IBM and the Future

Good inteview

The IBM chief dares to imagine what Watson will be when it grows up, and reaffirms her pledge to hire 25,000 people over the next four years.
By Megan Murphy
‎September‎ ‎20‎, ‎2017‎ ‎5‎:‎00‎ ‎AM‎ ‎CDT
IBM Chief Executive Officer Ginni Rometty was interviewed on Sept. 13 in New York City by Bloomberg Businessweek Editor Megan Murphy. Following are excerpts from their discussion, which appear in the Sept. 25, 2017, edition of Bloomberg Businessweek.

Megan Murphy: Artificial intelligence. People may not know that IBM doesn’t call it AI. They call it “cognitive computing.” Tell us why that is.

Ginni Rometty: I have actually had to explain this to my husband as well, because he said to me, “Ginni, of all words, why cognitive?” It was really a very thoughtful decision. The world calls it AI. There’s so much fearmongering about AI. When we started over a decade ago, the idea was to help you and I make better decisions amid cognitive overload. That’s what has always led us to cognitive. If I considered the initials AI, I would have preferred augmented intelligence. It’s the idea that each of us are going to need help on all important decisions. I’m always reminded of an interesting statistic: When you’re asked what percentage of your decisions are right, what percentage would you get?

What would it be?

A study said on average that a third of your decisions are really great decisions, a third are not optimal, and a third are just wrong. We’ve estimated the market is $2 billion for tools to make better decisions. That’s what led us all to really calling it cognitive and getting through to people that, “Look, we really think this is about man and machine, not man vs. machine. This is an era—really, an era that will play out for decades in front of us.”

The world discovered IBM’s Watson after the computer system beat human competitors and won $1 million on Jeopardy! It’s named after your company’s first CEO. What does Watson mean for the future of AI—and for your business?
Everything you know until today is programmable—an entire era for decades has been programmable. Watson would be the beginning of a new era where you didn’t program. Machines would look at data, understand, reason over it, and they continue to learn: understand, reason and learn, not program, in my simple definition. That to us is a very big difference between what you might experience in what I call consumer AI—that is, general purpose—vs. business. We set out to build an AI platform for business.
There would be two big differences between business and consumer AI. For example, if you were on your phone and searched for the best song in 1950, you don’t think, Well, who voted on that? Why did they pick that song? But if you asked for the right diagnosis of a type of cancer, you’d want to know who trained the computer, what data and what was the evidence behind it. It would be the same for business: AI would be vertical. You would train it to know medicine. You would train it to know underwriting of insurance. You would train it to know financial crimes. Train it to know oncology. Train it to know weather. And it isn’t just about billions of data points. In the regulatory world, there aren’t billions of data points. You need to train and interpret something with small amounts of data. Guess what percentage of the world’s data is searchable? What would be your guess?
Four?
The answer is 20 percent. The other 80 percent lives with all of us who’ve established businesses—and my view is that data has got a lot of gold in it. It leads me to the second big difference between consumer and business AI. If that’s my data, and it’s my IT and my competitive advantage, I’m training algorithms, and I want to be sure those algorithms become mine. I want a platform that’s my AI even if it operates in a cloud. Business AI knows the domain and the profession, and it can protect your insight. Not just your data, your insight.
Now, some of you may or may not know this, we also own the Weather Channel. Any of you on your phones, that’s IBM you’re hitting when you do your weather. Now introduce Watson into that. Over the weekend of Hurricane Irma—a new weather forecast every 15 minutes recalculated across all 3 billion points of the earth—we helped a million conversations. It was interactive conversation, natural language on how to prepare for the hurricane. We also had half a trillion interactions with Watson to help 140 airlines reroute.

