Could social media emerge as a new critical infrastructure sector?

Social media has become an important conduit for official and emergency government communications with the public. With such communications having the power to critically affect national security, social networks have become a hacker’s paradise and need to be taken more seriously.

US President Donald Trump’s official Twitter account is one example of how social media is now a popular channel for engaging with the public in realtime. At the more extreme end of the scale, recent events in Hawaii and Japan saw false missile alerts sent due to human error, causing populations to spiral into turmoil. These incidents highlight how social media accounts are becoming part of the critical infrastructure that governs our day-to-day lives.

It’s clear that communications, or mis-communications, of this kind have the potential to wreak havoc. But the question is: should the use of these social media accounts — like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and more — for official and emergency purposes, be regulated by legislation?

“Until these platforms are officially treated as critical infrastructure, we should consider applying the same cybersecurity practices followed by the energy, water, gas and ports industries.”

In Australia, telecommunications carriers are subject to the Telecommunications Sector Security Reforms (TSSR), while other critical infrastructure falls under the recently introduced Security of Critical Infrastructure Act (2018). This act is primarily focused on major infrastructure assets like power and water, that supply essential services to more than 100,000 people.

In both the TSSR and the act, scope is given for the relevant minister to direct a provider or intermediary “to do, or not do, a specified thing that is reasonably necessary to protect networks and facilities from national security risks.”

Under the Security of Critical Infrastructure Act, the relevant minister can also nominate additional industry centres for inclusion, provided the minister is satisfied there is a risk that the assets or services could have a prejudicial effect on national security.

Top of the priority list currently are airports and data centres. It’s possible the minister will declare social media communications as subject to the act, but, at this stage, it’s unlikely.

Top-grade cybersecurity practices essential

So, what should governments be doing when it comes to securing social media accounts used for timely or sensitive communications? Until these platforms are officially treated as critical infrastructure, we should consider applying the same cybersecurity practices followed by the energy, water, gas and ports industries.

Government personnel operating social media for official or emergency purposes should undertake a review of how their accounts are managed. Hardening communication platforms should include stepping up password management practices. This will help eliminate the chance of delays to the delivery of critical information or the exploitation of accounts for nefarious purposes, such as issuing false or misleading information.

“To strengthen these platforms against both external and internal attacks by unauthorised personnel, government departments should treat their social media accounts as privileged.”

Hackers know the value and vulnerability of social media today, and are already hijacking official accounts. In 2017, a rogue Twitter employee shut down Donald Trump’s Twitter account for 11 minutes in an act of protest.

Disgruntled employees aren’t the only risk – hackers could use any one of several social engineering techniques, such as phishing, to gain access to passwords for social media. If they did so, they’d be able to issue false statements on a public social media account, potentially causing fear and panic.

Government personnel within specific departments or offices commonly share access to social media accounts. This means that potentially dozens of people throughout an agency have access, admin or editing rights on these platforms. Not least, passwords for these accounts are usually shared between team members, rarely changed, and often re-used across a number of accounts.

Any account with a shared or re-used password can be an easy target for a hacker or corrupt insider. There is also rarely a record of which team member published each post — increasing the possibility of a false alert being deliberate and untraceable.

Just two minutes after the missile alert was issued on Twitter in Hawaii, the governor was told it was a false alarm. While other government officials rushed to assure the public there was nothing to worry about, the governor did not tweet for more than 17 minutes. The cause of his silence? He forgot his username and password.

To strengthen these platforms against both external and internal attacks by unauthorised personnel, government departments should treat their social media accounts as privileged. That way, simple acts of forgetting, sharing or re-using passwords won’t cause delays, such as what happened in Hawaii.

Privileged account security tips

As best practice to properly secure and protect social media accounts, government departments should employ privileged account security, including:

  • Arrange transparent access: To make it harder for hackers to find and exploit credentials, authorised users must be able to seamlessly authenticate access to an account without having to remember passwords. This allows for immediate access in emergency situations, such as the incident in Hawaii.
  • Remove shared credentials: Use a digital vault to store passwords and remove the accountability challenges of shared logins. Users will then need to login individually for access to shared social media platforms.
  • Automate password rotations: Continuously changing privileged credentials safeguards against attackers using retired passwords. Regularly automating password changes can also update access privileges, reducing the possibility of an outsider getting their hands on valid credentials.
  • Review account activity: For visibility of individual users’ activity across social media accounts, a record of events can be created. This way, posts can be linked to authorised users, and rogue employees can be more easily identified.

Governments the world over are reviewing their critical infrastructure safeguards and national security precautions. As we continue to see in situations such as those in the US, Hawaii, and Japan, the public has developed a huge level of trust in communications distributed by government organisations.

