Posts Tagged ‘cyberspace’

Dark Web: Bypassing Facebook and getting back privacy

June 21, 2018

If Liran Sorani has his way, the dark web — a hidden internet badlands populated by hackers, drug runners, gun traffickers, pornographers and human part merchants — will one day also be a haven for ordinary folk seeking privacy away from Facebook.

Why it matters: Facebook is under intense pressure in the U.S. and Europe for its role in the Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and its general failure to safeguard user data. The dark web is a possible alternative.

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  • Facebook’s flaws have energized privacy advocates, libertarians and others to seek out another, decentralized and encrypted cyberspace where no one is selling their data or deciding what they can and cannot say.
  • A combination of the dark web and blockchain could provide that place.
  • It would be a new social network that does not accumulate and husband people’s data.

Image result for Dark Web, pictures

What’s going on: When most people want to use the Internet, they go on Google, Facebook, or — if they are in China — Baidu or WeChat. But it’s different if you are surfing for tools to, say, unleash a bot attack and reap some ransomeware profit.

  • For that, you need to go on the dark web, an entirely different network within the deep web — the 96% of the internet from which Google and every other traditional browser are locked out.
  • There, you hire a good hacker, professionals who hide under assumed names to elude authorities, says Sorani, cyber manager at Webhose, a Israeli data mining firm.
  • To get there, you don’t use Google, but instead download software like Tor or I2P. Then you enter at your own — considerable — risk.

The dark web is full of people just seeking anonymity, often from dangerous regimes, but it’s also a place where many take advantage of that anonymity to commit crime. It can be as exceedingly treacherous and spooky as it sounds — the unsuspecting can be ambushed in super-unpleasant ways.

That’s why the idea of it becoming a safe ground for Facebook refugees is counter-intuitive: if you are lulled into the wrong place, you could end up in a cyber attack, or subject to much more sophisticated, unpoliced scams than are seen on the public internet, with no recourse since everything is so shadowy.

But Sorani predicts blockchain will change all that. He suggests it will evolve into an easy tool accessed through a mobile app or browser and provide a “gateway that will seamlessly connect you to the (dark) network.” Sorani tells Axios:

“Facebook for me is like a nation. It has a policy. They define the policy. But with blockchain, nobody can shut it down. It belongs to the community. It will be free of censorship.”
— Sorani

The general idea isn’t new: Minds, an alternative social media platform, said earlier this year that it was weaving blockchain into its program, and Zeronet has said the same. In China, too, the gaming giant NetEase has released a beta of Planet, its own blockchain social media app.

Bottom line: “To access it today,” says Sorani, “you need to install it and understand the hazards. That’s why people are not using it by now. But when there will be sense in it —
when people decide, ‘I want my private life back’ — there is a chance this will go to the masses.”


Trump’s lack of cyber leader may make U.S. vulnerable

June 5, 2018

Experts and lawmakers worry the nation is rudderless on the vital issue of cybersecurity.

The absence of senior cybersecurity leaders in President Donald Trump’s administration may be leaving the United States more vulnerable to digital warfare and less prepared for attacks on election systems, according to lawmakers and experts worried about White House brain drain under national security adviser John Bolton.

Both Republicans and Democrats are expressing concern that the White House is rudderless on cybersecurity at a time when hostile nations’ hackers are moving aggressively, inspiring fears about disruptive attacks on local governments, power plants, hospitals and other critical systems.

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POLITICO spoke with nearly two dozen cyber experts, lawmakers and former officials from the White House, the intelligence community and the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, Defense and State about Bolton’s decisions to oust the White House’s homeland security adviser and eliminate its cyber coordinator position. The overwhelming consensus is that Bolton’s moves are a major step backward for the increasingly critical and still-evolving world of cyber policy.

The widely respected cyber policy expert Tom Bossert, Trump’s former homeland security adviser, resigned in April just after Bolton joined Trump’s White House staff. Late last week, Trump named Doug Fears, a former Coast Guard Atlantic region chief of staff, as his new homeland security adviser, but while several sources praised Fears’ handling of disaster response issues, they noted that he is not a cybersecurity expert.

On May 15, Bolton eliminated the post of White House cybersecurity coordinator following the departure of Rob Joyce, who had held the job since shortly after Trump’s inauguration. Bolton’s staff has said cutting the cyber position would “streamline” decision-making in the National Security Council by reducing a layer of management. But other people familiar with the post say it’s setting up the U.S. for problems.

The leadership void erodes “confidence [that] we’re going to be ready, when we get hit by a cyber incident, to react with anything approaching swiftness and decisiveness,” said Chris Painter, who was the State Department’s top cyber diplomat from 2011 to 2017 — a post that former Secretary Rex Tillerson also eliminated early in Trump’s presidency. Painter said he worries about this indecisiveness “being detected by our adversaries.”

Michael Daniel, former President Barack Obama’s cyber coordinator, said the gap in the White House “represents a significant weakness.” And Greg Garcia, DHS’s first assistant secretary for cybersecurity during the George W. Bush administration, said everything that had been moving forward in the federal government regarding cybersecurity is “going to suffer a bit without some central coordination authority.”

