Tuesday, November 18, 2014

CyberWar: Anonymous vs. the Ku Klux Klan

Over the weekend, a cyberwar ensued between two highly controversial groups - Anonymous and the Ku Klux Klan.  As ZDNet reports, at issue was the upcoming grand jury verdict in the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, MO.  Here is the sequence of what went down...

A Klan group named the Traditionalist American Knights of the KKK distributed flyers last week threatening the use of "lethal force" against the protesters in Ferguson.  In response, members of the hacktivist group Anonymous "skirmished" with the KKK on Twitter, at which point, after being "mocked and threatened", Anonymous launched a full-blown cyberwar campaign called #OpKKK and ultimately seized control of the Klan's main Twitter account, @KuKluxKlanUSA.

Anonymous then issued this statement explaining how the Klan is a terrorist group with blood on their hands and, as a result, the Klan "no longer has the right to express their racist, bigoted opinions".

But the story's not finished.  The Klan responded by using their other primary Twitter account, @KLANonymous, to post this message...

Anonymous then quickly seized control of that account as well.

Meanwhile, Anonymous has also been launching Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks on much of the Klan's online presence.  They've shut down websites like IKKK.com and TraditionalistAmericanKnights.com as well as the Klan's largest discussion board, Stormfront.

Now Anonymous has turned its focus towards identifying Klan members with its #HoodsOff campaign.  They are doing this by looking at the Direct Messages sent over time to the Klan's seized Twitter accounts, although Anonymous explicitly acknowledges that they are still debating to what extent people's identities should be made public, considering that they "are not completely sure how much of a connection many of the people actually have to the KKK" and want to make sure they are outing the right people.

That about sums it up.  For now.

First of all, is it somewhat surprising to anyone else that officially recognized active hate groups and domestic terrorist organizations have non-secretive Twitter accounts?  Call me naive, but wouldn't a Twitter account called @AlQaeda or a website named "www.alqaeda.com" be shut down by homeland security or law enforcement officials immediately?  How does Twitter even allow something called @KuKluxKlanUSA to exist?  There's no technical reason which would make removal difficult; it's just a policy decision.

Second, let us also not forget that Anonymous is considered by many to be a criminal, even cyberterrorist, organization as well, having previously launched attacks against U.S. government agencies, police departments, and even launched anti-Israel cyberattacks on Holocaust Remembrance Day.  So before Anonymous is applauded too strongly for their efforts against the KKK, let's just keep in mind that they're not exactly heroes by any stretch of the imagination.

Third, it should be observed that Anonymous is getting better at what they do.  The speed at which they managed to seize control of the Klan's Twitter accounts and launch effective DDoS attacks that shut down numerous websites and discussion boards was impressive, even by their own standards.  It makes their calling card, "You should have expected us", even that much more frightening.

No one's going to have, nor should have, any sympathy for the Ku Klux Klan, and in that sense this is a story with a positive outcome.  With that said, in the larger scheme of things, it remains difficult for other hacktivists to sympathize with Anonymous either because their problem is that they pursue their stated goal of freedom basically through intimidation.  If you cross them, they will attack you.  This blog has been flamed by Anonymous before, and to be honest, it does indeed make one hesitate from writing about them further.  And that's the problem.  Anonymous creates a very real chilling effect on the very speech they claim to protect.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Big Data and Municipal Governments...

Data analytics, or "Big Data", is already widely used by businesses to find correlations that help to make predictions - predictions about consumer behavior, predictions about value-chains and supply-chains, etc.  By doing so, Big Data greatly improves organizational efficiency and forecasting, spotting trends as they emerge or even before they emerge.

So why not put Big Data to use in order to improve the workings of government?

In their book titled, "The Responsive City: Engaging Communities Through Data-Smart Governance", Stephen Goldsmith and Susan Crawford explore how municipal governments, in particular, can use Big Data effectively to radically transform how local governments serve its citizens.  As summarized by the Harvard Gazette:

A “responsive” city is one that doesn’t just make ordinary transactions like paying a parking ticket easier, but that uses the information generated by its interactions with residents to better understand and predict the needs of neighborhoods, to measure the effectiveness of city agencies and workers, to identify waste and fraud, to increase transparency, and, most importantly, to solve problems.

The requirements for municipal governments wanting to adopt a Big Data strategy include, first, building a high-speed fiber network, and second, that they should publish their collected data sets publicly and with full transparency. The idea, says Goldsmith, is to allow employees to see other agencies, allow residents to hold their city hall responsible, but also to provide data that can lead to breakthroughs and solutions from both inside and outside government.

Surely, this is, indeed, a potential boon for municipal governments.  However, the potential downside to governments relying on Big Data, it must be reiterated, is that Big Data has often been criticized for enabling discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc.  Alistair Croll famously declared it this generation's Civil Rights issue.

In fact, a recent report by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights highlighted this danger of institutionalizing discrimination, and even endorsed a document titled, "Civil Rights Principles for the Era of Big Data".  However, the group's recommendations include such lofty goals as "an end to high-tech profiling" and "greater individual control over personal information", both of which seem unlikely.  And by "unlikely", we mean there's no chance it's ever going to happen.

The take here is that the era of Big Data for governments is coming, like it or not.