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Will the Next Philosophy Book You Acquire Be an E-Book? (with poll)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/09/2021 - 11:57pm in

In a recent article at The Atlantic, Ian Bogost (author, game designer, and professor of computer science & engineering at Washington University in St. Louis) explains why he doesn’t like electronic books, or e-books (or ebooks).

They don’t fit with his idea of “bookiness,” which is technologist Glenn Fleishman’s term for the “the essence that makes someone feel like they’re using a book.”

Bogost admits that people disagree over what that bookiness, that “essence”, is. “A particular reader’s receptivity to ebooks… depends on the degree to which these objects conform to, or at least fail to flout, one’s idea of bookiness,” he says.

Bogost’s own sense of bookiness is informed by the physicality of the books and their particular physical features, some of which he believes have significance as representations of technological and cultural progress throughout history, and some of which just make books distinctive from other printed documents (for example: “Books have spreads, made of a left (verso) and right (recto) side. You can look at both at once, and an open book has the topology of a valley, creating a space that you can go inside and be surrounded by, literally and figuratively.”)

He thinks that an idea of bookiness more compatible with ebooks is one “that values holding and carrying a potentially large number of books at once; that prefers direct flow from start to finish over random access; that reads for the meaning and force of the words as text first, if not primarily; and that isn’t concerned with the use of books as stores of reader-added information or as memory palaces.”

I imagine that other ideas of bookiness may be compatible with ebooks, too. For example, one may see books, at least in certain contexts, as stores of information and ideas, and see the ability to easily transport and access a vast amount of information and ideas that ebooks gives us as fitting with one’s sense of bookiness. And one’s sense of how ebooks fit with one’s sense of bookiness may depend on the technology being used to access them. For example, I don’t personally associate electronic books with preferring “direct flow from start to finish” but rather with searchability. Or perhaps “bookiness” is not relevant, or explanatory.

In the context of philosophical reading and research, what book format do you prefer? Let us know by answering the poll, below, and as usual, you’re welcome to share your thoughts in the comments.

Anonymous VoteSign in with WordPress

Will the next philosophy book you acquire be an e-book or a physical book?
  • Almost certainly an e-book, if available
  • Possibly an e-book, if available
  • Almost certainly a physical book

Vote

Philosophy and Extended Reality Technologies

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/09/2021 - 9:11pm in

What can extended reality (XR) technologies, such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) bring to the study of philosophy?

One research group, the Virginia Philosophy Reality Lab (VPRL) at Old Dominion University is working on this question, developing tools for it and planning events to share what they’ve learned. Andrew Kissel is a philosopher involved in the project, and I asked him to share some information about it. He writes:

The Virginia Philosophy Reality Lab is an interdisciplinary coalition of educators and researchers at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, that explores philosophical issues through extended reality (XR) technologies. XR technologies provide novel and immersive ways to experience time-tested philosophical ideas. With the help of an NEH Digital Humanities Advancement Grant, the VPRL is currently developing virtual reality modules on the basis of philosophical thought experiments to be used as educational tools in the classroom and research tools for experimental studies. Our first module is a VR version of the trolley problem, which is the basis for an empirical study currently in progress.

Core to our mission is the idea that the affordances provided by XR technologies should be as accessible as possible. This mission informs our design decisions, as well as their open approach to software development and research sharing. In December, the VPRL will host a workshop on how other philosophers, educators, and researchers, can begin to develop their own approach to doing philosophy in XR, using some of the tools developed by the VPRL. 

If you’re doing philosophy-related work with XR technologies, or philosophical work about XR technologies, let us know about it in the comments.

And if you have an Oculus VR headset (and are at least 18 years old), you can take part in the module Dr. Kissel mentioned above. Data collected from responses to the scenarios presented in it, he says, “will inform new behavioral and social models of moral decision making” and may “help improve decision making modeling for diverse applications from self-driving cars to robotics and AI networks.” The module takes about 15 minutes. There are some more details about it here and you can try it here.

America’s Star Teenage Scientist Is Catalyzing Generational Change

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 06/09/2021 - 6:00pm in

Motivated by the water contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan, Gitanjali Rao was only ten years old when she created her first invention, a now patented lead test for water. For this, Rao, now 15, was named America’s Top Young Scientist of 2017 and TIME Magazine’s first-ever “Kid of the Year” in 2020. 

Not one to rest on her laurels, she has since invented an app to fight cyberbullying and an early detection kit for opioid addiction. But today, her greatest passion is getting more people like herself — young, female, people of color — involved in science. RTBC spoke with Rao from Lone Tree, Colorado, where she lives with her parents and younger brother, about the unique contribution her generation can offer, how science can catalyze social change and creating a platform for other young innovators. 

You just published a book this spring, A Young Innovator’s Guide to STEM: 5 Steps to Problem Solving for Students, Educators, and Parents. Specifically, how can we get more young people into STEM, especially more young women and people of color? 

The first step is introducing young people to more role models. Most scientists don’t look like me. Seeing people who look like you in the field and on the news is one of the most empowering experiences. Science and technology don’t just revolve around robotics and coding, but that’s how it has been portrayed. That can scare people away. I like to present STEM as a means to solve problems, using science and technology as a catalyst for social change rather than just as raw skills.

Do you have role models that inspired you to get into STEM?

Gitanjali Rao“Innovation and problem solving should be introduced at a young age, as an everyday part of our life.” Photo courtesy Gitanjali Rao

My parents are both IT engineers and work in a different field than I do, but they have been my biggest supporters and are my biggest role models. One of the people who first got me interested in STEM is my second-grade teacher. Out of nowhere, she told me I was going to change the world someday, and that stuck with me. Little things like that empower me on a daily basis. 

