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How secure is your smartphone?

by April Deibert In Category: Middle East, Security

Here's an article about the most common current smartphone vulnerabilities.  So much that most people don't think about.  Read this with the Arab Spring in mind.  Great insights.

 

(Repost.  Originally by Shalaka Paradkar, Alpha Magazine/Gulfnews.com, 1 Apr 2012.)

In December 2010 Tunisian fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself ablaze in an ultimate act of protest against harassment by government officials. No one could have predicted the cataclysmic changes that followed. Regimes toppled and dictators were overthrown as Bouazizi's death sparked the Arab Spring across North Africa and the Middle East. Mobile phones and social media were among the most influential media tools used to coordinate the protests.

On the first-year anniversary of the Arab Spring, security vendor Symantec discovered something else that followed Bouazizi's death - something that involved mobile phones and social media. In what appeared to be the first hacktivist (politically motivated hacking) attack targeted only in the Middle East, new Android malware was distributed through regional forums.

The malware - dubbed Android.Arspam by Symantec - was embedded into the pirated version of a popular Islamic compass app. Once downloaded, it went to work as a service called al Arabiyyah.

Every contact in the address book of the infected phone got a text message with a link to an online tribute to Mohamed Bouazizi. Whether the phone user sympathised or not with the hacktivists' cause, they had to pay for the text messages that spread the political propaganda. Bulent Teksoz, chief security strategist, Emerging Markets, Symantec says attacks like Android.Arspam represent test runs by hacktivists and cybercriminals targeting the Middle East, giving them an opportunity to test and develop their methods. "Cybercriminals are looking for easy money and the Middle East - because of the economy, mobile phone penetration and the number of people getting online every day - is a sweet spot right now. Coupled with the lack of protection and the number of mobile applications that exist, it creates the perfect condition for cybercriminals to come and play."

Symantec's 2012 State of Mobility Survey that polled over 6,000 organisations across 43 countries, discovered that mobile computing is the biggest IT security concern. And getting your phone hacked is no longer a headache just for British celebrities. Teksoz says a staggering one-tenth of mobile users in the Middle East who were surveyed by Symantec have had their phones compromised. "In 2011-2012, we discovered around 162 vulnerabilities on mobile platforms. It all points to an indisputable fact: we know the bad guys out there are looking for more ways to get into the mobile applications, mobile devices and mobile security."

The rise in popularity in mobile and cloud computing means that mobile devices are now a prime target for hackers. People generally have a false sense of security when using their phones, which can be foolish considering mobile phones are being used to do online shopping, access corporate emails and for banking. James Lyne, director of technology strategy at software developer Sophos, has a name for the haphazard attitude towards mobile phone use: ‘smartphone invulnerability syndrome'.

"In effect people are forgetting about practice and threats they've understood on their PC for years. Attacks can take a wide variety of forms, but the most common at the moment are basic, but effective, phishing scams like fake websites or emails. Users tend to be more likely to be duped on their phones, even by attacks they would delete immediately on their computer. Malicious applications are also growing in number, such as those that steal your banking details or credit card information."

Smartphones on the Android operating system appear most vulnerable to being hacked because any developer can upload an app for free distribution. Unlike Apple, you can download applications from any app store on the internet, making it easier for the bad guys to distribute bad code. However, Lyne adds that the Apple model isn't perfect either. Security researchers have recently found that it's possible to get malicious apps published by Apple.

The increasing bring-your-own-device trend (BYOD) in business means it's not just individuals, but companies that stand to lose millions in the years to come if this carelessness continues. As employees use their personal phone for business transactions, it makes companies even more vulnerable to their entire networks being brought down by one employee who may lose their phone or download malware. "In a corporate setup where executives are using their own device, it can be a security nightmare. Companies are turning to Mobile Device Management (MDM) software to manage these risks," says Teksoz. This has lead to the popularity of mobile security software that can remotely wipe data on a phone that has been lost or hacked.

Lyne agrees that mobile operating system vendors are starting to develop more capabilities to prevent such attacks, essentially re-learning the lessons of the PC, but there is a great deal more work to be done. "Today's mobile threat is quite basic, but if the bad guys escalate their tactics, mobile vendors at present aren't in a good position to respond."

So how can you tell if your phone has been hacked? Typical symptoms include unusual behaviour from the phone, inexplicable battery drains, device running more slowly than before and inflated bills. "Generally prevention is the best strategy as malware is not often obvious and visible - it does most of its work in silence in the background," advises Lyne.

Prevention, coupled with awareness - yes, your phone can be hacked, and quite easily at that - is the key to being smart about your smartphone.