As for Fears, said Daniel, “I don’t think that his appointment fundamentally addresses the void in White House leadership on cybersecurity matters . … That’s not his area of expertise, so this Administration still has a problem in that regard.”

Last week, nearly two dozen Senate Democrats sent a letter to Bolton calling the elimination of the cyber coordinator “a step in the wrong direction.” On May 16, the day after the National Security Council announced Bolton’s decision, eight House Democrats implored Trump to name a coordinator who could serve as “a visible figurehead that other government agencies, the private sector, and our allies can turn to for guidance.”

And on May 24, Maine Sen. Susan Collins became the first Republican lawmaker to voice concerns, urging the White House to publish a cyber strategy and saying a coordinator would be vital to its implementation.

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who chairs the Armed Services cyber subcommittee, recently requested a meeting with Bolton to discuss the situation.

“A lot of us are concerned that cyber leadership is missing,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee. “It’s difficult to execute a mission with no one at the top.”

The White House and its allies defended the moves, saying they didn’t imply any lack of focus on cybersecurity. The Trump administration has taken public steps on cyber issues since Bossert and Joyce’s departures, issuing two alerts from the FBI and DHS about Russian and North Korean hacking.

“Cybersecurity is one of Ambassador Bolton’s highest priorities,” an NSC spokesman told POLITICO, adding that the administration “is focused on addressing the nation’s many cybersecurity challenges, not in laboring beneath layers of unnecessary and time consuming bureaucracy.”

Panic over the restructuring in the NSC is premature, said Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), chairman of the House Homeland Security cyber subcommittee. “How do we know that the organization chart isn’t going to be restructured and they’re going to create a new, different position that they feel is better suited to address cybersecurity as a priority?”

Fears, the new homeland security adviser, “clearly has a steep learning curve on cybersecurity issues,” said Ari Schwartz, a former top White House cyber official. But Schwartz and others said Fears was competent and well-respected, which would serve him well in coordinating agency discussions.

Still, said Jay Healey, a cyber conflict scholar at Columbia University, “unless Doug Fears insists on reestablishing a senior role for cybersecurity, he will be using [his] disaster recovery experience to deal with one cyber crisis after another.”

Jeanette Manfra, the DHS assistant secretary for cybersecurity and communications, downplayed the negative consequences of eliminating the coordinator role. Speaking at a recent conference, she said agencies were ready for “a different type of governance” in which they made more policy decisions themselves.

Still, worries about the gaps in the White House’s cyber leadership have seeped into the private sector.

One former congressional staffer recalled meeting with a senior financial services executive when Bossert’s resignation became public. “He was despondent,” said the former staffer, who requested anonymity to discuss a private meeting. The executive, who “kept shaking his head,” told the staffer that the financial sector had “essentially written [the White House] out” of its incident response plan “because there was ‘nobody to work with.’”

Security researchers, on whom the government often depends for insights into evolving threats, were also frustrated. “The elimination of the [coordinator] position after [Joyce’s] departure confirms my worst fears — the administration is absolutely unwilling to listen to cybersecurity experts,” said former NSA hacker Jake Williams, the founder of the security firm Rendition InfoSec.

Since the Obama administration created the White House cyber coordinator role in 2009, the position has been key in resolving conflicts among agencies, preparing Cabinet leaders to make major policy decisions and responding to crises, according to cyber experts and former government officials who spoke to POLITICO.

Those experts conceded that agencies’ day-to-day operations will proceed normally — including the bulk of DHS’s work on election security and protection of critical infrastructure such as banks and the electric grid, and the Pentagon’s various operations in cyberspace.

But they said it will likely become increasingly difficult to bring agencies together to formulate big-picture strategies, such as how best to use America’s potent cyber capabilities — the intelligence community and the military often spar over this issue — how to more effectively deter adversaries like Russia from launching cyberattacks, and how to improve existing efforts like DHS’s security partnerships with states. Other debates requiring input from multiple agencies, such as how hard the government should press tech companies to use warrant-compatible encryption, will also stall, they said.

“If you don’t have those individuals really pounding the table … to drive that policy process,” said Lisa Monaco, Obama’s second homeland security adviser, “you’re not going to get those options surfaced, teed up, and decisions made.”

Michael Bahar, a former Democratic staff director on the House Intelligence Committee and top lawyer at the NSC, stressed that the coordinator’s role is far from trivial, especially in forming and executing an “an all-of-government strategy” across various agencies. “Because the bad guys or adversaries are certainly not waiting around for us to restructure,” he said.

The White House maintains that government-wide discussions on cyber have not suffered.

“With the existing structure, the administration continues to hold malicious cyber actors accountable, modernize federal networks, plan for tomorrow’s cyber-workforce and promote cybersecurity to both the public and industry,” said the NSC spokesman.

