DNA Database Used to Find the Golden State Killer Is a National Security Leak Waiting to Happen

    A private DNA ancestry database that’s been used by police to catch criminals is a security risk from which a nation-state could steal DNA data on a million Americans, according to security researchers. Antonio Regalado writes that spies could use a crowdsourced genetic ancestry service to compromise your privacy—even if you’re not a member.

  • Why Did Microsoft Fund an Israeli Firm that Surveils West Bank Palestinians?

    Microsoft has invested in AnyVision, an Israeli startup which has developed a facial recognition technology used by Israel’s military and intelligence services to surveil Palestinians throughout the West Bank, in spite of the tech giant’s public pledge to avoid using the technology if it encroaches on democratic freedoms. The surveillance technology lets customers identify individuals and objects in any live camera feed, such as a security camera or a smartphone, and then track targets as they move between different feeds. The Israeli surveillance project is similar to China’s surveillance of its Uighur minority population. China is using artificial intelligence and facial recognition technology for a pervasive, intrusive monitoring of the Uighurs, a Muslim group living in western China.

  • Germany Unveils New Plan to Fight Far-Right Extremism, Online Hate Speech

    Facing a growing far-right extremist violence, the German government today (Wednesday) unveiled a series of new measures giving intelligence and law enforcement services more power to combat the threat. Among the new measures: Tightening gun laws; more protection for political figures at all levels; a requirement for social media companies to report online criminal content; and reducing privacy protection for social media posters disseminating hate and incitement.

  • Should New York Build a Storm Surge Barrier?

    It’s been seven years since Superstorm Sandy brought the city that never sleeps to a grinding halt. The Superstorm Sandy anniversary also marks seven years since New York started talking about building storm surge barriers to protect itself from future storms. At a recent event hosted by Columbia University, experts discussed a study that is evaluating the feasibility of building storm surge barriers around New York and New Jersey. The panelists also debated whether such a measure is a good idea.