Category: Data security

Password-free operation for Microsoft Account to be feasible

Article Password removed screengrab courtesy of Microsoft

Microsoft accounts can now go fully passwordless – The Verge

Microsoft adds a passwordless option for Microsoft accounts – PC World Australia (idg.com.au)

Microsoft accounts no longer need a password | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Microsoft

The passwordless future is here for your Microsoft account | Microsoft Security Blog

My Comments

Microsoft is the first major company with an Internet presence that is implementing a password-free option for signing in to their Microsoft Account. This is the main sign-up for most of Microsoft’s enterprise-facing and consumer-facing services.

Most of us are likely to run a Microsoft account if you are using Windows 10, the Hotmail / Outlook webmail service, Office 365, OneDrive, Skype or XBox at least. You may also find that Microsoft may bind LinkedIn on to this authentication platform soon or allow this to work with online services that use Microsoft accounts as an optional credential pool for single sign-on.

But what does this password-free setup mean for us? This setup has it that the Microsoft servers don’t retain or use your password to verify you as a legitimate user. Rather the verification takes place at the client device such as you using a fingerprint reader or entering a PIN on the device to log in. Or you use another device like a smartphone with an authentication app or a hardware token like a USB or NFC security key to authenticate with the online service when you log in. Here, these approaches release a machine-to-machine session token to allow you to log in for that session.

In some ways, it is similar to single-sign-on or “social-sign-on” where you authenticate with another credential pool like Facebook, Google or Microsoft when you use some online services.

Microsoft will facilitate this with their Hello-based device-level authentication infrastructure in Windows 10, a FIDO2-compliant hardware security key, a smartphone running the Microsoft Authenticator mobile-platform app or a one-time verification code sent via SMS or email.

This is something you can set up on the Security page in your account.microsoft.com dashboard for your Microsoft account. But you may have to create app passwords for some client software and setups that doesn’t work well with authentication approaches other than passwords. It may be an approach for password-free setups where consumer electronics and IoT devices are concerned until this kind of onboarding and login are able to work with most of these devices.

But for a major software vendor or online-services provider to provide the option to go “password-free” and rely on device-based credentials as an authentication approach is a bold step. As well, Microsoft are in a good position here due to them making sure that the authentication tools are available on a wide range of platforms.

Who know who else will head down the password-free authentication approach for their consumer-facing online services?

Send to Kindle

Cloudflare to work on simplified CAPTCHA

Article

CAPTCHA text

Cloudflare is intending to replace CAPTCHA authentication on Web forms with …

CAPTCHAs May Soon Go Extinct (gizmodo.com)

From the horse’s mouth

Cloudflare

Humanity wastes about 500 years per day on CAPTCHAs. It’s time to end this madness (cloudflare.com)

My Comments

The CAPTCHA is being used as a means to prevent spam emails or comments on Websites or to assure that people who register in an online context are real people.

But these measures, typically ranging from transcribing letters or identifying objects, can be very frustrating for many people. This is caused by hard-to-read or small letters or instructions relating to object identification being difficult to understand on a language or cultural context. As well, some of these CAPTCHAs don’t work well for mobile setups like smartphones which is increasingly the common way to use the Internet. That leads to abandoned registrations or online-shopping carts or people not joining in to online services for example.

HP Elitebook 2560p business notebook fingerprint reader

you scanning your fingerprint on your flaptop’s fingerprint scanner or you entering your device’s PIN code to prove that a person is entering the data

CloudFlare are working on a different approach to authenticating the personhood of a device user without resorting to letters to transcribe or objects to identify. Initially they are using USB security keys for this purpose but are moving towards full WebAuthN implementation for this purpose.

This approach will work with WebAuthN-capable browser and operating-system setups and work in a similar vein to password-free authentication for online services using that technology. This will require you to enter your device PIN, use face recognition or use the fingerprint reader, operate a USB security key or an authenticator app on your smartphone to prove your personhood, as if you are enrolling in to an online service that implements WebAuthN technology.

