Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

China’s Great Firewall — And Poisoning Internet Attacks From China

March 1, 2015

By Adam Pasick

Software designer Craig Hockenberry noticed something very strange was happening to his small corporate website The Iconfactory one morning last month: traffic had suddenly spiked to extremely high levels—equivalent to more than double the amount of data transmitted when Kim Kardashian’s naked photos were published last year.

The reason, he quickly discovered, was that China’s Great Firewall—the elaborate machinery that China’s government uses to censor the internet—was redirecting enormous amounts of bogus traffic to his site, which designs online icons, quickly swamping his servers.

“When I looked at the server traffic, there was only one thing I could say,” he wrote on his blog. “Holy shit.”

Hockenberry was only the latest unfortunate site administrator to experience an ugly side effect of the Great Firewall, known as DNS poisoning. A brief explainer: When you type a URL into your web browser, it is converted into a numeric IP address by a domain name server (DNS). Often these are run by internet service providers or companies like Google, but in China they are run by the government—specifically the Ministry of State Security, which is responsible for operating the Great Firewall (often referred to as the GFW).

When a Chinese internet user attempts to visit a banned site such as Facebook, Google, or Twitter, the GFW reroutes the request. For a long time it sent users to non-existent IP addresses, but lately, for reasons unknown, it has been sending them to seemingly random sites like Iconfactory, which are quickly debilitated by the massive inflow of data.

The surge to Hockenberry’s site on Jan. 20 preceded a major internet disruption in China on Jan. 21 that was conclusively caused by GWF DNS poisoning, according to, a group that fights Chinese internet censorship. Much of the internet was inaccessible to Chinese users for several hours as most of the country’s web requests—equivalent to hundreds of thousands per second—were redirected to a single IP address, used by Dynamic Internet Technology, a small US company that helps users circumvent the GFW. The company’s president speculated that DNS rerouting was not an intentional attack on his company, but rather the result of human error.

Other website administrators have reported similar incidents in the past. According to Greatfire, Chinese users attempting to access banned sites have been redirected to foreign porn sites, random sites in Russia, and to a site owned by the South Korean government. “In essence, GFW is sending Chinese users to DDOS the Korea government’s website,” the group wrote. DDOS stands for distributed denial of service, and is a common type of attack by hackers trying to take down a website by flooding it with traffic from virus-infested computers under their control.

Hockenberry concluded: “Every machine in China has the potential be a part of a massive DDOS attack on innocent sites. As my colleague Sean quipped, ‘They have weaponized their entire population.’”

Art by Nemu Asakura

Obamanet promises to fix an Internet that isn’t broken

February 23, 2015


BlackBerry and AT&T are already making moves that could exploit new ‘utility’ regulations

By L. Gordon Crovitz
The Wall Street Journal

Critics of President Obama’s “net neutrality” plan call it ObamaCare for the Internet.

That’s unfair to ObamaCare.

Both ObamaCare and “Obamanet” submit huge industries to complex regulations. Their supporters say the new rules had to be passed before anyone could read them. But at least ObamaCare claimed it would solve long-standing problems. Obamanet promises to fix an Internet that isn’t broken.

The permissionless Internet, which allows anyone to introduce a website, app or device without government review, ends this week. On Thursday the three Democrats among the five commissioners on the Federal Communications Commission will vote to regulate the Internet under rules written for monopoly utilities.

No one, including the bullied FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, thought the agency would go this far. The big politicization came when President Obama in November demanded that the supposedly independent FCC apply the agency’s most extreme regulation to the Internet. A recent page-one Wall Street Journal story headlined “Net Neutrality: How White House Thwarted FCC Chief” documented “an unusual, secretive effort inside the White House . . . acting as a parallel version of the FCC itself.”

Congress is demanding details of this interference. In the early 1980s, a congressional investigation blasted President Reagan for telling his FCC chairman his view of regulations about television reruns. “I believe it is imperative for the integrity of all regulatory processes that the president unequivocally declare that he will express no view in the matter and that he will do nothing to intervene in the work of the FCC,” said Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a New York Democrat.

Mr. Obama’s role raises legal as well as political questions. Those harmed by the new rules could argue in court that political pressure made the agency’s actions “arbitrary and capricious.”

The more than 300 pages of new regulations are secret, but Mr. Wheeler says they will subject the Internet to the key provisions of Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, under which the FCC oversaw Ma Bell.

Title II authorizes the commission to decide what “charges” and “practices” are “just and reasonable”—an enormous amount of discretion. Former FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell has found 290 federal appeals court opinions on this section and more than 1,700 FCC administrative interpretations.

Defenders of the Obama plan claim that there will be regulatory “forbearance,” though not from the just-and-reasonable test. They also promise not to regulate prices, a pledge that Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai has called “flat-out false.” He added: “The only limit on the FCC’s discretion to regulate rates is its own determination of whether rates are ‘just and reasonable,’ which isn’t much of a restriction at all.”

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Ajit Pai holds President Obama’s 332-page plan to regulate the Internet

The Supreme Court has ruled that if the FCC applies Title II to the Internet, all uses of telecommunications will have to pass the “just and reasonable” test. Bureaucrats can review the fairness of Google ’s search results, Facebook ’s news feeds and news sites’ links to one another and to advertisers. BlackBerry is already lobbying the FCC to force Apple and Netflix to offer apps for BlackBerry’s unpopular phones. Bureaucrats will oversee peering, content-delivery networks and other parts of the interconnected network that enables everything from Netflix and YouTube to security drones and online surgery.