But recent events have bolstered experts’ concerns that an NSC devoid of top cyber officials might have trouble resolving agency disagreements about the language of key reports or major executive orders. Already, White House turmoil delayed by three weeks the publication of key strategy documents that Trump asked agencies to put together in a May 2017 executive order. Several of those reports finally appeared last week, but without any accompanying message from the White House explaining how it would use the documents to develop new policies.

“It is hard to imagine the indefinite postponement of a marquee event such as that would have happened if Bossert/Joyce were still at the [White House],” said a tech industry lobbyist familiar with internal administration dynamics, who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

Daniel, the former Obama cyber coordinator, also feared that the gaps will cause “operational impacts” if one agency wants to launch a campaign — like a botnet takedown, a series of arrests or a military strike — that will affect the priorities and interests of other agencies.

“Those may not be getting resolved very quickly,” he said, “and so operations may have to be put on hold.”

But on the other hand, some experts worry that agencies will begin acting more boldly on their own if they see delays and gridlock in the NSC process. That “increases the risk that consequential [agency] decisions fly under the NSC’s radar, thus increasing the risk that the White House becomes blindsided by decisions made without its full awareness and input,” said DJ Rosenthal, a former Justice Department and intelligence community official who served as director for counterterrorism at the NSC.

The lack of a cybersecurity coordinator may become especially acute in a crisis. For instance, Monaco pointed to Daniel’s role in leading the response to the massive hack of the Office of Personnel Management that came to light in 2015, which exposed highly sensitive security clearance documents on more than 20 million current and former federal employees and applicants. That break-in was widely believed to be the work of Chinese hackers.

“Those discussions had to come together, at the first instance, [through] the cyber coordinator, and then ultimately to [Cabinet secretaries],” Monaco said. “But you needed one person driving that.”

Monaco also praised Daniel for his handling of Heartbleed, a major security bug that required rapid evaluations of federal computer systems. In the current White House, she said, “who is the sole person responsible for [ensuring] that agencies across the federal government are making sure that they are not vulnerable to those types of … legacy vulnerability?”

Experts also worry that the lack of a coordinator will complicate the administration’s efforts to protect elections.

DHS has been “leaning forward” in its day-to-day consultations with states to prepare for this year’s midterm elections, said Frank Cilluffo, director of the George Washington University Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, but he said the government lacks a more strategic approach. “Disinformation, active measures — that’s more than just a DHS mission,” he said. “That’s an FBI mission. That can be an intelligence mission overseas.”

White House officials must knit all those efforts together, he said.

Jeh Johnson, Obama’s second homeland security secretary, said the government needs “senior people leading the cybersecurity charge. … At the White House level, there appears to be no one running traffic control.”

The lack of a cyber coordinator will also hamper the administration’s efforts to promote international norms and build alliances on digital security issues, said Painter, who played a key role in getting the G-20 to formally disavow cyber-enabled intellectual property theft. That “never would have gotten done” without the involvement of senior White House officials, he said.

The same was true of a 2015 deal in which China and the U.S. both agreed not to hack each other’s computer systems for economic gain. “That was about two years of consistent pressure not just by me but by the highest levels of our government,” he said.

And White House officials have been key to resolving debates between the military and the intelligence community on how and when to use their increasingly powerful cyber tools, the experts said. The Pentagon often wants to loudly and publicly disrupt enemy networks, while the spies would prefer to keep their capabilities secret and use them for intelligence collection.

Developing national strategies to deter nation-states or criminal hackers from carrying out cyberattacks in the first place also requires White House coordination. In addition, the coordinator and homeland security adviser have been key to promoting the White House’s broad cybersecurity agenda to the public, through interviews and at industry conferences.

Several experts made the analogy to the corporate world: If boards of directors are focused cybersecurity, C-suite executives have to focus on it, which means mid-level managers have to focus on it, too.

“That’s how you create a culture of cybersecurity,” said Bahar, the former NSC and House Intelligence staffer. “If you don’t have it at the board level, or the equivalent in government, then you risk not having cyber receive sufficient attention that it needs.”

Martin Matishak contributed to this report.

Russian hackers targeting millions of devices around the world, US and UK warn

April 17, 2018

Intelligence agencies say spying could be preparation for future attacks

By Lizzie Dearden Home Affairs Correspondent
The Independent

Russian hackers are targeting millions of devices around the world to spy, steal information and build networks for potentially devastating future cyberattacks, the US and UK have revealed.

The first ever joint “technical alert” from the two countries urged members of the public and businesses to help combat vulnerabilities with basic security precautions.

Ciaran Martin, chief executive of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) – an arm of British intelligence agency GCHQ – said Russia was its “most capable hostile adversary in cyberspace”.

In a call with The Independent and other outlets, he said all attacks uncovered by American security services had directly affected the UK, including intrusion into the energy sector.

“This is sustained targeting of multiple entities over months that we believe the Russian state to be behind,” Mr Martin added.

“The purpose of these attacks could be espionage, the theft of intellectual property and they could be positioned for use in times of tension.

