Archive for the ‘Terrorism’ Category

Truth In Terrorism Labeling (TITL) – A Starter Set

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

Sam Biddle‘s recent post: Facebook’s Tough-On-Terror Talk Overlooks White Extremists, is a timely reminder that “terrorism” and “terrorist” are labels with no agreed upon meaning.

To illustrate, here are some common definitions with suggestions for specifying the definition in use:

Terrorist/terrorism(Biddle): ISIS, Al Qaeda, and US white extremists. But not Tibetans and Uyghurs.

Terrorist/terrorism(China): From: How China Sees ISIS Is Not How It Sees ‘Terrorism’:

… in Chinese discourse, terrorism is employed exclusively in reference to Tibetans and Uyghurs. Official government statements typically avoid identifying acts of violence with a specific ethnic group, preferring more generic descriptors like “Xinjiang terrorists,“ “East Turkestan terror forces and groups,” the “Tibetan Youth Congress,” or the “Dalai clique.” In online Chinese chat-rooms, however, epithets like “Uyghur terrorist” or “Tibetan splittest” are commonplace and sometimes combine with homophonic racial slurs like “dirty Tibetans” or “raghead Uyghurs.”

Limiting “terrorism” to Tibetans and Uyghurs excludes ISIS, Al Qaeda, and US white extremists from that term.

Terrorist/terrorism(Facebook): ISIS, Al Qaeda, but no US white extremists (following US)

Terrorist/terrorism(Russia): Putin’s Flexible Definition of Terrorism

Who, exactly, counts as a terrorist? If you’re Russian President Vladimir Putin, the definition might just depend on how close or far the “terror” is from Moscow. A court in the Nizhniy Novgorod regional center last week gave a suspended two year sentence to Stanislav Dmitriyevsky, Chair of the local Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, and editor of Rights Defense bulletin. Dmitriyevsky was found guilty of fomenting ethnic hatred, simply because in March 2004, he published an appeal by Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov — later killed by Russian security services — and Maskhadov’s envoy in Europe, Akhmet Zakayev.

Maskhadov, you see, is officially a terrorist in the eyes of the Kremlin. Hamas, however, isn’t. Putin said so at his Kremlin press-conference on Thursday, where he extended an invitation — eagerly accepted — to Hamas’s leaders to Moscow for an official visit.

In fairness to Putin, as a practical matter, who is or is not a “terrorist” for the US depends on the state of US support. US supporting, not terrorists, US not supporting, likely to be terrorists.

Terrorist/terrorism(US): Generally ISIS, Al Qaeda, no US white extremists, for details see: Terrorist Organizations.

By appending parentheses and Biddle, China, Facebook, Russia, or US to terrorist or terrorism, the reading public has some chance to understand your usage of “terrorism/terrorist.”

Otherwise they are nodding along using their definitions of “terrorism/terrorist” and not yours.

Or was that vagueness intentional on your part?

Power Outage Data – 15 Years Worth

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

Data: Explore 15 Years Of Power Outages by Jordan Wirfs-Brock.

From the post:

This database details 15 years of power outages across the United States, compiled and standardized from annual data available at from the Department of Energy.

For an explanation of what it means, how it came about, and how we got here, listen to this conversation between Inside Energy Reporter Dan Boyce and Data Journalist Jordan Wirfs-Brock:

You can also view the data as a Google Spreadsheet (where you can download it as a CSV). This version of the database also includes information about the amount of time it took power to be restored, the demand loss in megawatts, the NERC region, (NERC refers to the North American Electricity Reliability Corporation, formed to ensure the reliability of the grid) and a list of standardized tags.

The data set isn’t useful for tactical information, the submissions are too general to replicate the events leading up to an outage.

On the other hand, identifiable outage events, dates, locations, etc., do make recovery of tactical data from grid literature a manageable search problem.


Electric Grid Threats – Squirrels 952 : CrashOverride 1 (maybe)

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

If you are monitoring cyberthreats to the electric grid, compare the teaser document, Crash Override: Analysis of the Treat to Electric Grid Operators from Dragos, Inc. to the stats at

I say a “teaser” documents because the modules of greatest interest include: “This module was unavailable to Dragos at the time of publication” statements (4 out of 7) and:

If you are a Dragos, Inc. customer, you will have already received the more concise and technically in-depth intelligence report. It will be accompanied by follow-on reports, and the Dragos team will keep you up-to-date as things evolve.

