Current events Archive

Safe computing practices in the coronavirus age

Coronavirus Covid-19

The coronavirus plague is having us at home, inside and online more….
(iStock by Getty Images)

The Covid-19 coronavirus plague is changing our habits more and more as we stay at home to avoid the virus or avoid spreading it onwards. Now we are strongly relying on our home networks and the Internet to perform our work, continue studying and connect with others in our social circles.

But this state of affairs is drawing out its own cyber-security risks, with computing devices being vulnerable to malware and the existence of hastily-written software being preferred of tasks like videoconferencing. Not to mention the risk of an increasing flow of fake news and disinformation about this disease.

What can we do?

General IT security

But we need to be extra vigilant about our data security and personal privacy

The general IT security measures are very important even in this coronavirus age. Here, you need to make sure that all the software on your computing devices, including their operating systems are up-to-date and have the latest patches. It also applies to your network, TV set-top and Internet-of-Things hardware where you need to make sure the firmware is up-to-date. The best way to achieve this is to have the devices automatically download and install the revised software themselves.

As well, managing the passwords for our online services and our devices properly prevents the risk of data and identity theft. It may even be a good idea to use a password vault program to manage our passwords which may prevent us from reusing them across services.  Similarly using a word processor to keep a list of your passwords which is saved on removeable media and printed out, with both the hard and electronic copy kept in a secure location may also work wonders here.

Make sure that your computer is running a desktop / endpoint security program, even if it is the one that is part of the operating system. Similarly, using an on-demand scanning tool like Malwarebytes can work as a way to check for questionable software. As well, you may have to check the software that is installed on all of the computing devices is what you are using and even verify with multiple knowledgeable people if that program that is the “talk of the town” should be on your computer.

If you are signing up with new online services, it may even be a better idea to implement social sign-on with established credential pools like Google, Facebook or Microsoft. These setups implement a token between the credential pool and the online service as the authentication factor rather than a separate username and password that you create.

As well, you will be using the Webcam more frequently on your computing devices. The security issue with the Webcam and microphone is more important with computing setups that have the Webcam integrated in the computer or monitor, like with portable computing devices, “all-in-one” computers or monitors equipped with Webcams.

Here, you need to be careful of which programs are having access to the Webcam and microphone on your device. Here, if newly-installed software asks for use of your camera or microphone and it is out of touch with the way the software works, deny access to the camera or microphone when it asks for their use.

If you install a health-department-supplied tracking app as part of your government’s contact-tracing and disease-management efforts, remember to remove this app as soon as the coronavirus crisis is over. Doing this will protect your privacy once there is no real need to manage the disease.

Email and messaging security

Your email and messaging platforms will become an increased security risk at this time thanks to phishing including business email compromise. I have covered this issue in a previous article after helping someone reclaim their email service account after a successful phishing attempt.

An email or message would be a phishing attempt if the email isn’t commensurate with proper business writing standards for your country, has a sense of urgency about it and is too good to be true. Once you receive these emails, it is prudent to report them then delete them forthwith.

In the case of email addresses from official organisations, make sure that the domain name represents the organisation’s proper domain name. This is something that is exactly like the domain name they would use for their Web presence, although email addresses may have the domain name part of the address following the “ @ “ symbol prepended with a server identifier like “mail” or “email”. As well, there should be nothing appended to the domain name.

Also, be familiar with particular domain-name structures for official organisation clusters like the civil / public service, international organisations and academia when you open email or surf the Web. These will typically use protected high-level domain name suffixes like “.gov”, “.int” or “.edu” and won’t use common domain name suffixes like “ .com “. This will help with identifying whether a site or a sender is the proper authority or not.

Messaging and video-conferencing

Increasingly as we stay home due to the risk of catching or spreading the coronavirus plague, we are relying on messaging and video-conferencing software more frequently to communicate with each other. For example, families and communities are using video-conferencing software like Zoom or Skype to make a virtual “get-together” with each other thanks to these platforms’ support for many-to-many videocalls.

But as we rely on this software more, we need to make sure that our privacy, business confidentiality and data security is protected. This is becoming more important as we engage with our doctors, whether they be general practitioners or specialists, “over the wire” and reveal our medical issues to them that way.

If you value privacy, look towards using an online communications platform that implements end-to-end encryption. Infact, most of the respected “over-the-top” communications platforms like WhatsApp, Viber, Skype and iMessage offer this feature for 1:1 conversations between users on the same platform. Some, like WhatsApp and Viber offer this same feature for group conversations between users on that same platform.

Video-conferencing software like Zoom and Skype

When you are hosting a video-conference using Zoom, Skype or similar platforms, be familiar with any meeting-setup and meeting-management features that the platform offers. If the platform uses a Weblink to join a video-conference that you can share, use email or a messaging platform to share that link with potential participants. Avoid posting this on the Social Web so you keep gatecrashers from your meeting or class.

