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The Tech News Digest presents: How to weaponize hot air…and other stories

By Daniel Haltmeier

Dear Reader,

Welcome to the tenth bi-weekly Tech News Digest, provided by the GISA Technology and Security Initiative (TechSec). Our goal here is to give you an easy-to-read update on what has been happening lately in the world of technology and security. To do so, we pick the top news stories from the last two weeks and present a short summary. Should you be interested in knowing more, just follow the links below the respective paragraphs. Unfortunately this will be our last Tech News Digest until the beginning of the semester in September.

Arms race on a new level: the US military discovers… balloons.

I believe we are all aware that we find ourselves in an era of renewed arms races and great power competition. But while militaries around the world are trying to develop newer, faster and more technologically advanced weapons, the US has gone in a different direction with at least one of its arms programs. In order to detect hypersonic weapons it has discovered something exciting: hot air. 

To be precise, the US has developed high altitude balloons that could support surveillance activities on a global scale. Given that these balloons can remain in the air for very long times, there might actually be a real strategic advantage to.. well, hot air in a bag. The Pentagon has been spending money on developing these balloons for almost two years now and seems to be moving from development to implementation. This comes at the right time as China has recently (almost successfully) tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile which missed its target only by two dozen miles.

The balloons are however more technologically advanced than they might seem. They augment the surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities of satellites, harvest complex data and navigate using AI algorithms. So I guess the key message here is that militaries are able to weaponize everything and make it extremely expensive in the process; including hot air in a bag. 

Read more about this on POLITICO.

US and Ukraine to collaborate more closely on cybersecurity

The US and Ukraine have signed a Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC) to improve their partnership in cybersecurity. This new MOC will build on an already existing partnership between the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Ukrainian State  Service of Special Communications and Information  protection (SSSCIP). 

The new MOC will allow for better information sharing between the two agencies while also providing a framework for more cooperation on best practices. In addition, the two agencies can conduct joint exercises and training sessions from now onwards. The focus of the MOC is on the protection of critical infrastructure.

The MOC comes at a time when Ukraine is under increased pressure from Russian hackers. In the second quarter of this year, Ukraine has suffered from an uptake of Russian cyber operations against the sovereign nation. Attacks included targets such as high-voltage electrical substations or the Ukrainian telecommunications provider Ukrtelecom. 

Other countries have also improved their cooperation with Ukrainian cybersecurity agencies. An example would be the Cyber Rapid Response Team (CRRT) which was deployed to Ukraine in February, led by Lithuania and supported by Croatia, Poland, Estonia, Romania and the Netherlands.

Read more about this on Infosecurity Magazine.

Dissidents in Myanmar are being identified by Chinese facial recognition technology

The military junta in Myanmar has increased its surveillance capabilities with new facial recognition technology. This has caused human rights activists to sound the alarms. They argue that these new technologies help the junta in their fight against political opponents and dissidents. 

The military had already started installing hundreds of Chinese manufactured cameras before they took power in a coup. However, now that they rule Myanmar, the military could start using these cameras against its political opponents. The highly sophisticated cameras are AI enabled and therefore make automatic facial recognition a reality in Myanmar. 

While other security agencies around the world also use these very same technologies, many of them use them only for crime prevention. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Myanmar. The new technology has apparently already helped the security apparatus in making more arrests, as the number of dissidents incarcerated has increased dramatically in recent months. Urban areas have become a danger zone for protesters. 

More recently, the junta has even executed several activists. Now, activists who continue the struggle for democracy in Myanmar are calling for international help. But will the democratic nations of the world hear the calls?

Read more about this on Deutsche Welle.
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