Aug 5, 2019

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Two tech issues emerged in the hours after the shootings in El Paso and Dayton this weekend: extremist message boards and violent video games. We'll look at both in turn today.

Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,136 words (~ 4 min read)

1 big thing: What to do about 8chan, the net's atrocity megaphone

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The apparent posting of a racist manifesto by the suspect in the El Paso mass shooting has raised a new outcry over the role of 8chan, an anonymous chat site, in fomenting violent hate crimes.

  • 8chan was also the message board where the perpetrators of March's Christchurch mosque shootings and April's San Diego synagogue attack chose to post their manifestos.

Why it matters: The internet was built by true believers of free speech and has flourished by "assuming good intentions." But the combination of anonymous hate-mongering and abundant guns in the U.S. has weaponized the online world way beyond the level of shouting "fire" in a crowded theater.

Driving the news: Late Sunday, security provider Cloudflare announced it would stop providing service to 8chan.

  • "We reluctantly tolerate content that we find reprehensible, but we draw the line at platforms that have demonstrated they directly inspire tragic events and are lawless by design," Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince wrote.
  • CloudFlare took the Daily Stormer offline in 2017, but Prince wrote at the time that he didn't want his company's position as a key cog in the network to turn it into an internet cop. Sunday he reiterated, "We continue to feel incredibly uncomfortable about playing the role of content arbiter and do not plan to exercise it often."
  • Cloudflare's move could render the site vulnerable to service-disrupting attacks, or — as Prince predicts — 8chan could find another provider with fewer scruples.
  • Tucows, which provides domain registry service to 8chan, has said it has "no immediate plans" to take action against the message board, per the New York Times.

Background:

  • 8chan was founded in 2013 by Fredrick Brennan as an alternative to 4chan, the site that first popularized the anonymous-posting format and sparked the emergence of the Anonymous hacktivist phenomenon.
  • When 4chan began cracking down on hate speech during the Gamergate controversy in 2014, 8chan promised an anything-goes zone.
  • Since 2015, 8chan has been operated by Jim Watkins out of the Philippines. Brennan is no longer affiliated and for 6 months has been urging that it be shut down — a call he renewed after the El Paso massacre.

The other side: 8chan has said that it removes posts like the shooting manifestos within minutes.

  • Nonetheless, the site effectively serves as an initial point of distribution for such documents. It also provides perpetrators of violence with an audience that ghoulishly "gamifies" their acts and cheers their "high scores" of dead.

Yes, but: For every proponent of shutting 8chan down, there's another arguing that's futile since the board's users will keep hopping to new spaces.

Our thought bubble: That's bound to happen, as the origins of 8chan itself prove. Nonetheless, making hateful communications harder to find might have value in itself — and it's a strategy Western governments and businesses have had no difficulty enacting when the target was al-Qaeda or ISIS.

2. Violent video games don't cause mass shootings

Violent video games (and television and movies) have been a frequent scapegoat for acts of real-world violence. But it's hard to ignore the fact that video games are popular all over the world, yet mass shootings aren't common in most of those places.

Naturally, that was the case put forth by the Entertainment Software Association, the video game industry's trade group.

  • "Violent crime has been decreasing in our country at the very time that video games have been increasing in popularity," the group said in a statement. "And other societies, where video games are played as avidly, do not contend with the tragic levels of violence that occur in the U.S."

The same case is also backed up by academic research.

  • "Study after study has established that there is no causal link between video games and real world violence," the ESA said.

That's not to say there aren't voices making such a connection, including House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy, who argued as much on Fox News on Sunday. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also laid the blame on video games, pointing to the shooter's references to Call of Duty in his manifesto. (Patrick has also blamed video games in the past.)

Our thought bubble: At most, one could argue that games contribute to a world in which we are desensitized to such violence. And that may be true. But you know what else makes people numb to mass shootings? Reading about a new one practically every day.

3. Hackers have tripled their use of destructive attacks

IBM charts a 200% rise in destructive malware attacks on business networks in the first half of 2019 over the last half of 2018 in a new report, Axios' Joe Uchill reports.

Why it matters: Destructive malware damages systems or data. It adds a tremendous burden to recovering from attacks — the same IBM report calculates a $239 million average cost to a business to recover from a destructive attack.

The big picture: There are several reasons that hackers use destructive malware in an attack, Chris Scott, global remediation lead for IBM's X-Force IRIS security division, told Axios.

  • Nations are trying to harm an adversary or project strength — as when North Korea attacked Sony or Iran attacked the Sands casino.
  • Criminals have begun to incorporate network-wiping malware as added motivation in ransomware attacks.
  • Both can use wipers to hide their tracks, making it more difficult to study who was behind an attack or what exactly they did.

More than half the victims operate in the manufacturing sector.

Backing up data can allow an organization to recover after a breach. But recovery isn't as easy as you might think.

  • "A lot of people miss the scale this can get to," said Scott. "The average attack we saw impacted around 12,000 workstations. If it takes 15 minutes to restore each workstation, that's still a long recovery."

There are a few ways to minimize the damage, said Scott:

  • Rehearse and plan for a destructive attack. That means, among other things, make sure a destructive attack on a network would not damage the backups of that network.
  • Empower employees to act quickly.
4. News aggregation app SmartNews reaches $1 billion valuation

SmartNews, the Japanese news discovery app that has amassed 20 million subscribers in the U.S., has raised $28 million in its latest funding round, bringing the company's valuation to $1.1 billion, executives tell Axios' Sara Fischer.

Why it matters: It's notable that in today's bleak news market — where U.S. tech giants like Google and Facebook dominate most news referral traffic online — a Japanese-based news startup has been able to gain traction. SmartNews is one of the few news-related startups that has achieved "unicorn" status, or a valuation of over $1 billion, in years.

Go deeper: Sara has more here.

5. Take note

On tap

Trading places

  • Nat Parker is stepping down as CEO of transportation software firm Moovel North America.

ICYMI

6. After you Login

For those who thought "I could manage these traffic lights better than the city," the game Traffix gives you that chance.

Ina Fried