If you have a copy of Dragos customer data on CrashOverride, be a dear and publish a diff against this public document.

Inquiring minds want to know. 😉

If you are planning to mount/defeat operations against an electric grid, a close study cases will be instructive.

Creating and deploying grid damaging malware remains a challenging task.

Training an operative to mimic a squirrel, not so much.

Theresa May (UK) Out Dumbs Donald Trump (USA)

Monday, June 5th, 2017

Theresa May (UK) has made a dumber proposal than Donald Trump (USA), at least this week. But it is only Monday.

The Independent reports Theresa May is calling for regulation of the internet, after a van and knife on London Bridge.

From the story:

“We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed – yet that is precisely what the internet, and the big companies that provide internet-based services provide,” Ms May said.

“We need to work with allied democratic governments to reach international agreements to regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremist and terrorism planning.”

She warned there was “a new trend in the threat we face” and that while the three recent terror attacks in the UK were not linked by “common networks”, they were “bound together by the single evil ideology of Islamic extremism”.

Completely unhinged.

Do take the threats of regulation seriously.

Search for and publish 0Days upon discovery. Computers are breached may belong to governments attempting to regulate the internet. Any diminishing of their capabilities and/or secrecy, is a win for everyone.

Innovations In Security: Put All Potential Bombs In Cargo

Monday, May 29th, 2017

US Wants to Extend Laptop Ban to All International Flights by Catalin Cimpanu.

From the post:

US Secretary of Homeland Security Gen. John Kelly revealed in an interview over the weekend that the US might expand its current laptop ban to all flights into the US in the near future.

“I might,” said Gen. Kelly yesterday on Fox News Sunday. “There’s a real threat. There’s numerous threats against aviation. That’s really the thing they’re really obsessed with, the terrorists, the idea of knocking down an airplane in flight, particularly if it is a US carrier, particularly if it is full of mostly US folks.”

Is there an FOIA exception to obtaining the last fitness report on US Secretary of Homeland Security Gen. John F. Kelly when he was serving with the Marines?

Loading fire-prone laptops, which may potentially also contain bombs, into a planes cargo hold for “safety,” raises serious questions about Kelly’s mental competence.

Banning laptops could be a ruse to get passengers to use cloud services for their data, making it more easily available to the NSA.

As the general says, there are people obsessed with “the idea of knocking down an airplane in fight,” but those are mostly found in the Department of Homeland Security.

You need not take my word for it, consider the Wikipedia timeline of airline bombings shows eight such bombings since December of 2001. I find it difficult to credit “obsession” when worldwide there is only one bomb attack on an airline every two years.

Moreover, the GAO in Airport Perimeter and Access Control Security Would Benefit from Risk Assessment and Strategy Updates (2016) found the TSA has not evaluated the vulnerability at 81% of the 437 commercial airports. US airports are vulnerable and the TSA can’t say which ones or by how much.

If terrorists truly were “obsessed,” in General Kelly’s words, the abundance of vulnerable US airports should see US aircraft dropping like flies. Except they’re not.

PS: Anticipating a complete ban on laptops, now would be a good time to invest in airport laptop rental franchises.

Combating YouTube Censorship (Carry Banned Videos Yourself)

Monday, May 29th, 2017

Memorial Day is always a backwards looking holiday, but reading How Terrorists Slip Beheading Videos Past YouTube’s Censors by Rita Katz, felt like time warping to the 1950’s.

Other jihadi propaganda on the video-sharing platform may be visually more low-key, but are just as insidious in their own ways.

There is a grim bit in comedian Dave Chappelle’s new Netflix special about clicking “don’t like” on an Islamic State beheading video.

“How is this guy cutting peoples’ heads off on YouTube?” Chappelle asks, noting the absurdity of it.

Don’t like. Click.

In reality, reports of extremist content littering YouTube aren’t new. But when hundreds of major advertisers began suspending contracts with YouTube and Google in recent months, boycotting the massive video-sharing platform over concerns with such explicit content, things got a lot more real.

Google services—namely YouTube—are the most plentiful and important links used by terrorist organizations to disseminate their propaganda. And despite all of YouTube’s efforts to keep them out thus far, such groups still manage to sneak their media onto its servers.
… (emphasis in original)

Whatever label you want to apply to another group, “terrorist,” “al Qaeda,” etc., censorship is and remains censorship.

