from Net Politics and Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program

Cyber Week in Review: August 3, 2018

A Google sign is seen during the China Digital Entertainment Expo and Conference (ChinaJoy) in Shanghai, China on August 3, 2018. Aly Song/Reuters

This week: Google planning a censored search engine for the Chinese market, taking down a cybercrime ring, Facebook removes "inauthentic accounts," and internet disruptions in Mali. 

August 3, 2018

A Google sign is seen during the China Digital Entertainment Expo and Conference (ChinaJoy) in Shanghai, China on August 3, 2018. Aly Song/Reuters
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Here is a quick round-up of this week’s technology headlines and related stories you may have missed:

1. Local rules and regulations prevent us from showing you search results. The Intercept reports that Google plans to reenter the Chinese search engine market with a new, censored, version of its service as an Android application. The project, codenamed Dragonfly, “will automatically identify and filter websites blocked by the Great Firewall,” and “blacklist sensitive queries” at the behest of the Chinese government. Additionally, the search engine will block many U.S. and Western news and social media sites. Google shut down its Chinese search engine in 2010 after the company discovered it had been compromised by Chinese state-sponsored hackers. However, since then, Google has slowly been making inroads back into the country, setting up an artificial intelligence lab and developing Android and WeChat apps for the country's roughly 800 million internet users. The latest disclosure of Google's plans comes a few weeks after the company was forced to cancel Project Maven--a joint artificial intelligence project with the U.S. Department of Defense--after an employee revolt. Getting a slice of China's massive internet economy, despite the poor optics, might prove too hard to resist. 

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2. Gone phishing. The Department of Justice announced the indictments and arrests of Dmytro Federov, Fedir Hladyr, and Andrii Kolpakov, three Ukrainian citizens believed to be leaders of the notorious FIN7 criminal hacking organization. They are charged with "hacking into thousands of computer systems and [stealing] millions of customer credit and debit card numbers" for sale on the dark web. The group is known to have targeted over one hundred companies and organizations. FIN7 also utilized advanced spear phishing tactics to target U.S. government organization officials and citizens, and used a “front company” named Combi Security to covertly recruit members and carry out its criminal activity. The Department of Justice touted the significance of the arrests, calling FIN7 “one of the most prolific financial threat groups of this decade.”

3. There's something about Mary. Facebook announced the removal of thirty-two pages and accounts from its platform this week, claiming “they were involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior” similar to that used by the Russian troll-farm the Internet Research Agency (IRA). Facebook, however, did not attribute the pages to the IRA or any other actor. Almost 300,000 accounts followed at least one of the inauthentic accounts or pages. One removed page promoted an anti-"unite the right" rally in Washington DC next weekend, given that one inauthentic account--a user known as "Mary"--was a page administrator. That drew criticism from authentic users who believed that Facebook should have excised only the inauthentic account, and not punish their political organizing. In Congress, Senator Mark Warner said Facebook's actions “is further evidence that the Kremlin continues to exploit platforms like Facebook to sow division and spread disinformation.”

4. Coincidence? I think not. Data from the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) reveals access interruptions to certain social media services in Mali during the country’s presidential election. Access to Twitter and WhatsApp was disrupted on Orange Mali, the country's largest telecom operator, on election day earlier this week, suggesting censorship. The Malian chapter of the Internet Society expressed concern that the ban would remain in place until the second round of the presidential election, scheduled for August 12. These types of interruptions are not new to Mali. In 2012, social media was also blocked in the country during a period of violent protests.

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