Monthly Archives: August 2016

‘The Mother of All Risks’: Insurance Giants Call on G20 to Stop Bankrolling Fossil Fuels

Multinational firms managing $1.2tn in assets declare subsidies for coal, oil, and gas ‘simply unsustainable’

By Lauren McCauley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 8-29-2016

An aerial photograph of Baton Rouge, Louisiana after historic flooding destroyed much of the city, August 18, 2016. (Photo: Thomas Cizauskas/cc/flickr)

An aerial photograph of Baton Rouge, Louisiana after historic flooding destroyed much of the city, August 18, 2016. (Photo: Thomas Cizauskas/cc/flickr)

Warning that climate change amounts to the “mother of all risks,” three of the world’s biggest insurance companies this week are demanding that G20 countries stop bankrolling the fossil fuels industry.

Multi-national insurance giants Aviva, Aegon, and Amlin, which together manage $1.2tn in assets, released a statement Tuesday calling on the leaders of the world’s biggest economies to commit to ending coal, oil, and gas subsidies within four years. Continue reading

Share

US Calls ‘Unacceptable’ Turkey’s Attack on Kurdish Fighters in Syria

As new developments further complicate the five-year conflict, “Syrian men, women, and children continue to pay the highest price”

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 8-29-2016

Photo: Twitter

Photo: Twitter

The United States has criticized as “unacceptable” the fighting between forces backed NATO ally Turkey and U.S.-backed pro-Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, just days after the U.S. and Russia suggested there was no imminent ceasefire to the conflict that has killed at least a quarter of a million people.

“We are closely monitoring reports of clashes south of Jarabulus—where ISIL [Islamic State or ISIS] is no longer located—between the Turkish armed forces, some opposition groups, and units that are affiliated with the SDF (Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces),” Pentagon spokesperson Peter Cook said in a statement to Agence France-Presse. Continue reading

Share

TTIP Has ‘De Facto Failed,’ Says German Economic Minister

‘Negotiations with the U.S. have de facto failed, because of course as Europeans we couldn’t allow ourselves to submit to American demands’

By Nika Knight, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 8-28-2016

"Everything has stalled," German Vice Chancellor and Economic Minister Sigmar Gabriel said. (Photo: Garry Knight/flickr/cc)

“Everything has stalled,” German Vice Chancellor and Economic Minister Sigmar Gabriel said. (Photo: Garry Knight/flickr/cc)

Germany’s Vice Chancellor and Economic Minister said that the controversial Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) has “de facto failed,” admitting that negotiations between the U.S. and E.U. have completely stalled.

“Negotiations with the U.S. have de facto failed, because of course as Europeans we couldn’t allow ourselves to submit to American demands,” Sigmar Gabriel told the German news station ZDF in an interview that will air at 7pm German time Sunday, according to Der Spiegel. Continue reading

Share

After the NSA hack: Cybersecurity in an even more vulnerable world

Nir Kshetri, University of North Carolina – Greensboro

Cybersecurity just got even more difficult. Charis Tsevis/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Cybersecurity just got even more difficult. Charis Tsevis/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

It is looking increasingly likely that computer hackers have in fact successfully attacked what had been the pinnacle of cybersecurity – the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). A few days ago, reports began emerging of claims by a hacking group called the Shadow Brokers that it had breached the network of, and accessed critical digital content from, computers used by the Equation Group. This attracted more than the usual amount of attention because the Equation Group is widely believed to be a spying element of the NSA.

It is possible – perhaps even likely – that Shadow Brokers is a group of hackers linked to the Russian government.

Shadow Brokers posted online some examples of the data it said it had stolen, including scripts and instructions for breaking through firewall protection. Cybersecurity analysts poring over that information are confident that the material is in fact from Equation Group. This news raises a bigger question: What are the consequences if the Equation Group – and by extension the NSA – were actually hacked?

What has been breached?

The NSA holds a massive amount of data, including information on U.S. citizens’ and foreign nationals’ phone calls, social connections, emails, web-browsing sessions, online searches and other communications. How much data? NSA’s Utah data center alone is reported to have a storage capacity of 5 zetabytes – 1 trillion gigabytes. However, judging from what has been made public of what has been stolen by Shadow Brokers, this massive data trove has not been breached.

Hacked: the world’s best cyberintelligence agency. National Security Agency

But the NSA’s other key digital asset is a collection of very sophisticated, often custom-designed, hacking, analysis and surveillance software. The agency uses these tools to break into computer networks at home and abroad to spy on specific targets and the public at large.