As well, if the platform supports password-protected meeting entry, use this feature to limit who can join the meeting. Here, it is also a good idea to send the password as a separate message from the meeting’s Weblink.

Some platforms like Zoom offer a waiting-room function which requires potential participants to wait and be vetted by the conference’s moderator before they can participate. As well these platforms may have a meeting-lockout so no more people can participate in the video-conference. Here, you use this function when all the participants that you expect are present in the meeting.

You need to regulate the screen sharing feature that your platform offers which allows meeting participants to share currently-running app or desktop user interfaces. Here, you may have the ability to limit this function to the moderator’s computer or a specified participant’s computer. Here this will prevent people from showing offensive imagery or videos to all the meeting’s participants. As well, you may also need to regulate access to any file-sharing functionality that the platform offers in order to prevent the video conference becoming a vector for spreading malware or offensive material.

Fake news and disinformation

Just like with the elections that count, the coronavirus issue has brought about its fair share of fake news and disinformation.

Here, I would recommend that you use trusted news sources like the respected public-service broadcasters for information about this plague. As well, I would recommend that you visit respected health-information sites including those offered “from the horse’s mouth” by local, regional or national government agencies for the latest information.

As well, trust your “gut reaction” when it comes to material that is posted online about the coronavirus plague, including the availability of necessary food or medical supplies. Here, he careful of content that is “out of reality” or plays on your emotions. The same attitude should also apply when it comes to buying essential supplies online and you are concerned about the availability and price of these supplies.

Conclusion

As we spend more time indoors and online thanks to the coronavirus, we need to keep our computing equipment including our tablets and smartphones running securely to protect our data and our privacy.

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Australian Electoral Commission weighs in on online misinformation

Article

Australian House of Representatives ballot box - press picture courtesy of Australian Electoral Commission

Are you sure you are casting your vote or able to cast your vote without undue influence?

Australian Electoral Commission boots online blitz to counter fake news | ITNews

Previous coverage

Being cautious about fake news and misinformation in Australia

From the horse’s mouth

Australian Electoral Commission

Awareness Page

Press Release

My Comments

I regularly cover the issue of fake news and misinformation especially when this happens around election cycles. This is because it can be used as a way to effectively distort what makes up a democratically-elected government.

When the Victorian state government went to the polls last year, I ran an article about the issue of fake news and how we can defend ourselves against it during election time. This was because of Australia hosting a run of elections that are ripe for a concerted fake-news campaign – state elections for the two most-populous states in the country and a federal election.

It is being seen as of importance due to fact that the IT systems maintained by the Australian Parliament House and the main Australian political parties fell victim to a cyber attack close to February 2019 with this hack being attributed to a nation-state. This can lead to the discovered information being weaponised against the candidates or their political parties similar to the email attack against the Democrat party in the USA during early 2016 which skewed the US election towards Donald Trump and America towards a highly-divided nation.

The issue of fake news, misinformation and propaganda has been on our lips over the last few years due to us switching away from traditional news-media sources to social media and online search and news-aggregation sites. Similarly, the size of well-respected newsrooms is becoming smaller due to reduced circulation and ratings for newspapers and TV/radio stations driven by our use of online resources. This leads to poorer-quality news reporting that is a similar standard to entertainment-focused media like music radio.

A simplified low-cost no-questions-asked path has been facilitated by personal computing and the Internet to create and present material, some of which can be questionable. It is now augmented by the ability to create deepfake image and audio-visual content that uses still images, audio or video clips to represent a very convincing falsehood thanks to artificial-intelligence. Then this content can be easily promoted through popular social-media platforms or paid positioning in search engines.

Such content takes advantage of the border-free nature of the Internet to allow for an actor in one jurisdiction to target others in another jurisdiction without oversight of the various election-oversight or other authorities in either jurisdiction.

I mentioned what Silicon Valley’s online platforms are doing in relation to this problem such as restricting access to online advertising networks; interlinking with fact-check organisations to identify fake news; maintaining a strong feedback loop with end-users; and operating robust user-account-management and system-security policies, procedures and protocols. Extant newsrooms are even offering fact-check services to end-users, online services and election-oversight authorities to build up a defence against misinformation.

But the Australian Electoral Commission is taking action through a public-education campaign regarding fake news and misinformation during the Federal election. They outlined that their legal remit doesn’t cover the truthfulness of news content but it outlines whether the information comes from a reliable or recognised source, how current it is and whether it could be a scam. Of course there is the issue of cross-border jurisdictional issues especially where material comes in from overseas sources.

