Tag Archives: USA

Smartphones and their increasing connection to cyber warfare

Last week, our presentations on ICT technologies and their applications in different ICT sectors educated us about the challenges that developing countries face when implementing these projects. We also learned how access to information is critical to all aspects of ICT4D and its’ different offshoots. We completely changed gears with the guest speaker on Tuesday but we still discussed how important this access to information is. Cyber security and cyber warfare have emerged in the last decade as innovations in technology continue to advance rapidly. In the world of cyber warfare, hacking and cyber espionage have become extremely common. In the CIA and NSA, the United States has hundreds, if not thousands, of workers devoted to keeping tabs on cyber terrorists and their organizations and preventing them from attacking us as well as ensuring that our data is secure.

But the questions about how secure is our data have come up numerous times over the last few years, as cyber espionage from China have emerged and individuals like such as Julian Assange and Edward Snowden have leaked U.S. military and government data. If one of the most powerful countries on earth’s private information and data is susceptible to two individuals, how secure is the technology we use in our own homes on a daily basis? We have talked all year about how mobile phones, especially smartphones, are a critical tool in international development and ICT technologies. But I learned from this CNN article that as smartphones, which have more than 100 times the computing power than the average satellite, provide more hope for ICT4D and digital communication they also make us more vulnerable to cyber attacks.

This is concerning because emails have become less and less secure in recent times, forcing people to rely heavily on their smartphones. And in developing and emerging markets, such as China, this is an even bigger problem because smartphone users download apps from third party sites because Google Play is banned. Many of the apps on these third party sites contain AndroRAT, a new software developed by hackers that makes it very easy to inject malicious code into a fake version of an app. Smartphones will continue to be a popular destination for hackers and as this technology becomes increasingly ubiquitous in the developing and developed worlds, we will need to find ways to secure mobile phone data and information.


Cyber Security Abroad

After listening to a great presentation on cyber security and its importance as well as risks, I became interested in how other nations treat cyber security and if America is giving advice. I stumbled onto an article that talked about how foreign allies of America need to start stepping up their cyber security as they are “equally mobile and even more vulnerable” than America. Many times in developing nations cyber security is an after thought, second to mobile networking and focus on economic growth. The senior adviser for the department’s Office of the Cyber Coordinator Thomas Duke stated that “due diligence” is a top priority for America and we will start helping developing nations to increase their communications infrastructure. Nations such as India, South Africa, and other developing but prominent countries can be threats to themselves and their global interconnected networks. An example of this is when the South African governments twitter feed was hacked (@StateSecurityRS) and started to advertise a diet regime.

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Many developing nations in Africa do not have the skills or are not willing to protect them selves from cyber crimes. The US government has started to engage with South Africa, India, Brazil, and other nations in creating ground rules upon what is acceptable and what is not in relation to cyber security and attacks. As Duke states, “Those are countries that are leaders of the developing world and countries where we think it is very important to identify the things that we agree upon and don’t agree upon”. Cyber security is becoming a big issue globally and will likely continue to do so until all nations tighten up their security or create a stronger set of guidelines.

US-Israeli Stuxnet Cyber-attacks against Iran: info and implications

Our guest speaker in class today, Professor Ralph Russo, briefly discussed the US-Israeli Stuxnet Cyber-attacks against Iran. With the topic of class this week being cybersecurity, I think that a deeper look into this event is warranted.

In 2009-2010, the US (in collaboration with Israel) used malware, specifically a Stuxnet worm, to invade the control systems in an Iranian nuclear plant so that it’s centrifuges would spin at incorrect rates. Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility was the specific target. This cyber-attack successfully caused major technical problems with the centrifuges at this site and stalled nuclear production in Iran.


The cyber-attack qualifies as “an act of force” using “cyber weapons” under the Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare, which states: “acts that kill or injure persons or destroy or damage objects are unambiguously uses of force” (A). This event is also widely acclaimed (by Professor Russo and other professionals) as “an act of war.”

