Cyberwar: can treaties avert an arms race

June 27th, 2009

Should the nations of the world work toward a treaty banning or at least limiting cyberwars? If we don’t, might we fall into an arms race that could be bad for everyone? Would A war in cyberspace be less dangerous for people than traditional wars? Or maybe worse?

John Markoff and Andrew Kramer have an interesting article, U.S. and Russia Differ on a Treaty for Cyberspace in Sunday’s New York Times.

“The United States and Russia are locked in a fundamental dispute over how to counter the growing threat of cyberwar attacks that could wreak havoc on computer systems and the Internet. Both nations agree that cyberspace is an emerging battleground. … But there the agreement ends. Russia favors an international treaty along the lines of those negotiated for chemical weapons and has pushed for that approach at a series of meetings this year and in public statements by a high-ranking official.
    The United States argues that a treaty is unnecessary. It instead advocates improved cooperation among international law enforcement groups. If these groups cooperate to make cyberspace more secure against criminal intrusions, their work will also make cyberspace more secure against military campaigns, American officials say. “We really believe it’s defense, defense, defense,” said the State Department official, who asked not to be identified because authorization had not been given to speak on the record. “They want to constrain offense. We needed to be able to criminalize these horrible 50,000 attacks we were getting a day.”

Russia has some specific proposals that it would like to have considered. But there are complications that arise due to cybercrime and Internet censorship.

“In a speech on March 18, Vladislav P. Sherstyuk, a deputy secretary of the Russian Security Council, a powerful body advising the president on national security, laid out what he described as Russia’s bedrock positions on disarmament in cyberspace. Russia’s proposed treaty would ban a country from secretly embedding malicious codes or circuitry that could be later activated from afar in the event of war. Other Russian proposals include the application of humanitarian laws banning attacks on noncombatants and a ban on deception in operations in cyberspace — an attempt to deal with the challenge of anonymous attacks.

But American officials are particularly resistant to agreements that would allow governments to censor the Internet, saying they would provide cover for totalitarian regimes. These officials also worry that a treaty would be ineffective because it can be almost impossible to determine if an Internet attack originated from a government, a hacker loyal to that government, or a rogue acting independently.”

The article makes the interesting revelation that this is not the first time that cyberspace arms control have been discussed between the US and Russia.

“In 1996, at the dawn of commercial cyberspace, American and Russian military delegations met secretly in Moscow to discuss the subject. The American delegation was led by an academic military strategist, and the Russian delegation by a four-star admiral. No agreement emerged from the meeting, which has not previously been reported. Later, the Russian government repeatedly introduced resolutions calling for cyberspace disarmament treaties before the United Nations. The United States consistently opposed the idea.

John Arquilla, an expert in military strategy at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., who led the American delegation at the 1996 talks, said he had received almost no interest from within the American military after those initial meetings. “It was a great opportunity lost,” he said.

UK discloses cyber attack capability

June 27th, 2009

This week the BBC had a story about the UK’s cyber security programs, UK ‘has cyber attack capability’, with this video interview with Gordon Brown.

The article leads with this surprising discussion of the UK’s offensive capabilities.

“The UK has the ability to launch cyber attacks but does not use it for industrial espionage like some other countries, minister Lord West has said. He refused to be drawn on whether it was used for military purposes.

He told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme the UK faced coordinated Huber attacks “on a regular basis” from other countries including Russia and China. And he confirmed that the British government had approached the Russian and Chinese governments to ask them to stop the attacks. “We have had a dialogue with them in the past and I wouldn’t want to go into what goes on in terms of debate at the moment,” he told the BBC.

Pressed on whether Britain used cyber attacks itself, he said: “We do not go and attack other nations to try and find from them their industrial secrets.” But he added: “I think it would be very silly of any nation not to have an ability to use cyber space for the safety and security of its nation.” Pressed further on Britain’s cyber warfare capabilities, he said: “We have an ability to do things and we have got very good and very talented people who have worked on this.”

The article also quotes Lord West, the UK’s first cyber security minister, as saying that they had recruited “a team of former hackers for its new Cyber Security Operations Centre” at GCHQ.

“They had not employed any “ultra, ultra criminals” but needed the expertise of former “naughty boys”, he added. “You need youngsters who are deep into this stuff… If they have been slightly naughty boys, very often they really enjoy stopping other naughty boys,” he said.

CFP: JWS special issue on Semantic Web and Social Media

June 27th, 2009
important dates
abstracts 21 Sept 09
submissions 01 Oct 09
notification 15 Dec 09
final copy 15 Jan 10
publication April 10

The Journal of Web Semantics will publish a special issue on Data Mining and Social Network Analysis for integrating Semantic Web and Web 2.0 in the spring of 2010. The special issue will be edited by Bettina Berendt, Andreas Hotho and Gerd Stumme and initial abstracts for papers must be submitted via the Elsevier EES system by September 21, 2009.