The success or failure of the WebAuthN test will simply allow you to submit that form or not on the Website. The logic won’t cause any extra identifying factors to be stored on the online service’s server under default setups. But it may store a device-local cookie to record success so as to treat the session as authenticated, catering towards data revision approaches in wizard-based forms or long data-entry sessions.

A question I would have with this CloudFlare approach is how it can work with computing setups that don’t support WebAuthN. This will also include shared computing setups and public-access computers where the use of this kind of authentication may not be practicable for a single session.

But Cloudflare’s effort is taking WebAuthN further as a way to prove that a real person rather than a robot is actually operating an online account in a manner that is universal to abilities, languages and cultures.

Send to Kindle

Zoom to provide privacy notifications for video conferences

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Zoom (MacOS) multi-party video conference screenshot

Zoom to introduce privacy disclosure for enhanced functionalities during a video conference

Zoom

Zoom Rolls Out In-Product Privacy Notifications – Zoom Blog

In-Product Privacy Notifications – Zoom Help Center (Detailed Resource)

Previous Coverage on videoconferencing platform security

A call to attention now exists regarding videoconferencing platform security

My Comments

As the COVID-19 coronavirus plague had us homebound and staying indoors, we were making increased use of Zoom and similar multi-party video conference software for work, education and social needs. This included an increased amount of telemedicine taking place where people were engaging with their doctors, psychologists and other specialists using this technology.

Thus increased ubiquity of multi-party videoconferencing raised concerns about data-security, user-privacy and business-confidentiality implications with this technology. This was due to situations like business videoconference platforms being used for personal videoconferencing and vice versa. In some cases it was about videoconferencing platforms not being fit for purpose due to gaping holes in the various platforms’ security and privacy setup along with the difficult user interfaces that some of these platforms offered.

During August 2020, the public data-protection authorities in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Gibraltar, Switzerland and the UK called this out as a serious issue through the form of open letters to the various popular videoconferencing platforms. There has been some improvement taking place with some platforms like Zoom implementing end-to-end encryption, Zoom implementing improved meeting-control facilities and some client software for the various platforms offering privacy features like defocusing backgrounds.

Zoom has now answered the call for transparency regarding user privacy by notifying all the participants in a multi-party videoconference about who can save or share content out of the videoconference. This comes in to play with particular features and apps like recording, transcription, polls and Q&A functionality. It will also notify others if someone is running a Zoom enhanced-functionality app that may compromise other users’ privacy.

There is also the issue of alerting users about who the account owner is in relation to these privacy issues. For corporate or education accounts, this would be the business or educational institution who set up the account. But most of us who operate our personal Zoom accounts would have the accounts in our name.

Personally, I would also like to have the option to know about data-sovereignty information for corporate, education or similar accounts. This can be important if Zoom supports on-premises data storage or establishes “data-trustee” relationships with other telco or IT companies and uses this as a means to assure proper user privacy, business confidentiality and data sovereignty. A good example of this could be the European public data cloud that Germany and France are wanting to set up to compute with American and Chinese offerings while supporting European values.

Another issue is how this will come about during a video conference where the user is operating their session full-screen with the typical tile-up view but not using the enhanced-functionality features. Could this be like with Websites that pop up a consent notification disclosing what cookies or similar features are taking place when one uses the Website for the first time or moves to other pages?

It will be delivered as part of the latest updates for Zoom client software across all the platforms. This may also be a feature that will have to come about for other popular videoconferencing platforms like Microsoft Teams or Skype as a way to assure users of their conversation privacy and business confidentiality.

Send to Kindle

Google to participate in setting standards for mobile app security

Articles – From the horse’s mouth

Google

A standard and certification program now exists for mobile application security

A New Standard for Mobile App Security (Google Security Blog post)

Internet Of Secure Things Alliance (ioXT)

ioXt Alliance Expands Certification Program for Mobile and VPN Security (Press Release)

Mobile Application Profile (Reference Standard Document – PDF)

My Comments

There is a constant data-security and user-privacy risk associated with mobile computing.

