Feb 01

Book Review of Poroshyn’s Stuxnet

Roman Poroshyn’s brief book (156 pages) provides an excellent overview of Stuxnet within the larger context of cyber-warfare and espionage in the Middle East. Unlike another book on the same topic, Kim Zetter’s Countdown to Zero, it is not based on extensive interviews, nor does it focus in as great a depth upon the process through which the virus was investigated by global cyber security firms. Instead, with Stuxnet: the true story of Hunt and Evolution, Poroshyn tries to place Stuxnet into a broader context of espionage and cyber-warfare directed against not only Iran, but also other institutions in the Middle East, such as the Lebanese banking system. The book is an engaging read (despite the awkward wording of its subtitle), and Poroshyn shares a number of intriguing insights, of which the most interesting was that Stuxnet’s creators ultimately may have allowed it to be revealed to the world as an act of psychological warfare (33-35, 154-155). One of Poroshyn’s other arguments is that Stuxnet is only one chapter in a much longer struggle, which is convincing given his detailed analysis of successive software tools (Flame, Gauss, Narilam, and perhaps Stars) that Israel and the United States likely used against Iran and other regional actors.

One of the book’s strengths is its ability to convey the intelligence of the software design behind this particular cyberweapon. For example, Stuxnet entered into the Iranian nuclear enrichment network through USB sticks, because the network was air-gapped (lacked an internet connection) to the outside world. The level of deceit entailed is chilling: “After the third infection the original Stuxnet worm commits suicide. It deletes itself from the USB stick without leaving a trace” (18). Perhaps most impressive was the fact that it used the very tools for securing machines to infect them: “The perfect match for all of Stuxnet’s requirements is a computer scan process, generated by antivirus software. Stuxnet injects its clone into a variety of processes generated by anti-virus programs from BitDefender, Kaspersky, McAfee, Symantec, and many others” (19). The program was so effective that it briefly shut down the entire Iranian enrichment program (22). Of course, the Iranians ultimately were able to return to significant production. What is impressive, however, was that it achieved this goals which would have been difficult to achieve even with a conventional airstrike against such a hardened site as the Iranian enrichment facility. It also had dangerous implications: “Russia, which is involved in the reconstruction of the Iranian nuclear reactor in Busher, immediately accused Stuxnet of problems associated with the reactor’s reconstruction, and blamed Stuxnet for all delays” (37). There seems to be little evidence for this allegation, but once the attack is made, other actors may also view themselves as being threatened (or that the attack represents a convenient excuse).

There is reason to believe, as Poroshyn suggests, that there are other versions of this particular weapon in existence, only biding their time to be unleashed (53). This book is currently in its third edition. It will be interesting to learn what has happened when the fourth edition is released.

If you are interested in cyber-warfare you might want to read my review of the novel Ghost Fleet.

Shawn Smallman

Portland State University.

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/02/book-review-of-stuxnet/

Jan 22

Humans need not apply: the Robot revolution

This quarter I am teaching an online class on Digital Globalization, and this week we are talking about the economy: Uber, AirBnB, 3-D printers, etc. The discussion has focused a great deal on how the sharing economy has impacted students’ communities, particularly AirBnB’s impact on housing. In general, most students are optimistic about the future of the sharing economy, and don’t want government to heavily regulate emerging technologies. Still, the students do have some particular concerns. One student recommended a video called Humans need not apply, which talks about how robots are impacting the labor market. This 15 minute video concisely and thoughtfully details the danger robotics and technology pose for white collar employment. As the video points out, even the Stock Market is now heavily run by “bots.” The action of the market is now largely out of direct human control. Now other markets -in particular the legal industry- are changing, as discovery and other tasks are being automated. Could bots eventually take over the role of doctors for diagnosis or drug prescription? My favorite point in the video (spoiler alert) is when the speaker points out that the background music for the video was created by a robot. Overall, the video is deeply pessimistic, as its key argument is that new jobs will not replace those that are lost. My question is, if this trend is truly happening, why is unemployment in the United States currently around 5%? Shouldn’t we already see some signs of this happening? One of the commentators of the video was struck by how thoughtful the comments were, and asked if this could possibly be Youtube? I think that this comment speaks to the video’s strengths.

