Playing With (Digital) Fire

As any fan of martial arts knows, one of the best moves is to take an attacker's weapon and turn it back on them. In 2016, that's just what Beijing did – in cyberspace: after American operatives used a particular bit of code to attack Chinese computer systems, Chinese hackers took it, repurposed it, and used it to attack a bunch of US allies, according to The New York Times.

The technical details of the story are fascinating, but it also raises some big political questions:


If countries can't control their cyber arsenals, can they at least establish some ground rules for how they are used? Avoiding a destructive free-for-all in cyberspace may depend on it. But hacking tools aren't like conventional or nuclear arms, where countries have agreed to enforceable limits on capabilities and behavior. They're invisible, with no real way to count them or verify they've been destroyed, and prone to being stolen.

And despite an ongoing attempt by the US and its allies to deter bad behavior by indicting hackers, imposing sanctions, and even threatening military force in response to malicious cyber-attacks, there's nothing in cyberspace comparable to the doctrine of mutually assured destruction that has helped deter and prevent conflicts between nuclear-armed powers.

Why is that so difficult? For one thing, it's relatively easy to hide your identityor get hired guns to do your bidding in cyberspace – making it hard for the victims of cyber-attacks to be 100 percent confident in targeting their response.

There's also a lot of mischief that state-backed hackers can get up to that is short of outright war, but can still hurt an adversary (think: swiping personal data that can help identify spies or stealing trade secrets). Governments don't want to give those capabilities up. This helps explain why attempts to establish widely agreed, enforceable "cyber norms" have made limited progress, despite 15 years of wrestling with the issue at the UN.

The upshot: We already knew the US was struggling to secure its cyber arsenal. Now we know that just using a cyber weapon means there's a risk it'll be stolen and used by someone else. As more countries gain access to these tools, reaching a basic agreement on rules of behavior will become even more important.

How much material do we use to send a package? Too much. Does recycling help? Yes – but not really. Packaging material often accumulates as waste, contributing to its own "polluting weight." To solve our packaging dilemma, Finland came up with RePack: a "circular" solution for the reuse of material.

Learn more about RePack in Eni's new Energy Superfacts series.

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The region's troubles have also captured the attention of European leaders, who worry that if instability there continues, it could generate a movement of migrants that might well dwarf the EU refugee crisis of 2015-2016.

But is Europe helping to make things better?

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Where are US-China relations in this battle over TikTok and what is happening?

Well, this may seem like a minor deal. It's a video sharing app that the president has given 45 days to sell to a US entity or get banned in the United States. But along with WeChat, these are two of China's most successful technology companies that the US has now banned from entry into the United States and potentially banned from being used on operating systems that rely on US software inside China. So, this is a huge escalation in the geotech war between the United States and China. China for a long time has not allowed Google and Facebook and other American applications to be fully operative inside their borders. And now the US is stepping up against Chinese technology companies. The reason is that there's concerns among the US government about these tech, these apps data security practices. Members of the military, high ranking government officials aren't allowed to have these on their phones because there's concern about what China does with the data that they can harvest from those phones. This is a real warning sign to other Chinese technology companies that they may not be welcome inside the American market unless they can prove in some way, they are totally independent from the Chinese government and the Chinese military. Expect a lot of escalation in this area over the coming months and years.

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In a new interview with Ian Bremmer for GZERO World, former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden says that the single most important step to reopening schools in the fall is to control infection in the community. But as of now, too many communities across the United States have lost control of the Covid-19 virus. Opening schools will only become a possibility once a majority of people start practicing the "Three 'W's" ("Wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance") and local and federal governments enforce stricter protective policies. The full episode of GZERO World begins airing on US public television on Friday, August 7, 2020. Check local listings.