Researchers from the University of Toronto's outstanding Citizen Lab (previously) have published their latest research on the notorious and prolific Israeli cyber-arms-dealer The NSO Group (previously), one of the world's go-to suppliers for tools used by despots to spy on dissidents and opposition figures, often as a prelude to their imprisonment, torture and murder.
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Repressive autocracies like Egypt, Oman, and the UAE ban Signal and other encrypted messaging apps, using national firewalls to try to block their traffic; Signal evades these blocks by using "domain fronting," in which the service's cloud provider shows up as the origin of its traffic, forcing countries to block Google or Amazon to get at a single service hiding behind them.
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The world's most sophisticated security experts have been bombarded with recruiting offers from UAE-based company Darkmatter, which bills itself as a major state security contractor -- but people who've taken the bait say they were then told that they were being hired to weaponize huge arsenals of zero-day vulnerabilities so that the UAE can subject its own population to fine-grained, continuous surveillance. Read the rest
A new research report from Citizenlab painstaking traces the origins of a series of sophisticated hacking attacks launched at Rori Donaghy, a UK journalist for Middle East Eye who founded the Emirates Center for Human Rights, which reports critically on the autocratic regime that runs the UAE, and 27 other targets. Read the rest
Reporters from Fairfax Media and The Huffington Post obtained a huge trove of email from Unaoil, a business run by a rich Monaco family, that reveal that the family ran a corrupt bribery empire that spanned the world's oil-producing states, and that they world with companies like Rolls-Royce, Halliburton, Leighton Holding, Samsung and Hyundai, to rig contracts through a system of bribes and kickbacks that looted the national treasuries of some of the world's poorest countries. Read the rest
Designer Jyo John Mulloor created these custom motorcycle helmets to look like the bare heads of the riders underneath. Read the rest
An article in the Swedish newspaper Expressen documents the human rights abuses suffered by the woman flight attendants on Qatar Airways. These abuses are part of a larger pattern of deplorable labor conditions in Qatar, but Qatar Airlines has the distinction of being a business through which westerners interact with women living under deplorable circumstances. The senior management of QA, including CEO Akbar Al Baker, are accused of sexual harassment, and exercise near-total control over the flight attendants' personal lives, literally locking them in overnight and setting guards on their doors. It's reminiscent of stories of the stories told by women who've escaped abusive husbands, except that the "husband" is a millionaire airline executive and the wives are the vulnerable young women who are made to simper and fetch for passengers travelling to the Qatar.
The contract mentioned in the article is reproduced in part here.
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In the United Arab Emirates, a freshwater lake has appeared in the middle of the desert. The oasis is beautiful and full of life, and it's risen 35 feet since 2011. It's also probably accidentally man-made.
Hydrologists believe the lake formed from recycled drinking water (and toilet water). The nearby city of Al Ain pumps in desalinated sea water, uses it for drinking and flushing the toilet, cleans it in a sewage treatment plant, and then re-uses it to water plants. All of that water ends up in the soil and, at the lake site, it comes back up.
The water is clean, writes Ari Daniel Shapiro at NPR. Don't worry about that. Instead, the major side-effect of the lake is change, as scientists watch the desert ecosystem that used to exist on the site decline, and a new one rise to take its place. It's a great story that shows how complicated discussions about ecology can be. On the one hand, you're losing something valuable. At least in this one spot. On the other hand, you're definitely gaining something valuable, too.
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"With every species that we lose, it's like rolling the dice. The whole ecosystem could crash down," Howarth says.
But Clark, with the U.S. Geological Survey, says he's not so worried about the desert ecosystem. He says the lake is tiny compared to the vast amount of desert in this part of the world. "If I look through the binoculars, there's, like, seven different kinds of herons. There's greater cormorants.