Even now, I do tend to get comments about how I don’t look like your typical scientist. Or, ‘“You’re smart for a girl.”’ When it comes to innovation, a lot of times you’re expected to act or look a certain way. The biggest thing I’ve learned is to recognize that no one defines what I do, except for myself.

When did you first realize you had an interest in science?

When I was four, my uncle got me this earth science kit instead of the Barbie Dreamhouse I wanted. I complained about it for days, but I decided to open the kit and play with it. That was a great starting point. From a very young age, my parents exposed me to lots of ideas. Everything. I did everything. Ice skating. Hang gliding. Fencing. Baking. Playing the piano. I went to flight school. I was trying out things every single day. We had this deal: If I wanted to quit something I could the next day, but I had to go to one practice, one class, or one lesson. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but what that risk-taking did is that I was able to choose my own path and have that path fostered for me. 

Did your parents set any limits?

I wanted to invent a chair that sinks into the ground to save space, but my mom wouldn’t let me drill a hole into the floor. So that didn’t work out. 

You’re all about finding solutions to pressing problems, just like Reasons to be Cheerful. What are the problems you’re personally most passionate about solving? 

The biggest ones are definitely, number one, the contamination of our natural resources. Second, education opportunities, creating equality. Third, the spread of diseases and pandemics. I am working toward finding solutions for these three things in the next couple of years, but obviously, it takes time, effort and people.

Gitanjali Rao

Well, you already put in the effort with the first issue, contamination. When you were ten years old, you heard about the water contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan, and with just a cardboard box and a couple of drawings in the beginning, you developed Tethys, a lead test that resulted in you winning the 3M Young Scientist competition in 2017, arguably the most renowned science competition for kids in America. How did you achieve this?

I found it absolutely appalling to see how many kids my age are drinking poison every single day that causes lifelong damage to their mental capacity, their organs and their normal growth. I was also interested to see the impact carbon nanotube sensor technology has. It was already used to detect hazardous gases in the air, and I wanted to create a water-soluble version of it.

Hang on, how did you know what carbon nanotube sensors are at ten years old? I had to look that up. 

I was just reading through MIT’s Tech Review, seeing stuff that had already popped up on my radar and recognizing that it could be easily used and shifted over for multiple uses. Tethys is a fully patented device, but it is not currently available for people to start using yet. I’m working with a variety of organizations such as Intel to help with field testing and mass production. Hopefully, in the next couple of years, people can start using it. 

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The idea is that it’s something that anybody could use, like a resident of Flint could use it to test their water, right? You don’t need to be a scientist or have a lab to use it. 

Exactly.

How many inventions have you created? 

Seven to eight, depending on if you want to count the ones that are not fully developed yet. I’m currently working very closely with UNICEF on Kindly, my app against cyberbullying. 

What sparked your interest in that? Have you experienced any bullying? 

Not personally, but I recognize it as an issue as someone who’s moved to seven different schools in the past 11 years because of my parents’ jobs. Every new place is something you have to adapt to, with a new set of people. But bullying is an issue that shouldn’t even exist in the first place. 

How does the app work?

Gitanjali Rao“I like to present STEM as a means to solve problems, using science and technology as a catalyst for social change rather than just as raw skills.” Photo courtesy Gitanjali Rao

The best way to describe it is “the spellcheck of bullying.” It looks at the latest terms, emojis, slangs, whatever, and basically categorizes them into various grades of intensity, what may be considered bullying or insults or “nice words.” The application itself is pre-programmed to take further action and send a message. It creates a learning experience out of every bullying situation, with a non-punitive approach. 

You’re also creating a network to bring other people who look like you into the field of STEM. How do you envision this? 

Three to four times a week, I’m running innovation workshops for students across the world. I have impacted about 50,000 students today across 26 countries and five continents. The goal is to make these innovation workshops self-sustaining beyond me to help students come up with an idea. But we do not stop at the ideation phase; I also mentor them on the execution, allowing their ideas to go from just a concept to out in the real world. 

How?

That support needs to come from organizations in the workplace, being willing to bring students in and making internships about more than coffee and copies. Because, believe it or not, youth play a part in the real world. We just need to take advantage of the latest work Gen Z is doing. We might hear about it on the news, but we don’t do anything about their ideas. 

What kind of ideas have come out of your workshops that you think have big potential?

One of my favorite ideas is from a kid in Wyoming who came up with this app similar to Pokemon Go, which allows you to collect litter. In the beginning he hated coding, but then he programmed it all by himself. It’s incredible to see how these students really recognize their potential after they recognize that science isn’t as intimidating as it seems in the real world. We just need to present it in a way that people want to engage with it. And that’s what I aim to do.

One of your main interests is opening science access for people who have fewer resources. What do you think schools can do to get more young people interested in science? 

K-12 education should explicitly teach ideation and problem solving. We shouldn’t just focus on getting an A in a math class, but getting an A in life. Innovation and problem solving should be introduced at a young age, as an everyday part of our life. And I think that it’s completely possible. 

What advice do you have for other kids who want to innovate solutions?

Don’t be afraid to take risks. And don’t be afraid to take that first step. Sometimes taking that first step is all you need to make a difference in society. And remember, the worst answer you’re going to get is no. What’s the worst thing that’s going to happen? It is that you fail. There’s no one stopping you but yourself.

The post America’s Star Teenage Scientist Is Catalyzing Generational Change appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Large all-electric container barges are launching soon

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/09/2021 - 6:52pm in

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Large all-electric container barges are launching soon Extracted from Physics and Astronomy Zone [1] The Dutch company Port-Liner is building two giant all-electric barges dubbed…

The post Large all-electric container barges are launching soon first appeared on Economic Reform Australia.

The best electric cars to buy in 2021

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 31/08/2021 - 3:33pm in

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Now electric cars on the roads are no longer something unusual. The popularity of such vehicles is explained by the fact that they are considered safer for cities, reduce noise levels, and their repair is cheaper. At the same time, you need to take a responsible approach to buy electric cars and know which ones…

The post The best electric cars to buy in 2021 appeared first on Peak Oil.

