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Big Data: What NBA stats can teach you about NSA surveillance

What do the NBA and the NSA have in common? Both use big data tools to yield highly detailed answers from enormous volumes of information.
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Slides from the secret deck published by the Guardian outlining the mission of "Boundless Informant", the NSA's Hadoop-based big data analytic. (Screengrab/Screengrab)

Leaks of highly classified National Security Agency documents detailing the intelligence organization's international surveillance program have introduced many members of the public to terms like "metadata" for the first time — leaving some frustratingly confused or resigned to apathy.

But in spite of their complexity, big data tools shouldn't be so intimidating. Indeed, average people use them every day, whether it's to follow their favorite athletes or avoid heavy traffic.

For diehard NBA fans, comprehending the NSA’s PRISM program and Boundless Informant indexing tool may be easier than expected. 

The information technology industry’s infatuation with "big data" — meaning, vast collections of information that would be unwieldy without sophisticated tools that store, index and analyze them efficiently — has grown since advances in storage technology have sped up the time it takes to process enormous amounts of data.

The benefits of big data technology have mostly been enjoyed by businesses and, it's now clear, the intelligence community. But since last February, basketball fans have become quite familiar with the tools' power, too.

At stats.nba.com, fans can use big data analytics to delve into professional basketball stats from as long ago as 1946, giving them the facts to settle an argument or craft a statisically perfect fantasy team. The basketball-obsessed looking for historic hoops trends can find up to 4.5 quadrillion statistical combinations — that’s 4,500,000,000,000,000 numerical amalgamations.

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4 reasons why BuzzFeed's Chris 'funkmasta' Baker is totally behind OpTrollTheNSA

Even before he outed himself, we would've bet you an ironic nature tee and a fixie that Buzzfeed's Chris Baker is behind trollthensa.com.
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BuzzFeed’s creative director has already admitted to masterminding trollthensa.com, a plot to flood the NSA’s servers with bogus "terrorist" emails. But before he’d said a word, and before a spokeswoman for BuzzFeed told the Daily Beast there was no conflict of interest, here's how GlobalPost traced the trolls back to Chris Baker.

1. OpTrollTheNSA's contact email is hosted on a gmail domain

Now that everyone knows about PRISM and Google's involvement with the program, it seems ill-advised to use a gmail account to troll the NSA. Anyone with a basic knowledge of information security knows using a gmail account in a super-secret op is decidedly not "1337."

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Anonymous vs. PETA: How a case of kitten killing turned into a fight over free speech

Anonymous is defending what they call a right to anonymity with "OpPETA," protesting attempts by the animal rights organization to sue online commenters for defamation.
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PETA members pose dressed as foxes during a photocall beneath the London Eye on December 21, 2010 in London, England. The group were campaigning against the use of animal skins in clothes and other garments. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Factions within the Anonymous hacker collective have targeted People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to defend against what they claim is an attempt by the organization to silence anonymous online criticism with legal threats.

Pursuant to a defamation lawsuit, PETA filed a petition to the State Supreme Court of New York on May 23 demanding the Huffington Post provide “identifying information” of three user accounts that had commented on the media organization's website. The comments that PETA says are defamatory appeared on an article that reported the death of hundreds of cats and dogs at the hands of the animal rights organization — yes, you read that right.

The identifying information PETA is seeking includes IP addresses and their corresponding physical addresses. Anonymous has now joined the fray in defense of those commenters' right to remain unknown, countering PETA's legal challenge with "OpPETA."

One Anon involved with OpPETA told GlobalPost that all options against the rights group are being considered, including hacking their website, launching a denial of service (DDoS) attack, and revealing the private information of PETA officials associated with the case.

Anonymous says they’re waging OpPETA in defense of individuals who lack the resources to fight an expensive legal battle.

“This kind of legal maneuver is typical of corporations and organizations who cannot accept opposing viewpoints and think freedom of speech and online anonymity are merely inconveniences to be dealt with by high powered and expensive lawyers and huge piles of cash,” one Anon involved in OpPETA said in a statement.

“This Op is not against animal rights, it is against the cynical manipulation of well meaning people to fund lawsuits and advertising that do nothing but advance the agenda of PETA,” the statement read.

“It is time PETA was reminded that Anonymous does not forgive or forget those who oppose free speech and will not stand for legal threats against those voicing legitimate criticisms.”

