Here is a quick round-up of this week’s technology headlines and related stories you may have missed:
1. Countries that think alike release joint statement on cyber issues. Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) released a statement of "principles and actions on cyber" at the conclusion of their summit in Japan. The document reasserts positions long held by G7 countries, including that certain cyber activities can amount to the use of force or armed attack under information law, the importance of the free flow of data, that human rights apply online, and that more countries should sign up to the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime. Japan made cyber issues a priority for its G7 presidency, and its first time that G7 leaders issue a stand-alone statement on the topic. The last time that digital topics figured so prominently was during the 2011 Deauville summit in France, when then President Nicholas Sarkozy hosted an "e-G8" event that garnered controversy among some internet activists who saw it as part of the French government’s attempt to "civilize" the internet.
2. More evidence the SWIFT bank heists are tied to North Korea. Last week, we mentioned that BAE Systems had found some striking similarities between the malware that targeted the Bangladeshi, Ecuadorian and Vietnamese banks used to engineer fraudulent Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) transactions. This week, Symantec published findings that support those claims, noting that the code used in the SWIFT incidents is similar to that used by a threat group known as Lazarus. Lazarus has been linked to the 2009 denial of service attacks against U.S. and South Korean targets, which South Korean intelligence later attributed to North Korea, and the 2014 incident against Sony Pictures Entertainment, which the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) attributed to North Korea. These two pieces of evidence, along with North Korea’s need for currency, make for a compelling case to suspect the Kim Jong-un regime.
3. Court throws out Playpen evidence. A federal judge ruled this week that evidence collected by the FBI as part of an investigation into Playpen, a child porn site, should be excluded from a case against an alleged user of the site. The FBI obtained a warrant to hack into the site—only accessible through TOR, software that facilitates anonymous Internet communications—and run it from a government server to collect the IP addresses of site visitors. Lawyers for the alleged visitor, Jay Michaud, requested that the FBI reveal the technique used to take over the site to ensure the agency did not go beyond the bounds of their warrant. When the FBI refused, the judge in the case threw out the evidence they had collected as a result of the hack. The government has not yet announced if it will appeal the decision. The case may set a precedent that will force law enforcement to alter how they use hacking techniques to conduct investigations.
4. China’s “fifty-cent party” floods online debate. Observers of the Chinese internet have long held that the Chinese government employs a “fifty-cent party” of online commentators—so called for the amount they’re paid for each online comment—to promote government views online. A paper by political scientists Gary King, Jennifer Pan, and Margaret Roberts (the same team that produced a notable American Political Science Review paper on online censorship in China) released last week argues that fifty-centers are primarily government employees and largely focus on flooding online debate with rosy, “cheerleading” messages to distract the public when current events may motivate anti government sentiment or action. There are a couple of qualifications to their study—the training set they used to identify fifty-cent comments drew only from comments paid for by the propaganda department of one district in southern China, and they extrapolate from there—but they present a much more complete picture of the fifty-cent party than we had.