Obama recently stated in an article in the Wall Street Journal: “cyber threat to our nation is one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face” (B). On the same note, just two weeks ago, the president of Estonia stated in the New York Times: In a modern digitalized world it is possible to paralyze a country without attacking its defense forces” (C). In other words a country can virtually be brought to a halt by cyber-attack.

Clearly, the world understands the potential devastating outcomes of a cyber-attack as one of the most serious threats to a country, its economy, public health system, safety, etc. So was the US cyber-attack against Iran warranted? Are we promoting the ‘use’ of cyber-attacks by carrying them out ourselves, even if the intention of the cyber-attack against Iran was (arguably) harm reduction, disaster mitigation, or self-defense? Are we just asking for/ should we expect a strike back from Iran now that we’ve initiated this cyber-war? Professor Russo argues that we can’t really complain when Iran turns around and does something like this to us, and I have to agree with him.

Sources: A, B, C

US Government Informs and Readies Citizens to Thwart Cyber Attacks

Click here to go to FEMA Ready.gov website page and view how this government agency hopes to educate US residents to thwart cyber attacks by terrorist organizations.

Cyberterrorism and cyber-attacks are not a new development, but, have been evolving recently into an increasingly volatile and serious threat to many countries. While searching for information about cyber attacks for this blog post I came across the United State’s FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) page in which it hopes to educate and inform residents of the US about the nature of cyber attacks, what some of the greatest possible risks are, how they can affect the average resident, and what one should do before, during, and after a cyber attack event.

I found this page very informational. While many have a bad taste in their mouth after saying FEMA, I think they are being very proactive and forward thinking by trying to inform the general population of the risks of cyber attacks. Cyber attacks are not something that many individuals have in the forefront of their minds, and some may not even be aware of the concept at all. By making it clear that all are at risk for cyber attacks and that even someone who thinks that they do not have important information or connections can be at risk and put others at risk through the use of their computer to infiltrate other computer networks remotely.

I also think how FEMA chose to organize its page, with tabs for what to do before (preparation), during (reaction), and after (assessment) a cyber attack, is very smart. They provide not only information that might cause fear in some or nervousness (the possible effects of an attack), but, also how to mitigate and prevent these attacks from happening. As I have learned in Public Health, whenever fear is used as a way to influence people, it is important to provide ways in which individuals can react to that fear in order to have a project which has impact, and FEMA does just that.

FEMA goes one step further by providing additional information and ways in which individuals can stay connected and ahead on this issue by signing up for listserv’s about cyber security. As cyber attacks become more and more common and destructive it will be interesting to see what additional measures government agencies take to inform their populations about the threat.

US Presidential Candidate Romney Proposes More Strings to be Attached to US Foreign Aid

While reading the New York Times I came across this article that discussed presidential candidate Romney’s proposed idea to attach more strings to the foreign aid the US sends to various countries. This immediately made me think back to several conversations we recently had in class– I thought about how this embodied a large scale example of top-down driven policies, for it would be the US that decided how the aid was to be used rather than those individuals actually receiving it in their countries. Romney also proposed several new stipulations reminiscent of the Bush-era aid restrictions based on the recipient countries policy regarding abortion, again another top-down strategy.

The proposed strings include some neocolonial type notions– for example Romney states “In exchange for removing those barriers and opening their markets to U.S. investment and trade, developing nations will receive U.S. assistance packages focused on developing the institutions of liberty, the rule of law, and property rights.” (NYT 2012). Meaning that the US will make demands that must be met in order to receive US Aid packages that are designated to specific areas of development that are also beneficial to the US and it’s businesses. I would like to look at the plan in more detail to see if it were to be mandated that the recipient countries only receive products built and designed in the US that may be problematic in the environment of the country, and cause more trouble than they are worth. Statements made by Romney were also quite vague which made the true nature of the proposed strings harder to define.

Obama spoke as well and also focused on a specific issue he would like to see US foreign aid money go to, human trafficking.