 

 

IBM’s Rometty on Real-World Accomplishments of Watson
You touched on some of the criticism of Watson that’s been out there: that it’s still too dependent on humans, it can’t learn fast enough, and it hasn’t been transformational enough to live up to some of the expectations both of IBM and how it’s being marketed. How do you respond to those critics?
IBM is an $80 billion company. So when people say, “My goodness, why hasn’t this thing grown IBM by two?” I think that’s a very unrealistic expectation. You teach these systems. Those of you that work with them, you and they have to learn and teach. Watson is exactly where we thought it would be. When we did our very first oncology teaching with Watson—the very first was lung, breast, and colon cancer—it took the doctors a year to train Watson.
This is really another key point about professional AI. Doctors don’t want black-and-white answers, nor does any profession. If you’re a professional, my guess is when you interact with AI, you don’t want it to say, “Here is an answer.” What a doctor wants is, “OK, give me the possible answers. Tell my why you believe it. Can I see the research, the evidence, the ‘percent confident’? What more would you like to know?” The first cancer Watson took almost a year. We are down to less than 30 days now. By the end of this year, Watson will have been trained on what causes 80 percent of the world’s cancers. And so I find that kind of criticism completely out of line.
I remember when my mother got cancer. My first reaction was, How do I know that this is the treatment? How do I know that this is the best thing? A 70-year-old truck driver in Florida going to get a new job had a recurrence of cancer. He was absolutely devastated. This is what I saw Watson do for him. The doctor showed him, “There are people like you with this cancer. Here are the kinds of treatments they get.” The difference in mindset is night and day. And then, on my trip to India, I met a woman whose doctor had never seen her kind of cancer. Without Watson, he would never have had the idea of what the treatments are.
Memorial Sloan Kettering [Cancer Center] was one of the first that taught Watson. It’s the gold standard, and it illustrates beautifully one of the principles of AI in the future. You must know who taught it and what data is in it—and you must be transparent about it because that matters in these decisions. That gives you a long, long, long answer, but this is why I’m so positive this world will have more really tough problems solved with AI.

And the dystopic view of AI?
When I went to Davos in January, we published something called Transparency and Trust in the Cognitive Era. It’s our responsibility if we build this stuff to guide it safely into the world. First, be clear on the purpose, work with man. We aren’t out here to destroy man. The second is to be transparent about who trained the computers, who are the experts, where did the data come from. And when consumers are using AI, you inform them that they are and inform the company as well that owns the intellectual property. And the third thing is to be committed to skill.
“It’s about what you do to communicate to people why these things are important. It’s not about a tweet”
Do you feel we’re going to get to a point where AI will displace more jobs than it creates and we’re not doing enough to push forward with the jobs of the future?
I do believe that when it comes to complete job replacement, it will be a very small percentage. When it comes to changing a job and what you do, it will be 100 percent. “Whoa, different skills. Everybody is going to have to have a different skill because it’s going to be a threat in all our jobs.” Let me just park that thought. I want to come back to something I think that’s far more important and is related. The issue of skills is front and center in this country and many countries in the world right now without AI. We already have a world that’s bifurcating between haves and have-nots, and a lot of that is based on education and skills. This country has 5 million to 6 million jobs open. That’s about skill. This is not being caused by AI. We’ve got to revamp education for this era of man and machine. And that means you cannot insist that every person needs to be a university or a Ph.D. graduate to be productive in society. You cannot. It’s not true by the way. We’ve proven that.
You started a six-year high school program. This is a program where they take people through four years of high school, two years of a college equivalent, and then hopefully give them preference in getting into the workforce, again to work with IBM.
In the U.S., in 2015, half of our young people didn’t have an associate’s degree or a college degree. That’s the problem today: the number of people that need to be retrained. I’m far more optimistic that public-private partnerships can solve this dilemma. There will be a hundred pathways to technology becoming viral, driven by governors and states. I always remember when President Obama came to the first one, he goes, “Where are all the computers?” We’re like, “That’s not what we teach these kids.” We’re teaching them a skill about math and problem-solving that’s going to transcend any technology they deal with. The first part is a very simple formula: a curriculum of math, science. The second, give the kids a mentor and then you give them a chance at a job. We will be up to 50,000 kids, and 300 other companies have volunteered. I have a whole bunch of these kids over in Silicon Alley where we have our Watson headquarters.