“There are millions of machines being globally targeted, trying to seize control over connectivity.”

The total is believed to include tens of thousands of home devices in the UK alone, which could be used “at scale” for wider operations.

US to impose new sanctions on Russia in wake of Syria chemical attack, says UN ambassador Nikki Haley

Security services admitted they do not know the full scale of attacks by state-sponsored Russian hackers, who are using routers connecting people’s homes and offices to the internet to spy on the information going through them, harvesting passwords, data and other information that could later be used in an attack.

Mr Martin said some efforts are directly targeting the British government and critical national services, such as the NHS, where the crippling impact of North Korea’s WannaCry attack showed the devastating potential of cyber warfare last year.

Other targets include internet service providers and the private sector, providing a “basic infrastructure” to launch future operations.

​GCHQ has been tracking Russian actors for more than 20 years but the threat has come to renewed global attention following global ransomware incidents, power outages in Ukraine and alleged interference in foreign elections.

American officials denied that Monday’s “pre-planned” warning was linked to any increase in malicious activity following air strikes against the Kremlin’s Syrian allies on Saturday.

Bombing targeting chemical weapons stores by the US, UK and France worsened tensions with Vladimir Putin’s government further following the Salisbury nerve agent attack, diplomatic expulsions and ongoing sanctions over the Ukrainian war.

Rob Joyce, special assistant to Donald Trump and the US National Security Council’s cyber security coordinator, said Russia was amassing a “tremendous weapon” but there was no specific intelligence on the targeting of elections.

“When we see malicious cyber activity, whether it be from the Kremlin or other malicious nation-state actors, we are going to push back and push back hard,” he added, detailing cyber defence, sanctions and prosecutions.

Mr Joyce said “all elements of national power” were being mounted against the threat, including counter-attacks and asymmetric warfare.

Security services warned that global connectivity provided by the “internet of things” relied upon in modern life was being exploited and issued advice on how civilians and businesses can protect their devices, as well as national defences.

They stressed that threats came from countries other than Russia, as well as criminals seeking to profit.

Switches, firewalls and Network Intrusion Detection System (NIDS) are also being exploited in what are known as “man-in-the-middle” attacks.

Security weaknesses combined with a “Russian government campaign to exploit these devices” threatens the UK and US’s safety, security, and economic well-being, the NCSC said.

The Kremlin has denied persistent accusations of malicious cyber activity but last year Mr Putin conceded that “patriotic” Russian hackers may be acting “in the fight against those who speak badly about Russia”.

Keir Giles, an expert in Russian information warfare at Chatham House, said the line between government, business and the criminal world was blurred.

“The bottom line is these attacks would not be coming from Russia without Russian state collusion – if they wanted to stop it they could,” he told The Independent.

Mr Giles said Russia’s attacks had become more blatant due to a lack of deterrents during Barack Obama’s administration.

“They have not cared for some time about being identified as the source of hostile activity,” he added.

“Russia is far less concerned about being a rogue state because they have no reputation to maintain, they are behaving more like North Korea than the European nation they once pretended or aspired to be.

“This is just another symptom of Russia believing it is in an advanced state of conflict in the West in every domain apart from overt military clashes.”

Ewan Lawson, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI), said actors could be viewing browsing history, emails, messages or sending information elsewhere.

“The concern with the presence of someone on your network is are they simply there looking or as a preparatory measure for something more nefarious?” the former RAF officer added.

“Either is bad. We haven’t seen a lot of damaging attacks yet but I believe we’re going to. If they were on a transport network, for example, the potential is there to disrupt train services. You could get into the signalling network.”

Read the full alert and advice here.

A previous version of this article stated that “billions” of machines had been targeted, but the figure was changed to “millions” following clarification from the NCSC.

Pentagon looks to counter ever-stealthier warfare

March 24, 2018


© GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File / by Sylvie LANTEAUME | Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson has warned that both Russia and China are experimenting with ways to take out the US military’s satellites

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US military has for years enjoyed a broad technological edge over its adversaries, dominating foes with superior communications and cyber capabilities.

Now, thanks to rapid advances by Russia and China, the gap has shrunk, and the Pentagon is looking at how a future conflict with a “near-peer” competitor might play out.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson recently warned that both Russia and China are experimenting with ways to take out the US military’s satellites, which form the backbone of America’s warfighting machine.

“They know that we are dominant in space, that every mission the military does depends on space, and in a crisis or war they are demonstrating capabilities and developing capabilities to seek to deny us our space assets,” Wilson said.

“We’re not going to let that happen.”

The Pentagon is investing in a new generation of satellites that will provide the military with better accuracy and have better anti-jamming capabilities.

Such technology would help counter the type of “asymmetric” warfare practised by Russia, which combines old-school propaganda with social media offensives and cyber hacks.

Washington has blamed Moscow for numerous cyber attacks, including last year’s massive ransomware attack, known as NotPetya, which paralyzed thousands of computers around the world.

