This week ended with terror, as a shooting in New Zealand took the lives of at least 49 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. A video of the attack, livestreamed by the shooter on Facebook, quickly spread across all major internet platforms, which demonstrated a general inability to stop it.
Separately, we took a look at how ICE leans on cozy relationships with local law enforcement to access license plate location data it wouldn’t otherwise be allowed to. We explained why it’s so hard to restart a power grid from scratch under the best of circumstances, much less in the chaos of current-day Venezuela. And we showed how a team of patient hackers took Mexican banks for around $20 million in a series of cyber heists last year.
Remember when Facebook went down for a full day this week? That was crazy! It also wasn’t hackers, as usual, so please set that conspiracy theory aside for good. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for an easy way to send large files securely, give Firefox Send a try. It’s not perfect, but it’ll let you send up to 2.5 gigabytes at once—about the size of a Game of Thrones episode—with end-to-end encryption. And if you get a chance, check out Truth in a Post Truth World, a documentary about investigatory super team Bellingcat and its endless quest for, well, truth. And maybe pair it with this great profile of Roman Dobrokhotov, a Russian journalist who has partnered with Bellingcat to expose multiple alleged Russian spies and assassins.
And that’s not all! Each week we round up all the news we didn’t break or cover in depth. Click on the headlines to read the full stories. And stay safe out there.
Yes! You read that right! Texas politician and presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke belonged to Cult of the Dead Cow, one of the most famous early hacking groups in history. The revelation comes courtesy of journalist Joseph Menn’s upcoming book Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World, which chronicles how O’Rourke got involved and highlights some of his contributions. (You can read O’Rourke’s postings to the group’s message board, which he wrote under the pseudonym Psychedelic Warlord, here.) What a world! It doesn’t appear that O’Rourke did much actual hacking, aside from finding ways around paying the phone bills one racked up connecting over a dial-up modem in those days. And the writings themselves don’t reveal any scandals or surprises, really, especially given that we already knew about O’Rourke’s punk band past. But still, this is like finding out Bernie Sanders was an original SCTV cast member or something. Take as much time as you need to process it.
Artificial intelligence systems learn how to complete certain tasks in part by being fed mountains of data. That’s not an inherently bad thing; we all have to start somewhere. But some companies take what appear to be shortcuts, scraping the internet for datasets without much concern for where they came from. In this case, Flickr users were taking off guard when NBC News informed them that IBM had used their images to reduce bias in facial recognition AI. In a bit of a Catch-22, anyone who would rather their images not get used in this fashion has to email a link to the photo they want removed to IBM, even though IBM has not made the dataset public. Tricky!
US Customs and Border Protection have never been much for privacy. But in documents first reported by Buzzfeed News, the agency makes clear its intention to scan the faces of travelers on over 16,000 flights every single week, within the next two years. The documents further place no limits on how partner airlines might use that data as well. Facial recognition is already a prickly subject—just ask IBM—and is already part and parcel of more airport security experiences than you might think. But rapidly expanding its use before any guidelines whatsoever are in place seems obviously fraught. Then again, that seems to be the point.
We’ve said it many, many, many times, but voting machines in the US are a security nightmare. And while things have slowly improved, they’re still not super in most states. Which makes it welcome news that DARPA, the Defense Department’s galaxy brain center, has launched a $10 million contract to create a hack-proof voting system. Better still, it will be open source, both in hardware and software, meaning outside experts can vet it and improve its protections. Expect to see an early prototype at Defcon Voting Village this summer.
Most people who Google’s Chrome browser also use Google’s search product. It’s just easier, you know? But if you look in your Chrome preferences, you’ll see options to use all kinds of search engines as your default instead. As of this week, those options include the privacy-focused DuckDuckGo. See? It’s not all bad out there.