The special issue, invites contributions that show how synergies between Semantic Web and Web 2.0 techniques can be successfully used. Since both communities work on network-like data structures, analysis methods from different fields of research could form a link between those communities. Techniques can be – but are not limited to – social network analysis, graph analysis, machine learning and data mining methods.

Relevant topics include

  • ontology learning from Web 2.0 data
  • instance extraction from Web 2.0 systems
  • analysis of Blogs
  • discovering social structures and communities
  • predicting trends and user behaviour
  • analysis of dynamic networks
  • using content of the Web for modelling
  • discovering misuse and fraud
  • network analysis of social resource sharing systems
  • analysis of folksonomies and other Web 2.0 data structures
  • analysis of Web 2.0 applications and their data
  • deriving profiles from usage
  • personalized delivery of news and journals
  • Semantic Web personalization
  • Semantic Web technologies for recommender systems
  • ubiquitous data mining in Web (2.0) environment
  • applications

The $1M Netflix Grand Prize taken by BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos?

June 26th, 2009

BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos has broken the 10% barrier, a feat that may have won them the $1M Netflix prize. We’ll know for sure in 30 days.

“June 26, 2009: Today our team submitted our solution to the Netflix Prize, resulting in a score of .8558, which corresponds to an improvement over Netflix Cinematch algorithm of 10.05%. This is the first submission in the competition to break the 10% barrier and sets off a 30 day period where all competitors are invited to submit their best and final solutions.

The prize is the award by Netflix for an open competition that started in October 2006 for the best collaborative filtering algorithm predicting user ratings for films from a database of previous ratings. Today the BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos team submitted an entry that improved on the existing algorithm by 10.05%, exceeding the 10% improvement threshold required of a winner. The team is a collaboration between people from Pragmatic Theory, Commendo, Yahoo and AT&T.

“The Netflix Prize seeks to substantially improve the accuracy of predictions about how much someone is going to love a movie based on their movie preferences. Improve it enough and you win one (or more) Prizes. Winning the Netflix Prize improves our ability to connect people to the movies they love.”

Iranian protests on Google Maps

June 25th, 2009

Wired’s Threat Level has another example of how social media are being used by Iranian citizens trying to promulgate their cause in Google Maps Track Iran Protests.

Iranian protests July 24, 2009

“As the protests in Iran continue for the second week, a Google user named Xárene Eskandar is following the activity on a Google Maps page, logging the events each day as they’re reported.

The latest map from Wednesday tracks events by the hour and shows the movement of special forces vans and military helicopters as they close in on protesters, as well as the location where protesters have reported seeing or hearing gunshots.”

Transformers: revenge of the Wozniaks

June 25th, 2009

This is not your father’s Macbook.

Gates puts NSA in charge of USCYBERCOM

June 23rd, 2009

The NYT reports in New Military Command for Cyberspace that the DoD has put NSA in charge of a unified U.S. Cyber Command to oversee the protection of military networks against cyber threats.

“Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Tuesday ordered the creation of the military’s first headquarters designed to coordinate Pentagon efforts in the emerging battlefield of cyberspace and computer-network security, officials said. Pentagon officials said Mr. Gates intends to nominate Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, currently director of the National Security Agency, for a fourth star and to take on the top job at the new organization, to be called Cybercom. The new command’s mission will be to coordinate the day-to-day operation — and protection — of military and Pentagon computer networks.”

CYBERCOM will be a subordinate unified command under the US Strategic Command.

Google is from Mars, Facebook is from Venus

June 23rd, 2009

Wired has an interesting article on Facebook vs. Google, Great Wall of Facebook: The Social Network’s Plan to Dominate the Internet — and Keep Google Out.

“Today, the Google-Facebook rivalry isn’t just going strong, it has evolved into a full-blown battle over the future of the Internet—its structure, design, and utility. For the last decade or so, the Web has been defined by Google’s algorithms—rigorous and efficient equations that parse practically every byte of online activity to build a dispassionate atlas of the online world. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg envisions a more personalized, humanized Web, where our network of friends, colleagues, peers, and family is our primary source of information, just as it is offline. In Zuckerberg’s vision, users will query this “social graph” to find a doctor, the best camera, or someone to hire—rather than tapping the cold mathematics of a Google search. It is a complete rethinking of how we navigate the online world, one that places Facebook right at the center. In other words, right where Google is now.”