They outlined that their remit covers the “authorisation” or provenance of the electoral communications that appear through advertising platforms. As well, they underscore the role of other Australian government agencies like the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission who oversee advertising issues and the Australian Communications And Media Authority who oversee broadcast media. They also have provided links to the feedback and terms-and-conditions pages of the main online services in relationship to this issue.

These Federal agencies are also working on the issue of electoral integrity in the context of advertising and other communication to the voters by candidates, political parties or other entities; along with the “elephant in the room” that is foreign interference; and security of these polls including cyber-security.

But what I have outlined in the previous coverage is to look for information that qualifies the kind of story being published especially if you use a search engine or aggregated news view; to trust your “gut reaction” to the information being shared especially if it is out-of-touch with reality or is sensationalist or lurid; checking the facts against established media that you trust or other trusted resources; or even checking for facts “from the horse’s mouth” such as official press releases.

Inspecting the URL in your Web browser’s address bar before the first “/” to see if there is more that what is expected for a news source’s Web site can also pay dividends. But this can be a difficult task if you are using your smartphone or a similarly-difficult user interface.

I also even encourage making more use of established trusted news sources including their online presence as a primary news source during these critical times. Even the simple act of picking up and reading that newspaper or turning on the radio or telly can be a step towards authoritative news sources.

As well, I also encourage the use of the reporting functionality or feedback loop offered by social media platforms, search engines or other online services to draw attention to contravening content This was an action I took as a publisher regarding an ad that appeared on this site which had the kind of sensationalist headline that is associated with fake news.

The issue of online misinformation especially during general elections is still a valid concern. This is more so where the online space is not subject to the kinds of regulation associated with traditional media in one’s home country and it becomes easy for foreign operators to launch campaigns to target other countries. What needs to happen is a strong information-sharing protocol in order to place public and private stakeholders on alert about potential election manipulation.

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Being cautious about fake news and misinformation in Australia

Previous Coverage

Australian House of Representatives ballot box - press picture courtesy of Australian Electoral Commission

Are you sure you are casting your vote or able to cast your vote without undue influence?

Being aware of fake news in the UK

Fact-checking now part of the online media-aggregation function

Useful Australian-based resources

ABC Fact Check – ran in conjunction with RMIT University

Political Parties

Australian Labor Party (VIC, NSW)

Liberal Party – work as a coalition with National Party (VIC, NSW)

National Party – work as a coalition with Liberal Party (VIC, NSW)

Australian Greens – state branches link from main page

One Nation (Pauline Hanson)

Katter’s Australia Party

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party

Australian Conservatives

Liberal Democratic Party

United Australia Party

My Comments

Over the next six months, Australia will see some very critical general elections come to pass both on a federal level and in the two most-highly-populated states that host most of that country’s economic and political activity. On October 30 2018, the election writs were recently served in the state of Victoria for its general election to take place on November 24 2018. Then, on the 23 March 2019, New South Wales will expect to go to the polls for its general election. Then the whole country will expect to go to the polls for the federal general election by 18 May 2019.

As these election cycles take place over a relatively short space of time and affecting , there is a high risk that Australians could fall victim to misinformation campaigns. This can subsequently lead to state and federal ballots being cast that steer the country against the grain like what happened in 2016 with the USA voting in Donald Trump as their President and the UK voting to leave the European Union.

Google News - desktop Web view

Look for tags within Google News that describe the context of the story

The issue of fake news and misinformation is being seen as increasingly relevant as we switch away from traditional media towards social media and our smartphones, tablets and computers for our daily news consumption.  This is thanks to the use of online search and news-aggregation services like Google News; or social media like Facebook or Twitter which can be seen by most of us as an “at-a-glance” view of the news.

As well, a significant number of well-known newsrooms are becoming smaller due to the reduced circulation and ratings for their newspaper or radio / TV broadcast thanks to the use of online resources for our news. It can subsequently lead to poor-quality news reporting and presentation with a calibre equivalent to the hourly news bulletin offered by a music-focused radio station. It also leads to various mastheads plagiarising content from other newsrooms that place more value on their reporting.

The availability of low-cost or free no-questions-asked Web and video hosting along with easy-to-use Web-authoring, desktop-publishing and desktop-video platforms make it feasible for most people to create a Web site or online video channel. It has led to an increased number of Websites and video channels that yield propaganda and information that is dressed up as news but with questionable accuracy.

Another factor that has recently been raised in the context of fake news, misinformation and propaganda is the creation and use of deepfake image and audio-visual content. This is where still images, audio or video clips that are in the digital domain are altered to show a falsehood using artificial-intelligence technology in order to convince viewers that they are dealing with original audio-visual resource. The audio content can be made to mimic an actual speaker’s voice and intonation as part of creating a deepfake soundbite or video clip.