You were a part of President Trump’s decisions advisory council which disbanded in the wake of Charlottesville. You said in a letter to IBM employees that it was no longer fit for the purpose for which it was created. What did you mean by that?
It’s about policies, not politics. I’m passionate about skills and education, about being competitive in trade for a digital era, and of course, diversity and inclusion. We’re blessed to be able to have an influence, and it’s our job to do that. So this strategy and policy forum is what I asked to be a part of. It wasn’t a council. It was asked to give input, and I felt we’ve made a very, very positive impact on this issue about education and things that can be done. I expect the administration to continue to do more things aligned with that. We had some very good input on many other issues.
That is what the purpose was. If people began to believe that by becoming and being in any of these vehicles it meant you condone Charlottesville, no, we did not. There was nothing to condone about Charlottesville. But we would continue to engage, because it’s incumbent upon us. It transcends any kind of electoral cycle everywhere in the world. I have 380,000 employees. So it helps to always explain why we believe these things. We’re the only tech company that makes no political contributions, no PACs. Never have, never will. We’re the only one that can say that.
You come from a background that’s a bit different from most people’s. Your father left home when you were young, leaving your mother. You talked about food stamps, entitlement programs, getting back on your feet, and those lessons that your mother taught you. When you look at the country and some of the anger and, frankly, that a section of the people feel for this establishment, are we headed in the right direction?
For this country itself, I would never count America out, never. And I think you need to look no further than the weekend of Hurricane Irma. When things don’t go right, people help each other. I didn’t hear a single person say, “Well, what did my government do this weekend for me?” IBM pledged $4 million, and we’re not even counting all the volunteer work that we’re doing. Everyone looked out for each other. We had people buying boats going in and helping people. It’s a country that when there’s a problem, people look to each other before they look somewhere else. This is the culture of America.
But you have to pay attention that people have to believe they have a better future. That’s what people ground themselves in. We pledge to hire 25,000 people over the next four years. It’s important to me to go to the middle of America where companies are not necessarily always putting high-tech jobs. We will do it. Like others, I’m very bullish on this country.
“Don’t ever let anyone define who you are. Only you define who you are”
One of the things IBM has recently been engaged on which people may not realize is the transgender bathroom bill. How are those decisions made about what issues to engage on?
Our history of diversity goes back to 1943, when IBM had its first woman vice president, so I’ve been surrounded by a culture of diversity and inclusion my whole professional life there. This is a matter of where what you need to be a thriving business, to be competitive, intersects with your values. You can’t speak out on everything. By the way, I don’t think speaking is the most important part—it’s doing.
But we spoke out. Why? We had large parts of our company’s LGBT population, which we’ve embraced very, very strongly, afraid about North Carolina and Texas. In Texas we actually did 150 meetings with the state House of Representatives. It’s about what you do to communicate to people why these things are important. It’s not about a tweet. It’s about getting in there, rolling your sleeves up, communicating why it’s an issue, undertaking grass-roots efforts. That’s what we’ve done on the select issues that we think really do drive home what our values are. We can’t have a workforce afraid of coming to work.
You’ve talked about your journey as a female leader and about being a role model. There are a lot of women who sympathize with not wanting to be known always as a female CEO. How has that become more important to you during your career?
Early in my career, I would have always said, “Please, don’t ever reference me being a woman.” This is not about being a woman. I’m on my own merits here for many, many years. Then at some point, I realized wait a second, people do need role models, and whether I like that or not, you do have to take that onboard. I watched my mom. Yes, she struggled, and I’m a proponent for programs in the world that are a safety net for people. When we had no money and she had to go on food stamps, I had also watched the pain in her face. She could not wait to get off of those. She went back to school to get her degree, get a job so that we would be OK. The world would not define her as a woman whose husband left her, as unsuccessful, never educated. She wasn’t going to let the world do that. What she taught us transcended what a woman leader, as well as just a leader, is. Don’t ever let someone else define who you are. Only you define who you are.
We have come full circle, me and IBM. I say to people, “Look, we’re the only 106-year-old tech out there.” So this isn’t one generation, two generations, three generations, it’s four or five. And we’re the team reinventing it for another generation. The part that’s never changed about IBM is to innovate technology and apply it to business and society. That’s our core, even when those technologies change.

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The Second Korean War

On September 2, 2017, North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test. Experts say this was an advanced hydrogen bomb. It has has already launched eighteen missile tests this year, The last ballistic missile test flew over Japan. The war scenario will occur similar to this.

The USA sees another missile launch now or in the future. The USA shoots the missile down early in flight. North Korea retaliates, and escalates tensions into open warfare.