Censorship and intimidation were practiced during the Red Scare of the 1940’s/50’s, lives/careers were ruined, and we weren’t one whit safer than without it.

Want to combat YouTube censorship?

When videos are censored by YouTube, carry them on your site.

Suggested header: Banned on YouTube to make it easy to find.

It won’t stop YouTube’s censorship but it can defeat its intended outcome.

Leaking Photos Of: “Sophisticated Bomb Parts”

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

Theresa May to tackle Donald Trump over Manchester bombing evidence by Heather Stewart, Robert Booth and Vikram Dodd.

From the post:

British officials were infuriated on Wednesday when the New York Times published forensic photographs of sophisticated bomb parts that UK authorities fear could complicate the expanding investigation into the lethal blast in which five further arrests have been made in the UK and two more in Libya.

See for yourself: Found at the Scene in Manchester: Shrapnel, a Backpack and a Battery by C. J. Chivers.

Let’s see, remains of a backpack, detonator, metal scrap, battery.

Do you see any sophisticated bomb parts?

Sophistication, skill, encryption, etc., are emphasized after terrorist attacks, I assume to excuse the failure of authorities to prevent such attacks.

That’s more generous than assuming UK authorities are so untrained they consider this a “sophisticated” bomb. Just guessing from the parts, hardly.

“Click Bait” at The Kicker – Covering Manchester

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

The Kicker: The media’s model for covering terrorist attacks is broken by Pete Vernon.

From the webpage:

ON THE LATEST EPISODE of The Kicker, we run through some of the week’s biggest media stories, including a ratings leaderboard shakeup for cable news, a spurious conspiracy that consumed the right-wing media universe, and a new study that says–surprise–journalists drink too much caffeine and alcohol. Then, we move on to the media coverage of the terrorist attack in Manchester, and tackle why we think the industry’s model for covering terror attacks is broken. Finally, CJR’s David Uberti interviews Clara Jeffery, editor in chief of Mother Jones. They discuss the magazine’s novel approach to funding its political coverage as well as the role Mother Jones played in breaking the Trump-Russia story.

Subscribe via iTunes · Stitcher · RSS Feed · SoundCloud.

The podcast.

Leading with the promise of The media’s model for covering terrorist attacks is broken, I listened to The Kicker today.

If you like podcasts, you will like The Kicker, but it illustrates for me the difficulties associated with podcasts.

First, the podcast covered five separate stories in a little over thirty minutes. Ranging from cable news ratings, Seth Rich and fake news, the drinking habits of journalists, the media model for terrorist coverage (the story of interest to me), and the role of Mother Jones in the continuing From Russia With Love connection to Donald Trump.

As “click bait” for the podcast, the media reporting on terrorism segment starts at approximately 8:20 and ends at approximately 16:50, some 8 minutes and 30 seconds of coverage, much shorter than the account concerning Mother Jones (16:49 – 31:14).

Second, what discussion occurred, included insights such as “…breaking news rooms, larger news rooms, don’t have the privilege of deciding whether to cover a story…?” To be fair, that was followed by discussions of “how to cover stories,” the use of raw/unexplained user video, and the appropriateness of experts discussing politics immediately following such events.

The point that got dropped in the podcast was Christie Chisholm‘s remark:

…breaking news rooms, larger news rooms, don’t have the privilege of deciding whether to cover a story…

Why so?

I may be reading entirely too much into Christie’s comment, but it implies that some news rooms must fill N minutes of coverage on breaking events, whether there is meaningful content to be delivered or not. Yes?

If that is the case, that coverage of breaking events requires wall-to-wall coverage for N minutes, then raw, unexplained video, expert opinions with no facts, reporters asking for each others reactions, the spontaneous speculation and condemnations, become easily explainable.

There is too little content and too much media time available to cover it.

Building on Christie’s insight, The Kicker could have created a timeline of “facts” with regard to the explosion in Manchester as a way to illustrate when facts became known about the explosion and contrast that with the drone of factless coverage of the event.

That would have made a rocking podcast and a pointed one at that.

PS: The podcast did discuss other issues with media coverage of Manchester but the lack of depth and time prevented substantive analysis or proposals. Media coverage of terrorist events certainly merits extended treatment by podcast or otherwise.

Weaponizing GPUs (Terrorism)

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

Nvidia reports in: Modeling Cities in 3D Using Only Image Data:

ETH Zurich scientists leveraged deep learning to automatically stich together millions of public images and video into a three-dimensional, living model of the city of Zurich.

