Tag Archives: news site

South Ossetia: The First Cyber/Physical War?

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BBC picture

Wikipedia is doing a good job of chronicling the war in South Ossetia; its mention of several apparent cyberattacks on both sides makes me wonder whether this is the first instance of a physical war being accompanied by a cyberwar? All those listed on Wikipedia are not parallel attacks, i.e. they are not part of an actual physical war.

So far the attacks have been by Georgian supporters on two Ossetian media sites, and attacks by supporters of South Ossetia on the Georgian National Bank website and the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (which was reportedly splashed with a collage of of Saakashvili and Hitler photos.) The Georgian news site, Civil Georgia that reported the attacks on the South Ossetian websites itself now appears to be down.

Some attacks appear to preceded the war, suggesting that they were part of a deliberate build-up ahead of the entry of Russian troops into South Ossetia. On July 21 the Georgian president’s website was attacked. I wasn’t able to access the website as of early Aug 9. While tensions have been growing between Georgia and Russia for several weeks, it seems clear that the botnet involved in this attack was set up for this purpose only a few weeks ago.

Of course, none of this means that it’s done at an official level. But it’s interesting that at a time the Georgians and the South Ossetians would presumably like to get their sides of the story out, they can’t because their websites, official and unofficial, are down.

As the Georgian ambassador to the UK put it to Al Jazeera:

“Georgia has been attacked by a formidable force, it is a brutal attack with the use of air force, tanks and even the trademark cyber attack.”

“If this is not an all out war what is?” he asked.

War in South Ossetia (2008) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Update on Aug 12: some more links

http://lists.grok.org.uk/pipermail/full-disclosure/2008-August/063820.html

http://news.cnet.com/8301-1009_3-10014150-83.html

Breaking Out of Those Silos

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If you’re looking for the future of news, a pretty good example of it is at UK startup silobreaker, which isn’t a farm demolition service but a pretty cool news aggregation and visualization site. In other words, it lets you look at news in different ways. And it’s caught the attention of Microsoft, who today announced it had select the company for its Startup Accelerator program.

The website itself looks pretty normal on first glance–news on the left, three columns of stuff. But look closer. Four boxes on the right offer different sorts of information: a trends chart showing “media attention” (presumably the number of mentions in the news) of different Windows products:

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Another shows the relationships between Rio Tinto, other companies, topics and cities:

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And my favorite, a map showing all the places where things are happening in the news. Move your mouse over them and details will pop up in a small box:

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Drop down lists of topics along the top of the website allow you to select your area, and it’s a satisfying range to choose from. Open the terroism page, for example, and you get a bunch of stories on terrorism, as well a map of hotspots (already zoomed in on the Middle East and Central/South Asia), and a trend map showing how media interest in terrorism in Afghanistan has risen markedly in recent weeks against that of Iraq and the U.S. Who knows how accurate this stuff is, and where it comes from, but it’s still an interesting way to slice and dice the data:

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Not everything works quite as it’s supposed to but there’s still lots of quality in here, and it puts pretty much every other news site to shame. And it’s not even as if these elements are particularly new; I’ve long sung the praises of newsmaps and mindmaps as a way for online newspapers to get with the program, and it’s frankly been disappointing that so few have tried these things out.

Ring Tones, Drugs and the Spamming of Google News

This week in the WSJ.com (subscription only, I’m afraid) I wrote about web spam — the growing penetration of faux websites that ride up the search engines and muddy the Internet for all of us. I based it around the recent case of subdomain spam, well documented by the likes of blogs like Monetize. Briefly websites controlled by one Moldovan hit the high rankings on several major search engines using techniques that are imaginative, but not exactly beyond the intelligence of savvy search engine builders. It’s not as intrusive as spam in your inbox but it’s trashing the web and undermining the usefulness of search engines.

