Thursday 29 June 2017

Digital Divide: World Cyber Alerts - June 29, 2017

their legislation today could be yours tomorrow

German flag and map 
In a break with previous policy, interior minister Thomas de Maiziere has announced that Germany is in the process of creating a law that would allow the government to decipher and read the private encrypted messages of apps such as WhatsApp and Signal. “We can’t allow there to be areas that are practically outside the law,” stated de Maiziere.
British flag and map

A terrorist attack in London has prompted British Prime Minister Theresa May to call for greater international “regulation” of cyberspace. Specifically, May is calling for companies such as Facebook and WhatsApp to provide the British government with backdoor access to messages sent by terrorism suspects.

Russian flag and map

In a vote of 363-0, Russia’s State Duma has approved legislation that would outlaw anonymizing software. News source Meduza explained, “The bill’s sponsors would give the owners of VPN networks and internet anonymizers access to Russia’s registry of blocked online resources, so they could cut access to these websites. Any Internet circumvention tools that refuse to block access to banned resources would themselves be blocked.”

French flag and map

A draft report from the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs has proposed end-to-end encryption for all “electronic communication data”. The legislation aims to protect communication such as “calls, internet access, instant messaging applications, email, internet phone calls and messaging provided through social media.” 

Privacy, Surveillance and Censorship
government isn't always on your side

Pakistani flag and map 

Pakistani man Taimoor Raza has been sentenced to death for committing an act of blasphemy on Facebook when he unknowingly engaged in an online debate about Islam with a counterterrorism officer. Raza is one of 15 individuals to be arrested in a recent crackdown on internet blasphemy.

American flag and map 

Tweets from Pavel Durov of Russia's Telegram indicate that United States intelligence agencies have tried to bribe the company to weaken its messaging app’s encryption. Durov stated that the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation has similarly pressured his company. 

Research and Initiatives
making your world a more cybersecure place

Thai flag and map 
A Bangkok agreement marks the beginning of increased cybercrime cooperation between Australia, Thailand, Singapore and China. Said Australia’s Tobias Feakin, “Criminals and nefarious actors can adapt and absorb all [this information] so much quicker than governments. So if we’re not talking about it, sharing best practice and keeping on the move as well then we will soon find ourselves behind by quite a margin.” 

the threats we all face

British flag and map 

A “sustained and determined” cyberattack took advantage of weak email passwords used by members of the British parliament recently. Said Liam Fox, minister for international trade, “We know that our public services are attacked so it’s not at all surprising that there should be an attempt to hack into parliamentary emails.” 

All images credit of BOLDG/
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Monday 26 June 2017

The Republic of Darkness

“I believe in life and people. I feel obliged to advocate their highest ideals as long as I believe them to be true. I also see myself compelled to revolt against ideals I believe to be false, since recoiling from rebellion would be a form of treason.” – Naguib Mahfouz

Ten years in prison was the sentence. He must have hurt someone, right? Or robbed a bank? Embezzled money? Stole a car?

No. Mohamed Ramadan criticized his government on Facebook.

The Sisi regime used Egypt’s controversial 2015 “counter-terrorism” law to convict Ramadan for using Facebook to “insult” Sisi, harm unity, and incite violence. Ramadan’s real “crime” is his work defending human rights activists and political prisoners who oppose Sisi’s illegitimate dictatorship. His lawyers allege that the regime even went so far as to create fake social media profiles for Ramadan and post calls for terrorist activities while pretending to be him.

Soon after Ramadan’s conviction, Dostour Party member Nael Hassan was arrested for also insulting the president, inciting public opinion, affiliation with an outlawed group, obstructing state institutions, and attempting to overthrow the regime based on the same Sisi decree.

Well, at least they admit they are a regime.

The 2015 law was intentionally crafted in such a way as to give the regime free reign to arrest anyone it wants, effectively banning freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and it quite intentionally silences the press, as it requires fines between $25,550-$64,000 USD for journalists who “contradict official accounts of militant attacks,” as well as other vaguely outlined punishments for so-called terrorist activity.

