Tag: China

You should not believe that the night sky is BLU

Sunday, 4 December, 2016 0 Comments

In June last year, the South Florida Business Journal noted that Samuel Ohev-Zion, CEO of “rapidly growing mobile firm” BLU Products, had paid $11 million for a mansion in Golden Beach, just north of Miami Beach. Because it’s one of the few places in Miami-Dade County where people can buy mansions directly on the ocean, Golden Beach is appropriately named. The seller was Sergey A. Solonin, and he was described as CEO and president of Cyprus-based Qiwi Plc, an international online payments firm, and chairman of the Investment Banking Group Russian Investment Club.

BLU Clearly there’s a lot of money in the “rapidly growing mobile” business, especially if one makes budget Android phones as Samuel Ohev-Zion does.

But “budget” isn’t always inexpensive or a synonym for integrity. Fast forward to now and Blu says it’s replacing the Chinese software that stole user data with Google-approved software. The scandal, which was unveiled two weeks ago by security firm Kryptowire, involved a firmware-updating app that monitored user communications and sent back text messages to a keyword-searchable archive on a Chinese server. Shanghai Adups Technology Co., Ltd, the Chinese app maker, claims its data collection tool was not designed for US phones, and that the data has since been deleted. And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything.

Reportedly, a seemingly contrite Sammy Ohev-Zion, now says BLU will “not install third-party applications where we don’t have the source code and don’t understand the behavior.” And if you believe that, you’ll believe everything.


The war of the Mirai and XiongMai

Saturday, 22 October, 2016 0 Comments

It sounds like something from Star Trek: The war of the Mirai and the XiongMai. But it’s neither Hollywood nor science fiction. It’s real. Yesterday, users of Twitter, Amazon, Tumblr, Reddit, Spotify and Netflix experienced problems because Dyn, an internet infrastructure company that provides critical services to these sites, sustained a massive, malicious attack. Spearheading it was Mirai, malware that had hijacked digital video recorders and cameras made by XiongMai Technologies, a Chinese hi-tech company. Mirai trawls the web for cheap devices protected by just their factory-default usernames and passwords and then conscripts them for attacks that launch wave upon wave of junk traffic at targets until they can no longer serve legitimate users.

Only a week ago, US-CERT, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, issued a warning titled “Heightened DDoS Threat Posed by Mirai and Other Botnets.” It pointed the finger at the vulnerability of the Internet of Things (IoT), “an emerging network of devices (e.g., printers, routers, video cameras, smart TVs) that connect to one another via the Internet, often automatically sending and receiving data.” According to US-CERT, “IoT devices have been used to create large-scale botnets — networks of devices infected with self-propagating malware — that can execute crippling distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. IoT devices are particularly susceptible to malware, so protecting these devices and connected hardware is critical to protect systems and networks.”

The solution? Security expert Brian Krebs is calling for a major, global effort to recall and remove vulnerable systems from the internet. “In my humble opinion, this global cleanup effort should be funded mainly by the companies that are dumping these cheap, poorly-secured hardware devices onto the market in an apparent bid to own the market. Well, they should be made to own the cleanup efforts as well.”

Malware  code


Language guilt

Thursday, 29 September, 2016 0 Comments

The alleged crimes of the West are many and hardly a day goes by without the prosecutors discovering new examples of their oppression at the hands of Goethe and Emily Brontë, which are then paraded with the “-ism” suffix. The ensuing press release from the aggrieved will contain all the usual Stalinist/Maoist clichés: “The hegemonic power of capitalism propagates an increasing gravitation to English…”

Yes, English.

Why English? Confronting the Hydra Why English? Confronting the Hydra is a collection of essays edited by a group of remorseful scholars and English teachers, which begins with an abject apologia: “There is, indeed, huge irony in the fact this collection is written in English and published in the United Kingdom. Such is the power of the global publishing industry and the pervasiveness of English-language hegemony that this critique needs to emanate from within its very realm.”

Ah, yes, hegemony. A true trigger word. Just like “Orwellian” and “imperialism”. Talking of both, the publisher’s site has a glowing review of Why English? Confronting the Hydra by Dr. B. Kumaravadivelu, a member of the Department of Linguistics and Language Development at San José State University in California. Snippet:

“The contributors to this volume expose the Orwellian overtones that mask the linguistic imperialism that is being peddled in terms of growth, development, partnership, volunteerism, and aid. The many examples of innovation and success stories they offer give hope that resistance is not futile after all.”