In 2010 over one million mobile phone users in China were affected by the ‘Zombie virus' in which phones sent hundreds of text messages without the owners' knowledge.

Dumb things to avoid on your smartphone

1. The ‘smartphone invulnerability syndrome'.
"People need to be aware that these devices can be attacked and that they need to keep up to date with the latest security developments - mobile devices are changing at a very fast pace. We can expect significant development in this market over the next 24 months," says Lyne.

2. Not checking that the website and application you are dealing with is the correct one. Malware often looks very similar but is spelt slightly differently. "Ensure that encryption (SSL transport represented often by a padlock symbol in your browser) is enabled," advises Lyne. "Do not download any apps from unauthorised resources, be it someone sending you a file, a text message, a suspicious web page or unauthorised websites. Check that the permission being requested by the app match its features," says Teksoz.

3. Not treating your phone as you would your computer.
Follow the same best-practice protocol used to protect data on the computer. Don't put phone pin codes and banking passwords where they can be discovered by someone else if the phone is lost. "Use strong passwords and always make use of whatever security measures - like pin code or pass codes - are provided by the mobile phone," says Teksoz.

4. Not running security software on your mobile device or remembering to update it. 
Download the free mobile security awareness toolkit from Sophos.

5. Keeping connectivity enabled when it is not required and not being used.
"Keeping your Bluetooth on makes you vulnerable to attacks. Don't put your Bluetooth in a discoverable mode, use it when you need it but let it stay hidden," Teksoz says.

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Apr
02
2012
  • First there was the Ghaddafi "Amazonian Guard" or "Lady Guard":

Gaddafi Lady Guard

"Women should be trained for combat, so that they do not become easy prey for their enemies." -Ghadaffi

  • Then there were the Egyptian martial-arts trained "Lady Guards" created by an Egyptian security company to help wealthy women feel more comfortable while being guarded:

Egyptian Lady Guard

  • And, there were reports about female boxing champions being considered for future Olympics:

Afghanistan female boxer

  • And now we see the rise of Iranian female "ninjas":

Iranian female ninja

 

A few months ago, I saw the recruitment video on BBC that was played on Iranian television to recruit female warriors.  The video is a bit humorous to watch, but the message remains the same: Middle Eastern women are gaining momentum.  Perhaps one can argue that the original intent of the male leadership was to create an infantry of women who could be sacraficed first for a given cause, but empowering Arab women to such a degree will likely be as significant as giving American women riveting jobs during WWII.

Unfortunately, Reuters decided to add their own spin to this evolution.  Instead of reporting the facts of this bizarre campaign, mass media--Reuters in this case--decided to spin it to be as eye-popping and news-worthy as they could make it by labeling them as "terrorists" to perhaps inspire shock and awe.  Such contentious language should have been more carefully considered before use.  And yet, many wonder why mass media isn't generally as trusted these days?  Western mass-media is a public diplomacy ambassador in it's own way.  Their words and actions can have ramifications for other journalists as well as other nations.

 

Iran suspends Reuters news bureau 'indefinitely' -AFP, 2 Apr 2012

TEHRAN — The Tehran bureau of international news agency Reuters has been "suspended indefinitely" because of a report it issued mischaracterising Iranian female ninjas as "terrorists," authorities said on Monday.

The head of the department in the culture and Islamic guidance ministry that monitors foreign media in Iran, Mohammad Javad Aghajari, announced the decision in a statement published by the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

"The decision was taken following the production of a video clip by this news agency's video department branding some Iranian female athletes who practice ninjutsu as terrorists," he was quoted as saying.

The report referred to was sent to Reuters clients in early February and showed female ninjas training in the city of Karaj, northwest of Tehran.

Reuters said last week the report went out with the headline "Thousands of female Ninjas train as Iran's assassins" but, after complaints were received from Iran, it was changed to "Three thousand women Ninjas train in Iran".

Iran's state-funded Press TV reported that several female ninjas in the story planned to sue Reuters for defamation.

In a report on Monday, Press TV said Reuters had failed to apologise for accusing the female ninjutsu practitioners of being "undercover assassins in the service of the Islamic Republic."

Aghajari, in his comments published by IRNA, said the Reuters report "left a very negative image" by insinuating that "the teaching of assassination and terrorism (occurs) in Iran."

He said the ninja report showed "a desire within this news agency to manipulate public opinion."

Aghajari said the Reuters bureau was suspended "until the complete review of the issue."

The Iranian authorities routinely monitor and restrict the activities of foreign journalists.

