Threats to the Open Net: July 20, 2012

  • A controversial Russian piece of legislation that would give the government broad powers over the Internet was passed by the upper house of parliament. Opponents of this law fear that it could lead to an increase in online censorship. Earlier in the week websites such as the Russian-language Wikipedia instituted an online blackout in protest. According to the New York Times, the UN’s human rights chief warned that “that the Kremlin is sliding back into Soviet ways.”
  • Security firms Kaspersky Lab and Seculert collaborated to uncover a new computer malware known as ‘Mahdi’. This bug, found in thousands of computers throughout the Middle East, “[vacuums] up PDFs, Excel files and Word documents from victim machines.” While considered much less sophisticated than superbugs like Stuxnet and Flame, it can be updated remotely. While it’s still unclear whether a private entity or nation-state is the culprit behind Mahdi, researchers found many strings in the code written in Farsi, leading them to believe the creators were fluent in the language.
  • China’s online censors have increased their jurisdiction to the growing online micro-film industry. Before, Chinese micro-film websites such as Youku or Sohu saw little interference from the Chinese authorities. However, given the medium’s rapid growth, “Beijing has tightened scrutiny, vowing to prevent ‘unhealthy content’.” Questions now remain about how intense the government oversight will be and what sort of effect it will have on the burgeoning online movement.
  • The Ethiopian government has sentenced twenty bloggers and journalists to jail for "conspiring with rebels to topple the government." Among those convicted is prominent blogger Eskinder Nega. Amnesty International responded to the convictions with the statement, “The Ethiopian government is treating calls for peaceful protest as a terrorist act and is outlawing the legitimate activity of journalists and opposition members.”

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