Another student in the class pointed to an article in the Atlantic titled “A world without work.” It’s also worth your time, to think about the long term trends that may be at least as important as recent news about the Chinese stock market.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University, 2016

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/01/humans-need-not-apply-the-robot-revolution/

Jan 15

“Mirrors of Racism” campaign in Brazil

In Brazil a female news presenter was the target of racist comments online after the show posted her picture to Facebook. In response, people posted these comments on billboards near the authors’ houses, without giving their names. This brief video shows the billboards and interviews people about their reaction to these comments. Although the people speak in Portuguese, the video is subtitled in English. The slogan at the bottom of the billboards says “Virtual Racism: the consequences are real.” At a time when racial justice is a pressing issue in the United States, it’s interesting to examine how people in another nation are addressing racist speech. The video also raises the issue of how people adopt new personas online, because they perceive that different standards of speech apply, and they can act with impunity.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University, 2016

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/01/mirrors-of-racism-campaign-in-brazil/

Jan 13

El Motete Marketplace

A PSU grad, Megan Vose, is currently launching a funding campaign to support a new business in Panama. I’m sharing some information that she provided us below, and hope to get the word out about this project:

“As a Portland State Alumni, I studied International Studies with an emphasis on Latin America and Cultural/Social Geography.  Professor Stephen Frenkel, sparked my interest in Commodity Chains and Commodity Agriculture through a class titled “Silver to Cocaine,” and this has continued to be a main focus throughout my education and professional decisions ever since.

I entered a Peace Corps Masters International Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies where I will be graduating in May 2016 with a Masters of International Environmental Policy. I recently returned from serving two years in Peace Corps Panama, which served as a sort of field work for my program, working with rural agricultural communities and trying to improve harvest and develop small agricultural based businesses.  Although the work that we did was impactful, we realized a larger barrier to growth was access to markets.  Along with another former Panama Peace Corps Volunteer, we are attempting to support a change in the food system, by building a for profit retail food market in Panama City.  The market will focus on local, Panamanian produced foods and knowing your producers.  A portion of our profits will be used to help lift up those who don’t currently have access to markets, so they may be able to participate in the economy that exists, and begin to better their economic situations.
Please support our Indie Gogo Campaign.”
My best wishes for Megan and her partner with this project.
Shawn Smallman, Portland State University, 2016

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/01/el-motete-marketplace/

Jan 13

Seymour Hersh and Syria

Few investigative journalists have as impressive a history covering international issues as Seymour Hersh. His current article, Military to Military, in the London Review of Books harshly criticizes current U.S. policy in Syria for being too critical of Russia, too supportive of Turkey, and most of all, unsuccessful. The piece is well worth reading.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/01/seymour-hersh-and-syria/

Jan 04

Bad News from Brazil

I’ve been studying Brazil for nearly 25 years now, and have seen the country pass through many difficult times. For all the bad news regarding Brazil, the nation is still in a very different place than in 1992-93, when inflation was perhaps 1,700 percent annually, and the clerk at the post office had to use a calculator to figure out what a stamp cost on that particular day. A very poor graduate student, I used to change my money late in the week, in the hope that the grocery stores had not had enough time to raise their prices. It was always disappointing to get to the store and see that the stock clerks had changed prices in advance of my arrival. I was also in Rio de Janeiro was President Fernando Collor de Mello was impeached in 1992. For this reason, I tend to take a skeptical look at bad news from Brazil, which often overlooks the many real advances that are being made. Still, it’s hard not to feel pessimistic right now. A recent article in the Economist describes the immense economic and political challenges that Brazil faces. Given Brazil’s importance to Latin America, this piece is worth reading. If you want something a little more uplifting, though, listen to this Planet Money podcast about how Brazil tamed its terrible problem with inflation.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University, 2016

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/01/bad-news-from-brazil/

Jan 01

The Top Posts in 2015

Every year I look at the most popular posts for the last year. There are a few common features, one of which is that book reviews are always popular, especially if they cover theory or literature. International mysteries also draw readers, as do teaching materials. Finally, although I haven’t posted many maps, they also attract attention on the blog. At the end of 2015 the top ten blog posts were:

  1. A book review of Dipesh Chakrabarty’s Provincializing Europe
  2. Sample exam questions for faculty teaching an introductory course using our textbook.
  3. A book review of Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach. 
  4. A blog post that asked what is International and Global Studies?
  5. A recommended films list for an “Introduction to International Studies” class.
  6. A map of Mexican drug cartels.
  7. The mystery of Witches’ Broom in Brazil.
  8. A global map of U.S. security interests.
  9. A syllabus for an “Introduction to International Studies” course.
  10.  A book review of Dave Zirin’s Dance with the Devil.