This is the same Dr. B. Kumaravadivelu who, in June 2012, delivered the plenary talk at the 4th International Symposium on Teaching Chinese as a Second Language for Young Scholars at Peking University in Beijing. The title? “Global Mandarin: Promoting Chinese language and culture in an age of globalization.” Did he warn the eager cadres about the Orwellian overtones that mask Chinese linguistic imperialism now being peddled in terms of growth, development, partnership, volunteerism, and aid? Monosyllabic answers on a postcard, please.


Cyberwar: Moscow? Beijing? Pyongyang?

Friday, 16 September, 2016 0 Comments

“Over the past year or two, someone has been probing the defenses of the companies that run critical pieces of the Internet. These probes take the form of precisely calibrated attacks designed to determine exactly how well these companies can defend themselves, and what would be required to take them down.” Says who? Says the Chief Technology Officer of Resilient, an IBM company that “empowers cyber security teams to transform their security posture.”

That CTO is none other than Bruce Schneier, and when he talks, people listen. When he issues a warning, people should act. In his blog post Someone Is Learning How to Take Down the Internet, Schneier echoes the conflict of a previous era: “It feels like a nation’s military cybercommand trying to calibrate its weaponry in the case of cyberwar. It reminds me of the US’s Cold War program of flying high-altitude planes over the Soviet Union to force their air-defense systems to turn on, to map their capabilities.”

Fancy Bear But this is not the work of a data fundamentalist like Julian Assange or a data thief such as Fancy Bear, Schneier believes. To him, it feels like a large nation state is at work. “China or Russia would be my first guesses,” he says, although he accepts that the identity of the country of origin for the attacks now being mounted could be disguised.

All this reminds the avid reader of espionage thrillers of the time when a rogue Russian spy warned an MI5 agent of a plot to hack into a top-secret US-UK military satellite system. Tomorrow, here, we follow Liz Carlyle to Geneva as she tracks the moles.


The axis of cyber evil

Thursday, 15 September, 2016 0 Comments

On Monday, Ciaran Martin, the Director-General Cyber at GCHQ, outlined the British approach to cyber security at the Billington Cyber Security Summit in Washington DC. Very topically, he addressed email. Snippet:

“We need to make sure UK Government email is trusted, so we need to stop people spoofing our .gov.uk domain. To do that we’ve set a DMARC policy as a trial to stop emails from the wrong IP sets, or with the wrong key, from being delivered purporting to come from .gov.uk. Well they do get delivered, but they get delivered to us, not the recipient — usually members of the public. And when we first trialled it, whoever was sending 58,000 malicious emails per day from the delightfully named [email protected] isn’t doing it anymore.”

In an increasingly digitized economy, security is a critical currency. When Colin Powell wakes up and finds his hacked emails on the front pages of global media outlets, overall confidence in cyber security is greatly diminished and while his comments on Clinton and Trump might make for great merriment, we should condemn these intrusions because the cyber bell may toll for us one day, too. Just as it has done for the tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams, the gymnast Simone Biles, and the Tour de France winning cyclists Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins. Because when Ciaran Martin was speaking, the World Anti-Doping Agency was confirming that a Russian cyber espionage group known as Fancy Bear had accessed its Anti-Doping Administration and Management System database. The stolen information is now being broadcast 24/7.

People, businesses and institutions will be reluctant to share information in a digital environment they feel is fundamentally unsafe, and Ciaran Martin accepted this when he said that the internet may have transformed the way we live, “but it hasn’t completely changed our nature fostered over thousands of years. And nor are the groups who pose us harm particularly new.” They are stealing secrets, stealing money, stealing intellectual property, and they are pumping out propaganda that’s crafted to confuse and intimidate. Without naming Russia, China and North Korea specifically, he said:

We’ve got hostile states. Some of them are great powers, using cyber attacks to spy, gain major commercial and economic advantage or to pre-position for destructive attack. Others are smaller states, looking to exploit the relatively immature rules of the road in cyberspace to tweak the nose of those they see as bigger powers in a way they would and could never contemplate by traditional military means.”

Tomorrow, here, we’ll name the most hostile of these states.


