Archives October 17, 2020

Five Eyes Governments, India, and Japan Make New Call For Encryption Backdoors

Members of the intelligence-sharing alliance Five Eyes, along with government representatives for Japan and India, have published a statement over the weekend calling on tech companies to come up with a solution for law enforcement to access end-to-end encrypted communications. From a report:
The statement is the alliance’s latest effort to get tech companies to agree to encryption backdoors. The Five Eyes alliance, comprised of the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, have made similar calls to tech giants in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Just like before, government officials claim tech companies have put themselves in a corner by incorporating end-to-end encryption (E2EE) into their products. If properly implemented, E2EE lets users have secure conversations — may them be chat, audio, or video — without sharing the encryption key with the tech companies. Representatives from the seven governments argue that the way E2EE encryption is currently supported on today’s major tech platforms prohibits law enforcement from investigating crime rings, but also the tech platforms themselves from enforcing their own terms of service. Signatories argue that “particular implementations of encryption technology” are currently posing challenges to law enforcement investigations, as the tech platforms themselves can’t access some communications and provide needed data to investigators.

Citigroup Tech Executive Unmasked as Major QAnon ‘High Priest’

QAnon’s biggest news hub was run by a senior vice president at Citigroup, the American multinational investment bank and financial services company Citigroup. Jason Gelinas worked in the company’s technology department, where he led an AI project and oversaw a team of software developers, according to Bloomberg. [Alternate URL] He was married with kids and had a comfortable house in a New Jersey suburb. According to those who know him, Gelinas was a pleasant guy who was into normal stuff: Game of Thrones, recreational soccer, and so on. Things did get weird, though, when politics came up…

The movement had been contained mostly to the internet’s trollish fringes until around the time Gelinas came along. In 2018, while doing his job at Citi, he created, as an anonymous side project, a website dedicated to bringing QAnon to a wider audience — soccer moms, white-collar workers, and other “normies,” as he boasted. By mid-2020, the site was drawing 10 million visitors each month, according to the traffic-tracking firm SimilarWeb, and was credited by researchers with playing a key role in what might be the most unlikely political story in a year full of unlikely political stories: A Citigroup executive helped turn an obscure and incoherent cult into an incoherent cult with mainstream political implications…

The need to spread the word beyond core users led to the creation of aggregator sites, which would scrape the Q drops and repost them in friendlier environs after determining authenticity. (The ability to post as Q has repeatedly been compromised, and some posts have had to be culled from the canon.) This task, Gelinas once told a friend, could be his calling from God…. His intention, as he later explained on Patreon, the crowdfunding website widely used by musicians, podcasters, and other artists, was to make memes, which are harder to police than tweets or Facebook text posts. “Memes are awesome,” Gelinas wrote. “They also bypass big tech censorship.” (Social media companies are, at least in theory, opposed to disinformation, and QAnon posts sometimes get removed. On Oct. 6, Facebook banned QAnon-affiliated groups and pages from the service….) The site wasn’t just a repository of QAnon posts; Gelinas served as an active co-author in the movement’s growing mythology… Gelinas claimed he was the No. 2 figure in the movement, behind only Q, according to a friend, and began to dream about turning his QAnon hobby into his main gig…

By now, his site’s growth had attracted an enemy. Frederick Brennan, a 26-year-old polymath with a rare bone disease, had decided to unmask him. Brennan was a reformed troll. He’d created 8chan, but he had a change of heart after the man responsible for the 2019 mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, posted his manifesto on the forum in advance and inscribed 8chan memes on the weapons he used to kill 56 people… He referred to Gelinas’s site in a tweet as “the main vector for Q radicalization.”

Days after Gelinas was outed as the man running the site, Citigroup “had put him on administrative leave and his name was removed from the company’s internal directory. He was later terminated.”

One Solar/Wind Energy Company Is Now More Valuable Than Exxon Mobil

The world’s biggest provider of wind and solar energy is now more valuable than the giant oil company Exxon Mobil, “once the largest public company on Earth,” reports Bloomberg:

NextEra ended Wednesday with market value of $145 billion, topping Exxon’s $142 billion… NextEra has emerged as the world’s most valuable utility, largely by betting big on renewables, especially wind. Exxon has seen its fortunes shift in the other direction as electric vehicles become more widespread and the fight against climate change takes on more urgency. “People believe that renewable energy is a growth story and that oil and gas is a declining story,” said Jigar Shah, co-founder of the green financier Generate.

NextEra had about 18 gigawatts of wind and solar farms at the end of last year, enough to power 13.5 million homes. And it’s expanding significantly, with contracts to add another 12 gigawatts of renewables. Its shares have surged more than 20% this year. At the same time, Exxon’s shares have tumbled more than 50% as the pandemic quashed global demand for fuels. The company’s second-quarter loss was its worst of the modern era and, in August, Exxon was ejected from the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The company was worth $525 billion in 2007, more than three times its current value.

Peter McNally, an energy expert at research firm Third Bridge, tells ExtremeTech that it all comes down to the cheaper price of renewable energy.

“Alternative power is now getting competitive with traditional forms of electricity, coal and natural gas fired generation.”

London Installed AI Cameras To Monitor Social Distancing, Lockdown Restrictions

Artificial Intelligence cameras are being used in London and other cities in the UK to monitor social distancing. The sensors were initially developed by Vivacity to track the flow of traffic, cyclists and pedestrians and monitor how roads are being used. But when the country went into lockdown in March, Vivacity added on an extra feature to the AI scanners so it could register the distance between pedestrians. This data is shared in a monthly report with the Government.