It then becomes easy to place fake news, propaganda and misinformation onto easily-accessible Web hosts including YouTube in the case of videos. Then this content would be propagated around the Internet through the likes of Twitter, Facebook or online bulletin boards. It is more so if this content supports our beliefs and enhances the so-called “filter bubble” associated with our beliefs and media use.

There is also the fact that newsrooms without the resources to rigorously scrutinise incoming news could pick this kind of content up and publish or broadcast this content. This can also be magnified with media that engages in tabloid journalism that depends on sensationalism to get the readership or keep listeners and viewers from switching away.

The borderless nature of the Internet makes it easy to set up presence in one jurisdiction to target the citizens of another jurisdiction in a manner to avoid being caught by that jurisdiction’s election-oversight, broadcast-standards or advertising-standards authority. Along with that, a significant number of jurisdictions focus their political-advertising regulation towards the traditional media platforms even though we are making more use of online platforms.

Recently, the Australian Electoral Commission along with the Department of Home Affairs, Australian Federal Police and ASIO have taken action on an Electoral Integrity Assurance Task Force. It was in advance of recent federal byelections such as the Super Saturday byelections, where there was the risk of clandestine foreign interference taking place that could affect the integrity of those polls.

But the issue I am drawing attention to here is the use of social media or other online resources to run fake-news campaigns to sway the populace’s opinion for or against certain politicians. This is exacerbated by the use of under-resourced newsrooms that could get such material seen as credible in the public’s eyes.

But most of Silicon Valley’s online platforms are taking various steps to counter fake news, propaganda and disinformation using these following steps.

Firstly, they are turning off the money-supply tap by keeping their online advertising networks away from sites or apps that spread misinformation.

They also are engaging with various fact-check organisations to identify fake news that is doing the rounds and tuning their search and trending-articles algorithms to bury this kind of content.

Autocomplete list in Google Search Web user interface

Google users can report Autocomplete suggestions that they come across in their search-engine experience/

They are also maintaining a feedback loop with their end-users by allowing them to report fake-news entries in their home page or default view. This includes search results or autocomplete entries in Google’s search-engine user interface. This is facilitated through a “report this” option that is part of the service’s user interface or help pages.

Most of the social networks and online-advertising services are also implementing robust user-account-management and system-security protocols. This includes eliminating or suspending accounts that are used for misinformation. It also includes checking the authenticity of accounts running pages or advertising campaigns that are politically-targeted through methods like street-address verification.

In the case of political content, social networks and online-advertising networks are implementing easily-accessible archives of all political advertising or material that is being published including where the material is being targeted at.

ABC FactCheck – the ABC’s fact-checking resource that is part of their newsroom

Initially these efforts are taking place within the USA but Silicon Valley is rolling them out across the world at varying timeframes and with local adaptations.

Personally, I would still like to see a strong dialogue between the various Social Web, search, online-advertising and other online platforms; and the various government and non-government entities overseeing election and campaign integrity and allied issues. This can be about oversight and standards regarding political communications in the online space along with data security for each stakeholder.

What can you do?

Look for any information that qualifies the kind of story if you are viewing a collection of headlines like a search or news-aggregation site or app. Here you pay attention to tags or other metadata like “satire”, “fact checking” or “news” that describe the context of the story or other attributes.

Most search engines and news-aggregation Websites will show up this information in their desktop or mobile user interface and are being engineered to show a richer set of details. You may find that you have to do something extra like click a “more” icon or dwell on the heading to bring up this extra detail on some user interfaces.

Trust your gut reaction to that claim being shared around social media. You may realise that a claim associated with fake news may be out of touch with reality. Sensationalised or lurid headlines are a usual giveaway, along with missing information or copy that whips up immediate emotional responses from the reader.

Check the host Website or use a search engine like Google to see if the news sources you trust do cover that story. You may come across one or more tools that identify questionable news easily, typically in the form of a plug-in or extension that works with your browser if its functionality can be expanded with these kind of add-ons. It is something that is more established with browsers that run on regular Windows, Mac or Linux computers.

It is also a good idea to check for official press releases or similar material offered “from the horse’s mouth” by the candidates, political parties, government departments or similar organisations themselves. In some cases during elections, some of the candidates may run their own Web sites or they may run a Website that links from the political party’s Website. Here, you will find them on the Websites ran by these organisations and may indicate if you are dealing with a “beat-up” or exaggeration of the facts.

As you do your online research in to a topic, make sure that you are familiar with how the URLs are represented on your browser’s address bar for the various online resources that you visit. Here, be careful if a resource has more than is expected between the “.com”, “.gov.au” or similar domain-name ending and the first “/” leading to the actual online resource.

