News Digest: Hacks of More than 100 Companies Traced to Chinese Military Group

The Information Program works to increase access to knowledge and protect civil liberties in the digital environment. The following is a roundup of news and analysis that the program team has been watching in the past week. This week’s top story reports on findings that attribute attacks against over one hundred U.S. companies to a group of Chinese hackers with links to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

You can keep up to date on the latest stories to catch the Information Program team’s attention on our Pinboard page.

U.S.: Hacks of more than 100 companies traced to Chinese military group
This week, computer security firm Mandiant released a report tracing attacks against more than one hundred U.S. companies to a group of Chinese hackers known as Comment Crew, or APT1, and finding links between that group and the Chinese People's Liberation Army: “Victims have included the security firm RSA, Coca–Cola and the maker of equipment used in critical infrastructure systems,” Wired Threat Level reports. The New York Times observes: “The mounting evidence of state sponsorship...and the growing threat to American infrastructure are leading officials to conclude that a far stronger response is necessary.” Meanwhile, the MIT Technology Review reports on the U.S.'s own “Malware–Industrial Complex.”
Wired | New York Times | MIT Tech Review

Europe: EU Parliament committee makes 900+ changes to draft privacy law, “caving” to U.S. and industry lobbying
A key committee of the European Parliament has approved more than 900 changes to a proposed law on data protection, which will revise the rules governing how private data can be collected and used in Europe. Civil liberties groups accused the committee of bowing to demands from companies such as Amazon, eBay and Yahoo!, as well as the American Chamber of Commerce. European Digital Rights (EDRi) deemed the the new draft “disastrous.... The effect of the adopted text would be to effectively rip up decades of privacy legislation in Europe.”
Story | EDRi statement

India: Campaigner for the right to read dies
The Indian disability rights campaigner Rahul Cherian, a key campaigner for the WIPO Treaty for the Visually Impaired, has died at the age of 39. As Lawrence Liang writes in this obituary for The Hindu, “While many of us feel cheated by the death of someone so young, let us not be mistaken: it was always Rahul who cheated death all along, and Robin Hood–like, generously distributed his infectious enthusiasm, laughing his way out of the bank of life.” Negotiations to secure a binding treaty to allow better access to reading materials for print–disabled people continue: this report for Intellectual Property Watch highlights what such a treaty would mean for the 20 million visually impaired people in India.
Obituary | IPWatch report

U.S.: Publishers blast new bill to expand access to scientific knowledge
The American Association of Publishers (AAP) have issued a statement condemning the Fair Access to Science & Technology Research Act (FASTR), new legislation proposed last week that would require US government agencies to improve public access to federally funded research. The reaction is unsurprising given that, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) reports, the status quo in scientific publishing “gives journal publishers substantial control over access to academic work, even though they don't pay a dime in exchange to the authors who do the research, the peer–reviewers who vet the research, or the institutions that help make it possible.” The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Research Coalition (SPARC), by contrast, calls the proposed law “an important step forward” in the journey towards open access to scholarly research.
AAP statement | EFF report | SPARC

Any two pages on the web are connected by 19 clicks or less report on new research on the topography of the world wide web.

Robots special: Unmanned vehicles in the air and on the road
Professor Paul Newman and his team at Oxford takes the UK's first self–driving car out for a run around the track. The car is somewhat differently designed than Google's, especially so it can cope with the wider array of weather conditions prevailing in the UK. In a separate posting, Bruce Schneier describes recent developments that highlight the vast amount of data self–driving cars record about their passengers. Meanwhile, veteran science writer John Horgan surveys the state of drones and their emerging market and, in an animation for the New York Times, a fictional former KGB agent welcomes a future in which Americans live under the watchful eyes of drones.
Newman | Schneier | Horgan | Drones for America! animation

Many social enterprises are critically ill
The first post in the Guardian's “Secret Social Entrepreneur” series argues that poor governance practice in the non–profit sector often escapes exposure: “There is not enough public failure, what there is is actively hidden and ignored. Where is the useful criticism of the sector?”

To curb extremism, Egypt must revamp university curricula
Khaled Fahmy, the chair of the American University in Cairo’s history department, argues that an education that focusses only on the technical skills of a single discipline and does not give students exposure to the liberal arts leaves them vulnerable to extremist views.

Data visualisation: Mapping Twitter in African cities
Information geographer Mark Graham shares his geospatial visualisations of tweets in major African cities, including Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Cairo and Cape Town.

Book review: The Signal and the Noise
This review of Nate Silver's recent book on mathematical modelling and its effects on our lives chides the pollster for confusing cause and effect in his analysis of the role of models in finance: “We didn’t have a financial crisis because of a bad model or a few bad models. We had bad models because of a corrupt and criminally fraudulent financial system.”

Video: Google and the World Brain
This BBC documentary provides a comprehensive, if hostile, account of Google's attempts to digitise the world's books and the controversies to which those attempts have given rise.

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