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Facebook exposed US agents to Iranian spies

The US Department of Justice has refused to comment on the revelation that counter-intelligence staff were exposed to Iranian spies by using a Facebook group which was infiltrated.

The existence of the Facebook group was revealed in the indictment of Monica Elfriede Witt whose defection to Iran back in 2013 was announced this week.

It marks both an embarrassing slip in the operational security practices of counter-intelligence agents, and reveals the serious consequences of Facebook’s impact on its users’ privacy.

According to the indictment, the Iranians created a Facebook account under the real name of a counter-intelligence agent, using pictures and details from that agent’s real account on Facebook.

Because the imposter account appeared legitimate, the US agent they first befriended vouched for them when they added the fake account to a private Facebook group “composed primarily” of intelligence staff.

Monica Elfriede Witt defected to Iran in 2013

Image: Monica Elfriede Witt defected to Iran in 2013

“By joining the group, the cyber conspirators obtained greater access to information regarding US government agents,” the indictment noted.

They then befriended other intelligence staff on Facebook and attempted to send them files that appeared to be pictures, but were actually malware which would have allowed the spies to access the agents’ computers and any networks the computers were connected to.

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US government spokespeople directed Sky News to the DoJ for comment, the agency which operates the FBI, although there are at least ten organisations in the country which conduct counter-intelligence work.

Monica Witt herself was a former US Air Force intelligence specialist, and had access to the names of intelligence sources that the US had in Iran before she defected.

The fate of those sources is not described in the indictment.

A DoJ spokesperson declined to comment to Sky News on whether the agents who had been part of the Facebook group were reproached for the security gaffe.

Security and espionage researchers on Twitter have mocked a number of the Iranian attempts to infect the computers of the US government agents’ computers with malware, including offering nude photographs out of the blue.

However, the behaviour of the counter-intelligence agents in creating a Facebook group has been criticised for exposing the agents.

“I can see how like, some office might have a Facebook group to organise events outside work,” wrote a security researcher who works under the pseudonym The Grugq.

“I am really surprised that the people charged with keeping information secret would have a Facebook group and they don’t even vet the accounts that join!”

The use of social media for information-gathering purposes has been an increasing issue for security and intelligence agencies, both in offensive and defensive terms.

It is also an issue because the lack of a social media profile could also indicate something fishy about a suspected spy’s identity.

According to Reuters, Russia is set to ban its soldiers from posting anything online that could reveal details about their deployments, after social media posts revealed that official army soldiers were deployed in Crimea during Russia’s denied annexation of the peninsula.

This story was originally published on Sky News Technology

Made In Chelsea's Andy Jordan: Being an influencer made me 'a puppet'

Andy Jordan didn’t even have an Instagram account before he started on Made in Chelsea in 2012.

“Overnight, there were hundreds of thousands of people watching what I was doing,” he says about appearing on the show.

He’s now got 290,000 followers.

“You’re like, ‘Everyone wants to follow me and talk to me’ – that’s almost like a drug,” he tells the Victoria Derbyshire programme and Panorama.

Andy was struggling. His TV persona and pushing out a constantly filtered life on Instagram were already taking their toll.

Selling things he didn’t believe in was the last straw.

He says he got to the point where he “just turned into a ghost… I didn’t even care if I got hit by a bus”.

Andy was promoting items you see on many Instagram influencers’ accounts, such as teeth-whitening products and protein supplements.

“It’s the easiest money I’ve ever made,” he says.

“There were a couple that were £500 for a picture – the most would have been about £2,000.”

He adds: “I just did what I was told… Obviously the management want you to do these things because they make money off it.”

Andy doesn’t go to the gym, but was still asked to advertise a protein supplement.

“I was like, ‘This is insane’, because I didn’t work out. My agent was like, ‘Well pretend you work out’.”

It got to the point where Andy went into a gym just to take a photo of the product on the gym equipment. But that’s not the weirdest request he’s had.