Supporters of Obamanet describe it as a counter to the broadband duopoly of cable and telecom companies. In reality, it gives duopolists another tool to block competition. Utility regulations let dominant companies complain that innovations from upstarts fail the “just and reasonable” test—as truly disruptive innovations often do.

AT&T has decades of experience leveraging FCC regulations to stop competition. Last week AT&T announced a high-speed broadband plan that charges an extra $29 a month to people who don’t want to be tracked for online advertising. New competitor Google Fiber can offer low-cost broadband only because it also earns revenues from online advertising. In other words, AT&T has already built a case against Google Fiber that Google’s cross-subsidization from advertising is not “just and reasonable.”

Utility regulation was designed to maintain the status quo, and it succeeds. This is why the railroads, Ma Bell and the local water monopoly were never known for innovation. The Internet was different because its technologies, business models and creativity were permissionless.

This week Mr. Obama’s bureaucrats will give him the regulated Internet he demands. Unless Congress or the courts block Obamanet, it will be the end of the Internet as we know it.


Scott Walker dismisses critics who say he dropped out of college

February 18, 2015

‘We’ve had an Ivy-trained lawyer in the White House for six years who’s pretty good at reading off the teleprompter but has done a pretty lousy job leading this country’

A Basic Primer On The Scott Walker Case For Ignorant Reporters

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is dismissing “elitist” critics who say his lack of a college degree could work against him should he run for president.

Last week, former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean brought up Walker’s lack of education, saying, “The issue is, how well educated is this guy?”

“I worry about people being president of the United States not knowing much about the world and not knowing much about science,” Dean said on MSNBC. “I worry about that.”

“That’s the kind of elitist, government-knows-best, top-down approach we’ve had for years,” Walker told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly Tuesday.

The Republican governor and possible presidential hopeful turned the criticism into a zinger against President Barack Obama, who earned his bachelor’s degree from Columbia and a law degree at Harvard.

“We’ve had an Ivy-trained lawyer in the White House for six years who’s pretty good at reading off the teleprompter, but has done a pretty lousy job leading this country,” Walker said. “I’d rather have a fighter who’s proven he can take on the big government special interests and win.”

Walker dropped out of Marquette in 1990 during his senior year to take a full-time job at the American Red Cross and focus on politics.

“We have people who helped found Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, plenty of other successful businesses and enterprises across this country who did the exact same sort of thing I did,” Walker said. “I’ve got two sons in college. I hope they finish, I expect that. … We value college for those who want to pursue a career, but in the end you don’t have to have that.”

Walker, who made headlines during a tour of London last week when he declined to answer an interviewer’s question about evolution, addressed that controversy, too.

“I think God created the earth,” he told Kelly, but added: “I think science and my faith aren’t incompatible.”

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Islamic extremism: How Europe is pushing back — “We are against terrorism and radicalism”

February 18, 2015


By Peter Ford and Sara Miller Llana

From mosques to TV studios to family kitchens, Muslims and non-Muslims alike are trying to stem the tide of young Europeans signing up to fight for the self-declared Islamic State.


Protesters in Madrid, organized by the Arab Culture Foundation with the support of more than 50 mosques, rallied last month against the terrorist attacks in Paris under the slogan ‘against terrorism and radicalism.’
Amsterdam, Paris, and London — On the ground floor of a redbrick walk-up overlooking Amsterdam’s Amstel River, in his inconspicuous mosque, Muslim cleric Said Akhrif delivers a sermon on tolerance. It is the third in a series of talks that the youthful imam has given to the group of faithful, sitting on a red carpet in front of him, since Islamic extremists slaughtered 12 people at the offices of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.Mr. Akhrif’s message on this Friday afternoon – delivered in Arabic and then translated into Dutch – is that the prophet Muhammad was a man with a cool head. His purpose, the Moroccan-born cleric explains, is to encourage Muslims “to remain calm” in the face of adversity “and not get frustrated.”That message lies at the heart of a swelling effort across Europe, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack, to stop more young Muslims from waging jihad, or holy war. Through sermons and online advertising, from TV studios to family kitchens to psychiatrists’ couches, Muslims and non-Muslims alike are scrambling to stem the tide of young Europeans volunteering to fight with Islamic State (known as both IS and ISIS) in Syria and Iraq, or to wreak havoc at home.

Recommended: Sunni and Shiite Islam: Do you know the difference? Take our quiz.

“Our task is to make Islamic extremism as unappealing to young Muslims today as communism is now to Western teens,” says Maajid Nawaz, who runs the Quilliam Foundation, a London-based group seeking to counter radicalization.

That is a hydra-headed job. Young European Muslims can be tempted by or trapped into violent extremism in many ways, say those trying to steer them in a different direction. Some are teen rebels. Some feel motivated by what they believe to be a just cause. Some are excited by the promised thrills of “gangster Islam.” Others get carried away by fanatical utopianism.

Most European governments have decided that “prevention is better than cure,” but only after disasters. The Dutch government launched a slew of counterradicalization programs after an Islamist militant shot and stabbed Theo van Gogh to death as the filmmaker rode his bicycle to work in 2004.

The British authorities set up their own preventive scheme in the wake of suicide bombings in July 2005 that killed 52 people. The French government launched an anti-jihad website at the end of January.

Though Europe’s security services clearly have a key role to play in preventing Islamic-inspired terrorism, they are often overwhelmed by the challenge: French Prime Minister Manuel Valls says nearly 3,000 potential French jihadis need constant surveillance but the General Directorate for Internal Security has only 3,800 agents. The government has promised to bolster the security services, adding 1,100 positions over the next three years.