Social media has become a credible and dependable medium for official communications, and it’s clear these platforms are neither inherently secure nor infallible. It’s critical to re-think how any medium used for official and emergency communications is treated and secured.


Huge Waterspout Hits Italy, Pics Go Viral On Social Media

Huge Waterspout Hits Italy, Pics Go Viral On Social Media

An enormous waterspout has been captured on film moving from the sea and hitting the Italian city of Salerno. The rare phenomenon enthralled locals, many of whom described the waterspout as ‘spectacular’ while sharing pics on social media.

According to ABC News, waterspouts are similar to tornadoes, but form over water when cool and unstable air passes over warmer waters and turns into a spinning column of water. They tend to collapse once they move across solid ground.

Videos and photos by eyewitnesses show the waterspout moving closer to land two days ago.

Antonio Stanzione, who shared a video of the waterspout, captured in the nearby coastal town of Vietri Sul Mare, said he had “never seen such a scene.”

“The first thing I thought was ‘how wonderful’ what nature can create,” Mr Stanzione told Euronews, “Then afterwards I felt a huge thump and I thought the situation was getting dangerous.”

However, no injuries were reported.


“Are Governments Made On Social Media?”: Governor On Mehbooba Mufti Tweet

'Are Governments Made On Social Media?': Governor On Mehbooba Mufti Tweet

Are governments made on social media, Jammu and Kashmir governor Satya Pal Malik bit back today as he responded to Mehbooba Mufti’s charge that she had to tweet her letter staking claim to power as her calls and fax were not received.

Governor Malik also defended his decision to dissolve the state assembly just after receiving two claims to form government – a move questioned by opposition parties who allege that he on instructions to stop a non-BJP government in the state. The assembly dissolution sets the stage for elections in the state two years before term.

Mehbooba Mufti had alleged in her tweet last evening that she tried to call the governor and then attempted to fax her letter, but failed. She had claimed the support of her rival Omar Abdullah’s National Conference and the Congress.

The governor asserted that he had not received any message from either Mehbooba or the other claimant to power, Sajad Lone.

“Do governments get made on social media? I don’t tweet or see my tweets,” the governor said on Ms Mufti’s tweet.

He said the fax was not the problem. “Yesterday was Eid. Even My cook wasn’t there, forget my fax operator. No one was there.”

Even if he had received the fax, he said, the decision would have been the same.

“This grand alliance was opportunistic,” he told reporters. “There was an attempt to horse-trade by those who don’t want elections, who had boycotted local polls. I had no vested interest, but acted in the interest of the state. I wasn’t biased towards anyone. I didn’t entertain either side but went with Jammu and Kashmir’s constitution. I didn’t even ask Delhi,” he insisted.


Social Media Spreads Hope And Fear Among Central America Migrants

Social Media Spreads Hope And Fear Among Central America Migrants

Migrants prepare to form a new caravan from El Salvador for the promised land of the US.

El Salvador: As a group of migrants prepare to form a new caravan to set out from El Salvador for the promised land of the United States, eager participants exchange messages over social media.

How will they cross the border? What should they bring? Mothers and their children, youngsters fleeing violent gangs, men hoping to find a way to feed their families: the caravan attracts all sorts.

As soon as one caravan leaves, plans for the next one swamp social media. Hundreds of interested parties fire off questions, engage in discussions or share their hopes and fears.

“My aim is to reach the United States. In the caravan, no one will be able to touch me,” said one rasping voice in an audio post on a chat for the last caravan to leave El Salvador.

The day before it departed, migrants spent the night on the El Salvador del Mundo square in the capital San Salvador, a place dominated by a huge column upon which Jesus stands atop a globe.

Since October, more than 5,000 central American migrants have set out on the long, arduous journey of thousands of kilometers, either by foot, bus or hitch-hiking northwards towards the US.

“It’s safer in the caravan”

“I found out about the caravan on Facebook. Someone posted a link in a WhatsApp chat,” a 38-year-old widow with children aged 11 and 13, told a news agency AFP.

“People exchange information, there are no leaders.”

Her face shaded by a baseball cap, she refuses to give her name for fear that gangs will harass her. They might one day have their eyes on her eldest, a pretty brunette with long, curly hair.

These gangs strike fear across not just El Salvador but the whole central American region, whether by murder, forcing boys to join them or raping girls.

The widow quit her $6-a-day job making corn tortillas to join the caravan. She has no other way of trying to reach the US.

“We poor people, we don’t have the $8,000 that a coyote demands,” she says, referring to people smugglers.

“It’s also safer in the caravan,” she adds.