This is definitely a David and Goliath match, what with Facebook not having turned a profit yet. The article does a good job of pointing out how their services are different and complement one another.

At the risk of evoking discredited stereotypes, maybe Google is from Mars and Facebook is from Venus.

Etiquette of using your smartphone in a meeting

June 21st, 2009

The New York Times has an article on the etiquette of using your smart phone in meetings, At Meetings, It’s Mind Your BlackBerry or Mind Your Manners.

“As Web-enabled smartphones have become standard on the belts and in the totes of executives, people in meetings are increasingly caving in to temptation to check e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, even (shhh!) But a spirited debate about etiquette has broken out. Traditionalists say the use of BlackBerrys and iPhones in meetings is as gauche as ordering out for pizza. Techno-evangelists insist that to ignore real-time text messages in a need-it-yesterday world is to invite peril.”

Professors have been dealing with this for several years, since most of our students come to class with their laptops. Maybe they are taking notes. But why is he smiling? Now he’s laughing! Was my comment on hill climbing really that funny?

Of course, the dynamics of this is different outside the classroom.

“In many professional circles, where connections are power, making a show of reaching out to those connections even as co-workers are presenting a spreadsheet presentation seems to have become a kind of workplace boast. Mr. Brotherton, the consultant, wrote in an e-mail message that it was customary now for professionals to lay BlackBerrys or iPhones on a conference table before a meeting — like gunfighters placing their Colt revolvers on the card tables in a saloon. “It’s a not-so-subtle way of signaling ‘I’m connected. I’m busy. I’m important. And if this meeting doesn’t hold my interest, I’ve got 10 other things I can do instead.’ ”

The Iranian revolution will be Twittered, not televised

June 15th, 2009

Social media systems share some aspects of television, but not all. They differ in that their content is created by their users. While the revolution will not be televised, it can be tweeted. It’s been more than 50 years since TV was the thing.

The NYT has an article on the role that social media sites are playing in the conflicts surrounding the Iran election, Social Networks Spread Iranian Defiance Online.

“Iranians are blogging, posting to Facebook and, most visibly, coordinating their protests on Twitter, the messaging service. Their activity has increased, not decreased, since the presidential elections on Friday and ensuing attempts by the government to restrict or censor their online communications.
     On Twitter, reports and links to photos from a peaceful mass march through Tehran on Monday, along with accounts of street fighting and casualties around the country, have become the most popular topic on the service worldwide, according to Twitter’s published statistics.
     A couple of Twitter feeds have become virtual media offices for the supporters of the leading opposition candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi. One feed, mousavi1388, (1388 is the year in the Persian calendar) is filled with news of protests and exhortations to keep up the fight, in Persian and English. It has more than 7,000 followers. Mr. Moussavi’s fan group on Facebook has swelled to over 50,000 members, a significant increase since election day.”

The article also reports on efforts to encourage cyber attacks on Iran sites

“Some Twitter users were also going on the offensive. On Monday morning, an antigovernment activist using the Twitter account “DDOSIran” asked supporters to visit a Web site to participate in an online attack to try to crash government Web sites by overwhelming them with traffic. By Monday afternoon, many of those sites were not accessible, though it was not clear if the attack was responsible — and the Twitter account behind the attack had been removed. A Twitter spokeswoman said the company had no connection to the deletion of the account.”

A php script is still available on the web and can be found if you search for it.

Tweets from Iran good source of immediate information on #iranelection

June 15th, 2009

The urban areas of Iran is developed and many there use social media, including Twitter. You can see their reactions to the election results and the public unrest in response to it via their tweets. Use this Twitter search query for a sample. This is an important example of how social media is having an impact on news.

Update: Also check out recent Flickr photos tagged with iranelection.

Update 2: Here are tweets geolocated to Tehran.

UMBC Multicore Computational Center

June 15th, 2009

Joab Jackson (UMBC ’90) wrote a nice article on UMBC’s Multicore Computational Center for the current issue of UMBC Magazine. From The Power of Parallels:

“In July 2007, IBM gave UMBC computer science professors Milton Halem and Yelena Yesha a grant to launch the center with cash and equipment that have totaled more than $1 million over the past three years. Supporting funding from NASA also helped the effort.

    “Not only are we ahead of the curve,” says Charles Nicholas, chair of the department of computer science and electrical engineering, “but we hope to stay ahead of the curve…. The partnerships with IBM will let us keep the technologies up to date.”

Halem says that government and private enterprise are in dire need of “trained graduate students who know how to apply the new methods of parallel programming to the problems they face,” Halem says. “We’re one of the few schools in the nation that is teaching these courses.”