And this is being underscored heavily as a significant number of mobile apps are part of “app-cessory” ecosystems for various Internet-of-Things devices. That is where a mobile app is serving as a control surface for one of these devices. Let’s not forget that VPNs are coming to the fore as a data-security and user-privacy aid for our personal-computing lives.

Internet of Secure Things ioXT logo courtesy of Internet of Secure Things Alliance

Expect this to appear alongside mobile-platform apps to signify they are designed for security

But how can we be sure that an app that we install on our smartphones or tablets is written to best security practices? What is being identified is a need for an industry standard supported by a trademarked logo that allows us to know that this kind of software is written for security.

A group called the Internet of Secure Things Alliance, known as ioXT, have started to define basic standards for secure Internet-of-Things ecosystems. Here they have defined various device profiles for different Internet-of-Things device types and determined minimum and recommended requirements for a device to be certified as being “secure” by them. This then allows the vendor to show a distinct ioXT-secure logo on the product or associated material.

Now Google and others have worked with ioXT to define a Mobile Application Profile that sets out minimum security standards for mobile-platform software in order to be deemed secure by them. At the moment, this is focused towards app-cessory software that works with connected devices along with consumer-facing privacy-focused VPN endpoint software. For that matter, Google is behind a “white-box” user-privacy VPN solution that can be offered under different labels.

This device profile has been written in an “open form” to cater towards other mobile app classes that need to have specific data-security and user-privacy requirements. This will come about as ioXT revises the Mobile Application Profile.

Conclusion

The ioXT Internet-of-Secure-Things platform could be extended to certifying more classes of native mobile-platform and desktop-platform software that works with the Internet of Everything. The VPN aspect of the Mobile Application Profile can also apply to native desktop VPN-management clients or native and Web software intended to manage router-based VPN setups.

At least a non-perpetual certification program with a trademarked logo now exists for the Internet of Everything and mobile apps to assure customers that the hardware and software is secure by design and default.

Send to Kindle

European businesses still value data protection for their online services

Article Map of Europe By User:mjchael by using preliminary work of maix¿? [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Europäische Cloud-Anbieter profitieren von Datenschutzbedenken (European cloud offerings profit from data protection) | Netzwoche.ch (German language / Deutsche Sprache)

My Comments

I am following the scene as far as European online services and cloud computing for both business and consumer use is going. This is based on how I see that Europe could compete with the US establishment when it comes to offering any online service and ensure it respects European values.

I have just read a Swiss article which talked about the US and Chinese hyperscale cloud platforms dominating the European cloud-computing scene. But this article is stating that European cloud-computing / online-service providers are catching up with these behemoths. Here these companies are using data protection as a selling point due to data-protection and user-privacy concerns by European businesses and government authorities.

An example I saw of this is Germany and France working towards creating public-cloud computing services with the goal of being able to compete against the public-cloud services offered by the USA and Asia.

A recent survey completed by the French IT consultant Capgemini highlighted that the German-speaking part of Europe (Germany, Australia and Switzerland) were buying minimal European IT services. But the same Capgemini survey were saying that 45 of the respondents wanted to move to European providers in the future thanks to data protection and data sovereignty issues.

Data security is being given increasing importance due to recent cyber attacks and the increased digitalisation of production processes. But the Europeans have very strong data protection and end-user privacy mandates at national and EU level thanks to a strong respect for privacy and confidentiality within modern Europe.

COVID-19 had placed a lot of European IT projects on ice but there has been a constant push to assure business continuity even under the various public-health restrictions mandated by this plague. This includes the support for distributed working whether that be home-office working or remote working.