Chinese parking robot meets commenting bot

Monday, 30 May, 2016 0 Comments

With typical modesty, The People’s Daily trumpets that “China’s most fantastic parking robot amazes the world.” And, indeed, this automated guided vehicle (AGV) robot, which uses laser navigation, delivers very impressive results.

The technology was developed by Guangzhou-based Yee Fung Automation Technology Co, which has a state-sponsored English-language web presence that’s adorned with the Golden Gate Bridge and cryptic English: “in order to visit customer for regularly and supply to maintain for customer by freely, We set up net of service for all of city in china with staff of parmanent.” Pointing that out, however, is sure to anger “seethru”, a Party bot, who added this comment to The People’s Daily article:

“We are starting to read more and more innovations and inventions coming out of China which should kill the myth perpetuated by ignorant and racist Westerners that Chinese people are incapable of original thought and creativity.”

Many informed and cosmopolitan Westerners are convinced that Chinese people are capable of original thought and creativity, but they will keep pointing to awkward facts about the political scientists and law experts fleeing to America as Beijing’s grip on freedoms in China intensifies under President Xi Jinping.


Seven questions with Parag Khanna

Friday, 13 May, 2016 1 Comment

After five days of posting about CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization, it’s time to talk to the author, Parag Khanna, about his book. Here goes!

1. Eamonn Fitzgerald: What inspired you to write Connectography?

Parag Khanna: My love of geography and travel, and my obsession with geopolitics going back to the fall of the Berlin Wall and my introductory class in Geopolitics taken 20 years ago at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. All of the many ideas that had not yet found expression in The Second World and How to Run the World needed to be contained and also wrapped in a meta-theory that also encompassed these previous books. I also wanted to update these with new insights as these countries evolve, and include more recent travels.

2. Eamonn Fitzgerald: For writers, geography remains a very popular science for interpreting our world. Four years ago, Robert Kaplan’s The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate described how countries’ histories have been shaped by their relationships with water and with land. Last year, Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography explained how a nation’s geography affects its internal fortunes and international strategies. Is that kind of terrain-based approach outdated? Are you saying in Connectography that geography is no longer destiny?

Parag Khanna: Not at all. Robert Kaplan is a dear friend and mentor and inspiration for me. Connectivity doesn’t invalidate geography but builds on it. Connectivity is how we make the most of our geography. Some places turn their geography into an advantage — for example Singapore and Dubai — while others don’t. China is surrounded by 14 countries but now it is using connectivity across terrain to extend its geopolitical influence in non-military ways. Connectivity is now a deep part of our relationship with geography, and that is what this book explores.

3. Eamonn Fitzgerald: One of the hottest new words coined during the last decade was “crowdsourcing,” which means getting people to contribute to a project via a website where they can make contributions. Why should “connectography” be part of our vocabulary a decade from now?

Parag Khanna: Connectography should be part of our vocabulary because geography alone assumes that geography is an unchangeable force. However, we now use topographical engineering to modify our geography, and that tells us a great deal about the fate of human civilization than geography alone.

Parag Khanna

4. Eamonn Fitzgerald: Responding to a journalist who asked what is most likely to blow a government off course, the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan reputedly said, “Events, dear boy, events.” Did you encounter any unexpected events when writing Connectography that forced you to rethink a chapter or change a section?

Parag Khanna: Great question. In fact, I only found events that reinforce my conclusions. During the time of writing, Russia invaded Ukraine, but the gas pipelines are the really important long-term contest, and it is building a bridge to Crimea. In other words: Infrastructure is a key tool and battlefield. China began dredging sand to build up South China Sea islands — yet more topographical engineering. Every day I see more examples of the thesis coming to life.

5. Eamonn Fitzgerald: What’s the most surprising response (positive or negative) you’ve had so far about the book?

Parag Khanna: I’m so pleased with people’s appreciation of the maps. It has been a global outpouring of excitement and admiration for the maps made by two truly amazing teams of digital cartographers whom I worked with at Harvard University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I’m so gratified that their intense work has received such widespread recognition.

6. Eamonn Fitzgerald: Can you sum up the three key points you’d like the reader to take away from reading Connectography?

Parag Khanna: Rather then enumerate takeaways, I simply want readers to gain an appreciation for the categories of connectivity (transportation, energy and communications) that we have ourselves built and have such a profound impact on our lives. This premise plays out in so many ways in the book (economics, climate change, geopolitics, urbanization) that I hope readers will learn about many issues they are not personally familiar with.

