Daniel Wagner is Managing Director of Risk Solutions at Risk Cooperative, a D.C.-based specialty strategy, risk and capital management firm. He has published more than 500 articles on risk management and current affairs for a wide variety of publications, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, South China Morning Post and The National Interest, among many others.
Mr. Wagner was interviewed by Russell Whitehouse, Associate Editor at the International Policy Digest. He is also a freelance social media manager/producer, 2016 Iowa Caucus volunteer and a political policy essayist for the Eurasia Review and Modern Diplomacy.
First and foremost, what inspired you to write your new book, Virtual Terror: 21st Century Cyber Warfare?
I surveyed some of the literature on cybersecurity and felt that much of what I read was dated and based on conventional definitions of terrorism. The cyber arena has changed all that. I have crafted a new definition for cyberterrorism (“Virtual Terrorism”) and put some real thought into writing a book that educates people on what the phenomenon is really all about. My view is that the best way to fight it is to help ensure that as many people as possible understand what it is, what some of the challenges are in fighting it, and what can do about it. The subjects covered in the book range from governments and private sector to drones and robots to social media and some psychological implications of cyberterrorism.
80% of North Korea’s missile tests have failed, with a lot of those failures being attributed to American hackers. How soon do you think it will be before major military powers like the US and China have to worry about their deadly hardware being hacked and used in terrorist attacks?
Regarding North Korea, it is really a testament to what the Kim regime has achieved that it has endured so much in the way of sanctions and anti-missile hacking and has still been able to successfully create a nuclear weapons program and test intercontinental ballistic missiles. One of the characteristics of Virtual Terrorism is that it allows countries like North Korea (and Iran) to punch well above their weight in the cyber arena, and conduct their own form of ‘diplomacy’ on the cyber battlefield. These countries already attack the US and other countries – all countries with the capability to do so, do so. The real challenge is to be able to identify when such cyberattacks occur, and then to be able to block them. It’s an ongoing battle.
A rogue actor could potentially kill thousands of hospital patients by shutting down their power or threaten mass starvation by knocking out the food supply chain’s servers and equipment. Will civil infrastructure e-terror attacks become commonplace in the near future?
As is discussed in the book, the medical profession endures a significant portion of cyberattacks. The personal information medical services routinely require from patients makes it a target rich environment. Hospitals have already been the subject of numerous ransomware attacks, and they often pay the ransom because critical infrastructure necessary to operate and sustain life has been threatened or forced to stop functioning. It is a certainty that more and more civil infrastructure will become the subject of cyberattacks in the future. The question really becomes, is any type of infrastructure safe from cyberattack?
How big a threat are hackers to ePayment systems like PayPal & e-currencies like Bitcoin? Are they no more of a nuisance than bank robbers or could they potentially steal billions at a time from companies and consumers?
Financial services are also, not surprisingly, the target of frequent cyberattacks, despite the billions of dollars banks around the world spend in an effort to achieve cyber resiliency. If sophisticated hackers want to target any ePayment system or crypto currency, they can do so. Given the amount of money at stake, there is little reason to believe they would not become a target going forward. It has been estimated that the cybercrime ‘business’ is already larger than the global drugs trade, which is itself a multi-trillion-dollar business. Cybercriminals have already successfully stolen hundreds of millions of dollars from the sector.
In the concluding chapter of your book, you talk about imposing legal liabilities on software companies whose software gets hacked. Where would you draw the line on this complex, amorphous issue?
This is a great example of how the nexus between the lobbying business in Washington can end up making an already difficult challenge even worse. It is the desire of software companies and other firms in the cyber sphere to avoid legal liability in general that prevents more progress from being made in crafting a more robust response to virtual terrorists. My view is that it is incumbent upon these developers to take greater responsibility when things go wrong with their products. If they are doing their jobs well, the likelihood of being attacked would be greatly reduced. If their products are knowingly produced with flaws, it seems reasonable to me that they be held to account. That said, they cannot be held responsible for every instance of hacking, or for product flaws that were not known when they were produced. As is often the case with ‘the law’, we should seek to introduce the concept of reasonableness in an attempt to get everyone to agree to a more palatable approach to this important issue.
What advice would you give to lawmakers & law enforcement officials wishing to crack down on The Deep Web’s international contraband markets?
I was heartened to learn, earlier this summer, that the US government had closed AlphaBay – one of the largest and best known “Dark Web” marketplaces. It illustrated that it is indeed possible to crack down on thriving underground marketplaces. The issue boils down to how many resources can be devoted to fighting a single marketplace, how the Dark Web can be monitored, and whether meaningful laws can be crafted and enforced. This evolving landscape is so broad and deep that it is tough to imagine them all being shut down, but I would certainly like to see more, and additional significant marketplaces, similarly shut down to force both buyers and sellers to modify their sales and purchasing habits.
You briefly mention the fact that AI will revolutionize the labor force. Will AI merely enhance the average worker’s experience & create new job opportunities like in The Jetsons, create unparalleled income inequality like in Elysium, or wipe out all work and create a race of infantilized humans like in Wall-E and The Time Machine?