The platform called “VarCity” combines a variety of different image sources: aerial photographs, 360-degree panoramic images taken from vehicles, photos published by tourists on social networks and video material from YouTube and public webcams.

“The more images and videos the platform can evaluate, the more precise the model becomes,” says Kenneth Vanhoey, a postdoc in the group led by Luc Van Gool, a Professor at ETH Zurich’s Computer Vision Lab. “The aim of our project was to develop the algorithms for such 3D city models, assuming that the volume of available images and videos will also increase dramatically in the years ahead.”

Using a cluster of GPUs including Tesla K40s with cuDNN to train their deep learning models, the technology recognizes image content such as buildings, windows and doors, streets, bodies of water, people, and cars. Without human assistance, the 3D model “knows”, for example, what pavements are and – by evaluating webcam data – which streets are one-way only.

The data/information gap between nation states and non-nation state groups grows narrower everyday. Here, GPUs and deep learning, produce planning data terrorists could have only dreamed about twenty years ago.

Technical advances make precautions such as:

Federal, state, and local law enforcement let people know that if they take pictures or notes around monuments and critical infrastructure facilities, they could be subject to an interrogation or an arrest; in addition to the See Something, Say Something awareness campaign, DHS also has broader initiatives such as the Buffer Zone Protection Program, which teach local police and security how to spot potential terrorist activities. (DHS focus on suspicious activity at critical infrastructure facilities)

sound old fashioned and quaint.

Such measures annoy tourists but unless potential terrorists are as dumb as the underwear bomber, against a skilled adversary, not so much.

I guess that’s the question isn’t it?

Are you planning to fight terrorists from shallow end of the gene pool or someone a little more challenging?

Why Terrorism Sells

Saturday, May 20th, 2017

Daniel Gilbert, Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, explains the lack of a focused response on global warming, and incidentally explains the popularity of terrorism in one presentation.

When I say “popularity of terorism,” I don’t mean terrorism is widespread, but fear of terrorism is and funding to combat terrorism defies accounting.

Terrorism has four characteristics, all of which global warming lack:

  • Intentional: We are hard-wired to judge the intent of others.
  • Immoral: Food/sex rules. Killing us falls under “immoral.”
  • Imminent: Clear and present danger. (As in maybe today.)
  • Instantaneous: Bombs, bullets, fast enough to be dangers.

Gilbert’s focus was on climate change but his presentation has helped me understand why terrorism sells.

Here is an image of the human brain Gilbert uses in his presentation:

The part of most brains that is fighting terrorism?

That would be the big dark blue part.

The part capable of recognizing death by terrorist and asteroid are about the same?

That would be the small red part.

Assuming the small red part, which does planning, etc., isn’t overwhelmed by plotting routes to banks for the money you have earned fighting terrorism.

Why my sales pitch on terrorism fails: I’m pushing against decisions made by the big dark blue part that benefit the small red part (career, success, profit).

Two lessons from Gilbert’s presentation:

First, look for issues/needs with these characteristics:

  • Intentional: We are hard-wired to judge the intent of others.
  • Immoral: Food/sex rules. Killing us falls under “immoral.”
  • Imminent: Clear and present danger. (As in maybe today.)
  • Instantaneous: Bombs, bullets, fast enough to be dangers.

Second, craft sales pitch to big dark blue part of the brain that benefit the small red part of the brain (career, success, profit).

If you or a company you know has a pitch man/woman who can handle the fear angle, I’m looking for work.

Just keep me away from your fearful clients. 😉

Laptops Banned To Drive Alcohol Consumption

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

Clive Irving writes in U.S. to Ban Laptops in All Cabins of Flights From Europe:

The Department of Homeland Security will ban laptops in the cabins of all flights from Europe to the United States, European security officials told The Daily Beast. The announcement is expected Thursday.

Irving does a good job of illustrating the increased risk from the laptop ban, but misses the real motivation behind the ban. Yes, yes, DHS says it:

…continues to evaluate the threat environment and will make changes when necessary to keep air travelers safe.

“Threat environment” my ass!

Remember the UK has been reduced to claiming people with knives are terrorists.

Armed police carrying out a counterterrorism operation Thursday swooped in on a man they said was carrying knives in a bag near Britain’s Parliament and arrested him on suspicion of planning terrorist acts.