Even that may not be enough. The housing projects where extremist recruiters work “are almost hermetically sealed ghettos for the secret service,” worries Louis Caprioli, a former head of antiterrorism at the French equivalent of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. “We cannot do discreet surveillance there.”

Across the Channel, Britain’s MI5 is also realistic about the limits to the security services’ reach. “We face a very serious level of threat that is complex to combat and unlikely to abate significantly for some time,” MI5 chief Andrew Parker said in January. “We know we cannot hope to stop everything.”

In the end, security experts acknowledge, identifying potential terrorists, tracking them, waiting until they do something for which they can be convicted, and locking them up is not enough.

“There is a pool of thousands” of potential jihadis in Europe, says Mr. Caprioli.

The key is to reach them before they become radicalized.

•     •     •

Stemming that spread is Akhrif’s top priority, in and out of his pulpit, at Al Kabir mosque. The mosque’s leaders are seeking municipal funding for Internet outreach, planning a Web forum where moderate imams would weigh in and visitors could post their thoughts whenever an explosive event – such as a US drone strike killing civilians – stirs local emotions.

“Let’s teach the Islam of peace, against the so-called Islamic State,” says Al Kabir chairman Mohamed Echarrouti, who speaks in a soft, raspy voice and seems to wear an almost constant smile.

This is not the first time he has done this kind of work. After Mr. Van Gogh’s murder in 2004, Al Kabir worked with 18 mosques, teaching leaders how to spot radicalization and urging them to welcome young men and women at risk into their houses of worship. That was daring: Many mosques shun such people for fear of their influence and the risk they pose to the mosque’s reputation.

“Let’s get them into the mosque instead of on the streets, on the Internet, or with hate imams,” Mr. Echarrouti says.

Such clear engagement is uncommon in Europe, where moderate Muslim leaders are often uncomfortable dealing with the terrorist fringe acting in the name of their religion. They complain that they are unfairly blamed for the outrages committed by people over whom they have no control.

British Muslim leaders, for example, reacted with prickly defensiveness when Eric Pickles, the minister for Communities and Local Government, suggested recently that they had “a precious opportunity, and an important responsibility, in explaining and demonstrating how faith in Islam can be part of British identity.”

“We can’t put an imam behind every believer,” says Lhaj Thami Breze, former president of the Union of Islamic Organizations in France, which promotes moderate “French Islam.” “And, anyway, these young radicals don’t listen to us. They say we have sold out” to the authorities.

Nonetheless, argues Rashad Ali, a former Islamic radical who now mentors potential jihadis under a British government counterradicalization program, community leaders “should be making the arguments. Extremists might not listen to them but they might engage with people who are not so hardcore.”

Not that mosques appear to be where it’s at anymore when it comes to radicalization. Today a new generation of disaffected Muslims across Europe are finding their religion on the Web, at the feet of “Sheikh Google,” as some Muslims put it.

“They are not being radicalized by real people, but on the Internet,” says Margaret Gilmore, a specialist in security at the Royal United Services Institute, a British think tank.

It is not hard, if you know where to look, to follow jihadis in Syria and Iraq on Twitter or Facebook and read of their exploits. YouTube is a ready source of fiery sermons by pro-jihadi self-appointed imams. Social media offer like-minded young people a chance to join groups and forums that reinforce any tendency toward violent extremism.

The Internet provides “a virtual substitute community … and the primary means of communication” for radical Islamists, says a report issued recently by the Center for the Prevention of Islamic Sectarianism, which works with parents in France worried that their children might be slipping into jihadism.

Governments have had limited success in persuading Google, Facebook, and Twitter to take down pro-jihadi posts and videos, and as quickly as the authorities block a site it comes back up. So counterradicalization activists are taking the fight to the enemy.

“We need to be better Web marketers than ISIS,” says Ross Frenett, who runs the London-based Against Violent Extremism (AVE) network of former Islamic extremists now trying to deter young people from following in their footsteps.

Mr. Frenett’s group uses Web analytics to identify people at risk by the search terms they have used and their browsing history, and then buys ad space to ensure that they receive a message and a link to a website designed to make them think about their religion and their intentions. On Twitter, Frenett pays to target such ads at all the followers of well-known jihadis.

In an even more direct effort to engage people at risk, AVE is organizing former extremists to contact them personally online.

“If you ‘like’ ISIS on Facebook, two people are watching at the moment,” says Frenett. “Someone from the security services and an ISIS recruiter. We want to reach out to them, too.”

Thousands of people are at risk, Frenett says. His pilot program has so far dealt only with a few dozen, and only about one-third of them have engaged in online discussion. “More needs to be done like this,” he suggests.

•     •     •

If cyberspace is one front line in the battle against jihadism, it’s in real-life communities like Slotervaart, in Amsterdam, where people face the daily challenge of bridging Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

Slotervaart, where bearded men and veiled women are as much a part of the well-planned cityscape as traditional Dutch men and women riding their bikes, is one of the most diverse places in Amsterdam. It sits in the New West district, which counts both the largest Muslim and largest youth populations in the city, according to its district chairman, Achmed Baadoud, who was born in Morocco. There are 17 mosques, serving 48,000 people of Turkish and Moroccan descent – a third of the local population.

Those demographics could have proved a potent brew amid the passions stirred by the terrorist attack in Paris. Instead, Mr. Baadoud says, he witnessed a more “emancipated” response from his community compared with the mood a decade ago when Slotervaart was at the center of the maelstrom: The Muslim extremist who nearly decapitated Van Gogh in broad daylight hailed from here.