The DMZ has been weakened considerably over the last 50 years. The initial invasion of South Korea with conventional weapons will favor North Korea. The USA has troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. The USA would not be able to counter attack in a week. It would take a month. The South Korean army would be routed initially. The push would prohibit USA use of nukes since the nukes would be in North Korean on smaller mobile platforms.

Steve Bannon, formerly the president’s chief strategist, stated that the US cannot attack North Korea because of the risk of retaliation against South Korea that will kill millions.

So the war stays conventional.

North Korea has 1.2 million troops in its various military branches. South Korea has about 600,000. The surprise attack favors a sharp penetration during the first week. Again the US aircraft can inflict damage but there is not enough in the DMZ to stall the North Korea advance. There are 25 million people in South Korea within artillery range of North Korea. North Korea also has chemical and biological weapons.

History repeats.

South Korea was invaded on June 25 1950. North Koreans advanced through the country rapidly, even after American troops were drafted in from bases in Japan, and the war seemed all but over. Then in September General MacArthur landed two divisions in the enemy’s rear and North Korea was forced to flee amid heavy aerial bombardment. The USA lost more than thirty thousand troops in battle. South Korea lost almost a quarter million troops and a million civilians.

What if the South Korea government surrenders in the first month? What then?  It begins a tough war into Korea for the USA. The will is not there.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters: “We are never out of diplomatic solutions.”

Would the USA have attacked Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Muammer Gaddafi of Libya if they had nukes? History would say no.

The North occupying South Korea could use nukes on the invading USA army.  That threat alone would give the USA pause.

The prevention of this Second war requires basic steps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump has repeatedly tried and failed to persuade Beijing to exert more economic pressure on North Korea, threatening that the US will take unilateral military action if China fails to force Mr Kim into line. China has sought to placate Mr Trump by toughening sanctions on Pyongyang. But the Chinese also have to consider how Mr Kim might react if he is forced into a corner. The risk that the North Korean leader will use nuclear weapons first will surely rise if he is faced with the prospect of the collapse of his own regime — and his own certain death.

 

 

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Corruption and Land Deals Romania

 

The arrest of Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz Monday on suspicions that include fraud and money laundering is connected to a case against him in Romania, police and other sources say.

Mr. Steinmetz, an Israeli diamonds, mining and real estate magnate, is already under scrutiny by law enforcement authorities in four other countries, including the United States. Federal prosecutors in the United States are investigating whether representatives of his firm bribed government officials in Guinea to secure a multibillion-dollar mining deal. In Switzerland and Guinea, prosecutors have conducted similar inquiries. He was previously detained and questioned in Israel in December.

During Steinmetz’s remand hearing at the Rishon Letzion Magistrate’s Court on Monday, senior investigating officer Avshalom Ahrak said that the allegations against him also concern alleged wrongdoings in Romania. In March 2016, Steinmetz was indicted by the Romanian National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) for complicity in money laundering, peddling influence and forming an organized crime group with 13 other suspects, which included Silberstein. According to Attila Biro from the Romanian investigative Rise Project, the trial began in January this year, and there have been 20 hearings thus far. His sources, he said, have told him that some of the charges that led to Steinmetz’s arrest in Israel are related to the Romanian case.
The Rise Project report said that, according to the DNA, Steinmetz had financed a criminal group that sought to acquire a large property claimed by 67-year-old Paul Lambrino, the nephew of the last king of Romania. The group was coordinated in Romania by a local businessman, Remus Truica, the chief of staff to former Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase. Nastase was eventually sentenced to prison for corruption.

Adrian Năstase, Romania’s prime minister between 2000 and 2004, became the country’s first head of government in the post-communist era to be convicted of corruption.

Mr Năstase was raised in the communist school of politics, and it showed. During his time in office state-run television and radio stations were obliged to follow a pro-governmental line. Newspapers that printed incriminating stories found their entire circulation had been bought up before they hit the news-stands. Mr Năstase took part in huge hunting sprees that rivalled any of Ceauşescu‘s, and his two wives were both from the communist nomenklatura.

Mr Năstase’s truculence in the face of opposition was legendary. When asked about the significant wealth that he accumulated during his time in office, he invited his detractors to count his balls instead.