Another mother was forced to abandon her house under threats from gangsters who had already kidnapped her husband.

The 39-year-old said the caravan offered an opportunity to give her 12- and 14-year-old sons “a better future.”

On the El Salvador del Mundo square, families gathered with children in tow to witness the official decorating of the city’s Christmas tree amid fireworks and singing.

Few people took any interest in the migrants, easily recognizable among the throng by their meagre backpacks.

“Lies and lack of solidarity”

Following the lead of 2,000 migrants who left Honduras on October 13, an initial group of 400 Salvadorans set off on October 28.

Three days later, their numbers had swelled four-fold, some alerted to the possibility through Facebook pages such as “El Salvador emigrates for a better future,” which has been liked more than 4,000 times.

By November 18, though, there were barely 200 left among them as the rest had given up walking and stumped up the $5 necessary to take a bus to Guatemala.

While social media plays an important role in mobilizing and organizing would-be migrants, it can also sow the seeds of doubt or discontent amongst them.

Unverifiable tales of migrant hostility encountered in the countries they pass through are quick to spread, particularly by WhatsApp.

“They’re all crammed at the Mexican border and no one’s giving them anything,” wrote one anonymous person from a Mexican cellphone.

Another claims that you have to pay “$50 to get a child through” the border.

Evelyn Marroquin, El Salvador’s migration service director, says migrants are left with many complaints.

“They said those who organize the caravan asked for money… that there wasn’t the solidarity advertised on social media to progress together… that all the comments on social media were lies,” she said.

“MS-13 threats”

A 43-year-old mother and her sons aged 16 and 20 told news agency AFP they were arrested and detained in Mexico.

She is another who withheld her name out of fear of the MS-13 criminal gang that originated in California but has since spread its tentacles throughout Central America.

It’s a group that US President Donald Trump frequently claims has infiltrated the migrant caravans as he pushes a tough stance on border security.

MS-13 made her nephew disappear and then harassed her after she went looking for him.

It also tried to recruit her youngest son when he was only 11.

Getting away from the gangs is proving tough. After leaving home, she received death threats when exiled in Guatemala, forcing her to move on.

Even at the Mexican detention center, she came across gang members.

“We landed in something even more dangerous, worse,” she said

After her travails, she opted to be sent home and now stays at Migrant House, an establishment run by Catholic missionaries in San Salvador.

She plans to relocate to one of the few regions of the country not beleaguered by gangs “for my sons’ safety, no matter how far away or isolated it is.”

One thing she’s sure she’ll never do again, though, is try to emigrate.

Despite such difficulties, another group is active on social media, preparing to head out from El Salvador on January 2.

Within minutes, 200 people have connected to the group and the messages multiply.

Without revealing his identity, #StarLord announces himself as the group’s administrator. He decides who gets to stay in the group, deletes messages and dishes out advice.

“Fleeing hunger and blood”
On average 300 to 400 people leave El Salvador every day. The caravans have proved hugely tempting, in particular for those who cannot afford to pay the sums demanded by “coyotes.”

Authorities have even snared people smugglers who managed to infiltrate caravans.

“Three people were arrested in the first two caravans in the act of trafficking people,” El Salvador’s minister of justice and public security, Mauricio Ramirez Landaverde said.

The presidents of Guatemala, Jimmy Morales, and Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez, have hit out at the caravans, claiming they’ve been manipulated politically in order to “violate borders.”

Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega and Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela have been accused of encouraging caravans to deflect attention from the crises in their countries.

For Benjamin Cuellar, a Salvadoran human rights expert, those accusations have “no objective foundation.”

He says attention should be turned instead to solving the problems that motivate people to migrate.


Gurgaon Man Arrested For Stalking, Threatening Journalist On Social Media

Gurgaon Man Arrested For Stalking, Threatening Journalist On Social Media

The accused has been charged under the relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code (Representational)


A man was arrested in Noida on Tuesday for allegedly stalking a woman journalist on social media and threatening her of kidnapping, police said.

The man, identified as Gulshan Kashyap, a resident of Gurgaon in Haryana, was arrested near the Sab Mall in Noida’s Sector 27 after raids were conducted to find him, they said.

“The man would stalk her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and keep sending her offensive messages and posting comments. When blocked, he would create a new profile and repeat troubling her,” Inspector Manoj Pant said.

“Kashyap threatened to abduct her and also warned her against having any man in her life except him,” he said.

Mr Pant, station house officer at Sector 20 police station, said the woman, a news anchor with a private TV channel, had approached police on November 6 after which a case was registered.

The mobile phone used in the crime was also seized from Kashyap after his arrest, he said.

The accused has been charged under the relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code, police said.