Tips for an Environmentally Friendly Fleet

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 11/08/2021 - 12:40pm in

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Whether you run a trucking company or employ a fleet of drivers in some other capacity for your business, you probably have an impact on the environment. If you’re concerned about the carbon footprint that your fleet is responsible for, there are plenty of things you can do to make it greener. Training your drivers,…

The post Tips for an Environmentally Friendly Fleet appeared first on Peak Oil.

Child care centre.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 05/08/2021 - 9:15am in

Child care centre. The University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). Chippendale.

"A Government That Has Killed People for Less": Pro-Saudi Social Media Swarms Leave Critics in Fear

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 01/08/2021 - 9:00pm in

Geoff Golberg watched his own face flicker across the screen in disbelief. A short video clip posted to YouTube and Twitter this March characterized him as a mortal enemy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The narrator, Hussain al-Ghawi, alleged Golberg’s “entire work aims at smearing Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE” — the United Arab Emirates — “by publishing fake analytics banning patriotic accounts and foreign sympathizers.”

Posted in Arabic with English subtitles, the eight-minute video, overlaid with fiery graphics and sound effects, was part of a regular series posted by al-Ghawi, a self-proclaimed Saudi journalist. A clip showed a photo of Golberg’s face, incorrectly describing him as a CNN journalist. Al-Ghawi said that Golberg’s work mapping state-directed social media manipulation had put Golberg in league with the kingdom’s top adversaries — namely the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, Turkey, and the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar. It was an accusation that Golberg found shocking, as well as frightening.

“It made me feel like it’s not safe for me to be doing the type of work that I do, even in the United States.”

“Seeing that video, with those types of accusations against me, it made me feel like my life might be in danger,” said Golberg, an expert on tracking social media manipulation and the founder of Social Forensics, an online analytics firm. “At the very least it made me feel like it’s not safe for me to be doing the type of work that I do, even in the United States.”

In the hands of an authoritarian state, social media can indeed be deadly. No more harrowing example of this was seen in the campaign of Saudi state-directed online attacks that preceded the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi. In the months before he was killed inside Istanbul’s Saudi consulate, Khashoggi was the subject of an intense campaign of online harassment orchestrated by a Saudi government-backed network of political influencers and bots.

Referred to inside the kingdom as “the flies,” the network swarmed Khashoggi with threats and defamation, an effort that was documented in the 2020 documentary “The Dissident.” They painted him on social media as a treasonous enemy of the Saudi state — no small matter in a country where public discourse is tightly controlled and Twitter is the primary outlet for political conversation. Al-Ghawi himself has been accused of helping instigate the online campaign that marked Khashoggi as an enemy of the state.

The avalanche of attacks online culminated with Khashoggi’s murder at the consulate by an assassination squad believed to have been dispatched directly by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Golberg was well aware of the history. So when he showed up in al-Ghawi’s video, he was deeply alarmed: The threatening manner of the message felt not so different from the way Khashoggi was discussed before his death. Coming from a state where all media is tightly controlled, Golberg thought al-Ghawi’s video seemed calculated to send a message on behalf of the Saudi government to its perceived enemies in the United States.

Golberg said, “Characterizing my work as defending Hezbollah or Qatar — these are the types of baseless accusations from a government that has killed people for less, that make me want to look over my shoulder when I’m walking.”

Sarah Leah Whitson from Human Rights Watch offers her report at UN headquarters in New York, NY, on April 27, 2016.

Sarah Leah Whitson from Human Rights Watch offers her report at U.N. headquarters in New York City on April 27, 2016.

Photo: Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Golberg wasn’t the only one to come in for al-Ghawi’s ire. The same clip characterized several Saudi activists with ties to the West as traitors and denounced a number of American activists and think-tank experts. Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now, also known as DAWN, a Washington think tank focused on democratic norms in the Middle East, made an appearance, as did Ariane Tabatabai, a State Department official and American academic of Iranian descent who had worked for the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit that does frequent research work for the U.S. government.

Online harassment and disinformation have become political issues in the U.S., but in authoritarian countries the threat can be more immediately grave. Under the control of ruling regimes, the public sphere, including social media, can be completely weaponized. Saudi Arabia, ruled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has in particular demonstrated a willingness to go the distance and back up its online threats and intimidation by actually abducting and killing its perceived critics, even those living abroad.

“An important thing to keep in mind is that free expression in Saudi Arabia has been totally crushed under MBS,” DAWN’s Whitson said, referring to the crown prince by his initials. “These online messages are not coming from independent actors inside Saudi Arabia. There are no independent voices left coming out of that country today.” (Neither al-Ghawi nor the Saudi embassy in Washington responded to requests for comment.)

“These online messages are not coming from independent actors inside Saudi Arabia. There are no independent voices left coming out of that country today.”

For Whitson, the burden is particularly heavy: DAWN was Khashoggi’s brainchild and created in the wake of his assassination to carry the deceased dissident’s banner.

“There had been on a campaign to harass me for a long time even before the murder of Jamal, but it is has only escalated since then,” said Whitson. “There have been very coordinated attacks against our organization and against individual staff members.”

In many cases, such attacks start with al-Ghawi, one of a number of major pro-government Saudi influencers whose messages are amplified and shared by a network of pro-Saudi nationalists, bots, and other inauthentic accounts online.

Al-Ghawi’s video denouncing the likes of Golberg, Whitson, and others is part of a regular series posted on Twitter and YouTube called “Jamra,” or “the hot coal.” The short-form show, narrated as a monologue, is focused entirely on naming lists of enemies of the Saudi regime around the world.