Yes, Egypt has a real problem with terrorism. Hundreds of Egyptian security forces have been murdered by criminals using religion as an excuse for their crimes in recent years, many of whom have pledged their support to Daesh. The horrific attacks on Copts in April lent Sisi an excuse to declare a “state of emergency,” which in Egypt simply means added oppression for Egyptian citizens, as we saw under Mubarak’s thirty-year state of emergency rule. Since then, the 2015 law has been used to arrest hordes of people. But let’s get real here; the law is not about terrorism, it is about tightening Sisi’s control over the people of Egypt and protecting his fragile ego. Sisi is just another dictator on a growing list of those who arrest people for online posts under the guise of counter-terrorism, a worrisome trend for net freedom and human rights in general.

25 January 2011 seems like a lifetime ago.

Hope has since succumbed to the new realities of a post-Arab Spring world, one that has seen the same kind of economic stagnation, a more evil form of religious extremism, incessant civil war, bizarre diplomatic schisms, backsliding democracy, and perhaps worse political oppression than that which had plagued Egypt for the previous three decades, characterized by unbridled censorship, unlimited surveillance, and arrest and detention for mere tweets.

Many digital things combined to bring together events at Tahrir Square, and non-digital things, too. The event was like a flashing star in the history of Cairo. With the coups and crackdowns and cuckoos blowing things up under the black flag of death using guns and knives and trucks to take down that which is human – and godly – sometimes it is difficult to recall that sense of Hope. The whole world was there at that moment, watching those brave souls standing up to 30 years of tyranny, armed with nothing but mobile phones and a desire for change.

My, what six years can do. Technology has changed since then, even if oppression in Egypt has not. While smartphones, broadband, and Facebook were widely available in 2011, the digital reach was nowhere near what it is today in Egypt.

And that scares the regime.

Not content to just arrest opponents for online posts, in the last several weeks, Sisi has been freaking out about all that technological innovation and growth, shuttering 63 websites, blocking VPNs, and spreading fake news about “terrorists” using tech to spread their message, like Mada Masr, a progressive, independent “terrorist” news website and Albedaiah, run by an independent “terrorist” journalist. Even international “terrorist” platforms like Medium have been blocked.

Lies. They know they are lies. We know they are lies. Everyone knows they are lies, yet they continue to put up the pretense that they are combating "terrorism."

Ramadan and Hassan are not alone. Mohamed Essem. Alaa Abdel Fattah. Ahmed Douma. Ahmad Maher. Mohamed Adel. Just some of the names on the list. The list is long. The list is unjust. As Facebook has grown, so too have the number of Facebook prisoners. Last week, at least 40 people were arrested for social media posts regarding planned protests over the land exchange with Saudi Arabia. Just before #Jan25 2016, the Sisi regime arrested 150 opposition supporters, including 47 administrators of so-called Muslim Brotherhood Facebook pages, as well as 24 year-old Mohamed Essem, admin of a revolutionary socialists page. The Facebook arrests were part of a wider crackdown on any opposition since the Sisi coup, often under the guise of terrorism, or sometimes under the thin-skinned "insulting the president" excuse. Prominent blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah has been in prison for two of what is supposed to be five years for opposing the Sisi coup.

But the regime doesn't stop at mere arrest and detention. In February 2015, infamous human rights violator judge Nagy Shehata sentenced 183 people to death and 230 people to life in prison for the “crime” of demanding freedom. Hundreds more Egyptians have been disappeared by the regime. Last year, 3,462 university students were in prison, more than the entire student bodies of some universities in the world. No one can be exactly sure of the number of political prisoners held in Egypt, but activists say it numbers in the tens of thousands.

What's more, the regime has taken to hacking prominent activists and human rights NGOs.

As Gamal Eid, human rights activist and director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information said, the 2015 counter-terrorism law ushered in a republic of darkness in Egypt. You can imagine how many prominent bloggers and social media activists have gone silent. Many live in exile. Being a dissident in Egypt is a dangerous occupation, one in which human life is at risk.

But you don’t have to be silent. You can be anonymous. You can be encrypted. Regimes fear that anonymity, and they seek to take it away. We're not going to let them. We're going to keep on encrypting even when they try to ban it, because we're not going to toss that Hope into the dustbin of history.

The discovery of fire changed the human story, giving us the ability to keep warm and cook our food. Yet fire has been used as a weapon time and time again. Would it not be absurd to ban fire?

The airplane has allowed us to transverse the globe in a matter of hours. It has also brought the deaths of millions as a transport for bombs that can set fire to entire cities. Kamikazes used it as a weapon during World War II just as Islamic terrorists used it to bring down the World Trade Center. Did we try to ban the airplane? Again, ridiculous.