Kogan Internet table radio

Sometimes the good ol’ radio can be the trusted news source

You may have to rely on getting your news from one or more trusted sources. This would include the online presence offered by these sources. Or it may be about switching on the radio or telly for the news or visiting your local newsagent to get the latest newspaper.

Examples of these are: the ABC (Radio National, Local radio, News Radio, the main TV channel and News 24 TV channel), SBS TV, or the Fairfax newspapers. Some of the music radio stations that are part of a family run by a talk-radio network like the ABC with their ABC Classic FM or Triple J services will have their hourly newscast with news from that network. But be careful when dealing with tabloid journalism or commercial talkback radio because you may be exposed to unnecessary exaggeration or distortion of facts.

As well, use the social-network platform’s or search engine’s reporting functionality to draw attention to fake news, propaganda or misinformation that is being shared or highlighted on that online service. In some cases like reporting inappropriate autocomplete predictions to Google, you may have to use the platform’s help options to hunt for the necessary resources.

Here, as we Australians faces a run of general-election cycles that can be very tantalising for clandestine foreign interference, we have to be on our guard regarding fake news, propaganda and misinformation that could affect the polls.

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Being aware of fake news in the UK

Previous HomeNetworking01.info coverage on this topic UK Flag

Silicon Valley Starts A War Against Fake News

Fact Checking Now Part Of The Online Media Aggregation Function

Useful UK-focused resources

FullFact.org (UK independent factchecking charity)

BBC Reality Check

Channel 4 News FactCheck

Political Parties

A few of the main political parties to watch in the UK

Conservatives (Tories)

Labour

Liberal Democrats

Green Party

UK Independence Party

Scottish National Party

Plaid Cymru (Party Of Wales)

Ulster Unionist Party

Sinn Fein

My Comments and advice

A key issue that is affecting how newsworthy events are covered and what people should become aware of in the news is the rise of propaganda, satire and similar information disguised as news. This situation is being described as “fake news”, “post-truth” and “alternative facts” and a significant number of academics have described it as a reason why Donald Trump became President of the USA or why the British citizens wanted the UK to leave the European Union.

I am giving some space in HomeNetworking01.info to the fake-news topic because an increasing number of people are obtaining their daily news from online sources using a smartphone, tablet or computer. This may be in addition to the traditional papers or the radio or TV newscasts and current-affairs shows or in lieu of these resources.

There have been many factors that have led to a fertile ground for fake news to spread. One of these is that most of us are using online search / aggregation services and social media as our news sources. Similarly, due to reduced circulation or ratings, various well-known news publishers and broadcasters are cutting back on their news budgets which then reduce the number of journalists in the newsroom or reduce news coverage to a quality not dissimilar to a news bulletin offered by a music-focused radio station.

Add to this the fact that it is relatively cheap and easy to set up a Website that looks very enticing thanks to low-cost “no-questions-asked” Web-host services and easy-to-use content management systems. It has led to the rise of Websites that carry propaganda or other material dressed up as news with this material being of questionable accuracy or value. Let’s not forget that it is easy to use Twitter or Facebook to share articles with our friends or followers especially if these articles support our beliefs.

Autocomplete list in Google Search Web user interface

Google users can report Autocomplete suggestions that they come across in their search-engine experience/

It is also made worse by the cross-border nature of the Internet where one can set up a Website or social-media presence in one country to target citizens in another country with questionable messages. This makes it easier to run the propaganda but avoid being caught out by a broadcast-standards or election-oversight authority or the judicial system in the target jurisdiction.

The fact that the UK are going to the polls for a general election this year means that Britons will become more vulnerable to the fake-news phenomenon. This is a situation that is also affecting France and Germany, two of continental Europe’s major economic, political and population centres who either are in the throes of completing a general election.

Reporting autocomplete suggestions in Google Search Web user experience

What you see when you report autocomplete suggestions in the Google Search Web user experience

The Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Damian Collins (Conservatives), has raised this issue concerning Facebook and urging them to filter out fake news. This is although Silicon Valley have been taking steps to combat this problem through the following actions:

  • “turn off the money-supply tap” by refusing to partner their ad networks with fake-news sites or apps
  • engage with fact-checking organisations and departments that are either part of established newsrooms or universities to simplify the ability for their users to check the veracity of a claim
  • implementing a feedback loop to allow users to report auto-complete search suggestions, “snippets” answers, social-media posts and similar material shown in their sites, including the ability to report items as fake news
  • maintaining stronger user-account management and system security including eliminating accounts used just to deliver fake news and propaganda
  • modifying search-engine ranking algorithm or “trending-stories” listing algorithms to make it harder for fake news to surface.

What can you do?