There is little information online about al-Ghawi himself, whose bio on Twitter identifies him simply as a “Saudi Journalist.” The Jamra program, broadcast in Arabic with English subtitles, is published on al-Ghawi’s YouTube channel. Boasting over 120,000 subscribers, Jamra describes itself as “a political program that connects you with hidden information.” Al-Ghawi promotes the videos from the series on his verified Twitter account, where he has over a quarter of a million followers.

For Golberg, who says he does not have any interest in Middle Eastern politics, his appearance in a Jamra video indicated that he had provoked the anger of powerful people in Saudi Arabia. These actors, he suspected, were upset about his work tracking social media activity in support of the kingdom. Golberg had found analytic data showing widespread manipulation by bots and other inauthentic accounts on Twitter promoting pro-Saudi government messages.

Saudi Arabia was just one interest among many — Golberg previously published analytics studies of social media manipulation by supporters of XRP, a popular cryptocurrency, as well as supporters of President Donald Trump — but the kingdom’s pushback proved different. Nothing has triggered as much backlash or fear as his work on the Saudis, Golberg said. Worse still, when faced with these threats, which included a previous tweet from al-Ghawi in September 2020 accusing him and others of working for the government of Qatar and Hezbollah, the platforms themselves did nothing to help him.

“I wish that I were a celebrity or someone with a large, verified account, so that if I were to start sharing information about attacks against me on Twitter and YouTube, the platforms would feel compelled to remove it,” Golberg said. “People with big platforms have the power to get things like doxxing and death threats removed. But for the average person, when this happens, there is not much they can do.”

Golberg, for now, plans to keep documenting the phenomenon of online harassment networks. Yet the threats and attacks against him have had a deep psychological and emotional impact and left him conflicted about whether to continue. “I feel it’s important to keep shining light on the underbelly of platform manipulation,” Golberg said, “but the work I have been doing the past few years has really started taking a toll on me. It can be harrowing.”

Former FBI Agent Ali Soufan speaks during an interview with AFP in New York City, on April 23, 2018. - To television viewers, he is the FBI agent who hunts down Al-Qaeda. But in real-life, Ali Soufan is just as extraordinary, a Muslim immigrant who fled war to live the American dream. Born in Lebanon, a child of the Middle Eastern country's brutal 1975-1990 civil war, he migrated to the United States as a teenager, was student president at college and dreamt of studying for a PhD in Cambridge, England.Except he applied to the FBI as a dare and was the only one of his friends selected. (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)

Former FBI agent Ali Soufan speaks during an interview with Agence France-Presse in New York City, on April 23, 2018.

Photo: Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images

In the summer of 2020, a report published in the New Yorker highlighted another target of al-Ghawi: former FBI agent Ali Soufan. After Soufan was alerted to credible threats against his life by the CIA that May, he also found himself being targeted by a virulent campaign of online threats and defamation. Soufan hired a cybersecurity firm that determined at least part of the online campaign involved officials of the Saudi government and that “the effort was started by Hussain al-Ghawi, a self-proclaimed Saudi journalist.”

According to the New Yorker, the analysis found that al-Ghawi had also played a key role in leading the online campaign against Khashoggi in the months before his death.

Soufan, who declined to comment for this story, is a decorated former FBI agent with close ties to current and former U.S. government officials. His stature and relationships might make Soufan a costly target for the Saudis. Other Americans who have come onto the radar of their defamatory social media campaigns, however, are more vulnerable, as are their families.

Mohamed Soltan is an Egyptian American who spent nearly two years in an Egyptian prison in the aftermath of a 2013 military coup, coming to the brink of death behind bars during a hunger strike that lasted over a year. Following an international outcry, he was finally released and returned to the United States in May 2015. Despite being a U.S. citizen living at home, his freedom from prison has not meant freedom from further harassment and threats, he said, whether by Egyptian officials or their Saudi allies — including Hussain al-Ghawi.

This March, al-Ghawi released a video on Twitter and YouTube as part of the Jamra series that described Soltan as an extremist who had plotted to carry out attacks against the Egyptian government. Al-Ghawi also painted Soltan as an enemy of the Saudi kingdom who was defaming its rulers through his support of U.S.-based human rights organizations. As evidence, al-Ghawi displayed an old photo of Soltan with Qatar-based cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a cleric often associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which Saudi sees as a threat.

Soltan, who had been personal friends with Khashoggi in Washington and has familiarity with the modus operandi of dictatorial Arab governments, viewed the character attacks against him by al-Ghawi and others as a straightforward attempt to retroactively justify any future harm that he may suffer.

“These attacks are pretexts that they create so that later it plants seeds of doubt in the mind of the public,” Soltan said. “They pick a target and then character assassinate them to such a degree that if anything happens later, people will refrain from speaking about it. This is what they did to Jamal. They paint as much of a negative picture as they can in order to make people later say, ‘It’s complicated’ — if and when something does happen.”

 Mohamed Soltan, 32, a U.S. citizen who became a prominent Egyptian political prisoner, at his home on Sunday, May 31, 2020 in Fairfax, Virginia. Soltan is filing a federal lawsuit Monday alleging that he was shot, beaten and tortured over 643 days of grotesque imprisonment by Cairo's military regime to crush political and religious dissentSoltan, born in Egypt and an Ohio State grad raised in the Midwest, was a dual national who was deported and stripped of his Egyptian citizenship after heavy Obama admin pressure for his release in 2015 after a 500 day hunger strike. Soltan became a high-profile political prisoner after working as English-speaking liaison to foreign media for Islamist and liberal dissidents put down in mass killings of 1,000-plus in and around Cairo on Aug 14, 2013. He is now a human rights advocate, living in No.Va. and teaching at Georgetown. (Photo by Pete Marovich For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Mohamed Soltan, a U.S. citizen who became a prominent Egyptian political prisoner, at his home on May 31, 2020, in Fairfax, Va.