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After DOJ probe, online anonymizers become journalism's new standard

Analysis: It's not enough to trust law enforcement not to spy on the press. How journalists, especially freelancers, can protect themselves and their sources from prying eyes.
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People walk by a surveillance camera along a street in the Financial District on April 24, 2013 in New York City. Following the twin bombings at the Boston Marathon, a new focus has been placed on surveillance cameras, which have become common in most metropolitan centers across America. The FBI used footage from surveillance cameras to identify the bombing suspects, which eventually led to their capture. Despite the security role of the cameras in law enforcement, numerous civic groups and privacy advocates are still opposed to the use of surveillance cameras in public spaces. (Spencer Platt/AFP/Getty Images)

As the recent revelation of a secret Justice Department seizure of Associated Press phone records highlighted, US journalists are facing new challenges in protecting the identities of sources.

Outraged since the AP investigation came to light, news agencies and members of the press are ratcheting up pressure on the Obama administration to prove its commitment to uphold the First Amendment.

But, in the age of open data, should journalists expect legal protection to be enough to safeguard their work? Instead, members of the press might do better taking matters into their own hands. 

It's no longer tenable to simply trust the government not to monitor the press, and the responsibility to protect a source’s anonymity remains with the journalist. A new ethical standard may be approaching: the need to protect the identities of sources from prying eyes with technological tools. 

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Q&A with Syrian Electronic Army: Assad loyalists or independent hacktivists?

Is the Syrian Electronic Army a bunch of regime lackeys or concerned secularists? In an interview with GlobalPost, members of the Syrian Electronic Army say they have their own agenda.
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A screenshot of the Syrian Electronic Army's website. (Screengrab/Screengrab)

The Syrian Electronic Army has seized control of Twitter accounts belonging to the Onion, the Guardian, the Associated Press, NBC News, NPR and the BBC, bringing their often unpopular perspective of Syria’s civil war to millions of readers worldwide.

But who are the individuals that make up the Syrian Electronic Army? Are they simply regime lackeys tasked with embarrassing the western press or independent hackers with an agenda of their own? 

GlobalPost: Would you mind giving me as much information about yourself as you can – online handles, etc? Also, would you mind tweeting or posting “Interview with GP” or something to that effect from an account associated with you or the SEA to confirm your identity? If you could, please send me a quick email. Feel free to delete once I get a screenshot.

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Rebel hackers claim that the SEA is giving the locations of activists and fighters to the Syrian Military who then find them and kill them. Is that true?

Syrian Electronic Army Representative: We don't have the man power or resources to find the location of any terrorist to aid the military, nor do we have the necessary connections for that matter. These rumors are generated constantly to undermine and demonise the Syrian Electronic Army, but they've proven ineffectual.

I reported recently that the SEA was winning the cyberwar for Syria. Are you facing any resistance at all online from rebel hackers? What are their capabilities?

The only resistance we are facing are DDoSing attempts by some misguided factions of Anonymous. Generally, the tide has turned and most of the public is aware of the truth behind the war in Syria. As such, the government infiltrators inside Anonymous are finding fewer and fewer recruits to carry out these pointless attacks. Our website and social media presence has only faced dangers from the US regime, pushing Facebook and Twitter to shut them down constantly and our domain provider to shut our website down. When this happens, we simply create another account or domain. If anything, these US regime-led attacks proves their conspiracy against us.

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An interview with the Syrian Electronic Army

Is the Syrian Electronic Army a bunch of regime lackeys or concerned secularists? In an interview with GlobalPost, members of the Syrian Electronic Army say they have their own agenda.
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The Onion's Twitter timeline after it was hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army. The photo tweeted by the hackers is a meme style picture featuring the face of President Barack Obama stating, "I don't always fund al-Qaeda but when I do, I call them "rebels". (Screengrab/Screengrab)

Boasting some of the highest profile social media hacks in history, the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) has stricken fear into the IT departments of the world’s most respected English-Language news outlets.

It would appear that no Twitter account is safe.

The SEA has seized control of Twitter accounts belonging to the Onion, the Guardian, the Associated Press, NBC News, NPR and the BBC, bringing their often unpopular perspective of Syria’s civil war to millions of readers worldwide. 

But who are the individuals that make up the Syrian Electronic Army? Are they simply al-Assad regime lackeys tasked with embarrassing the western press or independent hackers with an agenda of their own?

“We don't support any single person, we support Syria as a nation,” said an SEA representative to GlobalPost on Wednesday. "We are not pro-Assad, we are pro-Syria.”

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Myanmar: Anonymous rallies around Rohingya, prepares for online operation

Worried that ethnic cleansing may take place without international attention, Anonymous is preparing an operation in support of Myanmar's minority Muslim Rohingya ethnic group, possibly targeting government officials.
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In this photograph taken on April 8, 2013, a young Myanmar Muslim Rohingya refugee looks on behind a wired fence at Indonesia's Belawan immigration detention center in Medan city located on Sumatra island, where eight Myanmar Buddhist detainees were killed by Myanmar Muslim Rohingya refugees inside the detention center on April 5, 2013. Some 200 asylum seekers, from countries including Sri Lanka and Afghanistan as well as Myanmar, remain at the detention center in the port town of Belawan, with some rooms holding large groups. They have been badly shaken by the killings. (Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images)

Factions within the global hacker collective Anonymous are preparing to launch a digital campaign in support of the Rohingya – Myanmar’s Muslim minority – who potentially face what a Human Rights Watch report last month classified as “ethnic cleansing.”