Little Green Men invaded Crimea — Photo: Sergey Ponomarev

US cyber security investigators have also accused the Russian government of a sustained effort to take control of critical US infrastructure systems, including the energy grid.

Russia denies involvement and so far, such attacks have been met with a muted US military response.

– Public relations shutdown –

General John Hyten, who leads US Strategic Command (STRATCOM), told lawmakers the US has “not gone nearly far enough” in the cyber domain.

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General John Hyten

He also warned that the military still does not have clear authorities and rules of engagement for when and how it can conduct offensive cyber ops.

“Cyberspace needs to be looked at as a warfighting domain, and if somebody threatens us in cyberspace, we need to have the authorities to respond,” Hyten told lawmakers this week.

Hyten’s testimony comes after Admiral Michael Rogers, who heads both the NSA — the leading US electronic eavesdropping agency — and the new US Cyber Command, last month said President Donald Trump had not yet ordered his spy chiefs to retaliate against Russian interference in the 2016 US election.

Russia has also been blamed for the March 4 poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who were found unconscious on a bench outside a shopping center in England.

NATO countries are working to determine when a cyber attack might trigger the alliance’s Article 5 collective defense provision, General Curtis Scaparrotti, the commander of NATO forces in Europe, said this month.

Image result for u.s. satellites, photos

NATO “recognizes the difficulty in indirect or asymmetric activity that Russia is practising, activities below the level of conflict,” Scaparrotti said.

In 2015, the Air Force opened the highly secretive National Space Defense Center in Colorado, where airmen work to identify potential threats to America’s satellite network.

After officials told a local newspaper, The Gazette, that the center had started running on a 24-hour basis, Air Force higher ups grew alarmed that too much information had been revealed.

In an example of how sensitive the issue of cybersecurity now is, the Air Force reacted by putting its entire public operations department on a “stand down” while it reviews how it interacts with journalists.


Fight vs terrorism, extremism extends to cyberspace

March 17, 2018
 / 03:14 PM March 17, 2018

The challenge of fighting terrorism extends out of the battlefield as the threat increases in cyberspace, a struggle for many governments worldwide.

“Because of encryption, ISIS has been able to survive in cyberspace. Encryption remains to be the greatest challenge of the military, law enforcement, and national security agencies,” said Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, head of International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism in Singapore, at a forum held in Manila early this week.

Image may contain: one or more people and people sitting

He said that many activities of terrorists online such as propaganda and recruitment are “undetected” because of their mastery of social media and the use of encryption, a secure method wherein no one else can access their communications.

The encryption feature exploited by terrorists is also a privilege for legitimate activities, especially those that involve national security.

This expertise of terrorists has left nation-states to “monitor ineffectively terrorist communication,” Gunaratna said, saying that arrangements should be made by governments with technological companies to crack encrypted messages of terrorists in order to make a breakthrough.

“This is the context of the new face of terrorism,” he added.

Daniel K. Inouye- Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS) Director Rear Admiral (ret.) Peter Gumataotao acknowledged that radical groups like ISIS use “virtual reality” to recruit and connect with people.

“[They use it] to connect to people from different places not just educational institutions but communities with like-minded interests can get radicalized,” he said in an interview with reporters on the sidelines of the APCSS workshop on extremism last Friday.

Fake news is another aspect of cybersecurity that they could exploit, he added.

At the same time, Gumataotao said it is also in cyberspace that allows groups concerned to educate people ‘vulnerable to be disenfranchised’ to have a better understanding of things and prevent them from being radicalized.

“We need to start talking about how do we become resilient. We need to collaborate…[We should also look on the] bigger impact of cyber on our society, how we are interdependent on it,” he said. /jpv


Experts push for collaboration between nations, agencies to prevent another ‘Marawi siege’

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As China takes ‘center stage,’ Europe stands at a crossroads

February 16, 2018

China’s position as a global superpower is indisputable. As leaders gather to set the agenda of global security at the Munich Security Conference, the EU is at a crossroads between Washington and Beijing.

Image may contain: one or more people and people standing

Global leaders are converging on Germany this week for the 2018 Munich Security Conference at a time when the declining US influence in international politics continues to play out under President Donald Trump.

China, meanwhile, has increasingly been defined by a growing presence on the world stage, from the fight against climate change to global trade rules. The country’s rise to the position of a superpower may not be a new phenomenon, but the past year has seen its status cemented.

In a speech described by risk consultancy Eurasia Group as “the most geopolitically noteworthy event since Mikhail Gorbachev formally dissolved the Soviet Union,” Chinese leader Xi Jinping pronounced Beijing’s newfound status during China’s 19th Party Congress in October.

“With decades of hard work, socialism with Chinese characteristics has crossed the threshold into a new era,” Xi said. “It will be an era that sees China moving closer to the center stage and making greater contributions to mankind.”