Photo: Pete Marovich for the Washington Post via Getty Images

Twitter’s ties to Saudi Arabia have come under scrutiny in the past. In 2020, two employees at the company were the subjects of an FBI complaint: They were accused of spying inside the firm’s office on behalf of the Saudi government, including passing along the phone numbers and IP addresses of dissidents.

Twitter periodically launches removal campaigns of pro-Saudi accounts found to be abusing the platform. In December 2019, several thousand pro-Saudi accounts were removed for violating Twitter’s “platform manipulation policies” shortly after public allegations about the two spies came to light. Last year, another 20,000 accounts said to be linked to the Saudi, Egyptian, and Serbian governments were also purged from the site.

Both Twitter and YouTube, however, seem content to allow ongoing campaigns of pro-government platform manipulation in English. The lack of moderation is even more pronounced in Arabic and other non-English languages. Golberg, the social media analyst featured in one of al-Ghawi’s videos, estimates that the ongoing pro-Saudi information campaigns on Twitter involve “tens of thousands of inauthentic accounts.”

“I’ve identified entire Saudi-based marketing firms that are helping run inauthentic accounts for the Saudi government,” he said. “Judging from the messages they’re amplifying, they are working with the government to not just push certain narratives but also to continue character assassinating journalists and members of civil society that the government dislikes. With those prior suspensions of pro-Saudi accounts, Twitter wanted to give the appearance that they cleaned up their platform a little bit. And they did, but there is still an incredible amount of the same activity taking place today.”

Al-Ghawi has continued to regularly broadcast his Jamra program, posting it on Twitter and YouTube. In early July, he released another video targeting the Quincy Institute, a noninterventionist think tank based in Washington, D.C. Like many of the other Jamra videos, the one on Quincy obsessively listed off individuals working for the organization who al-Ghawi said were of “Iranian-origin.” He also maintained his characteristic looseness with facts, falsely accusing at least one Quincy Institute employee, Eli Clifton, of having previously worked in the Iranian capital.

“It’s concerning to see a prominent Saudi Twitter troll, who played a central role in the social-media campaign against Jamal Khashoggi, targeting staffers at a U.S.-think tank with outright lies and fabrications,” Clifton, who has contributed to The Intercept, said in response to his inclusion in the latest episode of Jamra. “But it’s downright shocking that American tech companies — Twitter and Google — are knowingly hosting and assisting in the dissemination of this content.”

“Protecting the safety of people who use Twitter is of paramount importance to us,” a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement. “We have clear policies in place on abusive behavior, hateful conduct and violent threats on the service. Where we identify clear violations, we will take enforcement action.” According to Twitter, al-Ghawi’s tweets did not violate any policies. (YouTube did not respond to a request for comment.)

In the video on Whitson, al-Ghawi accused the DAWN executive director of taking “$100,000 to criticize Saudi Arabia and Egypt” — an accusation that she described as ludicrous. Whitson said that the online campaign directed by al-Ghawi and others has been a clear attempt to silence outside criticism of the kingdom over its foreign policy and human rights abuses, including the murder of Khashoggi.

The Biden administration has made public some of its own intelligence pointing to the Saudi crown prince’s role in the Khashoggi murder, but earlier this year stopped short of directly imposing sanctions on Crown Prince Mohammed and other high-level officials believed responsible for the killing. The failure to impose serious accountability, alongside the continued threats leveled by the Saudi regime against Americans and Saudi dissidents abroad, appear to be signs that the crown prince is unchastened and potentially willing to strike out at his critics with violence again. Pro-government influencers, prominent among them Hussain al-Ghawi, seem to be favored tools.

In one Jamra video, responding to allegations that he was marking out enemies of the kingdom for future harm, al-Ghawi characterized himself as merely a journalist performing a public service. “A journalist does not threaten, nor assassinate, nor kill,” al-Ghawi said. “A journalist’s ammunition is information, and their weapon is words.”

The language of al-Ghawi’s reassurance did little to comfort the Americans and others who are on the receiving end of his online campaigns, broadcast from an authoritarian country with a track record of killing its critics, wherever they may be.

“The Biden administration should ask itself what it is going to do to protect Americans from these attacks,” said Whitson. “As long as the Saudis feel that they have this uncritical U.S. backing, they’re going to continue to believe that they have a license to attack their critics in whichever way that they like. These coordinated attacks against people they dislike that begin online have already proven that they can be deadly in the real world.”

The post “A Government That Has Killed People for Less”: Pro-Saudi Social Media Swarms Leave Critics in Fear appeared first on The Intercept.

How to Defend Yourself Against the Powerful New NSO Spyware Attacks Discovered Around the World

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 28/07/2021 - 6:10am in

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An international group of journalists this month detailed extensive new evidence that spyware made by Israeli company NSO Group was used against activists, business executives, journalists, and lawyers around the world. Even Apple’s iPhone, frequently lauded for its tight security, was found to be “no match” for the surveillance software, leading Johns Hopkins cryptographer Matthew Green to fret that the NSO revelations had led some hacking experts to descend into a posture of “security nihilism.”

Security nihilism is the idea that digital attacks have grown so sophisticated that there’s nothing to be done to prevent them from happening or to blunt their impact. That sort of conclusion would be a mistake. For one thing, it plays into the hands of malicious hackers, who would love nothing more than for targets to stop trying to defend themselves. It’s also mistaken factually: You can defend yourself against NSO’s spyware — for example, by following operational security techniques like not clicking unknown links, practicing device compartmentalization (such as using separate devices for separate apps), and having a virtual private network, or VPN, on mobile devices. Such techniques are effective against any number of digital attacks and thus useful even if NSO Group turns out to be correct in its claim that the purported evidence against the company is not valid.