You can bookmark the blog here. Happy New Year!

Shawn Smallman

Portland State University, 2016

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/01/the-top-posts-of-2015/

Dec 14

Zika fever in Brazil

"Rash on Arm due to Zika virus," uploaded to Wikipedia by FRED on January 10, 2014. See https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zika.Virus.Rash.Arm.2014.jpg

“Rash on Arm due to Zika virus,” uploaded to Wikipedia by FRED on January 10, 2014. See https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zika.Virus.Rash.Arm.2014.jpg

The health news from Brazil is truly remarkable, as the Ministry of Health is advising women in the northeast not to become pregnant at this time because of the emergence of a new disease in the Americas called Zika fever. Historically, Zika fever has been a very rare disease, which until 2007 had caused only a small number of diagnosed cases in Africa and Asia. The Zika virus was native to the forest of Zika in Uganda, where it circulated amongst monkeys. The disease suddenly appeared in 2007 in Micronesia, then spread to French Polynesia in 2013, followed by Easter Island in 2014, before finally arriving in Brazil. The disease causes many of the same symptoms as dengue (high fever, headache, joint and muscle pain, nausea, stomach pain, exhaustion, pain in the back of the eyes, conjunctivitis, a maculopapular rash, and swelling of the legs). This is unsurprising because dengue and the Zika virus are members of the same viral family (flaviviridae), and are both spread by the same species of mosquitoes, particularly Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. There is no treatment or vaccine for Zika fever.

When it first appeared in Bahia, in northeastern Brazil, in April 2013, it was not immediately obvious that this was a new disease. As patients were tested for dengue, however, and the results came back negative, the medical system soon realized that something unusual was happening. While worrying, the disease did not seem disastrous when it appeared in Brazil. People can be infected with Zika fever only once. The symptoms typically last four to seven days, then the patients recovers. In some cases, patients suffer from immunological or neurological disease (Guillain-Barre syndrome) as a result of their infection, but this is atypical. When it appeared, the disease seemed to be less serious than dengue. Very few people have died from it in Brazil. As the epidemic continued, however, doctors began to report a bizarre increase in the number of babies born with a serious birth defect, microcephaly. This disorder is characterized by a reduction in the size of the head of the baby. The rate of this disorder has increased sharply, perhaps ten-fold over the last year. Some doctors at Brazil’s Hospital Oswaldo Cruz are now suggesting that the problem is unrelated to Zika fever, but rather is tied to another emerging infectious disease in the region, Chikungunya. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/12/zika-fever-in-brazil/

Dec 01

Book Review of Lords of Secrecy

Scott Horton’s book Lords of Secrecy is a passionate, angry, well-written and disturbing look at how U.S. national security agencies have undermined congressional oversight, and consistently violated the law. At the core, this book argues that the growth of the national security bureaucracy has outgrown the ability of Congress to provide oversight, and fundamentally threatens democracy. In the aftermath of the appalling and evil attacks in Paris last week, there is currently a clear need for effective intelligence agencies. Horton’s work, however, raises questions about the autonomy of these organizations, and the risks that their work may entail by pervading secrecy throughout our political culture. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/12/book-review-of-lords-of-secrecy/

Nov 27

Brazil’s soft power

With the recent arrest of a Brazilian Senator and a banker, the corruption scandal within Brazil continues to worsen. Brazil’s image is often exaggerated in the international press. Three years ago Brazil’s star was on the rise, and it was widely touted as an emerging great power. Now most of the news out of Brazil -drought, a failed dam, corruption- is so negative that I sometimes find myself avoiding Brazilian news. As I discussed in an earlier post, there are even rumors of a possible coup, although I strongly don’t believe that this will happen. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2015/11/brazils-soft-power/

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