“I’ve been asked to have cosmetic surgery before,” he told us.

“I’ve been asked if I’ll have liposuction at a particular clinic, and then document about the process.” Andy said no to that request.

He was making money, but the constant selling took its toll on Andy.

At the same time, he was starring in Made In Chelsea, a scripted show made to look like reality TV.

“You just become a puppet… you’re literally like the packaging,” he says.

“I’d lost who I was because everything was directed by someone else.”

Andy also became concerned at the effect his filtered life was having on his followers.

More than half of 18 to 34-year-olds feel that reality TV and social media have a negative effect on how they see their bodies, a BBC survey found last year.

“I genuinely think that people could die as a result of the phenomenon that is social media,” he says.

“If you’re constantly surrounded by a world that’s better than you, or looks nicer than you, or has a faster car than you – that’s when you suddenly go, ‘Wow, I’m useless’.”

Andy is annoyed at himself “for not fully understanding what I was doing from day one”.

He still posts on Instagram and still does paid posts – just not for teeth whiteners and protein shakes any more.

“At least now if I’m promoting something, it’s something that I’m passionate about,” he says.

But a story he tells shows the effect people like him may have had on other people – even children.

“I had a chat with some family friends and I was talking to a child who’s seven or eight years old.

“I said, ‘What do you want to do when you’re older?’ and he was like… ‘Well, I just want to be an Instagrammer.’

“I was like… ‘That’s not a real job’.

“That’s when I was like, ‘Whoa, this culture is really scary’.”

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This story was originally published on BBC Technology News

Ford puts bed hoggers in their place and other news

BBC Click’s Jen Copestake looks at some of the best technology stories of the week including:

  • Drone manufacturer DJI says it will expand the technology that prevents them being flown near airports and other sensitive sites
  • Some Premier League football teams work with Intel to create an immersive 360 degree video experience for fans
  • Ford takes lane assist technology for cars to keep couples on their side of the bed

See more at Click’s website and @BBCClick.

This story was originally published on BBC Technology News

Sexual harassment: 'I was terrified to report it'

When Neta Meidav was sexually harassed at work aged 22, she felt it was easier to quit her job than report it to human resources.

But more than a decade later, the #MeToo movement came along, kicked off by rape and sexual harassment accusations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

It quickly galvanised people across the world to share their own stories.

So Ms Meidav has created a blockchain-powered app to help encourage individuals to speak up. Vault, set to be piloted by a small number of companies in March, enables those experiencing misconduct in the workplace to record a private, time-stamped report that is stored as evidence in a “private vault”.

As the report is stored on the blockchain, it cannot be tampered with and is distributed across hundreds of computers, making it almost impossible to steal or delete.

Users can send the reports to their company, but Vault also flags up if someone else in the same organisation has reported a similar incident or individual, giving people the impetus to report collectively.

“When I was harassed, I was terrified to report it,” recalls Ms Meidav, now 34.

“I felt very much alone. But after I left I found out that I wasn’t the only one. What we’ve seen now [with #MeToo] is that once one person speaks up then a wave of others come forward.”

Vault, she believes, offers “strength in numbers”.

Sexual harassment continues to be all too common and is far from limited to Hollywood. Scandals have have engulfed businesses such as Google, Uber and Fox News.

According to a study by Everyday Sexism Project and the Trades Union Congress (TUC), 52% of women have experienced unwanted sexual behaviour at work. Furthermore, a survey for BBC Radio 5 live in 2017 found that 63% of women who said they had been sexually harassed didn’t report it to anyone, while 79% of men who’d been sexually harassed kept it to themselves.

A start-up named Spot wants to change those figures.

Combining memory science and artificial intelligence (AI), the firm’s app, Talk To Spot, encourages those who have experienced workplace harassment to speak up.

“A lot of people don’t report [harassment] because they’re afraid of being judged by a human,” explains Spot co-founder Dr Julia Shaw.