That calm is no accident. “It has to do with knowledge, with investments in contact and networks,” Baadoud says.

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ISIS has nearly perfected the dissemination of violent propaganda

February 18, 2015

With Vines, tweets and listicles, IS spreads its hateful message. Can the West find a way to fight back?

By Alyssa Bereznak 
Yahoo News          

           When Robin Williams died last August, people around the world rushed online to mourn the loss of the actor. “Oh dear God. The wonderful Robin Williams has gone,” Bette Midler tweeted. “No words,” added a somber Billy Crystal. “Shame. I liked Jumanji,” tweeted one England-based Twitter user. “Good movie. Loved it as a kid,” replied an account with the handle @Mujahid4life.

“Mujahid,” for those unfamiliar, roughly translates to “jihadist warrior.” And this particular handle belonged to a 19-year-old British-born guy by the name of Abdullah, who happened to be both a supporter of the Islamic State and a big Robin Williams fan.

Abdullah’s opinion of the fallen star unleashed a torrent of blog posts, most of which marveled at the fact that a member of an organization that openly beheads its enemies could also have the emotional capacity to mourn a U.S. comedian on Twitter. But however surreal it was to watch Hollywood actors and terrorist sympathizers tangle online, those voyeuristic bloggers missed a larger point. That moment encapsulated a key pillar of the group’s now infamous social media fortress: Spreading extremist ideology doesn’t need to start with religious screeds and beheadings. It starts — as a social media 101 instructor might say — by simply taking part in the conversation.

It’s been less than a year since IS burst onto the stage, seizing large amounts of territory and shocking the world with its brutally violent tactics. During that time, the group has evolved into a highly sophisticated multimedia organization, boasting slick social media strategies that could give major corporate marketing teams a run for their money. IS knows how to package its extremist ideology in the form of well-produced videos, attractive graphics, polished magazines and strategic online posts. It’s also strikingly savvy at spreading them online, tailoring their presentation and message to media sites like Twitter, YouTube and Vine. The messages are hypercustomized in language, tone and content to reach as many people possible and ultimately go viral. As Marshall Sella recently wrote in Matter, IS is “an entire brand family, the equivalents of the Apple logo’s glow … terrorism’s Coca-Cola.” There’s no need to hold an IS-stamped watch or baseball hat in your hands to face the truth: IS is a powerful and terrifying brand that we were not prepared to reckon with.

How exactly did we go from the days of fuzzy, subtitled Osama bin Laden bootlegs to a Travel Channel-esque hub for propaganda and recruitment? As sophisticated as IS is at promoting its message on public platforms, it is deeply protective of its digital tradecraft. Here’s what we know:

Building a digital empire

IS runs all its communications through the official propaganda headquarters it launched in the spring of 2014, the Al-Hayat Media Center. This is where skilled, well-paid IS supporters work with high-tech equipment and the latest editing and design tools to produce recruitment films, propaganda materials like its glossy magazine Dabiq and its most famous product: gruesome torture videos.

Though this is the terrorist group’s central communications hub, its influence extends to about 20 other branches spread out along IS’ claimed territory, according to estimates by Daniel Cohen, a research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies. Local offices are able to take cues from the main center, but they also have room to create location-specific content to more effectively communicate to the fighters in those areas. For example, supporters in France have access to Dar al Islam, IS’ French-language propaganda magazine. Aref Ali Nayed, the Libyan ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, put it well when he told the New York Times that “the Islamists have been very clever at rebranding. They have learned the franchising model from McDonald’s. They give you the methodology, standards and propaganda material.”

Sheer volume dictates that these centers cannot approve every piece of IS-related social media that floats through the digital ether. Rather than try to monitor each message from the community, the media centers offer jihadist soldiers guidelines on the types of messages they should post.

“From the beginning, [members of IS] started to send pictures from Twitter,” he told Yahoo News. “They did it for purposeful recruitment. Instead of showing the fights, they’d show people sitting and eating pizza in their lockers. Or they’d show people watching TV together, playing PlayStation together. They are targeting a young audience and speaking to them in the same language, showing that it’s a pleasant place.”


Islamic State branding (via The Institute for National Security Studies)

Islamic State branding (via The Institute for National Security Studies)

It was perhaps the same genre of audience-based marketing that, in September, encouraged Western-based IS sympathizer Anjem Choudary to tweet a short listicle titled “10 Facts from the Islamic State that everyone should know.” (Number 7: “For every newly married couples are given 700usd as a gift.”)

The all-seeing Oz character who’s behind it has yet to be publicly identified. Senior IS leader Abu Muhammad al-Adnani acts as Al-Hayat’s main spokesperson and public face. However, he’s not widely believed to also be the brains behind the operation.

“Usually the people up on the frontlines aren’t the strategist,” Cohen said. “Just like a McDonald’s ad campaign. Someone came up with the concept and the script. But they’re never the same person who stars in the commercial.”

How the gears turn

Al-Hayat’s most infamous work by far is “A Message to America,” the HD, scripted video that broadcast the beheading of American journalist James Foley. It was a despicable act that, as President Barack Obama said, shocked “the conscience of the entire world.” The video didn’t become famous, however, until it became impossible to ignore in your social feeds. And it made it to your social feeds, in part, via IS’ persistent and measured strategy of link-spamming.

As Gawker’s Sam Biddle recently wrote, “ISIS has nearly perfected the dissemination of violent propaganda, much as BuzzFeed has nearly perfected the dissemination of quizzes and videos.”