Children at Liberty City School Recieve Laptops

There is much potential for ICTs in education. They can improve access to knowledge, promote creation of learning environments, fascilitate communication, equip students for the information age, and allow teachers to improve teaching. One ICT that was created to improve education in underdeveloped countries was a low-cost, low-power computer geared towards helping children in need. This mission was called One Laptop Per Child (OLPC).There mission, is to “provide educational opportunities for the worlds most isolated and poorest children by giving each child a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop; and software tools and content designed for collaborative, joyful, self empowered learning” (OLPC, Class Presentation). Although the idea for OLPC may have worked in underdeveloped countries, it is now also being implemented underdeveloped schools in the United States. Now, more than 525 students at Holmes Elementary in Liberty City are getting their own technology, and are said to cannot wait to use their own technology at home.

Sky Burger in the Subway

Today in class we discussed the Generational Divide when it comes to the Technology Divide.  While the discussion was going on, I kept thinking back to a personal experience I had this past summer while interning in Washington that illustrates such divide.

I was sitting in the Farragut North metro station, on my way back to the suburbs (where my company had me living for the summer) from my friends apartment on K street. I spent most of my weekends in the city, staying at this friends apartment and usually took the Red Line in every Friday after I got off work, and back out sometime late Sunday Afternoon.  While waiting for the train to arrive, I was sitting on a bench playing Sky Burger on my iPhone.  For those of you that don’t know, Sky Burger is an extremely simple (yet entertaining) game that you play by tilting your iPhone back and forth to collect burger toppings that are falling from the sky, trying to build your burger as high as possible before getting the top bun.  As I was playing, I noticed an elderly couple sitting next to me watching.  This made me kind of nervous, as now I needed to perform really well and build the best burger there ever was.

After I failed to escape the top bun and my burger was built and my score calculated, the elderly woman asked me what I was playing.  I explained to her and her husband that it was a little game on my phone, and explained the basics of it.  This is where the Generational Divide comes in: she asked me, “so you move it from side to side, by tilting your phone sideways? How can you do that?”  To this question, I had no answer, I told her that I assume there is just some sort of sensor in there that can tell which way the phone is turned, and showed her how on an iPhone, the screen can be displayed upright on all 4 directions of the phone.  She and her husband “oooohed” and “awwwed” and inquired more.  They then asked me where the numbers were on my phone, and how I made a phone call.  To this, I then had to explain the concept of a touch screen, and showed them that my iPhone didn’t have a physical keypad, but rather a digital one.  After showing the two of them my touch screen keypad, the old man took his phone out of his pocket to show me his.  It was a flip phone, with no internet access, no games, just a basic plan so that he can make hone calls.  He said to me, “It has this text messaging thing, but I don’t know how to use that, so I just use my phone to make phone calls.”

Discussion wrapped up as my train arrived, as I was heading one way and they, the other.  It ended with the comment by the old man, “That little phone in your hand can do a million more things than the computer I used to work with at my office job.”  And he was right, an iPhone isn’t just a phone, it’s a mini-computer. It can do more things than the computers of 30 years ago.  And I didn’t really think about it until then, but one of the comments made by the woman sticks out to me now, after class today.  She told me that if somebody had told her, when computers first started becoming used by companies for everyday business that in the next couple of decades everybody would be walking around with computers in their pockets, that she would have called them crazy.  And she said to me, “now that it’s reality, it scares the shit out of me.”

This conversation I had is exactly the reason we have a Generational Divide when it come to technology.  People are generally resistant to change as it is.  20, 30, 40 years ago, technology advanced at a much slower rate than it does today.  Now, just a couple of months after you purchase your new iPhone, Apple will probably be announcing a new version, set to come out sometime within the following year.  Every time a technology reaches the market these days, it becomes obsolete and out-dated the moment it leaves the shelves. Today’s elderly were still alive at a time where an iPhone would be an alien device from outer space when they were growing up.  The youth of the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s  are worlds away from the youth of today, and the elderly are watching technology pass them by.