Monday reads: Internet activists’ limits in Iran; a middle ground for cyberwar; protests we saw coming
1. Internet activism running into its limits in Iran. Can a virtual movement survive without developing real-world institutions? (Foreign Policy)
2. Finding the sensible middle ground when it comes to cyberwar. Is there such a thing? (O’Reilly Radar)
3. Australian hackers rebel against content filtering. The sad thing is, government IT staff probably saw this coming, even if the Prime Minister didn’t. (The Canberra Times)
The quote is from Google’s Sergey Brin – and the (admittedly dated) link is here. The back-tracking begs a better PR strategy:
Mr. Brin said he didn’t think the question of whether the Chinese government was behind the intrusions was significant because the government is made up of so many people. “If there were a Chinese agent, it might represent a fragment of policy,” he said.
Right. What exactly is Google’s algorithm for this? The significance of the question of government sponsorship of cyber-espionage is the inverse of the size of the government potentially involved?
By this logic, an intrusion sponsored by my local city government = significant question for Google.
The excellent James Fallows has an article in the March issue of the Atlantic on the cybersecurity threat posed by China:
As a matter of domestic U.S. politics, McConnell argues that we now suffer from a conspiracy of secrecy about the scale of cyber risks. … While trying to build bridges to the military, McConnell and others recommend that the U.S. work with China on international efforts to secure data networks, comparable to the Chinese role in dealing with the world financial crisis. “You could have the model of the International Civil Aviation Organization,” James Lewis said, “a body that can reduce risks for everyone by imposing common standards. It’s moving from the Wild West to the rule of law.” Why would the Chinese government want to join such an effort? McConnell’s answer was that an ever-richer China will soon have as clear a stake in secure data networks as it did in safe air travel.
Seen around the Twitterverse (HT for Evgeny Morozov’s RT @csoghoian):
How do I sign up for the Iranian Govt’s new free email service? At least they’re not in bed with the NSA.
As reported just about everywhere, the Iranian government announced it’s banning Gmail, a day before the anniversary of the Iranian revolution and the street protests anticipated to mark said anniversary. Access to the service may have been blocked already, after a cable cut last week already diminished traffic. There’s a technical point here that only Wired seems to have picked up: Gmail uses encryption by default, which makes it more of a challenge to government surveillance than comparable online providers. And – per the tweet above – one can’t help but wonder if recent news about Google’s relationship with the NSA didn’t play a role, given the role of Twitter in last summer’s protests and the encouragement given Twitter by the State Department.
I wonder, though, if this isn’t more of a means of legal cover for the arrest of opposition protestors – will holding a Gmail account (which, if the service is blocked, can’t be deleted) be used as a chargeable offense by the authorities?
IDG News Service (see the article at PCWorld) is reporting that both Microsoft and Google have cut deals with a Taiwanese chipset vendor that supports handset makers in China – with a hardware/software package to be released for Google’s Android mobile OS later in 2010.
There’s an angle here that’s been overlooked in the market share comparisons between Google and Baidu that were highlighted after Google’s decision last month. While Baidu has a clear lead over Google in the search market, the mobile search market is more competitive – with Digital East Asia putting each company’s market share at 26% apiece. Google’s also tied to China’s primary mobile carrier (China Mobile), while Baidu’s is partnered with the number-two provider. (Even more interesting – if tangential – Baidu’s CTO moved to become CEO of an information-services subsidiary of China Mobile a few weeks ago – a week after Baidu suffered a service outage that could be related to hacking activity out of Iran).
If you assume that the mobile market is where the real growth opportunity lies – for Google and others – it seems hard to believe that Google’s going to stay out of China. The chipset deal just suggests that where they’ll be “in” is different from where they were before.
Via Computerworld and other sources: China has announced the shutdown of what the BBC says “is believed to be the country’s biggest training website for hackers,” Black Hawk Safety Net, resulting in the arrests of three. The WSJ confirms the arrests actually occurred in November, leading to speculation that this may be an attempt to ward off negative press from its recent flap with Google.
Whether or not that’s true, the shutdown of this site does signal that China is having to navigate a difficult balance with cybersecurity issues as Internet use grows. On the one hand, the growth of nationalist hacker groups has afforded the government the advantage of plausible deniability for activities ranging from campaigns against Tibetan exiles to sophisticated penetration attempts of U.S. government and industry databases. On the other hand, the sheer volume of trained hackers (or untrained, armed with a few easy-to-use tools) combined with a growing e-commerce market makes for … a fertile (if illicit) opportunity, sized at $1B in 2008 and fuel for a $35M “hacker training” industry.
This is rich: Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez calls Twitter a “tool of terror” (via BoingBoing). Great way to get a hashtag trend going.