7. Eamonn Fitzgerald: Connectography has been published and you’re busy right now promoting it, but what’s next for Parag Khanna?

Parag Khanna: That’s a great question. This was a trilogy, and I don’t know the word for a series of 4, so I will not write another one. I intend for this to have a long shelf life, so we shall see!

Our thanks to Parag Khanna for taking the time to answer these questions. CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization is a useful guide to globalization and its impact on trade, communication and culture. “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!” says Dr. Emmett Brown in Back to the Future, but where we’re going, we do need maps and Parag Khanna is pointing us in the right direction.


Those robot slackers

Friday, 29 April, 2016 1 Comment

The state-run China Daily, which has the largest print circulation of any English-language newspaper in the People’s Republic, has come up with one of the great headlines from the front-lines of the Fourth Industrial Revolution: “Robots must do more than just playing sports.” They’re slacking already!

What’s intriguing is that the story, however, is that it contains nothing to support the demand asserted in the headline. “Premier Li Keqiang visited a town in Chengdu, capital of Southwest China’s Sichuan province, on Monday, during which he played badminton with a robot,” is how it begins, and the final paragraph is a classic example of socialist-realist reporting:

“Early in 2011, Zhejiang University developed Wu and Kong, two special sporting droids, which could play table tennis with each other and with human players. In that sport, the robots need to recognize the ball more precisely than in playing badminton. Instead of a technological breakthrough, the droid that plays badminton in Chengdu can be better called a good, practical model that uses these technologies.”

For those interested in how robotics and artificial intelligence are viewed in Beijing, China Daily is required reading. It informs us that on Tuesday President Xi Jinping visited the Institute of Advanced Technology in University of Science and Technology of China in Heifei, and was greeted by a pair of human-like robots developed by the institute. “The two life-like robots named ‘Xiao Man’ and ‘Jia Jia’ interacted with Xi when he approached them during the inspection,” we learn. “‘Hello Mr. President. I am Xiao Man. We have been looking forward to your visit,'” Xiao Man said. “‘I’m very happy to see you, dear President, I wish you happiness every day,'” said Jia Jia, who has been dubbed ‘robot goddess’ for her good-looks.”

This is all to the good, but they must do more than just playing sports.

Jia Jia


AlphaGo wins again

Thursday, 10 March, 2016 0 Comments

Hacker News: “It’s both exciting and eerie. It’s like another intelligent species opening up a new way of looking at the world (at least for this very specific domain). and much to our surprise, it’s a new way that’s more powerful than ours.” The second round of the man vs. machine Go game between the South Korean champion Lee Sedol and AlphaGo amazed even the most enthusiastic artificial intelligence (AI) enthusiasts. “Hard for us to believe. AlphaGo played some beautiful creative moves in this game,” tweeted Demis Hassabis, founder and CEO of Deep Mind, which is now part of Google. After four hours, Lee Sedol conceded, much to the dismay of those who had assumed Go is too complicated to be played expertly by a computer. AI is getting better, faster.

Hacker News: “When I was learning to play Go as a teenager in China, I followed a fairly standard, classical learning path. First I learned the rules, then progressively I learn the more abstract theories and tactics. Many of these theories, as I see them now, draw analogies from the physical world, and are used as tools to hide the underlying complexity (chunking), and enable the players to think at a higher level.

For example, we’re taught of considering connected stones as one unit, and give this one unit attributes like dead, alive, strong, weak, projecting influence in the surrounding areas. In other words, much like a standalone army unit.

These abstractions all made a lot of sense, and feels natural, and certainly helps game play — no player can consider the dozens (sometimes over 100) stones all as individuals and come up with a coherent game play. Chunking is such a natural and useful way of thinking.

But watching AlphaGo, I am not sure that’s how it thinks of the game. Maybe it simply doesn’t do chunking at all, or maybe it does chunking its own way, not influenced by the physical world as we humans invariably do. AlphaGo’s moves are sometimes strange, and couldn’t be explained by the way humans chunk the game.
It’s both exciting and eerie. It’s like another intelligent species opening up a new way of looking at the world (at least for this very specific domain). and much to our surprise, it’s a new way that’s more powerful than ours.”

