Here is a quick round-up of this week’s technology headlines and related stories you may have missed:
1. Iran rolls out its halal internet. After six years of work, the Iranian government has finally completed the first phase of a planned domestic internet, which would only contain Islamic content approved by the Iranian government. Dubbed the "halal internet," this new Iranian version of the internet is cut off from the global internet and is only accessible from within the country, contrary to other "national internets" like China’s great firewall system which is connected to the global internet but uses a system of filters to keep unwanted content out of the country. Think of Iran’s new internet like a company’s internal corporate network but built for 77 million people. Unsurprisingly, human rights groups have criticised the move as another attempt by Iranian authorities to stifle free speech and assembly online. For its part, the Iranian government argues that the new national internet will offer security improvements (i.e. less denial of service attacks from the outside world) and promote local content.
2. FBI warns about possible compromise of state election systems. According to a document obtained by Yahoo! News, the FBI warned election officials across the country to beware of malicious cyber actors attempting to infiltrate election systems and voter databases using widely-available penetration testing software. The warning comes after foreign hackers targeted Illinois and Arizona’s board of elections earlier this summer. Speculation as to the purpose of the election board compromises is rampant. With the recent alleged Russian hacking of the DNC’s network, some are pointing fingers at Russia, who could use the incidents to sow doubt about the integrity of election results or surreptitiously alter data. Alternatively, it could be a much more mundane incident, where online criminals try to access reams personal data for identity theft purposes. If the hackers were after voter rolls, it’s unclear why they would go through the trouble of breaking into an election board’s network given that many states, including Illinois, sell their voter rolls for a small fee.
3. European net neutrality supporters rejoice. Net neutrality campaigners in Europe rejoiced this week when an EU telecommunications regulatory body approved guidelines that tell telecommunications companies how they can treat the data they handle. Under the new rules, European telcos cannot block or slow internet traffic except in very limited circumstances. They are also very limited in offering zero-rating data packages, where data from an online service like Spotify is exempt from a user’s overall data cap. Facebook and some telcos have been big proponents of zero-rating as way to reduce the cost of online access and gain new customers. Earlier drafts of the regulations gave neutrality activists a scare as they would have allowed for zero-rating and allowed telcos to speed up the traffic of "specialized online services" without narrowly defining them. After appeals from internet pioneers like Tim Berners Lee and Lawrence Lessig, over 500,000 comments were submitted to the regulator asking for more stringent net neutrality protections.
4. Is China buying into the concept of multistakeholder governance? According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the Chinese government has invited foreign companies to comment on the development of the country’s cybersecurity standards. Recent Chinese legislative efforts has come under fire from U.S. and European firms for demanding that only products that are "secure and controllable" and whose manufacturers can provide source code examination can be admitted into the country. Microsoft, Intel, Cisco, and IBM have been invited to participate in the standards setting body that will define what software and hardware counts as "secure and controllable," giving them some input over the process. No word yet on whether China will actually listen to their input.