But how is this relevant to European households, small businesses and community organisations? I do see this as being relevant due to the use of various online and cloud IT services as part of our personal life thanks to the like of search engines, email / messaging, the Social Web, online entertainment, and voice driven assistants. As well, small businesses and community organisations show interest in online and cloud-based computing as a means of benefiting from what may be seen as “big-time” IT without needing much in the way of capital expenditure.

It will be a slow and steady effort for Europe to have online and cloud computing on a par with the US and Asian establishment but this will be about services that respect European privacy, security and data-sovereignty values.

Send to Kindle

Zoom even makes it easier to deal with Zoombombing incidents

Article

Zoom (MacOS) multi-party video conference screenshot

Zoom to give more control to meeting hosts

How to stop a Zoombombing | Lifehacker

From the horse’s mouth

Zoom

3 New Ways We’re Combatting Meeting Disruptions (Blog Post)

My Comments

During the COVID-19 pandemic causing us to work or study from home, we have been seeing increased use of videoconferencing platforms like Zoom.

It has led to the convergence of business and personal use of popular multiparty videoconferencing platforms; be it business platforms of the Zoom and Microsoft Teams ilk serving personal, social and community needs; or personal platforms like Skype and WhatsApp being used for business use. This is more so with small businesses, community organisations and the like who don’t have their own IT team to manage this software. The software developers even support this convergence through adding “personal and social” features to business users that also gain free social-user tiers or adding business features to personal platforms.

But this has brought along its fair share of miscreants. A key example of this is “Zoombombing” where these miscreants join a Zoom meeting in order to disrupt it. This manifests in disruptive comments being put in to the meeting or at worst all sorts of filth unfit for the office or family home appearing on our screens. Infact there have been a significant number of high-profile Zoom virtual events disrupted that way and a significant number of governments have encompassed this phenomenon as part of raising questions about videoconferencing platform security.

This has been facilitated by Zoom and similar business videoconferencing platforms allowing people to join a videoconference by clicking on a meeting-specific URL This is compared to Skype, Viber, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and similar personal videoconferencing platforms operating on an in-platform invitation protocol when joining these meetings.

But these Weblinks bave been posted on the Social Web for every man and his dog to see. There have been some online forums that have been hurriedly set up for people to solicit others to disrupt online meetings.

Zoom recently took action by requiring the use of meeting passwords and waiting-room setups and operating with that by default. As well meeting hosts and participants have been encourage not to place meeting URLs and passwords on any part of the Web open to the public. Rather they are to send the link via email or instant messaging. As well, they are encouraged to send the password under separate cover.

They also have the ability to lock the meeting so no further attendees can come in, which is good if the meeting is based around known attendees. There is also the ability for the host to control resource-sharing and remote-control functionality that Zoom offers. Let’s not forget that they also added meeting-wide end-to-end encryption for increasingly-secure meetings.

But Zoom has taken further action by offering meeting hosts more tools to control their meeting, a feature available to all client software and to all user classes whether free or paid.

There is the ability for the Zoom meeting host to pause the meeting. Once this is invoked, no activity can take place during the meeting including in any breakout rooms that the meeting has spawned. They also have the ability to report the meeting to Zoom’s platform=wide security team and to selectively enable each meeting feature. They can also report users to Zoom’s platform security team, which allows them to file the report and give the disruptive user the royal order of the boot from that meeting.

Another feature that has been introduced thanks to the “join by URL” method that Zoom supports is for meeting hosts to be alerted if their meeting is at risk of disruption. Zoom facilitates this using a Webcrawler that hunts for meeting URLs on the public Web and alerts the meeting host if their meeting’s URL is posted there such as being on the Social Web. Here, they are given the opportunity to change the URL to deflect any potential Zoombomb attempts.

But this year has become a key year as far as multiparty videoconferencing is concerned due to our reliance on it. Here, it may be about seeing less differentiation between business-use and personal-use platforms or the definition of a basic feature set that these videoconferencing platforms are meant to have with secure private operation being part of that definition.