Background: With more variations than chess, Go is a strategic game that can be played only by pairs of players. It originated in China in the 4th century BC and is said to foster discipline and concentration. It is especially popular in Korean and Japan, where an estimated 10 million Go players take part in competitions.


Apple, the FBI, terror and privacy

Tuesday, 23 February, 2016 0 Comments

“The San Bernardino litigation isn’t about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message. It is about the victims and justice. Fourteen people were slaughtered and many more had their lives and bodies ruined. We owe them a thorough and professional investigation under law. That’s what this is.” So writes James Comey, the Director of the FBI, in a short opinion piece published in Lawfare.

Apple rebutted with an FAQ that addresses a variant of the “one-phone/one-time” question many people are asking: “Could Apple build this operating system just once, for this iPhone, and never use it again?” The answer:

“Law enforcement agents around the country have already said they have hundreds of iPhones they want Apple to unlock if the FBI wins this case. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks. Of course, Apple would do our best to protect that key, but in a world where all of our data is under constant threat, it would be relentlessly attacked by hackers and cybercriminals. As recent attacks on the IRS systems and countless other data breaches have shown, no one is immune to cyberattacks.”

Most Americans, however, don’t see it like that. They want to see this iPhone unlocked and their sympathy lies with the victims of the terrorists and not with Apple or those who are arguing the privacy case.

And this brings us to the bigger picture. As regular Rainy Day readers know, digital technology is expanding dramatically and the much-heralded Internet of Things (IoT) is on the way to making human-machine connectivity ubiquitous. Soon, every new home and apartment that’s built will come with embedded sensors, Bluetooth-enabled door locks and motion-activated security cameras. Family members will use their smartphones to manage domestic devices and appliances remotely; autonomous cars will be filled with digital technology, while wearable tech such as health trackers, augmented glasses and smart watches will record user activity. All of this will have a huge impact on privacy because these technologies could allow private and public agencies to monitor movement and interaction. That Samsung TV might be listening to family discussions, after all. Do people want governments, technology firms and insurance companies to have unlimited access to their homes, cars and personal life?

Seen from this perspective, the FBI is not just requesting a “back-door” into an iPhone; it’s establishing a precedent to capture and analyse a person’s data stream, regardless of the source. If the US concedes the human right to personal privacy, goes the argument, other nations will follow and Russia and China will use “security” to justify their authoritarian regimes. And the terrorists? They’ll continue to be early adopters, using the latest technologies to stay ahead of the law.

This just in: Bill Gates Is Backing the FBI in Its Case Against Apple


Meanwhile, in China

Wednesday, 8 July, 2015 0 Comments

The world is worried about Greece becoming a Cuba on the Med, with ouzo instead of rum and olives in place of bananas, but there’s an even bigger problem on the horizon: China. The rout in Shanghai is far more troubling than the drama in Athens. Consider:

“A stock market crash there has seen $3.2 trillion wiped from the value of Chinese shares in just three weeks, triggering an emergency response from the government and warnings of ‘monstrous’ public disorder. . . . In an extraordinary move, the People’s Bank of China has begun lending money to investors to buy shares in the flailing market.”

That’s from a report filed Down Under yesterday titled Chinese chaos worse than Greece. In an echo of 1929, the writer notes: “Underscoring growing jitters amid the three-week sell-off, police in Beijing detained a man on Sunday for allegedly spreading a rumour online that a person jumped to their death in the city’s financial district due to China’s precarious stock markets.”

Today, those “precarious stock markets” have moved into the danger zone and the air is filled with talk of China’s “Black Wednesday”. The Sydney Morning Herald has a rolling blog on the situation titled, rather worryingly, China panic grows. Snippets:

“Losses on the ASX have accelerated again on the early slump in Shanghai, and the Aussie dollar just hit its next six-year low, showing that the Chinese turmoil is starting to affect local investor sentiment.”

“China’s securities regulator says “panic sentiment” has set in mainland sharemarkets, contributing to an ‘irrational’ sell-off that has defied the government’s urgent attempts to stem the market freefall.”

“I’ve never seen this kind of slump before. I don’t think anyone has. Liquidity is totally depleted,” said Du Changchun, an analyst at Northeast Securities.”

Update: The SMH blog is now titled “China panic spreads”. It’s a “developing story”.