Their sensitivity over the way Iran is portrayed in Western media has become more acute in recent years, since the coverage of mass protests in 2009 over a disputed re-election win by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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Apr
02
2012

China works hard to project soft power

by April Deibert In Category: Soft power

(Repost.  Originally by Jaime A. FlorCruz, CNN, March 30, 2012.)

China conjures various images.

It could be food -- Peking Duck, steamed dumplings and the like.

Or kung fu -- Bruce Lee and his dazzling martial-arts skills or more recently Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

Or the giant pandas -- those cuddly creatures as photographed in the nature reserves or as portrayed in the Hollywood blockbuster, "Kung Fu Panda."

Or Yao Ming -- the other cuddly giant who, until he retired last year, won games and friends in the NBA.

Stereotypical or not, these are some of China's "soft power" resources.

In recent months, China has been on a "soft power" offensive to improve its national image and increase its global influence.

China has hosted the 2008 Olympics and the Shanghai Expo in 2009 -- expensive events which, many experts say, helped enhance the "China brand."

"The Olympics was very much a positive move in improving China's Soft Power," said Scott Kronick, president for Ogilvy PR in North Asia, which advises Chinese and overseas clients. "How the country responded to the Sichuan earthquake was another."

There are long-term initiatives, too, such as the setting up of Confucius Institutes to promote the Chinese language and culture. Akin to Germany's Goethe Institut or the British Council, hundreds of these Confucius Institutes have been established in leading universities and colleges around the world.

"There is a sense that soft power is growing, as more foreigners are aware of China's successes, get exposed more to its culture and have to consider China's views on a whole range of global issues," noted John Holden, Beijing-based adviser at Hill+Knowlton, a U.S. public relations company.

Why China's obsession to project its "soft power"?

Soft power, according to Harvard Kennedy School professor Joseph S. Nye, "is the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments."

Nye cites three ways to affect the behavior of others:

You can coerce them with threats, using military power. You can induce them with payments, using economic clout. Or you can attract and co-opt them, using culture, diplomacy and other means and resources.

"The latter is soft power -- getting others to appreciate you to the extent that their behavior is modified," explained Kronick of Ogilvy. "When the first two are exercised judiciously and are combined with the third, they create 'smart power.'"

"The Chinese want to exercise greater soft power," Kronick added. "How they do this is an ongoing challenge and pursuit."

As China becomes richer, modernizes its military and increasingly consumes greater global resources, experts see a growing global concern over China's rise as a global power.

Optimists say China will turn into a benign power. Alarmists warn China is bound to emerge as an Evil Empire.

In a white paper issued in 2005, China outlined its intentions to rise peacefully as a global power.

"China did not seek hegemony in the past, nor does it and will not do so in the future when it gets stronger," the white paper said. "China's development will not pose a threat to anyone; instead it can bring more development opportunities and bigger markets for the rest of the world."

But some public opinion polls show China's soft power offensive remains inadequate.

A survey by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Projects last year noted a significant rise in positive views in a number of countries. However, across the 22 nations surveyed, the U.S. generally received more favorable marks than China.

In the U.S., France, Germany, Spain and Japan, the survey showed, those who see China as the world's leading economic power believed this is a bad thing. Those who named the United States tended to think it is a good thing.

Experts partly blame this on poor communications.

Ahead of China's transition of leadership later this year, China has tightened its control of the media and continued its repression of dissent.

"China hurts itself when it flouts its own laws and international norms on human rights," Holden said. "This tarnishes its image."

"What they do wrong is that they traditionally have had a tendency to only want to project positive news, and this often is seen clouding the truth," Kronick noted.

Zhao Qizheng, the former director of the State Council Information Office and an advocate of public diplomacy, acknowledges the limits of official propaganda.

"For a long time, the international community has been cynical towards the traditional Chinese voice, believing that it's mostly official propaganda with political agenda, so it's not very credible and interesting," Zhao said in a recent online forum.

Zhao admonished ordinary Chinese to engage in public diplomacy. "We Chinese should be good at storytelling, to use soft ways of communications to create the so-called 'China image,'" he said.

Experts -- like James McGregor, a veteran China-watcher and senior counselor at APCO Worldwide, a public relations consulting company -- agree.

"The Chinese students, the emigrants and business people who are scattered around the world -- and the Chinese individuals whom foreigners meet in China -- are the country's soft power. They have many friends and admirers who through them have great affection for the Chinese people, their incredible work ethic and accomplishments," he said.

After 30 years of rapid economic and social changes, China struggles to project an international profile that befits the second biggest economy in the world.

McGregor thinks China's dilemma is more deep-seated and long-term.

