Here is a quick round-up of this week’s technology headlines and related stories you may have missed:
1. Hackers are misunderstood because they're artists. Russian President Vladimir Putin hinted that "patriotic hackers" based in Russia could have played a role in the hacking of last year's U.S. election. In an interview with Russian reporters in St. Petersburg, Putin said that hackers "are like artists" that pick their victims based on how they feel "when they wake up in the morning" and their understanding of "interstate relations." Previously, Kremlin officials had consistently denied that Russia had anything to do with the compromise of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and other entities. This new line of defense could allow the Kremlin to distance itself from allegations of Russian election meddling if evidence surfaces of links between members of the Trump campaign, Russia's sizeable hacker underground, and the hacking of the DNC. Putin's remarks came a few days before the Intercept published a leaked National Security Agency report asserting that Russian hackers, in the three months leading up to the election, spoofed emails to local government officials to gain access their voting systems’ software.
2. Cyber sovereignty in the United Kingdom. In response to the London Bridge terrorist attack, British Prime Minister Theresa May called for international agreements to “regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremist and terrorism planning.” May argued that the internet provided a safe space for terrorists to spread their ideology and coordinate attacks. It is unclear how May will reach her goal. As the New York Times points out, the country's recent Investigatory Powers Act already gives law enforcement and intelligence agencies vast authority to monitor Britons' communications, some of which with minimal judicial oversight. Moreover, Facebook and other social media companies do not want terrorist content on their platforms either, given that it's clearly bad for business and are under significant pressure in the United Kingdom and elsewhere to take it down quickly. Finally, it is hard for May to advocate for cyberspace regulation when her own Foreign Office views China's approach to cyber sovereignty skeptically or argues against new cyber treaties.
3. Hackers-for-hire fuel cyber intrigue in the Middle East. Behind the scenes cyber intrigue has played a prominent role in this ongoing standoff between Qatar and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who decided to cut off diplomatic relations, travel, and trade with Qatar early this week. The dispute is believed to have been sparked by a story that appeared on Qatari state media in which the emir of Qatar was quoted criticizing neighbors and commending Iran. The news article appears to be a fake planted by hackers—raising the question, who planted the story and why? According an Federal Bureau of Investigation official quoted in the New York Times, Russian hackers-for-hire are the likely culprits, some of whom have a history of freelancing for Gulf states, suggesting the hacking is part of an ongoing disinformation campaign that has shadowed the diplomatic dispute between Qatar and its neighbors.
4. Fixing mutual legal assistance in Europe. In an interview with Reuters, European Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said that the European Union will consider three proposals to improve law enforcement's ability to gather evidence from online service providers in the course a criminal investigation. Currently, obtaining digital evidence across borders can be long and cumbersome, and the EU's proposed reforms would speed up the process, known as mutual legal assistance. The reforms under consideration include allowing one member state to directly request evidence from a provider located in another member state and requiring service providers in Europe to comply with member state requests for assistance. The reforms could undoubtedly help European law enforcement when the data sought is located in the EU, but much of the data generally requested from Facebook, Google, and others is located in the United States--beyond the reach of the proposed rules and its own separate can of worms. Jourova anticipates to propose the new rules sometime in early 2018.