Images of China's past and present leaders

During the 19th Communist Party Congress in October, Xi Jinping (pictured right) consolidated his rule in China

‘World leader, at all costs’

In the 1990s, under the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, Beijing implemented a foreign policy that leaned toward slogans such as “hide our capacities and bide our time,” which meant  “maintaining a low profile” to focus on developing the country, according to the party-owned Global Timesnewspaper.

But Chinese historian Zhang Lifan told DW that such a strategy “is no longer suitable for China’s status of quo.”

“The current situation is China wants to be a world leader, at all costs,” Zhang told DW. “The United States is now employing the ‘America First’ policy. China and Xi Jinping want to seize this opportunity to become the leader of globalization.”

Read more: How Trump’s unreliability is pushing EU and China closer together

In many ways, China’s leadership role over the past year has been shaped by US foreign policy objectives under Trump. This has also seen China strengthening its position on strategic areas that will continue to drive international relations, including climate changeArctic securitycyberspaceinternational trade and space exploration.

China “seems to be the rational actor that’s fighting climate change, that is keeping markets open, that is continuing to praise the merits of globalization, which are undeniable,” Jan Gaspers, head of the European China Policy Unit at the Berlin-based Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS), told DW. “Of course, most of that is just rhetoric and they’re not living up to what they’re saying.”

Infographic showing China's lead in renewables

Europe’s lifeline?

For Europe, Beijing has tacitly started to fulfill a role that its traditional ally, the US, has seemingly cast aside under an “America First” doctrine. The Chinese government understands that by partnering with the EU, it can increase its legitimacy in the eyes of global stakeholders and ensure its influence in any shake-up of international leadership roles.

“China and the European Union are global powers: We have a joint responsibility to work together toward a more cooperative, rules-based global order,” Federica Mogherini, the EU’s top diplomat, said as she wrapped up an official visit to Beijing last year.

China is not seeking to undermine any kind of rules-based relationship in the near-term, and neither is Europe, especially as it redefines its position. But an increasingly relevant question is how the EU will position itself in what appears to “be a more conflicting relationship between the US and China.”

“It will be interesting how Europe will navigate those difficult waters, especially given that Europe itself is not actually united … and then there are growing differences between the EU and US on climate change, open markets and global trade,” Gaspers said.

An infographic showing Chinese Foreign Direct Investment in Europe

China’s ‘better alternative’

Besides the benefits of the EU being China’s largest trading partner, Beijing’s rise has also had an adverse affect in Europe. China’s strong leadership has found support within the EU from the likes of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Czech President Milos Zeman.

China has become much more confident in presenting its economic and political model as a “better alternative” to liberal democracy, Gaspers told DW, noting that China’s influence had extended beyond Europe’s political periphery.

Read more: Is the Czech Republic moving closer to China?

A report published by MERICS last year showed China “creating layers of active support for Chinese interests” by “fostering solid networks among European politicians, business, media, think tanks and universities,” including in Brussels, the heart of European politics.

“China’s rapidly increasing political influencing efforts in Europe and the self-confident promotion of its authoritarian ideals pose a significant challenge to liberal democracy as well as Europe’s values and interests,” the report said.

While the merits of a deep economic relationship will continue to push the China-EU relationship forward, serious concerns as to how this could develop at the political level, both domestically and globally, will impact the EU’s liberal aspirations and China’s ambitions to become a world leader.

Ju Juan of DW’s Chinese service contributed to this report.

Watch video42:45

China: Silk Road 2.0 | DW Documentary


Pentagon puts countering China, Russia at center of US defense strategy

January 19, 2018


The US military has put countering China and Russia at the heart of a new national defense strategy unveiled on Friday, the latest sign of shifting American priorities after more than a decade and a half of focusing on the fight against Islamist militants.


The strategy document, the first of its kind since at least 2014, sets priorities for the US Defense Department that are expected to be  reflected in future defense spending requests. The Pentagon released an unclassified, 11-page version of the document on Friday.


The so-called “National Defense Strategy” represents the latest sign of hardening resolve by President Donald Trump’s administration to address challenges from Russia and China, despite Trump’s calls for improved ties with Moscow and Beijing.


“It is increasingly clear that China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model – gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic and security decisions,” the document said.


Mattis warns of ‘growing threats’ from Russia, China

January 19, 2018


© AFP/File / by Thomas WATKINS | US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (L) appears with President Donald Trump at a retreat with top Republicans at Camp David in Maryland earlier this month

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday that America is facing “growing threats” from China and Russia, and warned that the US military’s advantages have eroded in recent years.Mattis’s assessment came as he unveiled the Pentagon’s vision for the future detailed in a document called the national defense strategy.

“We face growing threats from revisionist powers as different as China and Russia, nations that seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models,” Mattis said as he unveiled the unclassified section of the document.

“Our military is still strong, yet our competitive edge has eroded in every domain of warfare — air, land, sea, space and cyberspace — and is continually eroding,” he added.

President Donald Trump and his administration worry that the vast US military force is feeling the effects of years of budget shortfalls and atrophy, and needs a full reboot to restore it to an idealized strength.