Encryption gives us yet another powerful tool that benefits our lives, protecting us from hackers and surveillance, keeping our money secure in a world of ecommerce, safeguarding our private data from cyberthieves and those who would do us harm, preventing corporate espionage and theft of intellectual property, and perhaps most importantly, protecting the voices of the oppressed, whether they are fighting for freedom or are part of some persecuted group, be it religion, orientation, race, or any of the other things that divide our world.

Do the United States Congress and the British Parliament and the French Assembly and the other Western governments wanting to mandate encryption backdoors seriously believe that the Sisis, Assads, and Jintaus of the world or the jihadi criminals who recruit with social media or the black hats who steal our data won’t find those backdoors?

Additionally, are we going to give more rights to corporations who sell surveillance technology to oppressive regimes than to ordinary citizens, corporations like Hacking Team, who sold surveillance programs to the Sisi regime that may have played a part in the mass arrests that seem to be commonplace? Egyptians, among so many others, need encryption now more than ever.

That’s why SumRando exists. We want to provide the tools necessary to protect freedom of expression and privacy in the twenty-first century. We are privacy advocates. While we may not be doing work on the same level as those who distributed the famed samizdat in the Soviet Union, or the Irish monks who sealed themselves in towers to copy documents by hand so that they may save the great works from the Viking hordes, or the Arabs who invented modern cryptography and frequency analysis, we do believe we can contribute. We’re ok with you wanting to use our product to access movies or games or even videos of a licentious nature. But we also want those of you who suffer from the heavy hands of censorship – activists, human rights and aid workers, journalists, women, oppressed minorities, and political opposition – to know that hey, we got your back.

So here’s to Tahrir and that Hope that we saw six years ago. Here’s to an Egypt and a Middle East free from the shackles of extremism and oppression. Here’s to a world where the dignity of all is not denied. Until then, we’ll give you the tools you’ll need to protect yourselves online.

Ban dictators, not discourse.

Tuesday 13 June 2017

LGBT persecution: The case of Uganda

June holds many Pride events across the globe where it is permissible. In many places, it simply isn't. LGBT today continue to be one of the most persecuted minority groups on the planet. Even in places where rights have advanced significantly, like in the United States, LGBT persons continue to suffer both de facto and de jure persecution. Since the election of Donald Trump, homicides against LGBT are up 17%, excluding the horrific Pulse nightclub massacre that happened one year ago. Politicians continue to introduce laws designed to marginalize and discriminate against LGBT Americans and other places in the world.

When political leaders promote agendas of hate, there are real consequences. Take the situation in Uganda and the tragic death of human rights activist David Kato.

Life imprisonment for “carnal knowledge against the order of nature.” Seven years for “gross indecency.” In February 2014, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, broadening the criminalization of same-sex relations, which had already been illegal since British colonial rule. You didn’t have to be in Uganda to be punished – the law contained provisions for Ugandans to be extradited, should they be caught violating this law abroad. You didn’t even have to be gay, as the act included penalties for those who aided or abetted same-sex acts, whether the “aid” came from individuals, companies, or NGOs.

A February 2011 leak of US diplomatic cables revealed US concerns about the worsening human rights situation in Uganda and discussed a UN funded conference held in 2009 during which David Kato, considered the father of Uganda’s LGBT activism, gave an impassioned speed regarding the anti-LGBT atmosphere in his country. MP David Bahati followed with a tirade against homosexuality, which received massive applause.

Bahati, described in the US cables as a man whose homophobia is “blinding and incurable,” authored the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which originally called for LGBT Ugandans to be put to death. Uganda is not the only African country to criminalize homosexuality; thirty-eight of 53 African nations have laws on the books that punish homosexuality in some way. However, Uganda’s law was considered particularly severe, reflecting a climate in which an overwhelming majority of Ugandans disapprove of homosexuality and LGBT citizens suffer violence, vandalism, discrimination, and “correctional” rape.

And death.

On 26 January 2011, David Kato was bludgeoned to death with a hammer in his own home. Some weeks earlier, he had won a court case against a tabloid that had pictured Kato and another man on the cover with the headline, “Hang them.” The tabloid had been publishing lists of names and addresses of Ugandans who were rumored to be gay; it was responsible for some of the persecution as those identified in the lists were harassed, discriminated against, detained, and beaten. Kato and other activists had seen increased harassment since a high court judge granted a permanent injunction against the tabloid to prevent it from identifying gay people. 