The dissemination starts with a few IS supporters’ social media accounts, and ends with the continuous posting and reposting of a link or video by as many people as possible. In the old days of al-Qaida, terrorists would gather its press material in password-protected Web forums, which would then act as a central location where terrorists could access and distribute the information individually. But these sites would often be spied on or shut down.

“It became very clear for ISIS that [the Web forum] was not exactly the ideal hub for distribution,” Laith Allhouri, a director of terrorist activity tracking at deep-Web research firm Flashpoint Partners, told Yahoo News. “It wasn’t reaching the masses quick enough. They wanted to post something online that would reach CNN in minutes.”

That’s when IS turned to Twitter, a fluid, easy-to-use platform that’s famous for its brevity, immediacy and wide reach. If the Al-Hayat Media Center wants to distribute its latest missive, it calls on a loosely organized department of Internet-savvy supporters to post the link to their Twitter accounts. This league is cobbled together by people who aren’t qualified to fight but still believe in the jihadist cause. Sometimes that means the wife of an IS soldier living in Syria; other times it’s just some kid in a basement in New Zealand who’s interested in supporting the organization’s mission. Whoever they are, they post link after link after link on Twitter until the piece of content in question sinks its claws and goes viral. Working together, these supporters can generate up to 90,000 tweets and other social media interactions per day. This technique, according to Allhouri, is very effective on sites like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

A militant Islamist fighter uses a mobile to film his fellow fighters taking part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa pro...

A militant Islamist fighter uses a mobile to film his fellow fighters taking part in a military parade along the …

As American tech companies caught up with IS’ tactics, they began mass-deleting their accounts, erasing whatever extremist messages it directed at the public. But for committed IS supporters, wiping out an account is a mere hiccup in the mission. If Twitter deletes their accounts, for instance, they simply turn to one of the dozens more they’ve preemptively created under different pseudonyms, complete with a saved list of followers they had from the last handle. It’s the classic technique of Internet trolls who want to avoid being banned from the comments section for abuse. Allhouri said he’s seen one individual’s Twitter accounts deleted and then rebooted more than 100 times.

In April 2014, IS’ Palestinian branch even developed an Android app called The Dawn of Glad Tidings, which connected to users’ Twitter accounts and posted pro-IS Tweets with popular hashtags and images to their personal feeds. Its engineers spaced out the automated postings, just enough so it wouldn’t set off Twitter’s spam-detecting algorithm. Thousands signed up, but the software was dismantled once it became too public.

“ISIS is utilizing an American corporation in distributing this terrorist propaganda that is extremely violent, and even crosses the limits [of what] al-Qaida would find acceptable,” Allhouri said. “Twitter realized it needs to be proactive and amplify its campaign to find these accounts.”

But as larger tech companies crack down on IS’ presence on their networks, its supporters have wormed their way into a host of other, less surveilled online communication tools. The group has tried to establish its presence on the European social networking site Diaspora and the Russian Facebook equivalent VK (both of which eventually blocked it). It has also targeted discussion forums on and messaging apps like Kik. It is the first terrorist organization to use Vine, which allowed it to automatically embed and loop videos in Twitter timelines. (Those supporters have even figured out that it takes longer for companies to flag a video if they post a six-second clip that only leads up to a beheading but doesn’t actually show it, according to Cohen.)

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ISIS Publishes Propaganda Piece ‘Explaining’ Recent Antigay Atrocities’ — U.S. Moves to Blunt the ISIS Message

February 17, 2015

The The self-proclaimed Islamic State militant group has published a grisly series of photos depicting the executions of allegedly gay men who died after being thrown from rooftops and stoned by waiting mobs on the ground.

By Thom Senzee
February 16 2015

The brutal murders of allegedly gay men by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which claims the killings were lawful executions for the “crime” of homosexuality under its unprecedented interpretation of Sharia Law, have been documented in what amounts to a perverse “explainer” article published by ISIS in its propaganda magazine last Thursday, reports NBC News.

The ISIS article and photos were published in its magazine, Dabiq. In addition to displaying images of the men’s horrific slayings, the propaganda piece also spelled out the militants’ rationale for committing the atrocities.

By “clamping down on sexual deviance,” ISIS says it will save the Muslim world from the “downward spiral” of morality that the West has allegedly suffered since the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

Some LGBT and human rights activists and journalists have complained that mainstream have given the militant occupiers along the Iraq-Syria border only meager coverage in terms of the growing number of antigay atrocities, such as the tragic death of a middle-aged man last month.

That victim may have survived being pushed while seated in a plastic chair from a seven-story building, as was reported by numerous news outlets. News reports, video, and photos from that execution seemed to indicate that the man may not only have been alive after hitting the ground, but may have been conscious before he was finally put to death by a stone-hurling crowd.

NBC News’ coverage Sunday of the recent executions of allegedly gay young men in ISIS-controlled regions of the Iraq-Syria border area put heavy emphasis on apparently newfound veracity of reports about the executions, based on the confirmation of the facts by a private security firm.

However, London’s Daily Mail newspaper, several LGBT news organizations, as well as human rights groups (not least among them, London-headquartered Syrian Observatory for Human Rights) had previously reported many of the same details of the executions now being reported by mainstream news outlets.

Flashpoint Partners is the security firm that “verified” news of the executions for NBC News. As it disclosed in its report Sunday about the ISIS propaganda piece, NBC News retains Flashpoint as a consultant.