“And they’re worried about all the meetings that might happen as a result.”

Instead, people can talk to Spot, a platform where, according to Dr Shaw, “individuals can feel safe and anonymous and have control over the information they provide”.

Dr Shaw, a memory scientist, believes that Talk To Spot garners stronger evidence than if the harassment had been reported to HR in the first instance.

“It effectively asks questions using cognitive interview best practices, which are used by the UK police to interview victims and witnesses,” she says.

These techniques involve asking open-ended neutral questions to start with, then following up with specific questions.

“It’s never forcing or leading someone down a certain path,” explains Dr Shaw. “It’s a very practical approach and it’s going to lead to better evidence.”

Users can be sent a document of the interview or they can submit it to their employer when they’re ready.

But Elisabeth Kelan, professor of leadership and organisation at the University of Essex, warns that such technology in the workplace can only go so far.

“While apps can make the recording process more efficient and accurate, it remains to be seen whether these technologies empower individuals to actually report sexual harassment,” she says.

She believes senior leaders have a key role to play here.

“The most effective ways to challenge sexual harassment I have witnessed is if senior leaders call out this behaviour as inappropriate and sanction it. That sets an example that such behaviour is not tolerated.”

Apps by themselves cannot create this culture, she argues.

Still, the power of an anonymous collective voice was demonstrated last year when a petition created through campaigning site Organise, complaining about the alleged harassment and “forced hugs” from Ray Kelvin, founder of British fashion company Ted Baker, attracted more than 2,500 signatures.

It forced Mr Kelvin to take a leave of absence.

Founded in South Korea but now based in San Francisco, Blind is an anonymous social network for the workplace that allows employees from the same company to connect and talk secretly to each other.

Co-founder and chief executive Sunguk Moon was inspired to create Blind in 2013 after working at an internet company in Korea where employees could post anonymous messages on an internal forum.

“That’s when I thought, ‘What if there was a safe place to talk about work, the company cannot interfere with, and only accessible from your personal device?’

“It seemed clear to me that anonymity within the workplace increases the amount of communication, and this helps employees understand the workplace better.”

In the wake of the Hollywood scandal, Blind launched a dedicated #MeToo section in February 2018 and saw a 50% increase in new users compared to the previous week.

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“Some users posted stories about their experiences while others have posted questions asking for advice on taking action and reporting issues,” says Mr Moon.

Judging by the rise of such apps around the world, sexual harassment is sadly widespread.

In the Philippines, for example, women’s group Gabriela launched a Facebook chatbot called Gabby to help people report instances of sexual harassment.

And in Egypt for the last eight years, HarassMap has been providing a safe space in which witnesses or survivors of harassment can speak out, adding the location of the incident to the map.

“The map helps to demonstrate the prevalence of sexual harassment – not only visualising the number of reported incidents but also their spread across the country,” says a HarassMap spokeswoman.

Ms Meidav says that such technology is essential to drive a change in culture.

“People can’t go on harassing if there’s technology that allows people to go after them and submit complaints together,” she argues.

“It drives people to rethink their behaviour at work.”

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This story was originally published on BBC Technology News

Amazon cancels New York City campus plan

Amazon has said it will not build a new headquarters in New York City, citing fierce opposition from state and local politicians.

The dramatic turnabout comes just months after the firm named New York City one of two sites selected for major expansion over the next decades.

City and state leaders had agreed to provide about $3bn (£2.3bn) in incentives to secure that investment.

Those subsidies had prompted fierce backlash in some quarters.

Amazon said its plans to build a new headquarters required “positive, collaborative relationships with state and local elected officials who will be supportive over the long-term”.

“A number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project we and many others envisioned in Long Island City.

“We are disappointed to have reached this conclusion,” it said.

The firm currently employs more than 5,000 people across New York. The firm said it expects its staff numbers in the region to continue to grow.

This story was originally published on BBC Technology News