"I think the world respects China's economic accomplishments and has great admiration for the Chinese people," he said. "But the Chinese government has almost no soft power in the world. You need a leading ideology that resonates with the world and a system of ethics and governing that people admire. China doesn't have that right now."

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Mar
30
2012

Newly released IREX audience research shows that while Iraqis continue to rely on television as their primary source for news and information, social media and mobile devices play an important role in the consumption and distribution of news and information in Iraq. The Iraq Audience Measurement Survey, a periodic study of media usage in Iraq, was commissioned by IREX as part of the Media and Technology for Community Development program.  D3 Systems of Vienna, Virginia conducted the survey.

The 2011 edition of the study builds on the 2010 wave of audience research released by IREX but now includes a new section focusing specifically on how Iraqi youth consume and share information. Interestingly, nearly half of Iraqis surveyed cited “Friends and Family” as a source of news. Reliance on social sources of information and overall low levels of trust in media outlets indicate that Iraqi media consumers, while extremely interested in news, remain skeptical of national and local media.

The study found that Internet usage in Iraq is overwhelming social, especially among younger users. Of the top five reported online activities, four involve social networking or personal communication while work related tasks, commerce, and research rank significantly lower. Iraqi youth who use new media to access news are just as likely as the rest of the population to use traditional media. Youth are actually more likely than the general population read newspapers and magazines for news.  

D3 and IREX presented the survey results to over 100 representatives from news outlets from across the country at a recent conference in Erbil, Iraq. Roundtables and discussions with media managers, led by D3 Systems’ Robert Johnston, followed to assist media outlets in interpreting the data and using the results to better serve their audiences.

The study is part of IREX’s ongoing efforts to support the development of a sustainable and professional media sector in Iraq and is funded by a grant to IREX from the United States Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL).

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Mar
30
2012

Borderzine.com, journalism across fronteras, is a web community for Latino student journalists, a two-way bridge connecting the classroom and the newsroom.

I love that Borderzine focuses on the multimedia aspect of allowing those who don't live in the border region to experience the visual textures and colors of everything that people do in their daily lives via a multimedia platform.  Not everyone may be able to travel to where I live (San Diego-Tijuana border area), but anyone can appreciate the photos and videos produced by these really talented young Mexican-American journalists.

Columbia Journalism Review

 

"Awareness of Borderzine continues to grow with this story in Columbia Journalism Review about the five-year-old multimedia website that publishes stories about borders and assists Latino college journalists in honing their multimedia skills and landing internships and jobs in 21st century news media. Please read the well-reported story and pass it on along to friends and others who share the vision of a future where the nation’s newsrooms adequately reflect the dynamic demographic diversity of our country and the world." (Article via Zita Arocha, Borderzine, "Borderzine.com featured in Columbia Journalism Review", March 22, 2012).

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Mar
22
2012

It is fantastic to seeing innovative public sector projects gain momentum in government. @GovLoop has been a huge success, so I can't wait to see how @BBGgov evolves.

BBG Strategy Blog

Innovation Series Blog

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Dec
28
2011

Social Network Analytics Saves Lives In Iraq

by April Deibert In Category: Iraq

 

Army intelligence to stop roadside bombs came from an unexpected source: an experimental system that organizes unstructured data on officers' social network.

Neal, an enlisted man in the U.S. Army on a tour of duty in Iraq, came up with a new way to detect improvised explosive devices, the notorious IEDs that plague convoys and troops on patrol. Neal's expertise was largely unknown until it was discovered by an experimental system applied to a social network used by Army officers.

Thursday, one of that system's authors, David Gutelius, now chief social scientist at Jive Software, told attendees at the GigaOm Net:Work conference in San Francisco that "machine learning" could be applied to social networks used in the enterprise and yield high value information there as well.

"Enterprise problems are really quite similar to some of those encountered in the military," where, in the face of a challenge, new expertise needs to be discovered and widely deployed fast, he said at the event.

The IEDs were causing a fresh round of casualties deep into the eight-year Iraq war, after militants devised a new way to conceal and set them off. Captains of Army units were repeatedly discussing the problem, but no one quite realized that an individual in their midst had found an answer.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, however, had funded a project to produce a Computer Assistant That Learns and Organizes unstructured information. The tool, dubbed CALO, was useful to apply to a social network such as Online Command, a community the Army had created for its captains where they could talk online as peers. In the midst of an active war, the Online Command social network produced a lot of ill-defined and unstructured data. IEDs themselves are loosely defined as amalgamations of old artillery shells, mortar rounds, or other explosives to form a roadside bomb with a deadly amount of force.