The Shadow Brokers have claimed to have copies of this software and information on security vulnerabilities the NSA uses in its attacks, including instructions for breaking into computer networks. If true, these would be of very high strategic value to someone seeking to defend against cyberattacks, or wanting to conduct their own.

What is the Equation Group?

The Equation Group has been closely watched since its existence was first revealed in an early 2015 report by security researchers at Kaspersky Lab, a Russian-based computer security company. Cyberattacks using the Equation Group’s signature methods have been carried out since 2001, using extremely specific customized techniques.

In addition to engineering the attacks to ensure a very low risk of detection, they maintain a close watch on their targets to ensure their surveillance does in fact go undetected. And the number of targets they choose is very small – tens of thousands of computers as opposed to the hundreds of thousands or even tens of millions of machines hacked in other major attacks.

Equation Group’s targets included government and diplomatic institutions, companies in diverse sectors as well as individuals in more than 30 countries.

Kaspersky Lab reports that China and Russia are among the countries most infected by the Equation Group’s hacking tools. Among the alleged targets were the Russian natural gas company Gazprom and the airline Aeroflot. Likewise, China’s major mobile companies and universities were allegedly victimized by the NSA.

Who hacks whom?

Cyberweapons and their capabilities are becoming an increasing part of international relations, forming part of foreign policy decisions and even sparking what has been called a “cyber arms race.”

The Shadow Brokers attack may be a part of this global interplay. The U.S. government is considering economic sanctions against Russia, in response to the alleged cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee computers by two Russian intelligence agencies. Those same attackers are believed to have been behind the 2015 cyberattacks on the White House, the State Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

If the material Shadow Brokers have stolen can link cyberattacks on Gazprom, Aeroflot and other Russian targets with the NSA, Russia can argue to the international community that the U.S. is not an innocent victim, as it claims to be. That could weaken support for its sanctions proposal.

Russia and China, among other adversaries, have used similar evidence in this way in the past. Edward Snowden’s revelation of the U.S. PRISM surveillance program, monitoring vast amounts of internet traffic, became an important turning point in China-U.S. cyberrelations. Commenting on the NSA’s alleged hacking of China’s major mobile companies and universities, an editorial in China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency noted: “These, along with previous allegations, are clearly troubling signs. They demonstrate that the United States, which has long been trying to play innocent as a victim of cyberattacks, has turned out to be the biggest villain in our age.”

In general, allegations and counterallegations have been persistent themes in Chinese-American interactions about cybercrimes and cybersecurity. China’s approach shifted toward more offensive strategies following Snowden’s revelation of the PRISM surveillance program. It is likely that this hack of cyberweapons may provide China and other U.S. adversaries with even more solid evidence to prove American involvement in cyberattacks against foreign targets.

Cyberattack tools now more widely available

There are other dangers too. Hackers now have access to extremely sophisticated tools and information to launch cyberattacks against military, political and economic targets worldwide. The NSA hack thus may lead to further insecurity of cyberspace.

The attack is also further proof of the cybersecurity industry’s axiom about the highly asymmetric probabilities of successful attack and successful defense: Attackers need to succeed only once; defenders have to be perfect every time. As sophisticated as NSA’s highly secure network is, the agency cannot ever fully protect itself from cyberattackers. Either these attackers have already gotten in, or some other group will be the first to do so in the future.

Actors with fewer financial and technical resources can compromise high-value targets. What will come of this attack remains to be seen, but the potential for profound and wide-ranging, even global, effects is clear.

The Conversation

Nir Kshetri, Professor of Management, University of North Carolina – Greensboro

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Share

Spying’s New Frontier: Private Firm Collects Data on ‘Every American Adult’

“We have data on that 21-year-old who’s living at home with mom and dad”

By Nadia Prupis, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 8-5-2016

One company has pioneered the powerful new industry known as data-fusion. (Photo: Janne Hellsten/flickr/cc)

One company has pioneered the powerful new industry known as data-fusion. (Photo: Janne Hellsten/flickr/cc)

The fight for internet privacy has focused much of its attention on government surveillance, but mass data collection is done by private companies as well—and one such firm has “centralized and weaponized” all that information for its customers, Bloomberg reports on Friday.