Look for information that qualifies the kind of story if you are viewing a collection of headlines like a search or news-aggregation site or app. For example, Google has implemented tagging in their Google News aggregation site and apps such as “satire”.

Trust your gut reaction to that claim that is being offered in that Facebook post before you share it. If you find that the story sounds like exaggeration or is “off the beam”, it sounds like fake news. As well, the copy in many fake-news articles is written in a way to whip up anger or other immediate sentiment.

Check the host Website or use a search engine to see if trusted sources, especially the ones you trust, are covering the story. As well, if your browser offers a plug-in or extension that highlights fake-news and questionable content, it may be worth adding this feature.

Following news from one or more trusted news sources (including their online presence) may be the way to go to verify news being pushed around on the Internet.

For example, switching on the radio or the telly for the news may be a good idea so as to be sure of what really is going on with this election. In the case of the radio, you may find that BBC Radio 4, BBC Local Radio or a talk-focused independent station like LBC may be the better resource for deeper coverage of the election. Music stations who are part of the same family as a news or talk station such as the BBC stations or Capital, Heart and Classic FM who are part of the same family as LBC can also be of value if you use their short news bulletins as a news source. This is because their news bulletins are fed by the newsroom that serves the talk station.

As well, visit the online sites offered by trusted publishers and broadcasters to check the news in relationship to what the parties are saying. It also includes heading to Websites operated by the various parties or candidates so you can get the facts and policies “from the horse’s mouth”.

You also must take advantage of the feedback loop that Facebook, Google and other online services offer to call out questionable content that appears during the election period. Typically this will be options to report the content or autocomplete hit as something like being inappropriate.

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Silicon Valley starts a war against fake news

Article

Facebook and Google to block ads on fake news websites | Adnews

Facebook Employees Are In Revolt Over Fake News | Gizmodo

Google and Facebook Take Aim at Fake News Sites | New York Times

Does the internet have a fake-news problem? | CNet

Google CEO says fake news is a problem and should not be distributed | The Verge

Want to keep fake news out of your newsfeed? College professor creates list of sites to avoid | Los Angeles Times

My Comments

Since Donald Trump gained election victory in the USA, there has been some concern amongst a few of Silicon Valley’s tech companies regarding the existence of “fake news”.

This is typically a story that is presented in order to refer to an actual news event but doesn’t relate to any actual news event. In some cases, such stories a hyped-up versions of an existing news item but in a lot of cases, these stories are built up on rumours.

The existence of Internet-distributed fake news has been of concern amongst journalists especially where newsroom budgets are being cut back and more news publishers and broadcasters are resorting to “rip-and-read” journalism, something previously associated with newscasts provided by music-focused FM radio stations.

Similarly, most of us are using Internet-based news sources as part of our personal news-media options or or only source of news, especially when we are using portable devices like ultraportable laptops, tablets or smartphones as our main Internet terminals for Web browsing.

Silicon Valley also see the proliferation of fake news as a threat to the provision of balanced coverage of news and opinion because they see this as a vehicle for delivering the populist political agenda rather than level-headed intelligent news. This is typically because the headline and copy in “fake news” reports is written in a way to whip up an angry sentiment regarding the topics concerned, thus discouraging further personal research.

But Facebook and Google are tackling this problem initially by turning off the advertising-money tap for fake-news sites. Facebook will apply this to ad-funded apps that work alongside these sites while Google will apply this as a policy for people who sign up to the AdSense online display-ads platform.

There is the issue of what kind of curating exists in the algorithms that list search results or news items on a search-engine or social-media page. It also includes how the veracity of news content is being deemed, even though Google and Facebook are avoiding being in a position where they can be seen as “arbiters of truth”.

The big question that can exist is what other actions could Silicon Valley take to curb the dissemination of fake news beyond just simply having their ad networks turn off the supply of advertising to these sites? This is because the popular search engines are essentially machine-generated indexes of the Web, while the Social Web and the blogosphere are ways where people share links to resources that exist on the Web.

Some people were suggesting the ability for a search engine like Google or a social network site like Facebook to have its user interface “flag” references to known fake-news stories, based on user or other reports. Similarly, someone could write desktop or mobile software like a browser add-on that does this same thing, or simply publish a publicly-available list of known “fake-news” Websites for people to avoid.

This is infact an angle that a US-based college professor had taken where she prepared a Google Docs resource listing the Websites hosting that kind of news, in order to help people clean their RSS newsfeeds of misinformation, with some mainstream online news sources including the New York Magazine providing a link to this resource.

The issue of fake news distributed via the Internet is becoming a real problem, but Silicon Valley is looking at different ways to solve this problem and bring to it the same level of respect that was associated with traditional media.

