Week in Review: March 23, 2016

by Muira McCammon

Apple/FBI: Israeli Company Is Said to Be Helping the U.S. Govt Access the SB iPhone

An Israeli company is allegedly helping the FBI gain access to the contents of an iPhone of one of the two San Bernardino shooters. Preliminary reports from Reuters and Ynet indicate that Cellebrite, an Israeli company, is assisting the FBI. The company specializes in the creation of various data extraction devices for cellular phones and mobile devices. On March 21, the U.S. Department of Justice asked a U.S. federal court to postpone a scheduled hearing that was intended to pressure Apple to build a passcode limit removal mechanism. Experts suspect that Cellulite might be using a NAND mirroring technique, which involves copying the flash memory of the iPhone so that it can be restored after a lockscreen wipe. Read here for some background on Cellebrite from VICE.

European Union: Encryption Debate, Ongoing and Renewed After Attacks in Brussels

On the morning of March 22, 2016, three coordinated bombs went off in Belgium: two at the Brussels Airport in Zaventem and one at the Maalbeek Metro Station in Brussels. The attacks have sparked another round of debates on the potential usage of encryption by proponents of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, commented: “We do not know yet what role, if any, encrypted communications played in these attacks — but we can be sure that terrorists will continue to use what they perceive to be the most secure means to plot their attacks."  According to an article in Business Insider, an ISIS-affiliated channel on Telegram is telling its supporters to “keep a [low] profile until the heat dies down” and use encryption. "By making it known that they are using these technologies they are fundamentally undermining confidence among civilian populaces that our technologically-superior governments can effectively manage threats posed by this terrorist group," Michael S. Smith, the founder of security firm Kronos Advisory who has advised Congress on terror-related issues, explained. It is not yet known if the attackers in Brussels used encryption to avoid detection. A number of netizens have emphasized that the attackers in Paris “used burner phones, not encryption." Authorities are continuing to research what communication methods attackers used in Paris and Brussels.

India: Reporter Arrested After Criticizing Police on WhatsApp

On March 21, Prabhat Singh was arrested by the Indian police for violating Section 67 of the India’s Information Technology Act. Singh is said to have posted a statement on WhatsApp that was critical of the police. He works as a journalist in the Bastar region of India’s Chhattisgarh state, an area known for its rebels and hit-and-run attacks on members of the military. On March 22, he was formally charged with circulating “confrontational material,” his lawyer Khitij Dubey remarked. Singh’s lawyer also disclosed that his client was beaten while in custody. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has asked that local authorities release the journalist immediately.“The arrests and hounding of journalists and their defenders has given way to a climate of fear that risks turning parts of Chhattisgarh into a media black hole,” CPJ’s Asia program senior research associate Sumit Galhotra said in an online statement. Two days before he was arrested, Singh was fired by his employer (the full termination letter is available here). This article on an independent Indian news site offers one perspective on his case.

Microsoft: The Company Launches “Tay,” An Artificial Intelligence Bot for Teens

On March 23, Microsoft launched “Tay,” a new bot that’s been made especially for teenagers. Tay is active on Snapchat, Kik, and Groupme but developers have said that the easiest way to talk with Tay is on Twitter (@tayandyou). In a statement launching Tay, Microsoft explained, “Tay is designed to engage and entertain people where they connect with each other online through casual and playful conversation. The more you chat with Tay the smarter she gets, so the experience can be more personalized for you.” The researchers who built Tay are hoping that she will gain many followers, especially those who are between 18 and 24 years old in the U.S. They added, “Public data that’s been anonymized is Tay’s primary data source. That data has been modeled, cleaned and filtered by the team developing Tay." Her launch has been covered by international media, including [ES], [DE], and other outlets.

Turkey: U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara Has Became a Twitter Sensation

U.S Attorney Preet Bharara has rapidly gained more than 150,000 new followers after arresting Reza Zarrab, an Iranian gold trader, who was involved in a corruption scandal in Turkey three years ago. Zarrab also has Turkish citizenship, and it is believed that the majority of Bharara’s new followers are also Turkish. Above the Law, a popular legal blog, called Bharara “a Twitter star.” A Twitter fan asked if Bharara wanted anything from Turkey and offered to send him “Turkish raki, Shish Kebab, Lokuum, Turkish Carpet.” Bharara responded, “Well, I do love shish kebab but I don't think I can accept gifts just for doing my job." In a press release, the U.S. Department of Justice noted that Zarrab was arrested along with another Iranian “for engaging in hundreds of millions of dollars-worth of transactions on behalf of the government of Iran and other Iranian entities, which were barred by U.S. sanctions, laundering the proceeds of those illegal transactions and defrauding several financial institutions by concealing the true nature of these transactions.”