The CALO tool was applied to the Army captains' social network and built a reference list of Neal's connections to successfully foiled IED attacks. It noted the importance that participants attached to information about Neal and the frequency with which an officer forwarded an experience that included Neal's name. With this information, CALO moved from passive onlooker to active commenter itself. When questions about IEDs came up, CALO advanced Neal's name.

Gutelius, an artificial intelligence expert then working for SRI as part of the CALO project, thought the system had gone bonkers when it kept advancing Neal's name on the subject of IEDs. Gutelius was watching how it performed; he asked himself why such a sophisticated system was coming up with the same simple answer over and over again.

"It kept noticing this one guy. It was just hammering on Neal. I thought it must be broken," he recalled in an interview after his GigaOm talk.

He pointed out the "defect" to a group of Army captains at West Point who had just returned from a deployment to Fallujah. One of them said, "I know Neal. He's awesome."

The Army captains helped him understand the significance of the information that Neal (whose full name can't be disclosed) was associated with, and then shared that intelligence with the Army's high command in Iraq. "Suddenly, it made sense what the system was doing," recalls Gutelius. Neal's expertise was captured and spread throughout U.S. combat units. Neal, meantime, was whisked out of Iraq to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, where he became a founder of the Army's Center of Excellence on countering IEDs.

Gutelius said the high point of his CALO experience came when he went to Fort Leavenworth to do a presentation on the use of intelligence from social networks. He cited the IED gains made from analysis of Online Command data. After his presentation, a three-star general told him he knew the same system was saving lives in Iraq. Also, Neal introduced himself to Gutelius; he hadn't realized to what extent social networking had affected his life until hearing Gutelius' presentation.

"Enterprises are not bounded entities," said Gutelius in the interview with InformationWeek. "They are emergent organisms," particularly now, as previous, strictly hierarchical ways of doing things are giving way to flatter, more dynamic teams and project organizations. As conditions change around a company, an analysis system applied to an active social network "may be able to extract a different kind of value out of the human interactions going on" than traditional management techniques, he said.

Jive, SAS, and other companies are building such analysis systems as a way to pursue social network intelligence. Another set of companies is attempting to define standards for social networks so that analysis tools might be applied across them.

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Dec
09
2011

Q: Professor Livingston, your current research looks at the emergence of information systems in developing countries and their effect on collective action. What is the link between information systems and development?

A: My take on information and development goes back to what Max Weber had to say about the relationship between the kinds of organizations and institutions that society needs to accomplish its goals and the nature of that society’s information infrastructure. Weber said that the reason for bureaucracy, the reason for large hierarchical institutions, is because information is hard to gather, hard to manage, hard to distribute. So, specialized command-and-control hierarchical institutions were created because it was difficult to collect and manage information. It was scarce and difficult to gather and manage. The transaction costs of doing so were high.

The key to understanding the point I’m making is the fact that information environments have changed since the creation of hierarchical, bureaucratic institutional structures. It has become richer, in the sense that information is now abundant and shareable on a near-global scale. We have more cell phones—5.3 billion globally at last count—and other ways of sharing information. That means the underlying rationale for hierarchical command-and-control bureaucracy has diminished.

The point of bureaucracy was the management of information. Now, that’s done over electronic networks, search engines, and filters, which means we can learn about the needs of a community, not by sending in teams of World Bank or NGO employees alone, but also by using distributive information systems like cell phones to share and gather information. Information and communication technology allows us to design development programs that are rooted in an understanding of needs as defined by the communities themselves through a sharing of information among members of the community and the outside world. Obviously, Bank and NGO expertise is important. But we can now listen to the communities themselves in systematic, meaningful ways when developing development programs. What do they want, need to live better lives?

Q: You emphasize the importance of needs as identified by the community. In this issue of Development Outreach we feature a debate on whether development should be expert driven or community driven. Why do you think that a community-based needs assessment of development problems is better than a technocratic approach?

A: An integrated approach is best. The role of the outside expert is crucial, but the outside expert can also learn from the community. Outside experts come into a situation with a lot of formal education and a lot of insight into the theories and best practices in a specialty, but they’re still outsiders to that environment. The ideal development program combines outside expertise with the local insight and knowledge that we now have access to because of information technology. Policies are then open to iterative development, to revision, to reorientation.

Q: How do emerging information systems relate to collective action?