Despite such outbursts, Mr Năstase, a much-published professor of international law, cultivated the image of a bourgeois intellectual. This helped pave the way for his rival, the current president Traian Băsescu, whose populist appeal and working-class idiom were a world away from the aloof Mr Năstase. The promise of clamping down on corruption helped Mr Băsescu to defeat Mr Năstase in 2004.

Romania once again came under scrutiny late last year after its lower house of parliament voted to increase the immunity of MPs against graft charges. The bill drew criticism from some western embassies and the president.

Nastase’s conviction will not be a game-changer in regard to Romania’s entry into the Schengen zone, said Cristian Patrasconiu, a Bucharest-based political analyst.

“But it is a very positive development towards achieving this goal, as the judiciary is now perceived as stepping up its efforts to rein in high-level corruption,” he said.

Nastase had been freed from prison in March 2013 after serving nine months of a two-year term for corruption. The court on Monday also gave his wife Dana a three-year suspended jail sentence for her complicity in taking bribes.

Nastase’s case dates back to 2006 when prosecutors indicted him and his wife in a landmark probe, charging Nastase with taking bribes worth 630,000 euros (£523,989.51).

Truica and Steinmetz have a long history together, having worked as partners 16 years ago in a Romanian real estate company.

According to the prosecutors, Prince Paul illegally claimed the restitution of 28.6 hectares of land in northern Bucharest and of other assets. He argued that the land plot, known as the Baneasa Royal Farm, and the other assets had belonged to his grandfather King Carol II before being nationalized by the communists. Prince Paul made his claim in 2002, but didn’t have much success in recovering the properties.

So, in 2006, he went to Remus Truica, an influential businessman, well-connected with political leaders, to help him with the restitution. He promised Truica and his group 50% to 80% of the recovered assets’ value in exchange, according to the DNA prosecutors.

In 2008, Remus Truica and his group helped Prince Paul get the Baneasa Royal Farm, a piece of prime real-estate in northern Bucharest. The farm belonged to and agriculture research institute, which was under the authority of the Romanian Agricultural Science Academy, a state-controlled institution. The institute’s director didn’t want to return the farm to Prince Paul, as the institute used it for its experimental cultures.

However, the academy’s secretary general at that time, Gheorghe Sin, approved the farm’s restitution to Prince Paul, despite the fact that the royal heritor hadn’t produced all the legal documents needed for the restitution. Apparently, Remus Truica bribed Gheorghe Sin and other of the institute’s management to sign the restitution papers.

The Romanian state was thus damaged some EUR 136 million.

According to the Rise Project report, prosecutors claimed that Steinmetz had transferred 4 million euros ($4.7 million) to be used in the allegedly illegal acquisition of the former royal property – now highly expensive land near the capital of Bucharest. That money was used to make a purchase for an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands set up by the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, a leader in creating shell companies that often serve to conceal ownership of assets. That company became the legal owner of two swaths of land for Steinmetz’s local partners. One was the former royal farm Baneasa in Bucharest, and the second was a nearby forest. Prosecutors said the two allegedly illegal land deals cost the state €145 million ($170 million) in damages.
Wiretaps that the prosecutors presented in court indicated that Steinmetz was orchestrating the land deals. An arrest warrant was issued on March 15 for Steinmetz, who was not in the country at the time, but the Romanian supreme court revoked it two weeks later. The court has not yet explained its reasons for doing so, but prosecutors say the charges remain.

Leaked documents from Mossack Fonseca, part of the “Panama Papers,” documents identified by the Rise Project indicate that Steinmetz set up another offshore company, which owns 20 hectares of land in Snagov, near Bucharest. The land was initially owned by a local company. In 2009, that company was acquired by the shell corporation that Mossack Fonseca had established, represented by Robert Rosu, a well-known lawyer in Romania who was also indicted in the criminal case against Steinmetz.

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Advanced Sonic Devices

A group of American diplomats in Havana, Cuba have suffered severe and unexplained hearing loss over the past year, which U.S. officials believe was caused by a covert and advanced sonic device.
The severity of some of the diplomats’ symptoms has forced them to cancel their Cuba tours early and return to the U.S. for treatment, the Associated Press reports.
But what exactly is a sonic device, how common are they, and how much damage can they actually cause? Here’s what to know.
What weapons was used to hurt diplomats in Cuba?
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the government does not “have any definitive answers about the source” of the attack. It is continuing to investigate what may have caused the diplomats’ injuries.
However, U.S. officials who spoke anonymously to the AP said that the hearing loss was caused by a device deployed either inside or near the diplomats’ residences. The devices emitted a sound that was not audible to human ears, they added. That would indicate it was most likely an infrasonic or ultrasonic weapon.