But it’s not just ordinary search results that get spammed. It’s news. A search for “ringtones” on Google News, for example, throws up “free mono ringtones” as the top item:

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(“Ringtone” throws up similar results.) Amazing, not only is it the top story but all the six “related” stories you can see as a green link below the four are from the same domain, advertising a range of goods that can hardly be lumped together with ringtones, including sildenafil and tenuate. (Searches of those words on Google News also have the same domain as top ranked, at least at the time of writing. Here and here. In fact the results for tenuate do not throw up a single news story; all eight matches are web spam.)

The sites in question are all subdomains of www.vibe.com, an online magazine which is indexed by Google news for its pieces on musicians. The pages that hit the top rank of results for ringtone and ringtones, however, are community messageboard pages, and clearly marked as such, which makes me wonder how either the web spammer is fooling the Google bots into indexing pages which are clearly not news by any definition, or why Google’s bots aren’t doing the job they’re supposed to be doing.

Yahoo! News’ search doesn’t do much better: Its first hit is a web spam site under the domain www.ladysilvia.net, which doesn’t even pretend to be a news site:

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(MSN’s news search comes out well, without any spam in sight, as does A9, which is basically the same engine.) But why are these sites getting indexed and included in news searches? I can only assume ringtones are such big business that it’s worth the web spammers doing their damndest to push their results up not only ordinary search rankings, but I would have thought Google and Yahoo! would be on top of this. Apparently not.

Wikipedia Takes On News

The guys at Wikipedia, the collaborative encylcopedia, have taken on news, Wired reports. Wikinews is still in beta, but fully functioning.

For those familiar with South Korean news site OhmyNews (an English version is here), the idea is similar: Authors are able to add their content irrrespective of who they are. Unlike OhmyNews, however, other people are able to alter what you write. This is how Wikipedia works, and far from being messy, anarchic or unreliable, it has proven an excellent form of peer review. But will it work for news?

Google News Discovers There’s A Reason Why Journalists Exist

Here’s an interesting take on Google News I hadn’t thought of before, from Dana Blankenhorn, an Atlanta-based writer. He’s mad at Google for apparently allowing in to its news trawl clearly partisan sites that aren’t news, but opinion. At the same time, he says. Google is separating out blogs from its news searches — possibly because it may launch a separate search engine, as part of its buyout of Blogger, former host to loose wire. So anything that uses blogging software is out, sites that don’t, but have some kind of ‘news’ on, are in.

As Dana points out, this leaves a very skewed picture of the news at a sensitive time in American politics. With so many candidates and activists running blogs — especially among the Democrats — the apparent decision to leave blogs out but others in is being used by Republican webmasters to push political views into what is a news site. “Given the current intensity of American politics, this has a real effect, and seems to give Google a real ideological bias,” Dana writes.

I haven’t explored this allegation more fully: It will be interesting to see what Google have to say. I guess the broad lesson from this is that Google News is a news site, and therefore has to abide by certain rules whether it likes it or not. But Google is not a news site, in the sense that it has journalists, editors and photographers out there making editorial decisions about what is news and what isn’t, since it automates its news searching and presentation. Indeed, it proudly acknowledges there are no humans involved.

So Google will have to make a choice: include everything in its news trawl to avoid accusations of bias (at the moment it numbers 4,500 news sources), restrict the news to only bona fide news outlets, or install a team of editors to ensure the material that appears on the website, and the way it appears, are balanced.

In the end, of course, news is not something computers do well. I know: I’ve seen big news agencies try to do it. Even simple stock market reports require some human distillation to make them meaningful (and not look silly). Google, perhaps, is just finding out that there’s no really cheap way to enter the news business.

News: Microsoft Takes on Google’s Customisable News

 Microsoft is taking on Google, at least in its news. The New Scientist says Microsoft is testing a a news-gathering web site that tailors the stories selected to individual users. Once MSN Newsbot is fully functional, Microsoft says the site will personalise results within 10 minutes of a user starting to browse.
 
Microsoft is not revealing exactly how its site will work. But experts say there are several possible types of algorithm that could be used. One is similar to those Amazon.com uses to recommend additional books a buyer might like. This algorithm analyses the other choices of people who have already bought the first book. A news site would instead group articles according to the reading patterns of previous users.