There may be no such thing as perfect security, as one classic adage in the field states, but that’s no excuse for passivity. Here, then, are practical steps you can take to reduce your “attack surface” and protect yourself against spyware like NSO’s.

Pegasus Offers “Unlimited Access to Target’s Mobile Devices”

The recent revelations concern a specific NSO spyware product known as Pegasus. They follow extensive prior studies of the company’s software from entities like the Citizen Lab, Amnesty International, Article 19, R3D, and SocialTIC. Here’s what we know about Pegasus specifically.

The software’s capabilities were outlined in what appears to be a promotional brochure from NSO Group dating to 2014 or earlier and made available when WikiLeaks published a trove of emails related to a different spyware firm, Italy’s Hacking Team. The brochure’s authenticity cannot be confirmed, and NSO has said it is not commenting further on Pegasus. But the document markets Pegasus aggressively, saying it provides “unlimited access to target’s mobile devices” and allows clients to “remotely and covertly collect information about your target’s relationships, location, phone calls, plans and activities — whenever and wherever they are.” The brochure also states the Pegasus can:

  • Monitor voice and VoIP calls in real-time.
  • Siphon contacts, passwords, files, and encrypted content from the phone.
  • Operate as an “environmental wiretap,” listening through the microphone.
  • Monitor communications through apps like WhatsApp, Facebook, Skype, Blackberry Messenger, and Viber.
  • Track the phone’s location via GPS.

For all the hype, Pegasus is, however, just a glorified version of an old type of malware known as a Remote Access Trojan, or RAT: a program that allows an unauthorized party full access over a target device. In other words, while Pegasus may be potent, the security community knows well how to defend against this type of threat.

Let’s look at the different ways Pegasus can potentially infect phones — its various “agent installation vectors,” in the brochure’s own vernacular — and how to defend against each one.

Dodging Social Engineering Clickbait

There are numerous examples in reports of Pegasus attacks of journalists and human rights defenders receiving SMS and WhatsApp bait messages enjoining them to click malicious links. The links download spyware that lodges into devices through security holes in browsers and operating systems. This attack vector is called an Enhanced Social Engineer Message, or ESEM, in the leaked brochure. It states that “the chances that the target will click the link are totally dependent on the level of content credibility. The Pegasus solution provides a wide range of tools to compose a tailored and innocent message to lure the target to open the message.”

“The chances that the target will click the link are totally dependent on the level of content credibility.”

As the Committee to Protect Journalists has detailed, ESEM bait messages linked to Pegasus fall into various categories. Some claim to be from established organizations like banks, embassies, news agencies, or parcel delivery services. Others relate to personal matters, like work or alleged evidence of infidelity, or claim that the targeted person is facing some immediate security risk.

Future ESEM attacks may use different types of bait messages, which is why it’s important to treat any correspondence that tries to convince you to perform a digital action with caution. Here are some examples of what that means in practice:

  • If you receive a message with a link, particularly if it includes a sense of urgency (stating a package is about to arrive or that your credit card is going to be charged), avoid the impulse to immediately click on it.
  • If you trust the linked site, type out the link’s web address manually.
  • If going to a website you frequently visit, save that website in a bookmark folder and only access the site from the link in your folder.
  • If you decide you’re going to click a link rather than typing it out or visiting the site via bookmark, at least scrutinize the link to confirm that it is pointing to a website you are familiar with. And remember that it’s possible you will still be fooled: Some phishing links use similar-looking letters from a non-English character set, in what is known as a homograph attack. For example, a Cyrillic “О” might be used to mimic the usual Latin “O” we see in English.
  • If the link appears to be a shortened URL, use a URL expander service such as URL Expander or ExpandURL to reveal the actual, long link it points to before clicking.
  • Before you click a link apparently sent by someone you know, confirm that the person really did send it; their account may have been hacked or their phone number spoofed. Confirm with them using a different communication channel from the one on which you received the message. For instance, if the link came via a text or email message, give the sender a call. This is known as out-of-band verification or authentication.
  • Practice device compartmentalization, using a secondary device without any sensitive information on it to open untrusted links. Keep in mind that if the secondary device is infected, it may still be used to monitor you via the microphone or camera, so keep it in a Faraday bag when not in use — or at least away from where you have sensitive conversations (a good idea even if it’s in a Faraday bag).
  • Use nondefault browsers. According to a section titled “Installation Failure” in the leaked Pegasus brochure, installation may fail if the target is running an unsupported browser and in particular a browser other than “the default browser of the device.” But the document is now several years old, and it is possible that Pegasus today supports all kinds of browsers.
  • If there is ever any doubt about a given link, the safest operational security measure is to avoid opening the link.

Thwarting Network Injection Attacks

Another way Pegasus infected devices in multiple cases was by intercepting a phone’s network traffic using what’s known as a man-in-the-middle, or MITM, attack, in which Pegasus intercepted unencrypted network traffic, like HTTP web requests, and redirected it toward malicious payloads. Pulling this off entailed either tricking the phone into connecting to a rogue portable device which pretends to be a cell tower nearby or gaining access to the target’s cellular carrier (plausible if the target is in a repressive regime where the government provides telecommunication services). This attack worked even if the phone was in mobile data-only mode, and not connected to Wi-Fi.

When Maati Monjib, the co-founder of the Freedom Now NGO and the Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism, opened the iPhone Safari browser and typed yahoo.fr, Safari first tried going to http://yahoo.fr. Normally this would have redirected to https://fr.yahoo.com, an encrypted connection. But since Monjib’s connection was being intercepted, it instead redirected to a malicious third-party site which ultimately hacked his phone.

Typing just the website domain into a browser opens you to attacks, because your browser will attempt an unencrypted connection to the site.

Typing just the website domain (such as yahoo.fr) into a browser address bar without specifying a protocol (such as https://) opens the possibility for MITM attacks, because your browser by default will attempt an unencrypted HTTP connection to the site. Usually, you reach the genuine site, which immediately redirects you to a safe HTTPS connection. But if someone is tracking to hack your device, that first HTTP connection is enough of an opening to hijack your connection.