A: First of all, what is collective action? Collective action is, as Mancur Olson and others have defined it, when two or more people work together to achieve a common goal or purpose. There are other complexities to collective action that should be discussed, but for now we can say that the way in which information technology affects collective action is by lowering transaction costs. The impediments to collective action are all of those things that involve costs in terms of the time, money, and expertise required to gain an understanding of what is needed, approaches to achieving it, who can help you achieve it, and so forth. Information technology reduces those transaction costs. In an information-rich environment, created through information technology, the transaction costs of collective action—of understanding from each other what you need to do to realize your common goal—are lowered, in some instances, to essentially zero.

My current research is focusing on unplanned urban communities, or slums, in Africa. Slums lack basic services—sanitation, clean water, health care, education—but also security. In none of these communities is there a functioning police force that is accountable and responsible. Bribery and extrajudicial killings are common. How can we use a networked information environment to create an effective and accountable police, and provide for the allocation of policing forces where they are most needed?

To do that, one must first know something about where police are most needed. In a major city like Washington or Berlin there are institutions that keep crime statistics, and information technology can be simply used for police reporting. In a place like Kibera or Mathare, slums on the edges of Nairobi, that doesn’t happen. Here we can use Geographical Information Systems (GIS or digital maps) like Ushahidi to tap into that latent capacity for communities to gather information. In the case of Kibera and Mathare, this is being done by Map Kibera and Map Mathare. In Lagos, Nigeria, a local NGO, the Cleen Foundation is leading the way in developing a mapping platform for tracking the occurrence of police who are demanding bribes. By tracking these reports one can build a database that allows you to isolate bad behavior by police at particular checkpoints, traffic circles, and police stations. What one tracks with GIS eventmapping platforms is up to the developers and the community.

Police accountability may be the key to better security. There was a recent case in Nairobi where a suspected criminal was summarily executed on a public street by three Nairobi police officers. It happened to be captured by somebody with a cell phone sitting in a car nearby. The officers were held to account for their behavior. Can we mobilize mobile telephony to create systems of accountability for police forces or security forces that are not adhering to proper procedure and policy? The idea is that all of those people with cell phones in their pockets provide a latent capacity to help organize the community. Frontline SMS or Rapid SMS or Ushahidi or other platforms can take that distributed latent capacity and tie the nodes together.

Q: From your perspective, what can international development agencies do better or do differently to promote community-driven or network-driven approaches to development?

A: This is a challenge to all hierarchical organizations. I think that the challenge for development organizations, as conventionally understood, is the same challenge faced by all kinds of institutional structures that are rooted in a pre-network era. Institutional structures are designed for a particular information environment where information is scarce, difficult to manage, difficult to maintain, difficult to distribute. So we create things like newspapers, magazines, and bureaucracies that have as their function the collection and distribution of information. As Weber said, the point of a bureaucracy is to manage information flow. That’s why we have hierarchies: we have staff offices that are based on information expertise. Technology can radically flatten these structures: if information is all of a sudden abundant and freely available, you no longer need Encyclopedia Britannica, you don’t need libraries, because what you have instead is a searchable information platform that puts information at your fingertips.

This also means that networks are corrosive to hierarchical institutions. We’ve seen this most clearly in the last six months or so as it relates to the really ossified, inefficient, closed, autocratic, hierarchical system called the Mubarak government in Egypt, or the Tunisian government, which simply crumbled under the Facebook-inspired network challenge. At a commercial level, Amazon.com is a networked information environment that is undermining the physical presence of books. We now buy “books” in digital form. So to answer your question, hierarchical organizational structures must learn to adapt to flatter more nimble networked information environments. That means looking for ways to incorporate networks into daily and long-term planning and operation functions.

Q: Do you think Egypt and Tunisia would have happened without Facebook?

A: No. People in Egypt and Tunisia would not have realized their own power. Without that networked environment, they would not have been able to communicate and to become aware of their own power as part of an extended movement. It would not have happened.

Another way of putting this is that networked information environments collapse distances—both physical and interpersonal. You and I are sitting across from one another, but we don’t know one another’s intentions on a given issue and won’t reveal those intentions unless we can share them with some safety, for example online, and say: “Yeah, I’m also really upset at the crummy condition of the metro system here in Washington. Let’s do something about it,” or whatever the case may be. So the distance between us that might be maintained in a repressive environment because of fear of police brutality, for example, can be reduced or eliminated if we can figure out a way of communicating with a degree of safety. We then become aware of our strength. We realize that we share something in common, and not only the two of us, but thousands of us, or tens of thousands of us, and then perhaps millions of us. At that moment, it doesn’t matter how much repression and brutality there is, it’s going to be met with the enormous confidence of collective intention and will.

