Weekly Axis Of Easy #157
In this issue:
- Tik Tok banned, sold, unsold, unbanned, rebanned or something
- Four Hong Kong youths arrested for online postings under new security law
- Surprise! Youtube censorship actually expanded reach of California doctors’ video
- The definitive database of canceled people
- How Chinese spies use LinkedIn to target assets
- The battle against encryption in the USA
- As COVID-19 drives businesses to the cloud, cybercrime follows
- AxisOfEasy Salon #15: Toxic Tech Platforms and Disposable Social Media Stars
I was offline most of the long weekend, and every time I checked back online, the situation with Tik-Tok had changed dramatically.
Starting Friday night I saw a report that Trump would issue an executive order banning the Chinese social media sensation via executive order as early as Saturday. Then as Saturday hit, it looked like Bytedance would grudgingly agree to sell Tik-Tok to Microsoft.
As I write this tonight (Sunday night, Aug 2) it looks like Microsoft will try to get the deal back on the rails.
If you’re wondering exactly what the privacy ramifications of Tik-Tok are, see this post via Protonmail’s Richie Koch, while Jesse Hirsh continued with his fixation on what he sees as an oddly compelling platform here.
The new Chinese security laws imposed on Hong Kong look to be taken seriously by police as four youths there have just been arrested due to their posts on social media which advocated for secession from China.
Four students, three males, one female, ranging in age from 16 to 21 were arrested for announcing on social media that they were setting up an organization dedicated to the cause of Hong Kong independence.
It’s unclear which organization they belonged to or which social media platform they were posting to. The HK Studentlocalism group announced on Facebook that it would disband ahead of the new security law which was introduced one month ago. While the identities of the four arrested was not released, the group said four of its members had been arrested on secession charges.
Back in April, California doctors Dan Erickson and Artin Massahi held a press conference challenging the wisdom of maintaining the Coronavirus lockdowns (a measure both doctors agreed was prudent to enact initially). They warned that as the lockdowns were maintained, the risk of non-Covid damage such as mental illness, domestic violence and even suicide would take a human toll that may very well exceed that done by the virus itself. Despite subsequent data and news reports that indicated they may have been on to something.
Nevertheless, the doctors were widely reviled for their pronouncements and the video of their press conference, which quickly went viral with millions of views, was rapidly pulled down from Youtube and banned from most tech platforms. Facebook canceled their clinic’s page.
Dr Erickson told ReclaimTheNet that the deplatforming actually helped the video spread even more:
“When we did our initial press conference it went to about 5 million and then they’d had enough, so they pulled it down and it went to Bitchute…. But it got shared so many times they were having trouble because people had recorded it on all kinds of devices and were re-sharing…I almost think that the censorship caused an increased spread, because all different countries, heads of state were calling, wondering why we were taken down, and very interested in the topic at that point.”
As it turns out, it seems like when there is concerted effort to deplatform somebody’s opinion on something like this, it’s almost as if the controversy induces people to seek out the banned material even more, thus causing it to spread even faster. This also supports an assertion I made in my book, which you can download for free here that deplatforming doesn’t work anyway.
If you’re curious what all the hullabaloo was about and deign to presume that you have the personal agency to form your own opinion about their assertions, we reposted the video to the AxisOfEasy website when it came out.
I came across a database that keeps track of people who have been “canceled”, defined as those who have lost something valuable, such as a position or a job, and thus have their future options limited owing to the stigma of said cancellation, or have been hurt financially through business loss or boycott, for what the database moderators call “reasonable expression”. While the moderators admit that deciding what constitutes “reasonable” is a subjective call, their “About” page makes a pretty good job circumscribing the boundaries and the entries in the database itself seem consistent with those terms.
This BBC exposé relates the story of Jun Wei Yeo, a Singaporean PHD student specializing in Chinese foreign policy. He was approached by persons after delivering a talk and was told they worked for Chinese “think tanks” and wanted to keep in touch with him. As the relationship developed he realized they were, in fact, agents of Chinese Intelligence, but he kept in touch after all. They eventually nurtured him to the point where he was approaching American targets, via LinkedIn, using a fictional consulting company as cover, and luring said targets into providing “scuttlebutt” and sundry information, but was tasked by his handlers to target information about “the US Department of Commerce, artificial intelligence and the Sino-US trade war”
The activities went on for five years, and then Yeo was eventually charged by US authorities and pled guilty to being “an illegal agent of a foreign power” and faces 10 years imprisonment.
We reported in AxisOfEasy 152 how the Lawful Access to Information Act would essentially make back doors into encryption products mandatory in the USA. There is also the EARN IT Act, which looks to remove CDA Section 230 immunities from tech platforms (which indemnifies them against user generated content) and would make them subject to an as-yet-to-be-determined set of best practices governing content.
Threatpost did an interview with encryption expert Rianna Pfefferkorn, who believes these initiatives “pose dire threats to cybersecurity and privacy.” Pfefferkorn is associate director of Surveillance and Cybersecurity at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society who makes the case that this amounts to a “full-frontal nuclear assault on encryption in the United States.”
With more of the business world moving toward remote work, and thus the cloud, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Dark Reading outlines how the cyber criminals are not far behind. Crooks have focused on three main silos of activity: data theft, crypto-mining, and ransomware.
The most common way to penetrate operations is through remote exploitation of cloud applications. Next up are server misconfigurations, where companies through neglect or oversight leave data open to being siphoned off. (This is where people like Bob Dianchenko hopefully find and notify these data troves first.)
And of course, there is ransomware, which we see all the time, and crypto-mining, where hackers install illicit mining software on compromised machines and use them to mine cryptocurrency on their electricity and their dime.
The last AxisOfEasy salon was supposed to be the Geopolitics of Tik-Tok episode, but we ended up talking about other things such as how tech platforms contribute to rapid polarization which breaks down civil discourse, and the ephemeral nature of social media stardom. It’s possibly a good thing we never got to the geopolitics of Tik-Tok part, because the entire episode would probably have become obsolete once that riotous weekend of Tik-Tok drama hit.