While Kato paid the ultimate price for his fight to protect LBGT Ugandans from the scourge of bigotry and human rights advocates across the globe mourned his death, the environment did not improve. Three years later, the Anti-Homosexuality Act was signed into law. Uganda saw an immediate spike in human rights abuses following its enactment. Human rights group Sexual Minorities of Uganda (SMUG) published a report documenting 162 cases of persecution against LGBT Ugandans in May 2014 alone. LGBT Ugandans suffered violence at the hands of authorities and private citizens, evictions, employment termination, denial of health care, destruction of property, family banishment, and social stigma that continued well after the Constitutional Court of Uganda struck down the law in August 2014. The SMUG report, entitled, “And that’s how I survived being killed: Testimonies of human rights abuses from Uganda’s sexual and gender minorities,” found 264 cases of persecution from May 2014-December 2015.

Sadly, the Uganda situation hasn't improved. In fact, one has to wonder if the climate of hate that is spreading across the globe hasn't emboldened other would be LGBT killers in Uganda and elsewhere. Let us hope this is not the case.

In too many countries, to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender is to be stigmatized or even treated as criminal. LGBT individuals need online access to healthcare, social networks, support and advocacy, without the worry of a digital trail. SumRando VPN, Web Proxy, and Messenger allow these individuals to maintain their anonymity and security when accessing the internet and communicating online.

We want to help you survive.

Thursday 8 June 2017

Notes on the Underground

"I self publish."

Such an empowering word. "Samizdat." The idea seems quaint in the digital age, but the need for such underground communication is as important as ever. We are witnessing a global backsliding in democracy at a rather alarming rate; even the world's staunchest proponents of human rights and ideals are experiencing existential threats to their institutions the world once strove to live up to.

The demonization, detention, and even death of journalists has become far too widespread. 2016 was one of the worst years for journalists that we've seen in many years, led by Erdogen's regime in Turkey, who arrested 81 media workers in 2016, often shuttering media outlets with it, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

And what role has the global adoption of the internet played in the world's slide toward authoritarianism? How can you quantify it? The proliferation of amateur outlets purporting to report the news without the education and professional training necessary to verify facts, identify and assemble a portfolio of trustworthy sources and recognize those who would seek to disseminate false information, and even refrain from kneejerk reactions and personal opinions when inappropriate, has contributed to a global climate of conspiracy theories, "alternative facts," "fake news," and a host of other misinformation events.

The Soviet Union was, at times, one of the most heinous empires in human history, as most non-authoritarian-inclined people would agree. Censorship, of course, was an inherent part of the regimes power. Indeed, without censorship, such a regime could not exist!

It's why the samizdat existed, too, but to fight it. Russian poet Nikolay Glazkov coined the term as a joke (showing that comedy always sides with the resistance.) His father was repressed as part of Stalin's Great Purge. Consequently, Glazkov was expelled from university for being related to "an enemy of the people."

LOL. The only enemies of the people are those who seek to oppress the people.

In Moscow, Glazkov worked odd jobs and printed poetry under the publishing house name "Samsebyaizdat" (self-publishing house), clearly a knock against state-run publishing houses. He later shortened the word.

Glazkov may have used the term as a joke, but the samizdat were no joking matter. They were an essential tool to dissidents, who reproduced censored and banned material by hand and passed it from reader to reader. Harsh punishments were doled out to those caught with censored material, so the practice was highly dangerous. Boris Pasternik's Nobel Prize winning Doctor Zhivago was the first full length book to be passed around by samizdat. Samizdat covered a wide range of topics, from political and literary texts to nationalist and religious works.

It is hard for many of us to fathom having to pass around ideas like that, on papers that are passed around, sometimes to the point of disintegration. Today, we have encryption that works the same way as the samizdat. While the Soviets had prying eyes looking for people who were passing documents around, Putin's regime has prying eyes reading what Russians and others write on the internet. What we have seen today in the United States shows just how far reaching is Russian cybercrime and cyberwarfare. It can affect the stability of countries.

That is why encryption is so vital. Using SumRando Cybersecurity products will mask what data you are transmitting, making sure that Putin isn't intercepting your communications. We offer a VPN for internet browsing, Messenger for communicating, and STASH for transferring files anonymously.

Visit today to learn more.