I should think it will be some combination of the three, with varying degrees of labor force penetration by sector and job type. While I do not believe that AI will ‘wipe out’ work, I do think there is every reason to believe that it will ultimately make humans generally less essential to getting things done. In the book I discuss the dangers of hacking robots, drones, and AI. Anything linked to the Internet can be hacked, so as AI becomes more prominent and more powerful, the potential ramifications of such hacks have frightening implications.
You mentioned in passing China’s “social-credit system”. Can you go more in depth about what it tried to accomplish and why it failed?
China is attempting to create a system in which it ‘knows all’ about its citizens – from their spending habits to their political persuasions – and it is doing so by combining data with extremely personal applications. While currently being deployed on a limited basis, the Chinese government intends to roll the idea out nationwide. Since India’s Aadhaar national electronic identification system has been successfully used to register more than one billion Indians in a central electronic data system, there is no reason to believe that the Chinese government’s intentions in this regard cannot be achieved. Earlier versions of the social credit system failed for a variety of reasons, but the government intends to learn from earlier mistakes to generate a system that is even broader in scope.
How do China’s Great Firewall work?
China’s censorship system, known as the Great Firewall (also known as the Golden Shield), is its effort to attempt to restrict the free flow of information in and out of the country via the Internet. The Chinese government is doubling down on its effort to maintain control of the Internet within its borders, while also endeavoring to increase the amount of control it has over the Internet outside of its borders.
How can VPNs help individuals protect the online security of individuals?
Millions of Chinese citizens have for years circumvented the Great Firewall by using a VPN, which allows unfettered access to any website… The Chinese government will completely block access to much of the Internet inside the country as part of its effort to suppress dissent and maintain the Chinese Communist Party’s control on power. In 2017, the government ordered China’s three telecommunications companies—China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom (all state-owned)—to block access to VPNs by February 2018.
What are the particular benefits of VPNs for people in Internet-censored countries like China and Saudi Arabia?
Individual Internet users can benefit from use of a VPN to circumvent government censorship or connect to proxy servers for the purpose of protecting personal identity and location. However, some Internet sites block access to known VPN technology.
ISIL’s ‘legacy of terror’ in Iraq: UN verifies over 200 mass graves
Investigators have uncovered more than 200 mass graves containing thousands of bodies in areas of Iraq formerly controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), according to a United Nations human rights report out on Tuesday.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) said the 202 mass grave sites were found in governorates of Nineveh, Kirkuk, Salahuddin and Anbar in the north and western parts of the country – but there may be many more.
In the joint report, Unearthing Atrocities, the UN entities said the evidence gathered from the sites “will be central to ensuring credible investigations, prosecutions and convictions” in accordance with international due process standards.
Ján Kubiš, the top UN official in Iraq and the head of UNAMI, said that the mass grave sites “are a testament to harrowing human loss, profound suffering and shocking cruelty.”
“Determining the circumstances surrounding the significant loss of life will be an important step in the mourning process for families and their journey to secure their rights to truth and justice,” he added.
Between June 2014 and December 2017, ISIL seized large areas of Iraq, leading a campaign of widespread and systematic violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, “acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possible genocide,” the report states.
Traumatized families have the ‘right to know’
The UNAMI-OHCHR report also documents the “significant challenges” families of the missing face in trying to find the fate of their loved ones.
At present, they must report to more than five separate authorities, a process that is both time-consuming and frustrating for traumatized families.
Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, underscored that the families “have the right to know.”
“ISIL’s horrific crimes in Iraq have left the headlines but the trauma of the victims’ families endures, with thousands of women, men and children still unaccounted for,” she said.
“Their families have the right to know what happened to their loved ones. Truth, justice and reparations are critical to ensuring a full reckoning for the atrocities committed by ISIL.”
Victim-centred approach needed
Among its recommendations, the report calls for a victim-centred approach and a transitional justice process that is established in consultation with, and accepted by, Iraqis, particularly those from affected communities.
It also urges a multidisciplinary approach to the recovery operations, with the participation of experienced specialists, including weapons contamination and explosives experts and crime scene investigators.
Alongside, it also calls on the international community to provide resources and technical support to efforts related to the exhumation, collection, transportation, storage and return of human remains to families, as well as their identification, particularly by helping strengthen the national Mass Graves Directorate.
The Islamic State’s reviving scheme
Despite the fact that ISIS lost 98 percent of its controlled territory, it is aiming for a reforming and coming back in the Sunni populated areas in Syria and Iraq. Due to the current war situation and its developed financial resource. ISIS used to relay on the territory under its control to collect billions of dollars through criminal activities such as taxation, extortion, robbery and the illegal sale of the curd oil. Now the group has shown its ability to collect money regardless of controlling large areas.