The Canadian government said Thursday that at least one Canadian diplomat in Cuba also has been treated for hearing loss following disclosures that a group of American diplomats in Havana suffered severe hearing loss that U.S. officials believe was caused by an advanced sonic device.

Global Affairs Canada spokeswoman Brianne Maxwell said Canadian officials “are aware of unusual symptoms affecting Canadian and US diplomatic personnel and their families in Havana. The government is actively working — including with U.S. and Cuban authorities – to ascertain the cause.”

Basically, these diplomats came under acoustic attack in the form of a dog-whistle-style sound, unheard by humans. The sound-making devices were placed either inside or just outside the embassy employees’ homes.

 

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Black Death, dark web

Italian police confirmed they’re looking for at least one other man following the arrest of Polish-born Brit Lukasz Herba, one of the alleged masterminds behind Chloe Ayling’s dramatic abduction.

Miss Ayling told Italian police that her agent had booked her a photo shoot in Milan on July 11.

Ayling, 20, but instead was drugged and kidnapped for six days.

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She said Herba, 30 — a member of a shady underground syndicate called “Black Death” — told her she was going to be auctioned off on the dark web.

 

black death ransom

Cops detained the British-based Pole in Milan and found a Black Death leaflet – which features black plague doctors from the 1300s – alongside a note to the victim explaining why she was being released.

The note called her kidnapping a “mistake” because she was a mother of a two-year-old and said “our main and very well respected men” argued for her release.

The woman told police she was attacked by two men who reportedly demanded £270,000 in Bitcoins to free her – a fee which was later negotiated down to £50,000 by the terrified model’s agent.

The unidentified 20-year-old woman, who traveled to Milan for what she thought was a photo shoot, was released because she is a mother — making her undesirable to human traffickers, according to reports.

Herba was arrested July 18 after his auction plan went awry, as he was taking Ayling to the British consulate in Milan. He appeared in court last Friday, when detectives sought to keep him incarcerated as they continue to investigate his claimed affiliation with a notorious trafficking ring called the Black Death Group that Interpol investigated in 2015.

Italian prosecutors are working to figure out whether the threat of the online auction was used as an extortion attempt for $300,000 in ransom money for Ayling’s return. They’re also trying to determine whether the Black Death group actually exists.

Herba also reportedly told Ayling that he had made €15 million ($17.7 million) sex-trafficking kidnapped women and selling them via the deep web on the Black Death Group website, which its developers move frequently and which can only be found and accessed through a special encrypted invitation with a URL.

The Black Death, which is believed to operate in Eastern Europe, dates back to 1994 and is said to offer services including “assassinations, bombings and arms dealing.”

The Sunday Mirror has uncovered the British model’s Dark Web “advert” which features a disturbing image of her dressed in just a velvet body suit, looking dazed and lying on the floor with her left breast exposed.

Her captors had even placed a calling card on her stomach.

The ad by Black Death Group – which refers to victims as “merchandise” – also features a series of horrifying promises about the women they traffic and a list of the woman’s personal details – including her dimensions.

Black Death – which operates using the Bitcoin currency – boast they can “kidnap a specific target for your needs” and assure free “EU delivery” of victims.

The dark web is a section of the internet where people can contact one another anonymously and without fear of being monitored.

Google doesn’t work and where passwords are replaced by encrypted invitations. It can only be accessed through anonymizer browsers like Tor Project, which hide IP addresses so web surfers with malicious intent cannot be traced. It is known as the deep web or darknet: a place where college students buy hard drugs to be delivered to their dorms, where arms are sold to terrorists, and where street children are sold for snuff films.

Because of this many criminals use it to sell illegal drugs, chemicals, weapons, child porn and even offer assassination services. Silk Road – the most notorious dark net online market – was closed down by the FBI in 2013.