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Beware of fake posts and online scams relating to the Nepal earthquake

Previous coverage

Malaysia Airlines air disaster–another event bringing out the online scams

My Comments

Just lately, a disaster that has affected many people has occurred with many casualties in the form of the Nepal earthquake.

But what follows on the tail of these disasters is an avalanche of spam email and flaky social-media posts that offer extra insight or paths to assistance for people who are touched by these events. As well, it is the time when scams pretending to be charity appeals intending to provide aid to the victims of this earthquake also appear on the Internet. It is something I have drawn attention to previously when there was the Malaysian Airlines MH370 air disaster which drew out these scams and am drawing attention to in relation to the latest earthquake. But they lead you to malware or to harvest users’ personal or financial details. In these situations, it pays to think before you click on that link so you are safe with the Net.

Check for legitimate resources that offer information about your relatives’ or friends’ wellbeing and some of these could include Nepalese consulates in your area, the Red Cross or similar services and work with them “from the horse’s mouth”. That means to deal with official websites that are known to the public and are usually published by the media as part of their coverage on the issue.

Facebook does offer a legitimate Safety Check service which comes in to play during civil emergencies. Here, it would identify if one was in an affected geographical area and allow the person to interact with them to know if they are safe and this status would appear in your Facebook Friends’ news feed. For that concerned person, they would be able to check on the News Feed for their relative’s or friend’s status. But be careful of any “fake friends” that appear around the time of this disaster and any post from a friend of yours that isn’t known to be in the area but is out of order should be questioned.

As for charity appeals, most of the media provide information about legitimate fundraising efforts that are taking place so you don’t get fleeced easily.

What to do is to be aware and careful with using the Internet to find details about who is affected by a major event and check with trusted resources.

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Scotland to have rural broadband as part of its USO

Highland Piper Creative Commons http://www.panoramio.com/photo/58988884

A Highland piper will be on a better path with rural broadband being part of an Independent Scotland

Article

UPDATE Independent Scotland Could Gain a USO for Broadband Internet | ISPReview UK

From the horse’s mouth

Scottish Government

Connecting Rural Scotland position paper

My Comments

There is a lot of talk in the UK about Scotland’s push for independence coming through with a referendum occurring on the 18th September 2014. If the vote on this referendum turns out “Yes”, Scotland would become an independent nation rather than part of the United Kingdom which is what true-blooded Scots have been looking forward to since 1603.

Flag_of_Scotland_(navy_blue).svgOne of the issues that will be called as part of an independent Scottish government’s roadmap would be improved rural connectivity. Here, this will encompass access to public transport and proper teleccomunications in areas like the Highlands or Campbelltown.

For that matter, Scotland will integrate real broadband in the country areas as part of the universal service obligation. This is something I stand for with HomeNetworking01.info in order to allow those of us who live, work or do business in the country areas to be on an even footing with those of us who live in the cities. As far as Scotland is concerned, the rural sector is what gives the country its character, especially in the form of the whisky the country is known for or the farms that can turn out the “neeps and tatties” or the meat for the haggis that is to be piped in as part of the Burns supper..

There is a level of public-private investment taking place concerning the provision of rural broadband infrastructure but the integration of Scotland’s broadband projects in the UK efforts will change should the devolution go ahead. There are unanswered questions about issues such as infrastructure technology or minimum assured bandwidth, which may also include issues like dealing with the mountains of the Highlands.

What I at least like about this is that a country that is wanting to start out independently is factoring in rural broadband as part of its road map. Here’s to Scotland for the right direction!

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Working around the limitations of rural Internet access to facilitate the Tour De France in Yorkshire

Articles

WiFi and Satellite Equipped Tractors to Follow Yorkshire’s Tour de France | ISP Review

Wifi tractors en route for the tour | Farming UK

From the horse’s mouth

Avonline Satellite Broadband (now Bigblu Broadband)

Home Page (updated link to be online by 25 June 2018)

National Farmer’s Union

Press Release

My Comments

The Tour De France 2014 is starting off in Yorkshire UK and is an event that moves from location to location depending on where the péléton are cycling in this race. As I have seen for myself when I have watched this cycle race on SBS TV, it attracts huge crowds with various locations of flat land near the race route resembling caravan parks due to the many motorhomes showing up at each point because people hire these so they can follow the race by vehicle.

This time, the National Farmer’s Union in the UK have answered to the needs of the connected spectator by setting up mobile Wi-Fi hotspots. But how have they done this even though access to decent broadband in rural areas is non-existent? They have equipped two tractors with a public-access Wi-Fi hotspot consisting of a Wi-Fi hotspot router connected to a satellite-broadband modem provided by Avonline Satellite Broadband (now Bigblu Broadband). This means that each tractor has its own satellite bandwidth which is distributed by Wi-Fi over a range of 500 metres from where it is parked.

