The New York Times reports: In a new online threat to American military personnel, the Islamic State has called on its members and sympathizers in the United States to kill 100 service members whose names, photos and purported addresses it posted on a website.
The group said that the personnel had participated in efforts to defeat it in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere.
Defense Department and F.B.I. officials said that they were aware of the website and were investigating the posting.
It does not appear that the information had been hacked from government servers. One Defense Department official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said that most of the information could be found in public records, residential address search sites and social media.
The officials said the list appears to be drawn from personnel who have appeared in news articles about airstrikes on the militant group.
Some of the names also appear to be drawn from the Defense Department’s own official reports on the campaign against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL.
But the list also included armed services personnel and others in the United States or elsewhere who have had nothing to do with the bombing campaigns, officials said. [Continue reading…]
Steve Wasserman writes: The vast canvas afforded by the Internet has done little to encourage thoughtful and serious criticism. Mostly it has provided a vast Democracy Wall on which any crackpot can post his or her manifesto. Bloggers bloviate and insults abound. Discourse coarsens. Information is abundant, wisdom scarce. It is a striking irony, as Leon Wieseltier has noted, that with the arrival of the Internet, “a medium of communication with no limitations of physical space, everything on it has to be in six hundred words.” The Internet, he said, is the first means of communication invented by humankind that privileges one’s first thoughts as one’s best thoughts. And he rightly observed that if “value is a function of scarcity,” then “what is most scarce in our culture is long, thoughtful, patient, deliberate analysis of questions that do not have obvious or easy answers.” Time is required to think through difficult questions. Patience is a condition of genuine intellection. The thinking mind, the creating mind, said Wieseltier, should not be rushed. “And where the mind is rushed and made frenetic, neither thought nor creativity will ensue. What you will most likely get is conformity and banality. Writing is not typed talking.”
The fundamental idea at stake in the criticism of culture generally is the self-image of society: how it reasons with itself, describes itself, imagines itself. Nothing in the excitements made possible by the digital revolution banishes the need for the rigor such self-reckoning requires. It is, as Wieseltier says, the obligation of cultural criticism to bear down on what matters. [Continue reading…]
Henry Farrell writes: The Hidden Wiki holds the keys to a secret internet. To reach it, you need a special browser that can access ‘Tor Hidden Services’ – websites that have chosen to obscure their physical location. But even this browser isn’t enough. Like the Isla de Muerta in the film Pirates of the Caribbean, the landmarks of this hidden internet can be discovered only by those who already know where they are.
Sites such as the Hidden Wiki provide unreliable treasure maps. They publish lists of the special addresses for sites where you can use Bitcoin to buy drugs or stolen credit card numbers, play strange games, or simply talk, perhaps on subjects too delicate for the open web. The lists are often untrustworthy. Sometimes the addresses are out-of-date. Sometimes they are actively deceptive. One link might lead to a thriving marketplace for buying and selling stolen data; another, to a wrecker’s display of false lights, a cloned site designed to relieve you of your coin and give you nothing in return.
This hidden internet is a product of debates among technology-obsessed libertarians in the 1990s. These radicals hoped to combine cryptography and the internet into a universal solvent that would corrupt the bonds of government tyranny. New currencies, based on recent cryptographic advances, would undermine traditional fiat money, seizing the cash nexus from the grasp of the state. ‘Mix networks’, where everyone’s identity was hidden by multiple layers of encryption, would allow people to talk and engage in economic exchange without the government being able to see.
Plans for cryptographic currencies led to the invention of Bitcoin, while mix networks culminated in Tor. The two technologies manifest different aspects of a common dream – the utopian aspiration to a world where one could talk and do business without worrying about state intervention – and indeed they grew up together. For a long time, the easiest way to spend Bitcoin was at Tor’s archipelago of obfuscated websites.
Like the pirate republics of the 18th century, this virtual underworld mingles liberty and vice. Law enforcement and copyright-protection groups such as the Digital Citizens’ Alliance in Washington, DC, prefer to emphasise the most sordid aspects of Tor’s hidden services – the sellers of drugs, weapons and child pornography. And yet the effort to create a hidden internet was driven by ideology as much as avarice. The network is used by dissidents as well as dope-peddlers. If you live under an authoritarian regime, Tor provides you with a ready-made technology for evading government controls on the internet. Even some of the seedier services trade on a certain idealism. Many libertarians believe that people should be able to buy and sell drugs without government interference, and hoped to build marketplaces to do just that, without violence and gang warfare.
Tor’s anonymity helps criminals by making it harder for the state to identify and detain them. Yet this has an ironic side-effect: it also makes it harder for them to trust each other, because they typically can’t be sure who their interlocutors are. To make money in hidden markets, you need people to trust you, so that they will buy from you and sell to you. Having accomplished this first manoeuvre, the truly successful entrepreneurs go one step further. They become middlemen of trust, guaranteeing relations between others and taking a cut from the proceeds. [Continue reading…]
James Palmer writes: On 5 July 2009, residents of Xinjiang, China’s far western province, found the internet wasn’t working. It’s a regular frustration in remote areas, but it rapidly became apparent that this time it wasn’t coming back. The government had hit the kill switch on the entire province when a protest in the capital Ürümqi by young Uighur men (of the area’s indigenous Turkic population) turned into a riot against the Han Chinese, in which at least 197 people were killed.