Part wish list, part blueprint for the coming years, the Pentagon’s national defense strategy seeks to increase the size of the military, improve its readiness and work with allies — all while operating across multiple theaters including in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

“This strategy establishes my intent to pursue urgent change at significant scale,” Mattis wrote in the introduction to the strategy.

“We must use creative approaches, make sustained investment and be disciplined in execution to field a Joint Force fit for our time, one that competes, deters and wins in this increasingly complex security environment.”

Elbridge Colby, deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development, told reporters that Mattis’s strategy seeks to deal with the “erosion” of America’s military advantage.

“What it is recognizing is that China and Russia in particular have been assiduously working over a number of years to develop their military capabilities to challenge our military advantages,” he said.

– Strategic competitors –

The new defense strategy follows on from Trump’s national security strategy that he released last month which, similarly, highlights the role of China and Russia in the global security environment.

“China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea,” Mattis wrote.

“Russia has violated the borders of nearby nations and pursues veto power over the economic, diplomatic and security decisions of its neighbors,” he added, while also pointing a finger at Iran and North Korea for their threats to peace.

The two countries reacted furiously to Trump’s security strategy, with Beijing accusing Washington of having a “Cold War mentality” while Moscow denounced its “imperialist character.”

Trump’s security strategy contrasts with the friendly nature of his first state visit to Beijing in November, when he received a lavish welcome and repeatedly praised President Xi Jinping.

One of the biggest criticisms inside the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill is that the US military is suffering from a lack of readiness, where troops and gear are not getting the training or maintenance they need.

Mattis said the United States must be ready to fight a war.

“The surest way to prevent war is to be prepared to win one,” he said.

“Doing so requires a competitive approach to force development and a consistent, multiyear investment to restore war fighting readiness and field a lethal force.”

Mattis’s strategy also calls for greater coordination with allies, who Trump on the campaign trail lambasted for not doing enough to share the burden of defending the post-World War II order.

“We expect European allies to fulfill their commitments to increase defense and modernization spending to bolster the alliance in the face of our shared security concerns,” Mattis said, in reference to NATO countries paying more into their defense budgets.

The document makes no mention of climate change, which under former president Barack Obama was recognized as a national security threat. Trump has claimed climate change is a hoax and pulled the US out of the historic climate accords in Paris.

by Thomas WATKINS

China vs Google, Facebook and other US internet giants: a lesson in internet oversight for the West — Chinese value social stability more than consumer choice

December 13, 2017

Jesse Friedlander says while the US government is playing catch-up with the globally powerful tech companies of Facebook, Google and others, Beijing’s tight grip on cyberspace appears to be paying off

By Jesse Friedlander
South China Morning Post

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 December, 2017, 5:36pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 December, 2017, 6:52pm

Watching US technology leaders try to curry favour at China’s premier internet conference is instructive of the quickly shifting power dynamics among global tech giants. China is the only major market where Silicon Valley’s greatest companies have yet to gain a foothold. Famous for their “take no prisoners” aggressiveness and willingness to break the rules, the leaders of these companies on this occasion, in Wuzhen, Zhejiang, displayed modesty and submission to authority.

At the back of everyone’s mind must be Uber, which, despite its first-mover advantage, was forced to beat a retreat last year after losing billions trying to establish its business in China.

California’s Silicon Valley has long been home to libertarian technologists, who place their faith in the ability of unfettered innovation to solve real human and business problems. Largely free from government regulation, these brainy optimists have developed ideas that have radically changed the way people work, communicate, shop and learn. In the process, they have disrupted – or eliminated – countless companies that relied on traditional approaches to providing goods and services.

Today, the most prominent examples of Silicon success stories are the vaunted “FAANG” stocks, an acronym for FacebookAppleAmazon, Netflix and Google. Individually, each of these companies dominates its market segment in the United States and in most international markets.

 A scene from the Netflix TV series, Glow. Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google, collectively known by the acronym “FAANG”, are the most popular tech stocks in the market. Individually, each dominates its market segment in the US and in most international markets. Photo: Netflix via AP

For example, Facebook is the world’s largest social media company with over two billion active users. Together with Google, the two giants account for 84 per cent of global digital advertising spending. Amazon has 44 per cent of e-commerce sales in the US. Altogether, “FAANG” has a market capitalisation in excess of US$2.5 trillion, which surpasses that of France, the world’s seventh-largest economy.

It would appear that most Chinese value social stability more than consumer choice

Given the compelling value proposition offered by their services, these new-economy companies have developed large and reliable user bases of individuals, businesses, schools and even governments.

On the back of their tremendous success, these companies have grown so large that their power and influence is unassailable, even by the government in some respects. More than just a challenge to traditional businesses, new-economy companies are a major social force, with the power to affect political outcomes, personal careers, and even the general mood of society. Armed with reams of our personal data and sophisticated algorithms, they alone determine what information we consume, the prices we pay for products and if we are even allowed to participate in certain online activities.