In fact, it has already built a profile on “every American adult,” Bloomberg writes. Continue reading

Share

Media Worried Too Many Americans Will Question Legitimacy of 2016 Election

By Nick Bernabe. Published 8-22-2016 by The Anti-Media

Photo by Ben Combee from Austin, TX, USA (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Ben Combee from Austin, TX, USA (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

2016 is the year many, many Americans began to question whether or not our elections, and to a lesser extent, our democracy (insert “it’s a constitutional republic, big difference!” here) are rigged. As I’ve argued many times in the past year, there is plenty of evidence suggesting these skeptical Americans are, indeed, onto something with their suspicions.

But the corporate media has come out in defense of America’s “democracy” — and political elites are defending the system, too. In the wake of Trump’s recent rhetoric regarding the “rigged” system, the ruling class of the United States is peddling the fiction that somehow Trump’s irresponsible sensationalism is solely to blame for the newfound feelings of illegitimacy plaguing our elections. Continue reading

Share

U.S.-Backed Turkish Offensive in Syria Targets U.S.-Backed Kurds

Under guise of fighting ISIS, U.S. policy in Syria is growing increasingly incoherent, say critics

By Nika Knight, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 8-24-2016

Photo: SigmaLive

Photo: SigmaLive

Turkey has “launched a major military intervention in Syria,” the Guardian reports, dispatching tanks and warplanes to purportedly reclaim the city of Jarabulus, currently held by the Islamic State (ISIS), and to attack Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria.

“At 4am this morning, operations started in the north of Syria against terror groups which constantly threaten our country,” said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara on Wednesday, according to the Guardian. Turkey’s government classifies Kurdish nationalists as terrorists, although Erdoğan also pointed to a bomb attack that killed 54 in Southern Turkey, which the Turkish regime blamed on ISIS, as justification for Wednesday’s siege in Syria. Continue reading

Share

Held 14 Years Without Charge, CIA Torture ‘Guinea Pig’ Abu Zubaydah Asks for Freedom

Zubaydah was the CIA’s first captive after 9/11 and was accused of being one of the highest ranking leaders of al Qaeda, though that claim has been officially recanted

By Lauren McCauley, staff-writer for Common Dreams. Published 8-23-16

Camp Delta, Guantanamo Bay. Photo by Kathleen T. Rhem [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Camp Delta, Guantanamo Bay. Photo by Kathleen T. Rhem [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

After 14 years of being held without charge, Guantánamo prisoner Abu Zubaydah, who was subject to brutal torture and is known as the “guinea pig” for the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) “enhanced interrogation program,” made his first appearance on Tuesday before the Periodic Review Board and requested to be set free.

In a statement (pdf) read by his personal representative, he explained how he “initially believe that he did not have any chance or hope to be released” but has “come to believe that he might have a chance to leave Guantánamo.” Continue reading

Share

Escalating the War on Low-Income Families

By Paul Buchheit. Published 8-22-2016 by Common Dreams

For the nation's poor, things are not getting better. They are getting worse. (Photo: Pixabay/CC0)

For the nation’s poor, things are not getting better. They are getting worse. (Photo: Pixabay/CC0)

Illinois Governor Rauner recently cut “Meals on Wheels” for seniors and at-risk youth services. Chicago residents were hit with a nearly 13% property tax increase. Some Chicago public schools could face 2017 cutbacks of an incredible 20 percent.

But six of Illinois’ largest corporations together paid ALMOST ZERO state income taxes this year. Full payment of their taxes would have exceeded the $1.1 billion Chicago Public School deficit. Continue reading

Share

Dakota Pipeline Construction Halted Amid Ongoing ‘Defiance of Black Snake’

Hillary Clinton called to ‘take a stand against this ominous pipeline as well as the brazen violation of our treaty rights’

By Deirdre Fulton, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 8-19-2016

In addition to protests near the path of the pipeline, demonstrations took place this week in North Dakota's capital of Bismarck. (Photo: @RisingTideNA/Twitter)

In addition to protests near the path of the pipeline, demonstrations took place this week in North Dakota’s capital of Bismarck. (Photo: @RisingTideNA/Twitter)

Construction of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline has been temporarily halted as protests against the $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile project continued this week at the North Dakota state capitol building as well as at a “spirit camp” at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri rivers.

According to the Associated Press, pipeline developers on Thursday agreed to pause construction until a federal court hearing next week in Washington, D.C.—but a spokeswoman for Energy Transfer Partners vowed the work would still be completed by the end of the year.  Continue reading

Share