Some websites protect against this using a complicated security feature known as HTTP Strict Transport Security, which prevents your browser from ever making an unencrypted request to them, but you can’t always count on this, even for some websites that implement it correctly.

Here are some things you can do to prevent these kinds of attacks:

  • Always type out https:// when going to websites.
  • Bookmark secure (HTTPS) URLs for your favorite sites, and use those instead of typing the domain name directly.
  • Alternately, use a VPN on both your desktop and mobile devices. A VPN tunnels all connections securely to the VPN server, which then accesses websites on your behalf and relays them back to you. This means that an attacker monitoring your network will likely not be able to perform a successful MITM attack as your connection is encrypted to the VPN — even if you type a domain directly into your browser without the “https://” part.

If you use a VPN, keep in mind that your VPN provider has the ability to spy on your internet traffic, so it’s important to pick a trustworthy one. Wirecutter publishes a regularly updated, thorough comparison of VPN providers based on their history of third-party security audits, their privacy and terms of use policies, the security of the VPN technology used, and other factors.

Zero-Click Exploits

Unlike infection attempts which require that the target perform some action like clicking a link or opening an attachment, zero-click exploits are so called because they require no interaction from the target. All that is required is for the targeted person to have a particular vulnerable app or operating system installed. Amnesty International’s forensic report on the recently revealed Pegasus evidence states that some infections were transmitted through zero-click attacks leveraging the Apple Music and iMessage apps.

Your device should have the bare minimum of apps that you need.

This is not the first time NSO Group’s tools have been linked to zero-click attacks. A 2017 complaint against Panama’s former President Ricardo Martinelli states that journalists, political figures, union activists, and civic association leaders were targeted with Pegasus and rogue push notifications delivered to their devices, while in 2019 WhatsApp and Facebook filed a complaint claiming NSO Group developed malware capable of exploiting a zero-click vulnerability in WhatsApp.

As zero-click vulnerabilities by definition do not require any user interaction, they are the hardest to defend against. But users can reduce their chances of succumbing to these exploits by reducing what is known as their “attack surface” and by practicing device compartmentalization. Reducing your attack surface simply means minimizing the possible ways that your device may be infected. Device compartmentalization means spreading your data and apps across multiple devices.

Specifically, users can:

  • Reduce the number of apps on your phone. The fewer unlocked doors your home has, the fewer opportunities a burglar has to enter; similarly, fewer apps means fewer virtual doors on your phone for an adversary to exploit. Your device should have the bare minimum apps that you need to perform day-to-day function. There are some apps you cannot remove, such as iMessage; in those cases you can often disable them, though doing so will also make text messages no longer work on your iPhone.
  • Regularly audit your installed apps (and their permissions), and remove any that you no longer need. It is safer to remove a seldom-used app and download it again when you actually need it than to let it remain on your phone.
  • Regularly update both your phone’s operating system and individual apps, since updates close vulnerabilities, sometimes even unintentionally.
  • Compartmentalize your remaining apps. If a phone only has WhatsApp installed and is compromised, the hacker will get WhatsApp data, but not other sensitive information like email, calendar, photos, or Signal messages.
  • Even a compartmentalized phone can still be used as a wiretap and a tracking device, so keep devices physically compartmentalized — that is, leave them in another room, ideally in a tamper bag.

Physical Access

A final way an attacker can infect your phone is by physically interacting with it. According to the brochure, “when physical access to the device is an option, the Pegasus agent can be manually injected and installed in less than five minutes” — though it is unclear if the phone needs to be unlocked or if attackers are able to infect even a PIN-protected phone.

There seem to be no known cases of physically launched Pegasus attacks, though such exploits may be difficult to spot and distinguish from online attacks. Here’s how you can mitigate them:

  • Always maintain a line of sight to your devices. Losing sight of your devices opens the possibility of physical compromise. Obviously there is a difference between a customs agent taking your phone at the airport versus you leaving your laptop behind in a room in your residence when you go to the bathroom, but all involve some risk, and you will have to calibrate your own risk tolerance.
  • Put your device in a tamper bag when it needs to be left unattended, particularly in riskier locations like hotel rooms. This will not prevent the device from being manipulated but will at the least provide a ready alert that the device has been taken out of the bag and might have been tampered with, at which point the device should no longer be used.
  • Use burner phones and other compartmented devices when entering potentially hostile environments such as government buildings, including embassies and consulates, or when going through border checkpoints.

Generally:

  • Use Amnesty International’s Mobile Verification Toolkit if you suspect your phone is infected with Pegasus.
  • Regularly back up important files.
  • And finally, there’s no harm in regularly resetting your phone.

Although Pegasus is a sophisticated piece of spyware, there are tangible steps you can take to minimize the chance that your devices will be infected. There’s no foolproof method to eliminate your risk entirely, but there are definitely things you can do to lower that risk, and there’s certainly no need to resort to the defeatist view that we’re “no match” for Pegasus.

The post How to Defend Yourself Against the Powerful New NSO Spyware Attacks Discovered Around the World appeared first on The Intercept.

Pegasus-India’s Watergate moment

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/07/2021 - 4:55am in

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A journalist hacked by Pegasus says he will survive, but Indian democracy may not.

Workers in India’s Congress Party protest against the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi alleged surveillance operation using the Pegasus spyware in New Delhi on July 20.

“Congratulations!” That was the most common message of support I received from friends and well-wishers after the July 18 news that my name was featured in a list of journalists whose cellphones had been targeted by the Israeli military-grade spyware Pegasus. I had known since June that I was on the list. My friend and colleague Siddharth Varadarajan, co-founder of India’s independent news portal The Wire – one of the 17 global media partners of this worldwide investigation – was sombre when he first informed me. After I agreed to cooperate with the investigation, my device was checked by Amnesty International in early July. They found that my cellphone had been infiltrated by Pegasus as recently as a couple of days earlier.