At the moment, there is little consensus in the US on if and how new-economy companies should be regulated. Perhaps counter-intuitively, China may serve as a role model for Western governments as they contemplate oversight of internet companies. Indeed, China was among the first countries to express concern about the potential negative side-effects of the internet.

 Chinese magazines featuring President Xi Jinping on the cover are seen during the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Zhejiang, on December 3. Photo: Reuters

Much to the consternation of Western observers, China has made a series of controversial moves aimed at taming the internet, including: the creation of a “Great Firewall”, which prevents unfettered access to the web; disallowing anonymous postings and other online activity through real-name authentication; monitoring and restricting the content of internet media companies; and, holding direct and indirect stakes in certain technology companies.

While derided as draconian by critics who value free self-expression, these measures have undoubtedly helped ensure that the Chinese web remains a safer and more orderly space with less content hostile towards individual public figures and subgroups. While the US struggles with issues of ad hominem attacks and fake news, China has developed arguably the world’s most advanced e-commerce and logistics ecosystem.

From the Chinese perspective, the government’s oversight of cyberspace has helped to create a more healthy and harmonious society, something that is sorely lacking in the US.

A clear negative consequence of China’s strict controls is a lack of choice for consumers. Facebook, Twitter, Google, The New York Times, CNN and other American media are all inaccessible from within the Chinese Great Firewall.

Watch: China blocks Microsoft’s Skype in November this year

More recently, WhatsApp, and Microsoft’s LinkedIn have also been blocked. That being said, surveys consistently reveal that Chinese consumers enjoy an enviable amount of options for goods, services and intellectual content important to them. To be sure, Chinese public opinion also consistently shows a high degree of satisfaction with government policies and optimism towards their individual and the nation’s future.

It would appear that most Chinese value social stability more than consumer choice. For the Chinese government, this is at the forefront of their minds as they consider what role, if any, they will allow Silicon Valley’s winners to play in China.

Jesse Friedlander, CFA, is co-founder and chief investment officer of Des Voeux Partners, a multifamily office that manages intergenerational wealth. His areas of interest include macroeconomics, geopolitics, language and culture


Apple, Facebook find something to praise China for amid Internet clampdown — “The Chinese government … doing a fabulous job on that.”

December 5, 2017

Image may contain: 1 person

WUZHEN, CHINA (REUTERS) – Top executives at Apple Inc and Facebook Inc managed to find something to praise Beijing for at an Internet conference in China this week, even as its Communist Party rulers ban Western social media and stamp on online dissent.

China’s World Internet Conference attracted the heads of Google and Apple for the first time to hear China vow to open up its Internet – just as long as it can guard cyberspace in the same way it guards its borders.

The tacit endorsement of the event by top US tech executives comes as China introduces strict new rules on censorship and data storage, causing headaches for foreign tech firms permitted to do business in China and signalling that restrictions banning others are unlikely to be lifted any time soon.

“I’d compliment the Chinese government in terms of leadership on using data,” Facebook vice-president Vaughan Smith said on Tuesday (Dec 5), citing government bodies such as the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) and Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

“The Chinese government, the CAC and MIIT are doing a fabulous job on that.”

Facebook and Google are not accessible in China behind the country’s Great Firewall, along with major Western news outlets and social media sites, while Apple is subject to strict censorship. The US firm removed dozens of popular messaging and virtual private network (VPN) apps from its China App Store this year to comply with government requests.

 Image may contain: 1 person, text

“The theme of this conference, developing a digital economy for openness and shared benefits, is a vision we at Apple share,” Apple chief executive Tim Cook said on Sunday. The audience cheered him twice – once when he reached the podium, and again when he bowed.

China cracks down on any sign of online criticism of the government which it sees as a threat to social stability and one-party rule.

Some embassies, business groups and foreign firms steer clear of the highly choreographed Internet event, analysts say, because of the perceived propaganda.

But diplomacy seemed to rule the day at the conference, held in the ancient scenic city of Wuzhen in the eastern province of Zhejiang, and neither Smith nor Cook addressed issues of censorship or cyber regulation.

Cook has made frequent trips to China over the past year, as the firm has looked to revive sales in the market and make a push into services that require working with local partners on data storage.

“Companies that have sent high-level delegations to this conference in Wuzhen in the past have often done so because there is some type of significant issue with their access to the market,” said an industry source familiar with the event who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.

At the event itself, conference guests were treated to a bubble of uncensored Internet in hotels, including access to Google, Facebook and foreign news outlets with specialised codes handed out to guests.

In discussions on topics such as artificial intelligence and tech innovation, overseas executives generally skirted the topic of regulation, though it surfaced at times.

“More people come to Facebook than are in China,” said Facebook’s Smith at a talk on digital economy on Tuesday. “(But) I realise not everyone in the room is familiar with Facebook.”

Jack Ma, chairman of China’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd which owns Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, said that foreign tech firms wishing to enter the China market should abide by its laws.

“(Foreign companies) are determined to come. Follow the rules and laws and if you’re unhappy, leave,” said Ma. “This is not a market (where) you can come and go.”