That NYTimes Facebook Bombshell: “Delay, Deny, Deflect..”

Much as I hate to endorse any opinion of Franklin Foer’s, I have to admit I’m glad I never joined Facebook. (Not being on Facebook has sometimes felt like a minor luxury, because I don’t have an employer who demands it, or social networks that I can’t access via alternate routes. And, yes, I realize they’ve probably mined all my personal information anyways.) Props to the NYTimes reporters:

In just over a decade, Facebook has connected more than 2.2 billion people, a global nation unto itself that reshaped political campaigns, the advertising business and daily life around the world. Along the way, Facebook accumulated one of the largest-ever repositories of personal data, a treasure trove of photos, messages and likes that propelled the company into the Fortune 500.

But as evidence accumulated that Facebook’s power could also be exploited to disrupt elections, broadcast viral propaganda and inspire deadly campaigns of hate around the globe, Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg stumbled. Bent on growth, the pair ignored warning signs and then sought to conceal them from public view. At critical moments over the last three years, they were distracted by personal projects, and passed off security and policy decisions to subordinates, according to current and former executives.

When Facebook users learned last spring that the company had compromised their privacy in its rush to expand, allowing access to the personal information of tens of millions of people to a political data firm linked to President Trump, Facebook sought to deflect blame and mask the extent of the problem.

And when that failed — as the company’s stock price plummeted and it faced a consumer backlash — Facebook went on the attack.

While Mr. Zuckerberg has conducted a public apology tour in the last year, Ms. Sandberg has overseen an aggressive lobbying campaign to combat Facebook’s critics, shift public anger toward rival companies and ward off damaging regulation. Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros. It also tapped its business relationships, lobbying a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic.

…[T]rust in the social network has sunk, while its pell-mell growth has slowed. Regulators and law enforcement officials in the United States and Europe are investigating Facebook’s conduct with Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm that worked with Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign, opening up the company to fines and other liability. Both the Trump administration and lawmakers have begun crafting proposals for a national privacy law, setting up a yearslong struggle over the future of Facebook’s data-hungry business model…
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This Morning’s Big Hacking Stories

The stories actually go beyond hacking, but that’s an adequate title for a placeholder post until Adam or Major Major Major Major can weigh in.

There are two stories, one about China and one about Russia’s GRU, their military intelligence agency.

Bloomberg has, for reasons I can’t imagine, gone with a white typeface on black background, which I find painful to read, so I’ll work from the Washington Post’s summary.

Bloomberg has just published an explosive article claiming that a secret unit in the Chinese military has compromised the motherboards (the systems of chips and electronics that allow computers to work) of servers used by Apple, a bank and various government contractors.

China’s exploit was discovered when Amazon did due diligence on a company that it was acquiring, which used servers with the compromised motherboards. Both Apple and Amazon have issued statements denying the Bloomberg claims, but Bloomberg seems confident that it’s correct, saying it has multiple sources inside Amazon and the intelligence community. (Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

We have long depended on China for essential electronic components. That’s seemed dangerous to me, but nobody listens to me on such things.

Also this morning, Vice President Mike Pence gave a speech at the rightwing Hudson Institute and said that China was the biggest threat to the United States. It’s hard not to see these events as being coordinated. Pence claimed, as did President Donald Trump at the United Nations, that China was trying to hack the US elections. Which probably means that they will call any Democratic wins a Chinese plot. Also, too, when you are making googly eyes at Vladimir Putin, you have to have an enemy to gin up support at home.

Also this morning, the United States, UK, and the Netherlands announced indictments against Russian members of the GRU for hacking a great many agencies, including the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and anti-doping organizations. Russia, of course, denies everything. I am also seeing bits and pieces coming across my Twitter feed from open-source investigators pointing to obvious tells from Russian agents, like using consecutively numbered passports and US $100 bills.

It looks like the GRU has gotten sloppy in their spycraft, or that Russia would like the world to know it operates with impunity.

It is the US that is bringing the indictments. It looks like parts of our government have not signed on to the googly eyes strategy and are continuing to prosecute conspiracies against our country. That’s an interesting development. Its implications for Trump are not clear, although one might think that this investigation has shared information with Robert Mueller’s staff.

Both these stories are developing.

AP News Open Thread: Julian Assange, the Biter Bit?

This is the AP, not some blog with a history of overreaction, so… cui bono, at this particular moment?

LONDON (AP) — Julian Assange had just pulled off one of the biggest scoops in journalistic history, splaying the innards of American diplomacy across the web. But technology firms were cutting ties to his WikiLeaks website, cable news pundits were calling for his head and a Swedish sex crime case was threatening to put him behind bars.

Caught in a vise, the silver-haired Australian wrote to the Russian Consulate in London.

“I, Julian Assange, hereby grant full authority to my friend, Israel Shamir, to both drop off and collect my passport, in order to get a visa,” said the letter, which was obtained exclusively by The Associated Press.

The Nov. 30, 2010, missive is part of a much larger trove of WikiLeaks emails, chat logs, financial records, secretly recorded footage and other documents leaked to the AP. The files provide both an intimate look at the radical transparency organization and an early hint of Assange’s budding relationship with Moscow.

WikiLeaks has repeatedly been hit by unauthorized disclosures, but the tens of thousands of files obtained by the AP may be the biggest leak yet.

The AP has confirmed the authenticity of many of the documents by running them by five former WikiLeaks associates or by verifying non-public details such as bank accounts, telephone numbers or airline tickets.

One of the former associates, an ex-employee, identified two of the names that frequently appeared in the documents’ metadata, “Jessica Longley” and “Jim Evans Mowing,” as pseudonyms assigned to two WikiLeaks laptops.

All five former associates spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity, in some cases because they didn’t want their past association with WikiLeaks to become public, and in others because they feared legal retaliation or harassment from the group’s supporters…

Metadata suggests that it was on Nov. 29, the day after the release of the first batch of U.S. State Department files, that the letter to the Russian Consulate was drafted on the Jessica Longley computer…

The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York Strikes Again

They got him! They finally got him!!!!

I guess I’m not getting that $25 dollar electronic funds transfer though…

Open thread.

Info Ops – Staying Alert

I said in a post last week that I’m going to try to keep you all current on what we know about information operations, as we approach November’s elections and the 2020 presidential election. I’ll post short summaries or longer commentaries if they are warranted. We’ve all got to stay alert for malign influencers.

The FBI has launched two websites, Protected Voices and Combating Foreign Influence.  Protected Voices offers advice on cyberhygiene – they have a set of short videos on things like passwords, browser safety, wi-fi, and router hardening. Looks like they might be useful for internal corporation training or just anyone who has questions about the various topics. Combating Foreign Influence is newer and intends “to educate the public about the threats faced from disinformation campaigns, cyber attacks, and the overall impact of foreign influence on society.”

I’m a little dubious about government initiatives of this sort, but it was the FBI and others who went to President Obama in summer 2016 to tell him that the Russians were doing damage. So I’ll keep an eye on these sites. I also hope that the jackal computer nerds will chime in too.

BuzzFeed has a big article on Russian propaganda operations in the Baltic states. Three news outlets set up in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to spread the Russian point of view without saying that’s what they were doing.

The websites presented themselves as independent news outlets, but in fact, editorial lines were dictated directly by Moscow.

The purpose was to turn Russian speakers in those three countries toward Russia and away from the countries they live in. The article is very detailed, working from Skype calls among the managers of the news outlets. I kept thinking about Fox News as something of an analogy in the United States.