Reports of the atrocities ISIS has committed against people because they were perceived to be gay have now been published and broadcast by news organizations worldwide, ranging from interest-focused media outlets and now by major American network news organizations. Although it’s not likely that will dissuade ISIS militants to change their ways, greater coverage of atrocities committed against LGBT people may send a message that much of society values human lives equally–regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

NBC News cited an expert in the history of Shariah Law, who noted that the practice of throwing men accused of homosexuality to their deaths from the tallest building available is a “very obscure” reading of hardline Islam.

“What ISIS is doing in displaying this kind of thing is twofold,” researcher, Charlie Winterof the London-based anti-extremism think tank, Quilliam told NBC News. “It’s trying to shock and horrify the rest of the world but it’s also trying to give the impression that the Shariah that it practices is the purest form of Shariah.”


U.S. Intensifies Effort to Blunt ISIS’ Message

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is revamping its effort to counter the Islamic State’s propaganda machine, acknowledging that the terrorist group has been far more effective in attracting new recruits, financing and global notoriety than the United States and its allies have been in thwarting it.

At the heart of the plan is expanding a tiny State Department agency, the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, to harness all the existing attempts at countermessaging by much larger federal departments, including the Pentagon, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies.

The center would also coordinate and amplify similar messaging by foreign allies and nongovernment agencies, as well as by prominent Muslim academics, community leaders and religious scholars who oppose the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL, and who may have more credibility with ISIS’ target audience of young men and women than the American government.

With the Islamic State and its supporters producing as many as 90,000 tweets and other social media responses every day, American officials acknowledge they have a tough job ahead to blunt the group’s digital momentum in the same way a United States-led air campaign has slowed ISIS’ advances on the battlefield in Iraq and, to a lesser extent, in Syria.

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China’s online censorship and VPN crackdown have killed Gmail and other tools in China

February 8, 2015

Entrepreneurs express concern about blocks on virtual private networks

“Start-up entrepreneurs will leave China”

By Wu Nan
South China Morning Post


Internet entrepreneur Zander Wang has been forced to switch from the Gmail account he has used for years to Outlook.

“It’s a shame. Gmail is secure and has hardly any bugs. But I have to give it up,” the 28-year-old said.

“It has become the most difficult email to access in China, especially since my VPN services were blocked.”

Last month, the mainland clamped down on virtual private networks, the services that many rely on to breach the Great Firewall of online censorship.

Wang said he bought a VPN for his iPhone at the Apple Store but it stopped working. He then bought a VPN application from Taobao, the mainland’s largest online shopping platform.

His new VPN used to be compatible with Google but last week it could only be used with a mainland-based search engine.

“Apart from the money I’ve wasted, I’ve had so much trouble trying to reach people when I need them,” Wang said.

He’s now completely cut off from Facebook and has lost contact with classmates from his days studying in the US.

But Wu Ya, 27, who runs a tech magazine in Beijing, is having more success – he said he had figured out a way to fix his VPN.

“It’s like playing a game. When the Great Firewall is built higher, you need to make your ladder higher to get over it,” he said.

Wu said the game never stopped and the rules constantly changed.

“We assumed the Great Firewall would never block Gmail and VPNs because foreign businesspeople needed the services. But now they’re blocked,” Wu said.

“We fear that the worst might come when they block all international servers. In that case, it will force start-up entrepreneurs to leave China.” ”

In the past year, online censorship has become tougher, with regulators shutting down more than 100 websites between April and November.

Shenzhen-based entrepreneur Allen Wu, 34, built a VPN server in Hong Kong where his family lives, after his American VPN stopped working.

“I got cold feet because of internet censorship. For two years I was so enthusiastic about investing in the Chinese IT industry. I thought then that the Great Firewall only blocked the general public, but allowed savvy internet users to access the internet freely,” he said.

“The worst thing is that the Great Firewall is blocking opportunities for Chinese to keep up with the most advanced technologies in the world. It’s a losing game.”

Chinese teen chops hand off to ‘cure’ internet addiction

February 3, 2015

An estimated 24 million Chinese teenagers are said to be addicted to online games

A man plays a computer game at an internet cafe in Beijing

There are currently an estimated 24 million young ‘web junkies’ in China Photo: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters
By ,Beijing

The Daily Telegraph

A Chinese teenager has been rushed to hospital after chopping off his hand in a desperate attempt to cure his addiction to the internet.

There are currently an estimated 24 million young “web junkies” in China according to official estimates and a growing number of clinics and military-style “boot camps” designed to rehabilitate them.

However, hoping to rid himself of the vice, one 19-year-old from the city of Nantong in Jiangsu province took drastic measures of his own. He hacked his left hand off, according to a report on the Jiangsu TV channel.

“We cannot accept what has happened. It was completely out of the blue. He was a smart boy,” his mother, who declined to be identified, told reporters.

The woman said she had gone to her son’s bedroom at around 11pm last Wednesday only to find that he had disappeared. She found a handwritten note on the bed in which he should have been sleeping.

“Mum, I have gone to hospital for a while,” it read. “Don’t worry. I will definitely come back this evening.”

By then, her son, who was identified only as “Little Wang” had already smuggled a kitchen knife from their home and snuck out. Safely out of sight, the teenager severed his left hand at the wrist. He called a taxi to take him a nearby A&E and left the hand lying on the ground.

Local television broadcast gory images of a bloodstained bench on which the boy had reportedly been sitting when he cut off his hand.

Surgeons at a local university hospital managed to reattach the hand after it was recovered by police but said they could not guarantee full mobility would return. One of the boy’s teachers, who was not named, blamed his actions on an internet addiction which had made him “impetuous”.

Campaigners say Asian countries such as China, which boasts some 649 million internet users, are in the midst of a major online addiction epidemic.

