from Net Politics and Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program

Cyber Week in Review: May 13, 2016

CFR Net Politics Cyber

May 13, 2016

CFR Net Politics Cyber
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Here is a quick round-up of this week’s technology headlines and related stories you may have missed:

1. German spy accuses Russia of last year’s Bundestag cyber incident. Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency (BfV), accused "the Russian state" of being behind the cyber incident that crippled the German parliament’s computer networks for a few days last year. Maassen said that the incident represented a shift in Russia’s tactics, as Russian intelligence agencies now show "a willingness to conduct sabotage" instead of simply spying. This isn’t the first time the Russia has been accused of engaging in sabotage-related cyber activity. Last year, L’Express reported that French investigators suspected that a Russian-based threat actor, known as APT28, Sofacy, and Pawn Storm--the same group the BfV believes to be behind the Bundestag incident--was behind the incident took TV5 Monde off the air. According to the Wall Street Journal, a Kremlin spokesperson was unavailable for comment though Russia will most likely deny the accusation.

2. Accusations of Facebook bias raise broader questions of algorithmic neutrality. Technology website Gizmodo reports that Facebook allegedly suppresses conservative news content in its "trending" module, located in the top right corner of Facebook’s browser version. The anonymous source on which Gizmodo bases its reporting and who is a self-described conservative alleges that Facebook’s human curators omitted to recognize "Mitt Romney or Glenn Beck or popular conservative topics" as trending. Facebook denied the accusation, though it acknowledged some form of human curation to determine which stories people see in their news feeds (possibly to prevent your news feed from turning into Tay). The debate over neutrality of algorithms and human curation in tech products is not new. Google, given its market dominance in search, has long been accused of curating people’s search results based on user preference and its own search algorithm. It’s unsurprising that Facebook faces similar allegations as it becomes a primary source for news content, something that New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo says should prod Facebook into developing journalistic standards.

3. Comey no fan of WhatsApp. In a development that will surprise no one, FBI Director Jim Comey said this week that WhatsApp’s deployment of end-to-end encryption will make it harder for law enforcement to implement wiretap orders and use other legal means to investigate national security cases. Comey also said that encryption was "essential tradecraft" for terrorist groups and that, between October 2015 and March 2016, the FBI couldn’t unlock 500 phones among the 4000 it was asked to inspect, a failure rate of about 12 percent. If you want more on the encryption debate sure to check out this CFR event, in which Michael Chertoff, Cyrus Vance and I debate going dark, backdoors, and the value of privacy in the digital age.

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