Vivacity Labs said they have more than 1,000 sensors installed across the UK, in cities including London, Manchester, Oxford, Cambridge and Nottingham. Chief Operating Officer at Vivacity Peter Mildon told BBC Radio Kent on Wednesday that the data is potentially “useful for informing policy decisions” regarding lockdown measures. He stressed that the cameras are not CCTV but that they operate as a data collating device rather than a camera that stores footage. “They are not recording any footage, they are not streaming any footage and no one is actually watching it,” he said.

Mr Mildon added: “We’re creating a set of statistics on how behavior is changing in terms of how people are staying close together or apart. And it is that data that is then useful for informing policy decisions on whether there should be a two meter rule or a one meter plus rule or whether local lockdown measures are having the impact they are envisioned to.”

Google is Giving Data To Police Based on Search Keywords, Court Docs Show

There are few things as revealing as a person’s search history, and police typically need a warrant on a known suspect to demand that sensitive information. But a recently unsealed court document found that investigators can request such data in reverse order by asking Google to disclose everyone who searched a keyword rather than for information on a known suspect.

In August, police arrested Michael Williams, an associate of singer and accused sex offender R. Kelly, for allegedly setting fire to a witness’ car in Florida. Investigators linked Williams to the arson, as well as witness tampering, after sending a search warrant to Google that requested information on “users who had searched the address of the residence close in time to the arson.”

The July court filing was unsealed on Tuesday. Detroit News reporter Robert Snell tweeted about the filing after it was unsealed. Court documents showed that Google provided the IP addresses of people who searched for the arson victim’s address, which investigators tied to a phone number belonging to Williams. Police then used the phone number records to pinpoint the location of Williams’ device near the arson, according to court documents. The original warrant sent to Google is still sealed, but the report provides another example of a growing trend of data requests to the search engine giant in which investigators demand data on a large group of users rather than a specific request on a single suspect. “This ‘keyword warrant’ evades the Fourth Amendment checks on police surveillance,” said Albert Fox Cahn, the executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project. “When a court authorizes a data dump of every person who searched for a specific term or address, it’s likely unconstitutional.”

EU Lawmakers Ask Jeff Bezos Whether Amazon Spies on Politicians

A cross-party group of MEPs has written to Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, demanding information on the online retailer’s monitoring of trade union activists and politicians in response to deleted job postings that described unions as “threats.” The letter, from 37 members of the European parliament, said they were concerned Amazon deliberately targeted workers seeking to organise, and also questioned whether the company had “spied” on politicians. Trade unions last week called for a European commission investigation into whether Amazon’s monitoring of workers was legal, after two job posts on the US company’s website advertised “intelligence analyst” roles that referred to “labor organizing threats against the company.” The advertisements, aimed at candidates with law enforcement or military experience, also mentioned the monitoring of “hostile political leaders.” The posts grouped organised labour with hate groups and terrorism, two illegal activities, and listed French and Spanish language skills among the preferred qualifications, suggesting European workers could be targets. Amazon deleted the posts after Vice News first reported on them.

These Shocking Charts Show Just How Much Richer Billionaires Have Gotten Since Covid

The world’s wealthiest individuals have become even richer during the coronavirus pandemic as the prices of financial assets have been supported by widespread policy intervention while employment and wages, well, not so much.

The richest five billionaires, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett, and Elon Musk, saw a 59% increase in their total wealth, from $358 billion to $569 billion.

Exxon’s Plan for Surging Carbon Emissions Revealed in Leaked Documents

Exxon Mobil Corp. had plans to increase annual carbon-dioxide emissions by as much as the output of the entire nation of Greece, an analysis of internal documents reviewed by Bloomberg shows, setting one of the largest corporate emitters against international efforts to slow the pace of warming.

The drive to expand both fossil-fuel production and planet-warming pollution has come at a time when some of Exxon’s rivals, such as BP Plc and Royal Dutch Shell Plc, are moving to curb oil and zero-out emissions. Exxon’s own assessment of its $210 billion investment strategy shows yearly emissions rising 17% by 2025, according to internal projections.

The internal estimates reflect only a small portion of Exxon’s total contribution to climate change. Greenhouse gases from direct operations, such as those measured by Exxon, typically account for a fifth of the total at a large oil company; most emissions come from customers burning fuel in vehicles or other end uses, which the Exxon documents don’t account for.

That means the full climate impact of Exxon’s growth strategy would likely be five times the company’s estimate—or about 100 million tons of additional carbon dioxide—had the company accounted for so-called Scope 3 emissions. If its plans are realized, Exxon would add to the atmosphere the annual emissions of a small, developed nation, or 26 coal-fired power plants.

More than 14m tonnes of plastic believed to be at the bottom of the ocean

At least 14m tonnes of plastic pieces less than 5mm wide are likely sitting at the bottom of the world’s oceans, according to an estimate based on new research.

Analysis of ocean sediments from as deep as 3km suggests there could be more than 30 times as much plastic at the bottom of the world’s ocean than there is floating at the surface.

Backdoorer the Xplora: Kids’ smartwatches can secretly take pics, record audio on command by encrypted texts

The Xplora 4 smartwatch, made by Chinese outfit Qihoo 360 Technology Co, and marketed to children under the Xplora brand in the US and Europe, can covertly take photos and record audio when activated by an encrypted SMS message, says Norwegian security firm Mnemonic.

This backdoor is not a bug, the finders insist, but a deliberate, hidden feature. Around 350,000 watches have been sold so far, Xplora said. Exploiting this security hole is essentially non-trivial, we note, though it does reveal the kind of remotely accessible stuff left in the firmware of today’s gizmos.