After the rise of ISIS in 2015 and the takeover of vast areas in Syria and Iraq, its budget estimation reached $6 billion, as a result, the Islamic State is considered as the wealthiest terrorist entity in the history. The question posed is how such a terrorist group budget could become equivalent to a state-nation budget? In 2015 the Islamic State main financial resources were; oil and gaze which gathered about 500$ million in 2015; taxation that generated approximately $360 million in the same year and finally; about $500 million robbed from bank vaults in Mosul.
Today the situation is different, the Islamic State has lost the majority of its territory. The global coalition had destroyed ISIS infrastructures in the Middle East as well as its communication routes and had killed the idea of the hegemonic Islamic caliphate in the region. Meanwhile, the Islamic State is struggling to control the last 2 percent of its territory. Therefore, its revenue stream from the main resources has been rapidly shrinking out.
As a result, ISIS no longer relies on the controlled territory for its financial survival. For example, ISIS leadership may have smuggled around $400 million out of Syria and Iraq. Laundering this money through fake entity is likely to occur especially in Turkey. Some other cash could be converted into valuable items and stockpiled to be used in the future.
The stockpile cash will provide the group with more than enough fund to continue as a clandestine terrorist movement with the ability to conduct campaigns of guerrilla warfare in the region. On the other hand, ISIS has supported its financial situation with a variety of funding portfolio. It has developed a range of criminal activities that do not require controlling territories such as kidnapping for ransom, drug smuggling and trafficking in antiquities.
Over the next years, the international community seeks to provide help for Syria and Iraq to recover. The reconstruction aid could provide an attractive target for the Islamic State and a possible financial boost to its comeback. It is possible that the Islamic State begins skimming off reconstruction contracts, the only way is to establish connections with the local officials which is not difficult for a terrorist entity with a huge amount of cash. Finally, the rise of the Iranian threats in the region reflects in many stakeholder’s fears from an Iranian’s control through Hezbollah over ISIS past territories. Therefore, a continuing support from regional states to the terrorist group is possible if ISIS adopts a suitable strategy to the supporters interests in the region.
The combination of the criminal activities, the reconstruction plan and the regional states financial support in the future will encourage the Islamic State to regroup and reorganize. For instance, in Kirkuk, the militants created a fake checkpoint to attack security forces earlier this year. Moreover, in Diyala and Saladin, sleeper cells activity began to hit back. The U.S. policy in the Middle East tends to view the war on terror as separate phases while jihadis consider it as one long war. Until the West recognize this, ISIS is likely to come over to repeat its strategy and to reviving the Islamic caliphate project in the future.
Religious radicalism as a trend
IN RECENT YEARS, much has been said about radicalism and its varied offshoots. True, the number of terrorist acts climbs up, the popularity of extreme right political forces grows, and the wave of left radical and anti-globalist movements, migration crises and international tension is rising. This is how everyday realities look in many countries of the world.
France is one of the European countries in which radical trends are only too obvious. At the 2017 presidential election, Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, two radical politicians who represented anti-establishment political movements, reaped 41% and 51% respectively of the votes cast by young voters aged between 18 and 24. On the whole, the Fifth Republic is getting accustomed to violence against the law and order structures, destruction of material assets during rallies, protest acts that keep lyceums and universities blocked for a long time, and rejection of republican values that looked unshakable not long ago. Today, when fifty years separate us from the May 1968 events, we can talk about “banalization of protests” not only among the groups on the margins of society but also among its law-abiding part.
Late in 2015, after a series of terrorist acts in France a group of scientists, mostly sociologists of the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) launched a large-scale research project to identify the factors responsible for the spread of radical ideas among the younger generation. In April 2018, the results were published in a monograph The Temptation of Radicalism one of the hits on the French book market.
The project is a unique one: for the first time, academic science turned its attention to the younger generation rather than to terrorist acts and those who commit them; it has become interested in the process of radicalization and the factors that plant the ideas of radicalism in the minds of high school students.
A vast, and most interesting, part of the book that deals with religious radicalism, one of the main objects of attention of the public and the media, offers two important conclusions that devalue the old and generally accepted opinions.
Sociologists have detected two component parts or two stages in religious radicalism: the “ideological” as devotion to the fundamentalist religious trends and “practical,” the adepts of which are more than just religious fanatics – they justify violence for religious reasons.
The authors of the book under review who obviously prefer the term “religious absolutism” to “religious fundamentalism” have repeatedly pointed out that it is present in all world religions; the poll, however, revealed that religious absolutism was more typical of Muslim high school students.
Religion, or to be more exact, extreme Islamist trends combined with the male gender is the main factor of religious radicalization of the French youth.
This sociological study has demonstrated that the French national and confessional politics that for many years relied on the thesis that radicalization among the younger generation was caused by social and economic factors should be revised. This book made a great contribution to the broad and far from simple discussion of the place and role of Islam in French society, into which not only extreme right political movement are involved. In his speech of May 22, 2018, President of France “poured cold water” on the plan to shake up the banlieues devised by Jean-Louis Borloo. The president pointed out that more money poured into sensitive zones would not solve the main problem of radicalization.
first published in our partner International Affairs
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