A European security official familiar with the individual said the suspect was known to British security agencies and was thought to have been inspired by the Islamic State group.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence matters, said the discovery of knives suggested an attack might have been close to fruition. Authorities haven’t released the man’s name.

London’s Metropolitan Police said the 27-year-old suspect was stopped and detained “as part of an ongoing operation” by the force’s counterterrorism unit.

“…swooped in on a man they said was carrying knives in a bag…”

That sounds more like a Saturday Night Live skit than a terrorist attack or potential one.

Shake the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) tree really hard, by leakers or FOIA requests and I’m betting the following will fall out:

Alcoholic Drink Consumption On Europe to US Flights

  • Underage and kill-joys: 0
  • Parent with one child: 3
  • Parent with two children: 5
  • Business flyer with no laptop: 1 per hour of flight time

Once this data began to circulate among airline companies, the fate of laptops was sealed.

Increase alcohol sales are the primary goal of the laptop ban.

PS: If you think I am being cavalier about the risk from terrorism, consider that 963 people were killed by police officers in 2016. Versus 54 people in “terrorist” attacks, all by US citizens.

Garden Variety Terrorism

Thursday, April 6th, 2017

If you haven’t seen images from the I-85 fire in Atlanta, which caused a 100 foot section of a bridge to collapse, consider:

resulted in:

The fire being powered by HPDE coils:

HPDE coils burn at 341 degrees, according to its manufacturer.

One more fact you need:

Q: What is the temperature of a Bic lighter flame?
A: The temperature of a Bic lighter can reach nearly 1,977 degrees Celsius or 3,590.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature of a lighter’s flame depends on what type of fuel the lighter uses. Bic lighters use butane and are called butane lighters.

From: (emphasis added)

It has been alleged a mentally ill crackhead (there’s some other kind?) set furniture on fire, which spread to other materials and then the HPDE coils.

I mention this after having read I write thrillers. My research showed me how easily terrorists can strike us by Matthew Quirk.

Quirk writes in part:

A gray SUV idled across the street from the chemical plant. Gas storage tanks, four stories tall, towered over the low-slung neighborhood. It was a hot, dry Sunday in southeast Los Angeles.

The plant’s front gate was open. The driver tapped the throttle, then cut into the facility, past the “no trespassing” notices and the signs demanding that all trucks stop and check in with a guard. He pointed the car straight at three trailers loaded with compressed hydrogen. Behind them, on the other side of a rusting chain-link fence, rail tankers sat outside a facility that uses chlorine to manufacture bleach. One tanker car of chlorine, if ruptured (by, say, a nearby hydrogen explosion), could reach 4.9 million people in the Los Angeles Basin and kill 10,000 under worst-case conditions.

The driver veered away from the gas tanks, then stopped the car and waited. No one came to check on him as he took a few photos on his phone. After five minutes, he pulled away.

That was me. I write thrillers for a living. For my latest novel, “Dead Man Switch,” I spent a lot of time researching the materials lying around the United States that terrorists could use to kill tens of thousands of people. I like to think my books are pretty tense, but they have nothing on reality: More than 15 years after 9/11, we have failed to take basic steps to address glaring threats that have already cost American lives.

With its ongoing attempts to enact a ban on many Muslim travelers and “extreme vetting” for visitors to the United States, the Trump administration has treated terrorism as a political cudgel rather than the grave and present threat it truly represents. In the years after 9/11, there was extraordinary bipartisan momentum to identify threats and safeguard against them, but the work is unfinished. With terrorism back atop the agenda, we should spend our time and money addressing the obvious risks, not the hypothetical or concocted ones.
… (emphasis added)

I disagree with Quirk and Washington Post on their assessment of the risk of terrorist attacks but have to second addressing actual risks and not imaginary ones.

Security speakers who wax eloquently about smallpox infected travelers and weaponized anthrax, fail to recognize a good Mission Impossible plot when they see one. Things like HPDE coils, Interstate bridges and Bic lighters escape their notice.

Terrorism doesn’t require elaborate cell infrastructures, much and unfairly maligned encrypted cellphone apps, or any of the highly convoluted schemes in popular fiction (read Homeland Security reports).

No, if I were concerned about terrorism, it would be over garden variety terrorism. The sort that uses no tool or implement not readily available to the average home owner.

Perhaps using those tools/implements in unexpected ways, in combination with open data to create, what did the American general say about Tet (1968)? Oh, yes, “to create maximum consternation.”