Tao Ran, an army psychologist who runs a well-known Beijing rehab centre for internet addicts, estimated that around 14 per cent of his country’s youth were now hooked.

Symptoms ranged from young people who skipped lessons at school to others who were so severely addicted that they rarely left their bedrooms and inhabited an almost entirely virtual universe.

“They only do two things: sleeping and playing,” said Mr Tao, who traced the crisis back around a decade.

Politicians are also starting to take note. Last month Taiwanese lawmakers approved changes to legislation that meant authorities could fine parents who allowed their children to spend excessive amounts of time using “electronic products”.

In Japan, internet “fasting camps” have been set up in response to claims that hundreds of thousands of teenagers are abandoning the real world for the virtual one.

An internet addict has his brain scanned at an rehabilitation centre in Beijing (Reuters)

In late 2013, Shanghai approved new laws demanding that parents take action to “prevent and stop minors smoking, drinking alcohol, roaming the streets, or being overindulgent with online and electronic games”.

Mr Tao, from the Beijing rehabilitation centre, said even more radical steps were needed.

Children under the age of seven should be kept away from the internet and online games. Under-18s should be forbidden from stepping inside internet cafés, he said.

“I heard about the young man who chopped off his hand,” Mr Tao added. “But I fear he will become addicted again.”

Additional reporting Ailin Tang


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China’s losing battle with Internet censorship

February 2, 2015


For all China’s sophistication, the government mistrusts anything it can’t control. Especially information.

Patrons use computers last week at an Internet cafe in Beijing. China’s government is cracking on virtual private networks, or VPNs, that citizens and visitors are using to get around what’s known as the Great Firewall. (How Hwee Young, EPA)

Editorial — The Chicago Tribune

Here’s a riddle of the Internet age: Netflix doesn’t offer its service in China, so it blocks communication with Chinese computers. Yet an estimated 20 million people in China watch movies on Netflix. How? Through some simple software that masks a computer’s location, allowing users to slip past the digital barriers.

The sneaky software, known as a virtual private network, or VPN, does more than make it possible to have movie night in Nanjing. VPNs, often available for free, are a lifeline to locals and foreigners in China who want to surf all of the Web even though government censors supposedly control access. Facebook, Twitter, Google, Gmail, YouTube, Instagram, some top news sites — officially they’re blocked in China, as are sites that criticize the government or challenge its authority.

VPNs unlock the forbidden world. And that worries China’s leadership. The government is cracking down on VPNs, using its vast technology army to strengthen what’s known as the Great Firewall. China spends untold billions on censorship as part of a security apparatus that sees potential threats everywhere.

In recent weeks, VPN users and providers in China noticed service disruptions. Then, according to news reports, a government official confirmed that VPNs were targeted. “Certain types of unhealthy content will be regulated according to Chinese law,” said Wen Ku, an official with China’s information technology ministry.

Most of China’s 1.3 billion people don’t know or care that there’s a digital world beyond their reach. Either they’re not online or they get everything they need from the government-approved Web: news, gaming, social media, shopping … yes, even cat videos.

But for Chinese citizens with a global outlook, and for foreigners, the VPN crackdown is a frustrating challenge, and a reminder that for all China’s sophistication, the government mistrusts anything it can’t control. Especially information.

International executives are annoyed by the impediment to quick communication, and Chinese scholars are indignant over the equivalent of being banned from attending overseas conferences. Other users are upset, too, because they are cut off from Facebook friends and contacts they may have made through overseas study, work or travel.

“It really affects Chinese students’ access to the latest information in education, science and literature. It’s very narrowing and limits their worldview,” Liheng Bai, a college counselor in Shanghai, told The Wall Street Journal.

VPNs not only evade the censors, they tend to connect faster to overseas sites. Their use was never a secret in China. The government appears to be acting now because the service’s growing popularity increased the perceived threat: If 20 million people are watching Netflix, how many might use YouTube to look at banned footage of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre?

One year into his tenure, President Xi Jinping appears determined to keep a tight lid on the flow of information in his country. One of his motives is economic protectionism: The more walled off China’s Internet remains, the greater the advantage to Chinese companies over foreign competitors. But that’s shortsighted. Any restrictions on China’s Internet access ultimately hinder the growth of the Chinese economy and trade.

And as for cutting off all VPN access? Good luck! For every snip of the wire, enterprising Chinese users are exchanging tips on workarounds. The only request users make: Don’t share these tips on a public website. Why make life any easier for the censors?


BEIJING — In early November, when Beijing played host to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, city officials closed hundreds of factories and forced millions of vehicles off the roads to clear the soupy gray smog that normally blankets the sky. But one day the pollution level soared, with data from the United States Embassy showing an index reading six times the World Health Organization’s safe daily limit. Seeking their last course of action, the Chinese officials summarily removed the American statistics from smartphone apps and Chinese websites.

Reading the news while on my university campus in the United States, I joked with friends in Beijing that it had reminded me of a proverb we learned in elementary school that tells the story of a man who tries to steal a large copper bell from a house. To carry it away, he decided to break it into pieces with a hammer, but feared the noise might alarm its owner. So he plugged his ears, believing it would muffle the sound for other people.

The element of self-deception in China’s attempt to control information has always invited mocking skepticism. In 2000 President Bill Clinton famously compared Chinese Internet censorship to “trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.” But as the ensuing years have proved, Chinese censors’ commitment to this seemingly hopeless enterprise has created a dire reality that imprisons each of its citizens.