The shutdown was intended to prevent similar uprisings by the Uighur, long subjected to religious and cultural repression, and to halt revenge attacks by Han. In that respect, it might have worked; officially, there was no fatal retaliation, but in retrospect the move came to be seen as an error.
Speaking anonymously, a Chinese security advisor described the blackout as ‘a serious mistake… now we are years behind where we could have been in tracking terrorists’. Young Uighur learnt to see the internet as hostile territory – a lesson reinforced by the arrest of Ilham Tohti, a popular professor of economics, on trumped-up charges of extremism linked to an Uighur-language website he administered. ‘We turn off our phones before we talk politics’, a tech-savvy Uighur acquaintance remarked.
The Uighur continued to consume digital media, but increasingly in off-line form, whether viewing discs full of Turkish TV series or jihadist propaganda passed on memory sticks. Where once Chinese media reports claimed that arrested Uighur had been visiting ‘separatist’ websites, now they noted drawers full of burnt DVDs and flash drives.
A series of brutal terrorist attacks early in 2014 reinforced the lesson for the Chinese authorities; by driving Uighur off-line they had thrown away valuable data. Last summer, the Public Security University in Beijing began recruiting overseas experts in data analysis, including, I’m told, former members of the Israeli security forces.
In Xinjiang, tightened control means less information, and the Chinese government has always had a fraught relationship with information – private and public. Today, an explosion in available data promises to open up sources of knowledge previously tightly locked away. To some, this seems a shift toward democracy. But technocrats within the government also see it as a way to create a more efficient form of authoritarianism. [Continue reading…]
Alex Wright writes: The Earth may not be flat, but the web certainly is.
“There is no ‘top’ to the World-Wide Web,” declared a 1992 foundational document from the World Wide Web Consortium — meaning that there is no central server or organizational authority to determine what does or does not get published. It is, like Borges’ famous Library of Babel, theoretically infinite, stitched together with hyperlinks rather than top-down, Dewey Decimal-style categories.1 It is also famously open—built atop a set of publicly available industry standards.
While these features have connected untold millions and created new forms of social organization, they also come at a cost. Material seems to vanish almost as quickly as it is created, disappearing amid broken links or into the constant flow of the social media “stream.” It can be hard to distinguish fact from falsehood. Corporations have stepped into this confusion, organizing our browsing and data in decidedly closed, non-transparent ways. Did it really have to turn out this way?
The web has played such a powerful role in shaping our world that it can sometimes seem like a fait accompli — the inevitable result of progress and enlightened thinking. A deeper look into the historical record, though, reveals a different story: The web in its current state was by no means inevitable. Not only were there competing visions for how a global knowledge network might work, divided along cultural and philosophical lines, but some of those discarded hypotheses are coming back into focus as researchers start to envision the possibilities of a more structured, less volatile web. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: For the last year, Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, has been working on new rules to ensure so-called net neutrality, or an open Internet. Over that time, his hints and comments have shown a steady shift toward stronger regulation — and a more direct confrontation with the cable television and telecommunications companies that provide high-speed Internet service to most American homes.
But on Wednesday, Mr. Wheeler went further than some industry analysts had expected and even beyond the recommendations of President Obama, who in November urged the commission to adopt the “strongest possible rules,” in a surprising public admonition to an independent agency.
First, Mr. Wheeler proposed regulating consumer Internet service as a public utility, saying it was the right path to net neutrality. He also included provisions to protect consumer privacy and to ensure Internet service is available for people with disabilities and in remote areas.
Mr. Wheeler’s plan would also for the first time give the F.C.C. enforcement powers to police practices in the marketplace for handling of data before it enters the gateway network into people’s households — the so-called interconnect market. For good measure, he added a “future conduct” standard to cover unforeseen problems.
Some industry analysts expected Mr. Wheeler to leave some rules out of this order, partly to create a narrower target for legal challenges. Yet he chose to add the other provisions to the main thrust of his plan, which is to reclassify high-speed Internet service as a telecommunications service, instead of an information service, under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.
“Once you’ve decided to take the bold step — apply Title II — and open yourself up to attacks from the industry and in court, it makes sense to put in everything you want,” said Kevin Werbach, a former F.C.C. counsel and an associate professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: A California man behind the website Silk Road, once a thriving online black market for the sale of heroin, cocaine, LSD and other drugs and illicit goods, was convicted on Wednesday of all seven counts related to the enterprise.
The verdict against the defendant, Ross W. Ulbricht, was delivered swiftly: Jurors began deliberating in the morning, and reported that they had reached a consensus about 3 1/2 hours later.
Prosecutors had portrayed Mr. Ulbricht, 30, as a “digital kingpin” who ran the website on a hidden part of the Internet, where deals could be made anonymously and without the scrutiny of law enforcement.
Evidence showed that Silk Road generated revenues of more than $213 million from January 2011 to October 2013, when Mr. Ulbricht was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in a library in San Francisco while he was logged on to his laptop as Dread Pirate Roberts, the pseudonym under which prosecutors said he operated the website. Deals were conducted in Bitcoins, and Mr. Ulbricht took millions of dollars in commissions, the government said. [Continue reading…]