Steven Livingston is Professor of Media and Public Affairs and International Affairs with appointments in the School of Media and Public Affairs and the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University. His research and teaching focus on media, information technology, national security and global politics. He is particularly interested in the role of information technologies and media on governance, development, accountability, and human security.

Dr. Livingston’s most recent publications include, When the Press Fails: Political Power and the News Media from Iraq to Katrina (2007), co-authored with W. Lance Bennett and Regina Lawrence) and Africa’s Evolving Infosystems: A Pathway to Security and Stability (2010), assessing the effects of the rapid growth of ICT on governance in Africa. He is writing another book on Networked Governance: Knowledge, Technology and Global Governance in the 21st Century. You can find him on Twitter, commenting on politics and technology:

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Sep
23
2011

Applied Memetics employees are integrally involved in the progress of the Global War Against Terror assessing and prioritizing whether "people of interest" and their public personalities, or whether it is their advisers or influencers who have a more profound impact on the manipulation of peaceful non-radical Islamists towards encouraging violent action.

Discrediting the source of the influence, whether it is the person, or the information and mission of the terrorist affiliation of the person, goes a long way towards distancing impressional youth and conservative Muslim populations from those radicals choosing to conduct violence against their own people and people of other cultures and points of view.

Please see the following excerpts from The Atlantic article, "10 Years Later: How We Won," written by William McCants and William Rosenau (http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/09/10-years-later-how-we-won/244684/ ) for their point of view on what has worked and what hasn't.  William McCants and William Rosenau are research analysts at CNA Strategic Studies, a non-profit research and analysis center. Both formerly served as policy advisors in the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the U.S. Department of State. They write:

Ten years into our struggle against al-Qaeda, it's time to acknowledge that the "war" is over and recognize that the United States and its international partners overreacted to the al-Qaeda threat. Terrorism, after all, is designed to elicit such overreactions. But the confluence of the recent death of bin Laden, harsh new economic realities, the democratic movements in the Middle East, and the ten-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks provide an ideal time to take stock of what it actually takes to deal with the al-Qaeda threat.

The Failure of Al-Qaeda

The immediate physical threat posed by al-Qaeda has diminished greatly over the past ten years. The elimination of Osama bin Laden -- a long-overdue counterterrorism triumph -- and the relentless dismantling of al-Qaeda's senior leadership in their Pakistani sanctuaries and redoubts are obvious but powerful signs of the enterprise's darkening prospects. The recent death of one of al-Qaeda's most capable and influential senior leaders, Abu Abd al-Rahman Atiyyatallah, in an alleged U.S. drone attack in Pakistan, will only hasten its leadership's collapse.

More important, al Qaeda has failed utterly in its efforts to achieve one of its paramount political objectives. From the 19th century through the present day, terrorists and insurgents -- from transatlantic anarchists to Fanonists of the tiers monde to Nepalese Maoists -- have spun insurrectionist fantasies of taking over. But the Salafist-jihadists' worldwide Islamic uprising, against perceived enemies of the faith, never materialized. The Muslim masses have refused to play their part in the al-Qaeda dramaturgy. The terrorism intended to generate  widespread rebellion has failed to arouse a global Muslim community. Most damningly, al-Qaeda has been irrelevant to the popular uprisings sweeping the heartland of the Muslim world.

Rethinking How We Fight Terrorism

In recognizing al-Qaeda's failures and weaknesses, we should reevaluate the political, military, economic, and other instruments the United States wields against terrorism. Three of these methods need particular scrutiny.

The first is social and economic development. It might be useful in dealing with large-scale insurgencies, but development is unlikely to address the idiosyncratic motives of the small number of people who join terrorist groups. It's true that addressing the "root causes" of terrorism sounds like a sensible, systemic course of action, but few truly agree what those causes are -- nor is there anything like a consensus on what measures are likely to prove most effective.

The second questionable tool is one used in part of a broader set of information operations: positive messaging about the United States. There are excellent reasons to pursue public diplomacy, but countering terrorism is not one of them. The young people who are vulnerable to al-Qaeda's recruitment pitches are likely to be impervious to positive messages about the United States. In addition, linking public diplomacy with counterterrorism risks alienating intended audiences, which can easily detect the fear and hidden agenda lurking behind the friendly American smile. The United States needs to dissuade people from attacking its citizens -- but those people do not need to like the United States in order to abandon violence.

The third tool to drop is the one with which we've had the least success: occupying the country from which a terrorist group is attempting to recruit. There might be good reasons to invade and occupy a country, but eliminating a terrorist group is not one of them. It only engenders new recruits for the terrorists' cause and it provides them a fertile training ground. Moreover, it plays into al-Qaeda's openly professed strategy of bleeding U.S. resources to force it to reduce its influence in the Middle East.