Its founder Ross Ulbricht was convicted of seven charges including drug trafficking, criminal enterprise, aiding and abetting the distribution of drugs over the internet, computer hacking and money laundering. He was sentenced to life.

one post from the internets

Human trafficking is an oft-quoted myth of the dark web, but one that is rarely backed up with evidence. For a brief few moments, I managed to grab the attention of someone who actually claimed to be selling people on this part of the internet—whether they really were or not.

“We don’t invite strangers to auctions,” Black Death told me in one email. “We don’t want popularity. No Europol. No people just looking around. No journalists or bloggers.”

“Just serious business.

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Honeypot Trap on Social media.

Mia Ash is young, attractive and popular, with hundreds of social media connections.

She shares your favourite hobbies, so when she adds you, you’re flattered and a little bit excited.

After exchanging messages on LinkedIn, you’re happy to continue the conversation on Facebook and WhatsApp.

Mia Ash is a fake profile containing stolen images used by foreign hackers to lure unsuspecting men with access to sensitive data.
Mia Ash is a fake profile containing stolen images used by foreign hackers to lure unsuspecting men with access to sensitive data.

MIA ASH IS a 30-year-old British woman with two art school degrees, a successful career as a photographer, and plenty of friends—more than 500 on Facebook, and just as many on LinkedIn. A disproportionate number of those friends happen to be Middle Eastern men, and when she posts coy selfies to Facebook, they shower her with likes. Her intriguing relationship status: “It’s complicated.” No kidding.

Mia Ash doesn’t exist

You’ve been communicating with a mirage, and you’re about to fall into the hands of a team of hackers believed to be acting on behalf of a hostile foreign government.

Online “honey pot” attackers like Mia Ash represent a new front in a global espionage, with hackers targeting strategically important companies through their weakest line of defence: their hapless employees.

That’s according to cyber security expert Allison Wikoff from SecureWorks, whose counter threat unit has been fighting what has been dubbed the Cobalt Gypsy spy campaign.

Mia Ash is a sophisticated fake persona that the unit has identified as an agent of a hacker group called Cobalt Gypsy aka OilRig, which is understood to be backed by the Iranian Government.

With highly detailed social media profiles portraying her as a young English photographer, the group used real images believed to be stolen from an innocent woman in Romania.

Look out for stock images and watermarked (stolen) photographs used to create social media profiles.

The scam targeted mid-level staff at Middle Eastern telecommunication, technology, aerospace and oil and gas companies with access to sensitive parts of their company’s IT operations.

Mia Ash introduced herself as a wedding and portrait photographer reaching out to people around the world, saying she wanted to “learn more about your country”.

One worker fell for Mia Ash’s charm, striking up a friendship that lasted several weeks before the true nature of the situation was revealed when the hackers sent him a malware-infected email disguised as a “photography survey”.

The man, an amateur photographer who connected with the young woman believing they had a shared interest, unsuspectingly opened the attachment.

Ms Wikoff said the aim was to steal login IDs and passwords when the document, once opened, would unleash a type of malware called PupyRAT, giving the hackers access to the organisation’s computer systems.

“They’re really interested in information that aligns with the Iranian government’s objectives,” she told news.com.au.

A Phish Called Mia

In February, as SecureWorks helped a Middle Eastern company diagnose an attempted spyware infection, the security analysts found that one of that company’s employees had been communicating with the Ash persona for more than a month. The conversation had begun on LinkedIn, where Ash had approached the staffer with questions about photography. The discussion had moved to Facebook, and the scope broadened to work, photography, and travel.

Eventually, Ash sent the staffer an email with a Microsoft Excel attachment for a photography survey. She asked him to open it on his office network, telling him that it would work best there. After a month of trust-building conversation, he did as he was told. The attachment promptly launched a malicious macro on his computer and attempted to install a piece of malware known as PupyRAT, though the company’s malware defenses prevented the installation.

After digging further into Mia Ash, SecureWorks found that hackers have cultivated the persona as a lure for staffers at target companies for over a year, with the endgame of infecting computers with spyware, and getting an initial foothold into a victim company’s network.