Send to Kindle

Microsoft integrates the Trusted Platform Module in to computer CPUs

Articles

Microsoft brings Trusted Platform Module functionality directly to CPUs under securo-silicon architecture Pluton | The Register

Microsoft reveals Pluton, a custom security chip built into Intel, AMD and Qualcomm processors | TechCrunch

Microsoft Pluton is a new processor with Xbox-like security for Windows PCs | The Verge

From the horse’s mouth

Microsoft

Meet the Microsoft Pluton processor – The security chip designed for the future of Windows PCs (Blog Post)

My Comments

Most recently-built desktop and laptop regular computers that run Windows, especially business-focused machines offered by big brands, implement a secure element known as the Trusted Platform Module. This is where encryption keys for functions like BitLocker, Windows Hello or Windows-based password vaults are kept. But this is kept as a separate chip on the computer’s motherboard in most cases.

But Microsoft are taking a different approach to providing a secure element on their Windows-based regular-computer platform. Here, this is in the form of keeping the Trusted Platform Module on the same piece of silicon as the computer’s main CPU “brain”.

Microsoft initially implemented a security-chip-within-CPU approach with their XBox platform as a digital-rights-management approach. Other manufacturers have implemented this approach in some form or another for their computing devices such as Samsung implementing in the latest Galaxy S smartphones or Apple implementing it as the T2 security chip within newer Macintosh regular computers. There is even an Internet-of-Things platform known as the Azure Sphere which implements the “security-chip-within-CPU” approach.

This approach works around the security risk of a person gaining physical access to a computer to exfiltrate encryption keys and sensitive data held within the Trusted Platform Module due to it being a separate chip from the main CPU. As well, before Microsoft announced the Pluton design, they subjected it to many security tests including stress-tests so that it doesn’t haunt them with the same kind of weaknesses that affect the Apple T2 security chip which was launched in 2017.

Intel, AMD and Qualcomm who design and make CPUs for Windows-based regular computers have worked with Microsoft to finalise this “security-chip-within-CPU” design. Here, they will offer it in subsequent x86-based and ARM-based CPU designs.

The TPM application-programming-interface “hooks” will stay the same as far as Windows and application-software development is concerned. This means that there is no need to rewrite Windows or any security software to take advantage of this chipset design. The Microsoft Pluton approach will benefit from “over-the-air” software updates which, for Windows users, will come as part of the “Patch Tuesday” update cycle.

More users will stand to benefit from “secure-element” computing including those who custom-build their computer systems or buy “white-label” desktop computer systems from independent computer stores.

As well, Linux users will stand to benefit due to efforts to make this open-source and available to that operating-system platform. In the same context, it could allow increasingly-secure computing to be part of the operating system and could open up standard secure computing approaches for Linux-derived “open-frame” computer platforms like Google’s ChromeOS or Android.

Here, the idea of a secure element integrated within a CPU chip die isn’t just for digital-rights-management anymore. It answers the common business and consumer need for stronger data security, user privacy, business confidentiality and operational robustness. There is also the goal of achieving secure computing from the local processing silicon to the cloud for online computing needs.

Microsoft hasn’t opened up regarding whether the Pluton trusted-computing design will be available to all silicon vendors or whether there are plans to open-source the design. But this could lead to an increasingly-robust secure-element approach for Windows and other computing platforms.

Send to Kindle

Qualcomm to authenticate photos taken on your phone

Article

Android main interactive lock screen

Qualcomm will work towards authenticating photos taken by smartphones or other devices using its ARM silicon at the point of capture

One of the strongest ways to fight misinformation will soon be right in your phone | FastCompany

My Comments

The rise of deepfaked and doctored imagery surfacing on the Web and being used to corroborate lies has started an arms race to  verify the authenticity of audio and visual asset

It was encouraged by the Trusted News Initiative which is a group of leading newsrooms who want to set standards regarding the authenticity of news imagery and introduce watermarks for this purpose.