The leaked data for the investigation, provided by the Paris-based nonprofit Forbidden Stories, indicated that my cellphone was first placed on the snooping list in July 2018, when I was a deputy editor at The Indian Express newspaper. That year, I won the prestigious Ramnath Goenka award for excellence in journalism, awarded for my reporting on three major news stories: the sacking and replacement of the head of India’s premier federal investigative agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation; the internal conflict and turmoil at the highest levels of India’s Supreme Court over allegations of corruption and induction of new judges; and the multibillion-dollar deal between India and France for Rafale fighter jets, where allegations of wrongdoing, cronyism, and overpricing had gained ground. The deal became a major issue in India’s 2019 national elections.

Although the Rafale deal remains a politically sensitive issue for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the list of Indians targeted by Pegasus goes beyond journalists and activists. It allegedly includes top political leaders, constitutional functionaries, bureaucrats, judges, lawyers, scientists, diplomats, and businesspeople. Because the Israeli cyberweapon is claimed to be sold only to “vetted governments” for use against terrorists and criminals, the snooping list denotes that the Indian democratic framework is no longer free and fair. This is no less than India’s Watergate moment.

If India’s institutions fail to stand up and press Modi’s government for answers, it could well mark the demise of the world’s largest democracy. The onus is also on another democracy, Israel, to come clean and take steps to cancel India’s Pegasus license for violation of contractual obligations.

This is not the first time revelations about Pegasus being used against Indian activists and journalists have come to light. In 2019, the messaging service WhatsApp provided the Indian government with a list of 121 people whose cellphones had been snooped on by Pegasus. WhatsApp has taken NSO Group, the manufacturer of Pegasus, to court for hacking the app to infiltrate phones. A report by Citizen Lab, a research group at the University of Toronto, showed that an operator named GANGES has been active in India since June 2017. After questions were raised in the Indian Parliament, the government resorted to obfuscation in its reply, neither confirming nor denying it had bought Pegasus from its Israeli manufacturer. Meanwhile, the media diverted focus toward WhatsApp when the culprit was really military-grade spyware.

But the details that have emerged in the recent revelations are of a different order. The cellphones of India’s top opposition leader, Rahul Gandhi, his two close aides, and five nonpolitical friends were hacked by Pegasus in the run-up to the 2019 national elections, which Modi won. During that election campaign, one of the election commissioners – a constitutional functionary – objected to Modi’s polarizing speeches. His phone, as well as that of a journalist reporting his official stance, was compromised by Pegasus.

India’s top political consultant, Prashant Kishor, who helped make Modi prime minister in 2014 but has since been behind some of the most humiliating defeats inflicted on his party in provincial elections, was also hacked. Among others surveilled were two ministers in Modi’s own cabinet. And in a stunning incident illustrating the political dimension of the snoop web, the leaks revealed that cellphones of top political leaders and their aides in the opposition-run Karnataka state were hacked shortly before Modi’s party brought down the government through defections and established its own government in 2019.

Every democratic institution in India has been bullied and blackmailed through the use of military-grade cyber weaponry.

A junior woman staffer in India’s Supreme Court, who accused then-Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment in 2019, is revealed to have had 11 of her and her family’s cellphones targeted by Pegasus. After dismissing the charges against himself, Gogoi, who ruled in favour of the government in crucial cases – including the Rafale case, the Babri Masjid mosque case, and a case involving illegal detentions in Kashmir – was nominated to parliament by Modi in 2020. Another Supreme Court judge’s cellphone was allegedly snooped on as were the cellphones of many lawyers working on politically sensitive cases.

The exhaustive list leaves no sphere of India’s sociopolitical landscape free of Pegasus’s hacking. A host of human rights activists, civil society actors, and leaders of nonprofits, including the head of India’s Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation branch, have been hacked. India’s top virologist, Gagandeep Kang, has not been spared either. Some business executives, particularly those involved in the Rafale deal, have also been snooped on by the Israeli spyware. To top it all off, there are more than 40 journalists on the list, many of whom have reported on news critical of policies and decisions Modi or his top party leaders made.

The closest parallel to the breadth and nature of India’s Pegasus snooping is the infamous 1972 to 1974 Watergate scandal in the United States when it emerged then-U.S. President Richard Nixon’s administration tried to cover up its role spying on the Democratic Party. But the current Pegasus-based snooping goes a step further. Although Nixon targeted his opposition, Modi’s government has allegedly targeted the judiciary, election authorities, journalists, and federal investigative officials.

While Nixon was ultimately charged with a cover-up of his misdemeanours, Modi’s government refuses to categorically deny it has procured or employed Pegasus. Modi’s second in command, Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah, argued: “This is a report by the disrupters for the obstructers. Disrupters are global organisations, which do not like India to progress. Obstructers are political players in India who do not want India to progress.”

If Modi’s government is hoping to brazen out the current global storm, it is treading in Nixon’s footsteps. It took two years of dogged work by the U.S. media, judiciary, and legislature after the Watergate scandal first came to light to force Nixon to resign from office in 1974.

Many global watchdogs have warned of democratic erosion in India under Modi’s Hindu majoritarian government. The government took offence when the V-Dem Institute called India an “electoral autocracy” and Freedom House classified it as “partly free” as these groups meticulously called out New Delhi’s steamrolling of democratic checks and balances. There is no stronger evidence of this trend than the exalted company Modi’s government finds itself in as the Pegasus investigation goes on: Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Hungary, and the United Arab Emirates.

This article written by Sushant Singh was republished from Foreign Policy 21 July 2021. Click here to read the original article.

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