Locations

Stage 1
Leeds – Harrogate
Stage 2
York – Sheffield
Tractor 1 Yorkshire Dales National Park Visitor Centre (Hawes) Steel Stage event (High Bradfield)
Tractor 2 Visitor Centre (Grassington) Holme village

 

One question that has been raised is whether the mobile hotspots and their satellite backhauls would cope under the pressure of many spectators tendering the images and video they take to multiple social networks using these networks. This is similar to situations that hoteliers would encounter when their guest-access Internet services are at capacity as all of the guests download multimedia content at the same time.

As well, it is an example of using network equipment powered from motor vehicles i.e. the Massey-Ferguson tractors to provide Internet access and making sure that the equipment does survive the distance with uneven power-supply conditions that this entails. I see this also appealing to other rural districts like France’s rural districts who want to cater to the connected visitor who attends a special event like a fair, rally or a cycle road race like the Tour De France.

Click to play “Back British Farming” video (if you don’t see it below)

Update (15 June 2018)

Due to corporate restructuring affecting Avonline Broadband, the satellite ISP mentioned in this article, which has led to it being rebranded to Bigblu Broadband, I have readjusted the Web link for this ISP and references to the name to reflect these changes.

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Chinese spies now charged with cyber espionage

Articles

IT-focused News

FBI Issues Wanted Posters For Five Chinese Army Officers | Gizmodo

DOJ’s charges against China reframe security, surveillance debate | PC World

US authorities name five Chinese military hackers wanted for espionage | The Register (UK)

General News

US Charges China With Cyber-Spying On American Firms | NBC News

Previous coverage on this topic

Symantec Symposium 2012 – My Observations From This Event

The issue of cybercrime now reaches the national level

My Comments

I have heard and will cite previous coverage about the issue of nation states engaging in cyber espionage against other nation states and businesses within these other nation states. For example, I attended the Symantec Symposium in 2012 and listened to the keynote speech by a guest speaker from the Australian Federal Police and he mentioned about organised crime and nation states engaging in the cyber-espionage or sabotage. He even said that it isn’t just servers or regular computers that were at risk but mobile devices like smartphones, point-of-sale / point-of-payment equipment and other dedicated-purpose computing devices being also at risk.

Subsequently, I watched the ABC Four Corners “Hacked” broadcast which covered the issue of cybercrime reaching a national level. This telecast covered key points including a small business who manufactured electronic equipment for defence purposes that fell victim to a Chinese cyber attack along with the theft of blueprints for ASIO’s new offices,

The recent indictment of Chinese military officers by the US government, along with FBI serving “wanted notices” on these officers has underscored the issue of nation states being involved in cyber espionage. It highlights the theft of intellectual property that private companies or government departments hold close to their heart for economic or strategic advantage.

It was even looked at in the context of the National Security Authority debate regarding cyber surveillance by that government department of Uncle Sam’s especially when there was the leaks that were put out by Edward Snowden, The US President Barack Obama even wanted to establish a global discussion regarding the cyber hacking and surveillance.

It got to the point where Mark Zwillinger, the Department Of Justice lawyer ran this line:The only computers these days that are safe from Chinese government hackers are computers that are turned off, unplugged, and thrown in the back seat of your car. Personally I would take this further by saying that the only computers these days safe from the Chinese government hackers are those that are turned off fully, unplugged and securely locked in the boot (trunk) of a sedan (saloon) or similar car.

As well, it would have us “wake up and smell the bacon” when it comes to nation states, especially those that don’t respect human rights, engaging in cyber warfare.

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Malaysia Airlines air disaster–another event bringing out the online scams

Article

Fake Malaysia Airlines links spread malware | CNET News

My Comments

Every time there is a major event that affects many people or brings out mass intrigue, a computer-security situation climbs on to that event’s tail.

What happens is that Websites with a questionable motive pop up like nobody’s business and links to these sites appear in spam emails or on the Social Web. The “link-bait” text draws people to these sites are laden with malware or set up to harvest Web-surfers’ personal or financial information for questionable purposes. The Malaysian Airlines air disaster drew out its own link-bait in the form of fake news links that purport to lead to video footage of the plane being discovered or survivors being found.

A proper practice is to keep the software on personal and other computer equipment “lock-step” with the latest software updates and patches and simply to “think before you click”. This is more so with anything that appears “too good to be true” or “out of the norm” for that situation.

Facebook users also have to be careful about the “fake events” which are being used as a spam-distribution vector. Here, as I previously covered, this causes notifications to appear in the user’s Facebook Notification list with your computer or mobile device popping up messages and sounding an audible alert to these notifications if a Facebook client is running. As well, if a user accepts these events, information appears on their Timeline about that event.

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