TruePic, an image authentication service, are partnering with Qualcomm to develop hardware-based authentication of images as they are being taken. Qualcomm has become the first manufacturer of choice because of themselves being involved with ARM-based silicon for most Android smartphones and the Windows 10 ARM platform.

This will use actual time and date, data gained from various device sensors and the image itself as it is taken to attach a certificate of authenticity to that image or video footage. This will be used to guarantee the authenticity of the photos or vision before they leave the user’s phone.

TruePic primarily implements this technology in industries like banking, insurance, warranty provision and law enforcement to work against fraudulent images being used to corroborate claims or to where imagery has to be of high forensic standards. But at the moment, Truepic implements this technology as an additional app that users have to install.

The partnership with Qualcomm is to integrate the functionality in to the smartphone’s camera firmware so that the software becomes more tamper-evident and this kind of authentication applies to all images captured by that sensor at the user’s discretion.

The fact that TruePic is partnering with Qualcomm at the moment is because most of the amateur photos are being taken with smartphones which use this kind of silicon. Once they have worked with Qualcomm, other camera chipmakers including Apple would need to collaborate with them to build in authenticated image technology in to their camera technology.

It can then appeal to implementation within standalone camera devices like traditional digital cameras, videosurveillance equipment, dashcams and the like. For example, it can be easier to verify media footage shot on pro gear as being authentic or to have videosurveillance footage being offered as evidence verified as being forensically accurate. But in these cases, there may be calls for the devices to be able to have access to highly-accurate time and location references for this to work.

The watermark generated by this technology will be intended to be machine-readable and packaged with the image file. This will make it easier for software to show whether the image is authentic or not and such software could be part of the Trusted News Initiative to authenticate amateur, stringer or other imagery or footage that comes in to a newsroom’s workflow. Or it could be used by eBay, Facebook or Tinder to indicate whether images or vision are a genuine representation of the goods for sale or the p

But this technology needs to also apply to images captured by dedicated digital cameras like this Canon PowerShot G1 X

rofile holder.

The idea of providing this function would be to offer it as an opt-in manner, typically as a shooting “mode” within a camera application. This allows the photographer to preserve their privacy. But the use of authenticated photos won’t allow users to digitally adjust their original photos to make them look better. This same situation may also apply to the use of digital zoom which effectively crops photos and videos at the time they are taken.

There is the idea of implementing distributed-ledger technology to track edits made to a photo. This can be used to track at what point the photo was edited and what kind of editing work took place. This kind of ledger technology could also apply to copies of that photo, which will be of importance where people save a copy of the image when they save any edits. This will also apply where a derivative work is created from the source file like a still image or a short clip is obtained from a longer file of existing footage.

A question that will then come about is how the time of day is recorded in these certificates, including the currently-effective time zone and whether the time is obtained from a highly-accurate reference. Such factors may put in to doubt the forensic accuracy of these certificates as far as when the photo or footage was actually taken.

For most of us, it could come in to its own when combatting deepfake and doctored images used to destabilise society. Those of us who use online dating or social-network platforms may use this to verify the authenticity of a person who is on that platform, thus working against catfishing. Similarly, the use of image authentication at the point of capture may come in to its own when we supply images or video to the media or to corroborate transactions.

Send to Kindle

Zoom to introduce end-to-end encryption

Articles

Zoom (MacOS) multi-party video conference screenshot

Zoom to provide end-to-end encryption for those video conferences

Zoom end-to-end encryption is finally rolling out next week | Android Authority

Zoom to preview free end-to-end encryption for meetings | ITNews

Zoom Is Adding End-To-End Encryption to Your Endless Meetings | Gizmodo

Zoom finally rolls out end-to-end encryption, but you have to enable it | Mashable

From the horse’s mouth

Zoom

Zoom Rolling Out End-to-End Encryption Offering (Blog Post)

My Comments

Since the COVID-19 coronavirus plague had us housebound even for work or school, we have ended up using videoconferencing platforms more frequently for work, school and social life. The most popular of these platforms ended up being Zoom which effectively became a generic trademark for multiparty videoconferencing.