“Currently we are keeping an eye on the situation making sure the... violence against the Rohingya does [not] spin into another massacre again,” one of the managers of the Anonymous-aligned Twitter account, @CIApressoffice, told GlobalPost. “Our targets will include those who turn a blind eye or actively allow this tyranny to continue.”

More than just a group of hackers in search of lulz and glory, those involved in OpRohingya are taking their cues from Rohingya community leaders on the ground, who relay reports to Anonymous through established internet activists such as Heather Marsh.

Some activists involved in the operation want to push up the June launch date as crackdowns force Rohingya community leaders further underground.

“What we do know is, yes, the Rohingya are asking for assistance and an end to the violence being bestowed upon them and their children,” the @CIApressoffice contributor told GlobalPost.

Prominent netizens and supporters of Anonymous organized a Twitter storm in March to raise awareness about violence against Rohingya communities and to pressure Myanmar’s government to protect those facing harm and displacement. 

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Cracking military database, hacker seizes information on vulnerabilities in US dams

The hacked database contains comprehensive information about 79,000 dams throughout the US, including the estimated number of deaths there would be if a given dam failed.
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Participant hold their laptops in front of an illuminated wall at the annual Chaos Computer Club (CCC) computer hackers' congress, called 29C3, on December 28, 2012 in Hamburg, Germany. The 29th Chaos Communication Congress (29C3) attracts hundreds of participants worldwide annually to engage in workshops and lectures discussing the role of technology in society and its future. (Patrick Lux/AFP/Getty Images)

The US military has revealed that a hacker infiltrated a government database for a period of several months, gaining access to detailed US Army Corps of Engineers information regarding possible vulnerabilities in US infrastructure.

According to a report published by nonprofit online newspaper the Washington Free Beacon, the hacker, possibly using stolen username and password credentials, accessed the National Inventory of Dams (NID) and siezed information not normally available to the public.

The NID database contains comprehensive information about 79,000 dams throughout the US, including the estimated number of deaths there would be if a given dam failed. 

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Pro-Assad hackers take control of CBS News' social media accounts

The Syrian Electronic Army, a group of pro-Assad hackers, took control of CBS News Twitter accounts 60 Minutes, 48 Hours and CBS News Denver on Sunday.
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Hackers from the pro-Assad Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) took control of several CBS News Twitter accounts over the weekend, including accounts belonging to 60 Minutes, 48 hours and CBS Denver.

The hack on Sunday was the second attack launched by the Syrian Electronic Army against CBS News social media accounts.

The Syrian Electronic Army has targeted a number of Western news agencies and organizations, including NPR, the BBC and Human Rights Watch, to spread their message of support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They also criticize Western media organizations for having an anti-Assad bias. 

“The US government is sponsoring a coup in Venezuela and a terrorist war in Syria,” read one tweet from the hacked 60 Minutes Twitter account. 

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As thousands of dollars are raised for consolidated 'Anonymous' news agency, Anonymous faces infighting

Your Anon News, an incredibly powerful faction within the Anonymous collective, has raised tens of thousands of dollars for a consolidated news outlet to operate under the Anonymous brand. Some Anons fear a centralization of control of the once leaderless, amorphous collective.
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A graffiti of Guy Fawkes mask, symbol of Anonymous, is pictured on April 6, 2013 in Florence. Designed by illustrator David Lloyd, it was used as a major plot element in V for Vendetta, published in 1982, and its 2006 film adaptation. After appearing in internet forums, the mask became the trademark symbol for the online hacktivist group Anonymous. (Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)

Factions within the Anonymous hacker collective have raised nearly $55,000 though crowd-funding platform indiegogo to establish Your Anon News (YAN), a news agency billing itself as an independent alternative to “corporate media.”

YAN and its fundraising success, however, has also been the cause of a large schism within the collective.

Wildly surpassing an initial funding expectation of $2000, YAN hopes to collect breaking reports and blog postings from the “best independent reporters online.” In addition to YAN’s exisiting, highly followed Twitter and Tumblr accounts, the agency would provide an outlet for activists to stream live events all over the world, potentially granting unprecedented viewer access to global news.

The outlet wouldn't have its own corresponts, but would instead serve as an online hub for activists and “citizen journalists” to reach a wide audience directly. YAN believes traditional media coverage sacrifices important stories for too many trite articles.

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