Last year, several non-Chinese social media apps, including Instagram and Line, fell under the censors’ blade, joining a growing list of foreign services, such as Facebook and Twitter, that are inaccessible in China. Google, having long been in the crosshairs of the Chinese authorities, saw its Gmail service in China disrupted in late December. In recent weeks, the authorities have disabled popular virtual private networks — technical loopholes that many residents had used to access online content beyond the Great Firewall.

Returning to China from abroad during school vacations increasingly feels like stepping into an alternate universe. Internet tools that my peers across the world use to stay connected are replaced by their heavily monitored Chinese versions, where benign criticisms of the Communist Party can lead to police interrogation or jail time.

Mainstream media and publishing are under similar assault. Gone are the days when industry insiders summarized taboo topics with the “three Ts” — Tiananmen, Tibet and Taiwan. My mother, an editor at a state publishing house, has in the past few months had several book projects — on subjects from Buddhism to homosexuality, which used to bypass censors with relative ease — rejected by higher-ups without explanation. The expurgation does not stop at the politically sensitive. A television drama on China’s first female emperor was recently pulled simply for featuring revealing costumes.

The often-farcical appearance of the censorship rules has on occasion galvanized individuals into making a demand for transparency but more often has only served to alienate them by depriving them of channels for communication.



Mounting concerns over press freedom in Hong Kong

January 31, 2015


By Christoph Ricking

Unlike mainland China, the city of Hong Kong enjoys a free press. But journalists in the financial hub are feeling increasingly pressurized by Beijing, especially when it comes to their coverage of the “Occupy” movement.

While journalists in Beijing, Shanghai, or Guangzhou fear the reaction of the government for critical reporting, their colleagues in Hong Kong can conduct their work with a relatively high degree of press freedom. But these freedoms now seem to be under attack, according to new reports from Chinese journalists and international organizations alike.

A ‘watershed year’

The state of press freedom in Hong Kong is in real danger, according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). Three journalists, who wished to remain anonymous in the report due to fears of reprisals, said 2014 was a “watershed year” for press freedom in the city. The report states that a lack of editorial independence prevails in the firmer British colony, adding that the influence from Beijing “renders one speechless, as it is simply raw and undisguised.”

“Some Hong Kong journalists have received direct and indirect threats from mainland Chinese,” said Seranade Woo, a program director at IFJ. Especially since the pro-democracy “Occupy” movement gained momentum last fall, the situation of the media in the city has become “deeply concerning.”

‘Tea’ with state security

Journalists have received threatening phone calls, says Woo. Some reporters were even invited to have tea and snacks with mainland Chinese security authorities. Woo also said that during these “tea” meetings,” journalists were either asked to write very little or nothing at all about the “Occupy” movement or were questioned about how they were planning to cover the issue. Many were also asked to report more often and in-depth about the rival movement, widely regarded to be pro-Beijing.

In addition, the IJF observed that media companies were placed under extreme economic pressure from Beijing during this time. Small newspapers and media companies were particularly affected. According to Woo, “important advertisers suddenly jumped ship. This could be linked to the fact that these independent media outlets did not want to follow the ‘directive’ from Beijing.”

Acts of intimidation

Hong Kong journalist Annie Cheung was also invited to ‘tea.’ Security officials from the mainland made a special trip to Hong Kong just to meet with her, says Cheung. “As a rule, they threaten you with everything that is important to you as a journalist, such as not receiving entry permits, or telling media enterprises that they should no longer expect to receive business partners from the mainland.”

These intimidation practices seem to pay off for Chinese authorities. “Last year’s coverage of the ‘Occupy’ movement is the best example for how un-critical and un-free the Hong Kong Press has become,” says Cheung. “This one-sided reporting, specifically of the rival movement, is clearly linked to Beijing’s influence.” Only a few media sources remain who dare to support the “Occupy” movement, Cheung added.

Attacked with meat cleaver

On the Reporter’s Without Border’s Press Freedom Index, the former British colony was still in 18th place in 2002 – only one position behind the United States. In 2014, Hong Kong ranked 61 in the index – this time, next to Mauritania and Senegal. Even before the start of the Occupy protests, journalists were already being attacked.

Reporter Kevin Lau was seriously injured after being attacked with a meat cleaver in February of last year, sparking an outcry and demonstrations throughout Hong Kong. As the former chief editor of the liberal newspaper, “Ming Pao,” the assault on Lau is seen by many as an attack on the freedom of the press as well. “Among the journalists of Hong Kong, he is someone who doesn’t mince words and doesn’t bend to the pressure of media censorship,” says Woo. “This (attack) could not have been a coincidence.”

A ‘deplorable’ status

In mainland China, the press has also fallen under more pressure in recent years. “Since Xi Jinping became the President of China in 2013, the situation has consistently deteriorated,” writes the IJF in its report, adding that freedom of speech and of the press were in “deplorable” conditions as of 2014.

Moreover, Chinese authorities also tried to influence local editorial bases of international media outlets. German journalist, Angela Köckritz, witnessed this first hand. After reporting on the Hong Kong protests as a China correspondent for the German weekly newspaper “Die Zeit,” Köckritz’s Chinese assistant, Zhang Miao, was arrested. Then Köckritz herself was threatened so severely that she left China as quickly as she could. Her assistant Zhang Miao is behind bars.

China’s censors recently launched a new campaign which led to a massive disruption of Virtual Private Network connections (VPN). Many people in China use these services to bypass the so-called “Great Firewall” to access blocked websites. Due to these VPN disruptions, it is nearly impossible for Internet users in the country to access Facebook, Twitter, and other blocked websites.


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