But the computer press and consumer-privacy regulators identified that most of these videoconferencing platforms had security and user-privacy / company-confidentiality weaknesses. One of these that has beset Zoom was the lack of end-to-end encryption for multiparty videocalls. This ended up being a key issue due to most of us ending using these platforms more frequently and the increased use of Zoom and similar platforms for medical and legal telexonsultations.

Now Zoom, as part of its recent Zoomtopia feature-launch multiparty videoconference, has launched a number of new features for their platform. These include virtual participant layouts similar to what Microsoft Teams is offering.

But the important one here is to facilitate end-to-end encryption during multiparty videoconferences. This will be available across all of Zoom’s user base, whether free or paid. For the first 30 days from next week, it will be a technical preview so they can know of any bugs in the system.

The end-to-end encryption is based around the meeting host rather than Zoom generating the keypairs for the encryption protocol, which would occur as a videoconference is started and as users come on board. It is a feature that Zoom end-users would need to enable at account level and also activate for each meeting they wish to keep secure. That is different from WhatsApp where end-to-end encryption occurs by default and in a hands-off manner.

At the moment, updated native Zoom clients will support the end-to-end encryption – you won’t have support for it on Zoom Web experiences or third-party devices and services that work with Zoom like the smart displays or Facebook’s Portal TV videophone. This situation will be revised as Zoom releases newer APIs and software that answers thsi need.

If a meeting is operating with end-to-end encryption, there will be a green shield with a lock symbol in the upper left corner to indicate that this is the case. They can click on the icon to bring up a verification code and have that confirmed by the meeting host reading it out loud.

Free users will be required to use SMS-based verification when they set up their account for end-to-end encryption. This is a similar user experience to what a lot of online services are doing where there is a mobile phone number as a second factor of authenticity.

At least Zoom is taking steps towards making its multiparty videoconference platform more safe and secure for everyone.

Send to Kindle

Gizmodo examines the weaponisation of a Twitter hashtag

Article

How The #DanLiedPeopleDied Hashtag Reveals Australia’s ‘Information Disorder’ Problem | Gizmodo

My Comments

I read in Gizmodo how an incendiary hashtag directed against Daniel Andrews, the State Premier of Victoria in Australia, was pushed around the Twittersphere and am raising this as an article. It is part of keeping HomeNetworking01.info readers aware about disinformation tactics as we increasingly rely on the Social Web for our news.

What is a hashtag

A hashtag is a single keyword preceded by a hash ( # ) symbol that is used to identify posts within the Social Web that feature a concept. It was initially introduced in Twitter as a way of indexing posts created on that platform and make them easy to search by concept. But an increasing number of other social-Web platforms have enabled the use of hashtags for the same purpose. They are typically used to embody a slogan or idea in an easy-to-remember way across the social Web.

Most social-media platforms turn these hashtags in to a hyperlink that shows a filtered view of all posts featuring that hashtag. They even use statistical calculations to identify the most popular hashtags on that platform or the ones whose visibility is increasing and present this in meaningful ways like ranked lists or keyword clouds.

How this came about

Earlier on in the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, an earlier hashtag called #ChinaLiedPeopleDied was working the Social Web. This was underscoring a concept with a very little modicum of truth that the Chinese government didn’t come clear about the genesis of the COVID-19 plague with its worldwide death toll and their role in informing the world about it.

That hashtag was used to fuel Sinophobia hatred against the Chinese community and was one of the first symptoms of questionable information floating around the Social Web regarding COVID-19 issues.

Australia passed through the early months of the COVID-19 plague and one of their border-control measures for this disease was to have incoming travellers required to stay in particular hotels for a fortnight before they can roam around Australia as a quarantine measure. The Australian federal government put this program in the hands of the state governments but offered resources like the use of the military to these governments as part of its implementation.