Social engineering, or using human lies and pretenses as a means to lull victims into security slip-ups, is a well-worn page of the hacker playbook. But rarely do hacker groups go to the trouble of building such a long-running, fleshed out persona as Mia Ash, says Allison Wikoff, one of the SecureWorks researchers who led the analysis, which SecureWorks presented at the Black Hat security conference. She points to Ash’s well-populated Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogger, and WhatsApp accounts, as well as two email addresses, as evidence of the hackers’ persistence and planning. “This is one of the most well-built fake personas I’ve seen,” says Wikoff. “It definitely worked, and worked for well over a year.”

Fake Friend

Examining Ash’s friends on Facebook and Linkedin, SecureWorks found she had two distinct sets. First, she seems to have befriended prominent photographers to bolster her profile as a bona fide shutterbug. The second group comprised men aged 20 to 40, mostly in Middle Eastern and Asian countries including Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, and Israel, as well as some Americans, who worked as mid-level technicians, software developers, and administrators at tech, oil and gas, aerospace, consulting, and healthcare companies.

Examining the would-be target list in Ash’s friend group, SecureWorks linked her with a hacker group known as OilRig or Cobalt Gypsy, widely believed to be working for the Iranian government in a widespread cyberespionage campaign. (According to at least one analysis from McAfee, that group also collaborated on a more destructive campaign to plant data-destroying Shamoon malware on the networks of more than a dozen Saudi Arabian targets, and SecureWorks’ analysis of the group’s methods also matches a description of Shamoon-planting hackers tracked by IBM.)

In late 2016, SecureWorks spotted that group launching a broad phishing campaign that used PupyRat as well. A month later, Mia Ash kicked into action at the company SecureWorks aided. Wikoff suggests that means the Ash persona may be used as a secondary tactic: If a specific company’s staff doesn’t fall for more traditional phishing emails, a persona like Ash approaches a specific target there, initiating a professional conversation over LinkedIn, and then building trust via Facebook or WhatsApp before sending the victim a malware payload via email. Based on the time put into the Ash persona, she believes it was likely used repeatedly against the Iranian hackers’ targets. “This is probably a well-oiled machine,” Wikoff says.

Ash to Ashes

After well over a year online, Ash’s LinkedIn profile mysteriously disappeared earlier this month. SecureWorks alerted Facebook to the persona, and the company removed her profile there, too.

SecureWorks also identified the real-life woman whose photos hackers used to assemble Mia Ash’s profiles. But when WIRED reached out to her she declined to speak on the record, and asked not to be identified. Wikoff points to her case as an example of how publicly posting personal photos can have unexpected, creepy consequences. “If you don’t lock down your social media accounts, they can be used in ways that might not directly harm you, but are nonetheless nefarious,” Wikoff says.

But Mia Ash offers a more serious lesson to possible victims of state-sponsored hackers, Wikoff says: Digital honey traps can be highly sophisticated, with personas that appear to have long histories and convincing personalities. And that attractive new Facebook friend may not actually be into your vacation photos.

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What’s Up with Poland

Outrage over plans by Poland’s governing party to put the judicial system under its political control sparked another day of nationwide protests Saturday, with some people gathering outside the home of ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and accusing him of being a dictator.

Polish democracy icon and former President Lech Walesa addressed a protest in Gdansk, urging young Poles to fight to preserve the separation of powers that his Solidarity movement helped to achieve more than a quarter century ago when Poland threw off communist rule.

Poland’s Senate approved the measure early Saturday, capping days of debate and demonstrations. The lower house of Parliament gave its approval earlier this week.

“Mass protests in Poland in recent days failed to change the minds of the ruling Law and Justice Party,” NPR’s Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Berlin. “Its leaders say the measure — which among other things, ousts the current Supreme Court judges — is aimed at reforming the judicial system and to ensure any vestiges of communism are purged.”

The new law would allow Duda to choose who gets to stay on the court and to name new judges to replace anyone he wants to remove.

The EU is on the brink of taking the nuclear option of stripping Poland of its voting rights in Brussels in response to plans by its rightwing government to “abolish” the independence of the country’s judiciary.

Frans Timmermans, the first vice-president of the European commission, accused Warsaw of seeking to put judges under full political control as he warned that the EU was “very close” to triggering article 7, a never-before-used sanction in the treaties that allows a member state’s voting rights in the council of ministers to be suspended.

 

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