What Works in Counterterrorism.

What's left in the counter-terrorist's toolkit? Most of the significant advances against al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers over the last ten years have come as a consequence of intelligence gathering, good policing, spreading the awful truth about al-Qaeda, and helping other governments do these same things. These are not ancillary to counterterrorism but rather its essential components.

Violent operations against al-Qaeda have garnered most of the public's attention. But, in terms of preventing terrorist attacks, the most powerful weapon has been decidedly unglamorous and much less visible: police work informed by well-placed sources inside terrorist cells. Major plots in New York, London, Stockholm, and other key urban centers have been foiled by police, often working in unison with intelligence services. Assisting foreign police forces should be a major component of the U.S. counterterrorism repertoire -- but such aid is limited by considerable restrictions from Congress and a lack of skilled police trainers able and willing to work abroad.

Eliminating terrorist networks is not enough. They also have to be discredited among the audiences they seek to influence. Although it is true that al-Qaeda has done much to discredit itself through its doctrinal and operational excesses -- killing civilians, attacking places of worship, targeting fellows Muslims -- the U.S. and its allies have done an excellent job of magnifying those excesses. Two effective techniques have been releasing private correspondence between al-Qaeda's senior leaders, which is rarely flattering, and quietly pointing the media to evidence that al-Qaeda does not represent the aspirations of the vast majority of Muslims.

The War is Over

There will inevitably one day be another large attack on American soil and the U.S. government will inevitably overreact, That is the response terrorism is design to elicit and the United States, because its safety and isolation make terrorism feel so horrifying, is particularly susceptible to such a response. But if Washington can use this 10-year landmark to throw out the counterterrorism tools that haven't worked and to sharpen the ones that do, the negative consequences of that overreaction will be minimal. If not, the United States will have drawn the wrong lessons from the last ten years, obliging its terrorist enemies by repeating its worst mistakes.

By William McCants and William Rosenau.

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/09/10-years-later-how-we-won/244684/

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Sep
13
2011

Collective counter-action can encourage a violent response and rioting, however there are cases in which targeted audience messaging can be effective in preparing a coordinated counter-response rendering or lessening the collective action as a non-event.

Using targeted audiences such as LinkedIn groups and other forms of online forums where professional mediators and first responders can allow for a sharing of thought leadership, problem-solving, and in communicating a threat of collective action, this assists in the deflection and degeneration of violent protest.

The "Day of Rage," a wildly controversial day for rioting initiated by extremist members of  a religious organization, was chosen as an action springboard for the infamous Occupy Wall Street movement. The early adoption of communication within online message boards for law enforcement and military responders, as well as comments made weeks in advance of the chosen September date on targeted counterterrorism and homeland security groups on LinkedIn were helpful in encouraging a largely peaceful movement distanced from the violent themes and actions promoted by the organizers of the Day of Rage.

Noam Cohen writes the following in his article entitled, "In times of unrest, social media can be a distraction," http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/29/business/media/in-times-of-unrest-social-networks-can-be-a-distraction.html?_r=3 :

The mass media, including interactive social-networking tools, make you passive, can sap your initiative, leave you content to watch the spectacle of life from your couch or smartphone. Apparently even during a revolution.

That is the provocative thesis of a new paper by Navid Hassanpour, a political science graduate student at Yale, titled“Media Disruption Exacerbates Revolutionary Unrest.”

Using complex calculations and vectors representing decision-making by potential protesters, Mr. Hassanpour, who already has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Stanford, studied the recent uprising in Egypt.

His question was, how smart was the decision by the government of President Hosni Mubarak to completelyshut down the Internet and cellphone service on Jan. 28, in the middle of the crucial protests in Tahrir Square?

His conclusion was, not so smart, but not for the reasons you might think. “Full connectivity in a social network sometimes can hinder collective action,” he writes.

To put it another way, all the Twitter posting, texting and Facebook wall-posting is great for organizing and spreading a message of protest, but it can also spread a message of caution, delay, confusion or, I don’t have time for all this politics, did you see what Lady Gaga is wearing?

It is a conclusion that counters the widely held belief that the social media helped spur the protests. Mr. Hassanpour used press accounts of outbreaks of unrest in Egypt to show that after Jan. 28, the protests became more spread around Cairo and the country. There were not necessarily more protesters, but the movement spread to more parts of the population.

By NOAM COHEN

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/29/business/media/in-times-of-unrest-social-networks-can-be-a-distraction.html?_r=3


 

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Sep
06
2011