Week in Review: December 6, 2016

by Priscilla Guo

Delete Yourself from the Internet
Swedish developers Wille Dahlbo and Linus Unnebäck have launched Deseat.me, a website that will allow users to “clean up your Internet presence”. By granting the website access to your Google account, the application can scan all your emails through Google’s OAuth protocol and will generate a list of apps, websites, and other accounts that are connected to your email address. The website has successfully worked in removing accounts on Facebook, Evernote, Dribble, YouTube, LinkedIn, and many more. Then, you are given an option of “Add to Delete Queue” or “Keep” for each account. If you regret deleting an account, the website offers a grace period, during which users can reactivate accounts that they’ve deleted. What exactly does it means to delete yourself on the Internet? The website promises to expunge the accounts that you’ve developed with your email address, but references and engagement with other people’s accounts still remain. For instance, on Facebook, your shares and likes will still appear on other’s profiles. At the moment, Deseat.me only works with Google accounts. Another limitation is that the website hasn’t completely figured out how to unsubscribe from newsletters that do not have direct unsubscribe links. To address privacy concerns with email scanning, the website’s developers assure users that the program runs only on one’s computer, not on a server. Although it doesn’t have access to login info for the websites associated with your Google account, the Daily Dot recommends removing Deseat.me’s access once you are finished using the service as an extra safety precaution.

The Fake News Problem and Facebook’s Proposed Solution
Fake news was a problem this election cycle in the United States. From “Pope Francis Shocks the World, Endorses Donald Trump for President” to “Barack Obama Admits He Was Born in Kenya”, false news stories spread like wildfire throughout the social media website Facebook and may have played a role in swinging the election towards one candidate’s favor. Where is the fake news coming from? Entrepreneurial teens in Macedonia are circulating sensationalist stories on the platform in order to make monetary gains from the advertisements. Fake news has been described as a digital gold rush in the Eastern European countries. Hostile foreign intelligence agencies alike are feeding fake information into the platform in order to undermine governments abroad.
According to the Pew Research Center, 44% of American adults got at least some of their news through Facebook. Earlier this year, Facebook had received heavy criticism for supposedly suppressing conservative news stories and replacing human curators with software. Unfortunately, the algorithms are less perceptive at detecting fake news stories. On November 12, Facebook denied that the hoaxes shared on the website had any influence on the outcome. However, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently detailed his plans to identify fake news stories and “disrupt economies of fake news”. They are hoping to improve the platform with better “detection of fake news, a better reporting system for users to report fake news, and possibly flagging fake news with warning labels”. The company is also planning on rolling out a new feature called Collections, which will insert stories and media chosen by the company directly into users’ news feeds. This strategic move not only ensures that users receive quality content with verified facts but also competes with SnapChat’s Discover section, which is seen by 150 million daily users.
This week, Facebook blocked sharing the B.S. Detector tool, which was a browser plugin that flashed fake news warnings, on the social media platform itself. The plugin is still functional. When asked to respond by TechCrunch, Facebook replied that they generally block links with a .tech top-level domain because of the abuse that usually occurs under that domain level.

Internet Blocked in Gambia Election
On Thursday, December 1, the West African state of Gambia banned Internet and international phone calls during its presidential elections. On the night before the vote was held, all Internet services were blocked. Weeks before the vote, messaging services like WhatsApp and Viber were blocked. Through these actions, the current incumbent, President Yahya Jammeh, is trying to slow down the momentum of his opposition. President Jammeh has not faced a challenge to his seat in more than two decades. Businessman Adama Barrow has inspired a significant opposition in the country to address human rights concerns under the current administration. “Forced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture, and other human rights violations continue,” says Human Rights Watch. Popular support for the opposition culminated in rallies earlier in the week, bring thousands to protest the president’s abuse of power. Many rights groups are criticizing the circumstances under which the vote took place. More than 880,000 voters registered to vote at more than 14,000 polling stations. Since the 1960s, Gambia has used marbles to cast votes for its elections, which address illiteracy and prevents rigging.

Mirai Botnet Strikes Globally
The Mirai botnet is not done yet. On October 21, the Mirai botnet infected IoT devices in the United States to disable access to major websites for more than two hours in the largest ever distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack. Then, on November 15, the same code was used to attack the internet infrastructure of Liberia. Earlier this week, the Mirai botnet disrupted nearly a million routers on the Deutsche Telekom (DT) network. 4.5% of DT’s landline customers were targeted, along with a couple of German government routers. According to Johannes Ullrich, a security researcher with the SANS Technology Institute, the Mirai botnet has been upgraded in this latest attack. Initially, Mirai had the capability of infecting IoT devices by targeting devices with weak default logins but in the most recent strain, Mirai exploited a flaw in the Simple Object Access Protocol service, embedded in the Zyxel router products. More than 100,000 people in the United Kingdom lost Internet access due to the Mirai attack. Users of TalkTalk and Post Office internet service providers were primarily affected. In particular, Post Office uses Zyxel AMG1302 routers and TalkTalk uses D-Link DSL-3780 routers, which were compromised by the new strain of Mirai botnet. “This failure [is part of] a worldwide attack on selected remote management ports of DSL routers. This was done to infect the attacked devices with malicious software,” confirmed the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI).