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Terror attack victims claim social media enables extremism

Social media has allowed violent extremism to flourish, and the companies involved have done nothing to prevent it. That’s the claim being made by relatives of those murdered in the San Bernardino terrorist attack in a Los Angeles court. Reuters is reporting that families of some of the victims have launched a lawsuit against Facebook, Google and Twitter. The trio stand accused of providing “material support” to terror groups through omission, refusing to properly tackle the issue and shut down such online activity.

The internet’s power to connect people is undisputed, but there’s no barrier on what sort of people can be brought together. The question of what responsibility, if any, the companies enabling such connection bear is thorny and complex. Section 230 of the Federal Communications Decency Act offers a pretty broad immunity for online publishers, saying that these businesses are not responsible for their user’s actions.

That hasn’t stopped several other victim groups from attempting to force Facebook, Twitter, Google and others into action. Late last year, relatives of those murdered during the Pulse Nightclub attack filed a very similar lawsuit in Detroit federal court. As did the families of five victims of a Tel Aviv terror attack and the widow of Lloyd Carl Fields Jr, who was murdered in Jordan.

None of these cases have — yet — made any real progress in the courts, and it’s unclear if judges will be sympathetic to their pleas. For its part, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has pledged to hire 3,000 more moderators across the year. Those moderators, while principally engaged in preventing violent videos, will also be tasked with helping the company get better at removing “hate speech and child exploitation.”

For their part, a study does seem to say that Twitter’s efforts to tackle extremism have been more or less successful. In early 2016, researchers found that pro-terror debate on the social network had slowed down after Twitter began mass-banning upwards of 125,000 ISIS-sympathetic accounts. Similarly, Telegram has worked to shut down messaging channels that it believes are used to propagate violence.

Although that may now be too little, too late, as reports have emerged claiming that ISIS is developing its very own social media platform.

Source: Reuters

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There's a good reason why security analysts get nervous about bundled third-party software: it can introduce vulnerabilities that the companies can't control. And Microsoft, unfortunately, has learned that the hard way. Google researcher Tavis Ormandy discovered that a Windows 10 image came bundled with a third-party password manager, Keeper, which came with a glaring browser plugin flaw -- a malicious website could steal passwords. Ormandy's copy was an MSDN image meant for developers, but Reddit users noted that they received the vulnerable copy of Keeper after clean reinstalls of regular copies and even a brand new laptop.

A Microsoft spokesperson told Ars Technica that the Keeper team had patched the exploit (in response to Ormandy's private disclosure), so it shouldn't be an issue if your software is up to date. Also, you were only exposed if you enabled the plugin.

However, the very existence of the hole has still raised a concern: are Microsoft's security tests as thorough for third-party apps as its own software? The company has declined to comment, but that kind of screening may prove crucial if Microsoft is going to maintain the trust of Windows users. It doesn't matter how secure Microsoft's code is if a bundled app undermines everything.

Source: Monorail, Tavis Ormandy (Twitter)

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