The second wave of the COVID-19 virus was happening within Victoria and a significant number of the cases was to do with some of the hotels associated with the hotel quarantine program. This caused a very significant death toll and had the state government run it to a raft of very stringent lockdown measures.

A new hashtag called #DanLiedPeopleDied came about because it was deemed that the Premier, Daniel Andrews, as the head of the state’s executive government wasn’t perceived to have come clear about any and all bungles associated with its management of the hotel quarantine program.

On 14 July 2020, this hashtag first appeared in a Twitter account that initially touched on Egyptian politics and delivered its posts in the Arabic language. But it suddenly switched countries, languages and political topics, which is one of the symptoms of a Social Web account existing just to peddle disinformation and propaganda.

The hashtag had laid low until 12 August when a run of Twitter posts featuring it were delivered by hyper-partisan Twitter accounts. This effort, also underscored by newly-created or suspicious accounts that existed to bolster the messaging, was to make it register on Twitter’s systems as a “trending” hashtag.

Subsequently a far-right social-media influencer with a following of 116,000 Twitter accounts ran a post to keep the hashtag going. There was a lot of very low-quality traffic featuring that hashtag or its messaging. It also included a lot of low-effort memes being published to drive the hashtag.

The above-mentioned Gizmodo article has graphs to show how the hashtag appeared over time which is worth having a look at.

What were the main drivers

But a lot of the traffic highlighted in the article was driven by the use of new or inauthentic accounts which aren’t necessarily “bots” – machine operated accounts that provide programmatic responses or posts. Rather this is the handiwork of trolls or sockpuppets (multiple online personas that are perceived to be different but say the same thing).

As well, there was a significant amount of “gaming the algorithm” activity going on in order to raise the profile of that hashtag. This is due to most social-media services implementing algorithms to expose trending activity and populate the user’s main view.

Why this is happening

Like with other fake-news, disinformation and propaganda campaigns, the #DanLiedPeopleDied hashtag is an effort to sow seeds of fear, uncertainty and doubt while bringing about discord with information that has very little in the way of truth. As well the main goal is to cause a popular distrust in leadership figures and entities as well as their advice and efforts.

In this case, the campaign was targeted at us Victorians who were facing social and economic instability associated with the recent stay-at-home orders thanks to COVID-19’s intense reappearance, in order to have us distrust Premier Dan Andrews and the State Government even more. As such, it is an effort to run these kind of campaigns to people who are in a state of vulnerability, when they are less likely to use defences like critical thought to protect themselves against questionable information.

As I know, Australia is rated as one of the most sustainable countries in the world by the Fragile States Index, in the same league as the Nordic countries, Switzerland, Canada and New Zealand. It means that the country is known to be socially, politically and economically stable. But we can find that a targeted information-weaponisation campaign can be used to destabilise a country even further and we need to be sensitive to such tactics.

One of the key factors behind the problem of information weaponisation is the weakening of traditional media’s role in the dissemination of hard news. This includes younger people preferring to go to online resources, especially the Social Web, portals or news aggregator Websites for their daily news intake. It also includes many established newsrooms receiving reduced funding thanks to reduced advertising, subscription or government income, reducing their ability to pay staff to turn out good-quality news.

When we make use of social media, we need to develop a healthy suspicion regarding what is appearing. Beware of accounts that suddenly appear or develop chameleon behaviours especially when key political events occur around the world. Also be careful about accounts that “spam” their output with a controversial hashtag or adopt a “stuck record” mentality over a topic.

Conclusion

Any time where a jurisdiction is in a state of turmoil is where the Web, especially the Social Web, can be a tool of information warfare. When you use it, you need to be on your guard about what you share or which posts you interact with.

Here, do research on hashtags that are suddenly trending around a social-media platform and play on your emotions and be especially careful of new or inauthentic accounts that run these hashtags.

Send to Kindle