Article 43


General Reading

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Growing Up Green

There’s a thing called CRITICAL MASS the dictiory says is:

the size, number, or amount of something that is needed to cause a particular result

For instance, we can put a pot of water on the stove and turn up the heat.  The water will get hotter and hotter - but its still water. At some point it’ll get so hot that it turns into gas.  This point of transformation is called critical mass.

We can imagine the same for our planet.  We’re pushing it past its limits.

We can keep filling Earth with more and more poisons, toxins, garbage, and carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, and The Earth can deal with it naturally - until at some point - it can’t keep up.

I have lots of dead batteries, glass and plastic bottles, engine oil - etc that I practically have to wrap up in a bow for the garbage company to pick up.

Some stuff we even have to pay to responsibly recycle.

It’s a lot easier to wrap those toxic batteries up with newspaper or old t-shirts and throw them away with the regular trash.

We can do much better.

Back in the day - that imaginary pot of water never got anywhere near hot enough to start boiling and change.

Kudos to the anonymous internet poster reminding us of the old days:

Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the much older lady that she should bring her own grocery bags, because plastic bags are not good for the environment,.

The woman apologized to the young girl and explained, “We didn’t have this ‘green thing’ back in my earlier days.”

The young clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations.”

The older lady said that she was right our generation didn’t have the “green thing” in its day. The older lady went on to explain:

Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.

But we didn’t have the “green thing” back in our day. Grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags that we reused for numerous things. Most memorable besides household garbage bags was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our school books. This was to ensure that public property (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our scribblings. Then we were able to personalize our books on the brown paper bags.

But, too bad we didn’t do the “green thing” back then. We walked up stairs because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks. But she was right. We didn’t have the “green thing” in our day.

Back then we washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throw away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts. Wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days.

Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that young lady is right; we didn’t have the “green thing” back in our day.

Back then we had one TV, or radio, in the house—not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana.

In the kitchen we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us.

When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power.

We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. But she’s right; we didn’t have the “green thing” back then.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blade in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

But we didn’t have the “green thing” back then.

Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service in the family’s $45,000 SUV or van, which cost what a whole house did before the “green thing.”

We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint.

But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the “green thing” back then?

Posted by Elvis on 02/06/21 •
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Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Post Pandemic Boomer

image: boomers on a boat

I don’t believe most of the article below - seniors are going bankrupt - but posting it in case the coming years proves me wrong.  AI is a different story. I can go for ARISA the robot.
- Elvis/ed


COVID-19 will make the 60-plus generation more powerful than ever

By Mauro Guillen
NY Post
August 22, 2020

Population aging is a powerful force. By 2030 the population above age 60 will have grown so much that other generations like millennials and Gen-Z will be outnumbered by them in Europe, China, Japan and the United States. Each day, 12,000 Americans celebrate their 60th birthday; in China, 54,000; and in the world, about 210,000, according to the United Nations Population Division. The pandemic will only accelerate this trend given the predictable decline in fertility - which tends to occur whenever unemployment is high - and the shifting demographics of cases and deaths, which are trending younger as time goes by.

The 60+ crowd will become very important economically for three reasons. First, they own more than half of the net worth around the world, a proportion that reaches 80 percent in the United States, according to a study by the Federal Reserve. Second, the same study concluded that the net worth of seniors is more evenly distributed than among younger age groups, and poverty rates are also lower. And third, their incomes tend to be more resilient because many of them depend on pensions or investment income, and they can do some work on the side to cover potential shortfalls.

Not all seniors are financially secure, but they tend to be less exposed to large-scale financial disruption during episodes of crisis. Moreover, there are 25 percent more women above the age of 60 than men, they tend to be much better at managing their money and making it last, and they account for a smaller percentage of COVID-related health problems and hospitalizations, mainly because they heed the advice of health authorities and they have more robust anti-viral immune responses to begin with.

The gray market is quickly becoming in vogue because ever larger proportions of seniors are enjoying life by using their income and wealth wisely to procure goods and services that enhance their experiences. Moreover, a 70-year-old nowadays lives the life of a 50-year-old in the 1980s. The pandemic has also accelerated the technological savviness of this group, and not just in the area of e-commerce. In fact, a study in the Journal of Gerontology found that use of the Internet increases cognitive functioning rather than vice versa. Myriad new applications in virtual reality, robotics, and artificial intelligence are seeking to capture a rapidly growing market. Other areas of technology will help seniors live longer and more fulfilling lives. Virtual reality can stimulate motor functions and the overall performance of the nervous system, and it can help reduce loneliness, a key problem afflicting large numbers of people at advanced ages. Artificial intelligence and robotics will also contribute to quality of life. Over the last decade, Japanese companies have invested heavily in robotics to aid with daily tasks like lifting weights, conduct physiotherapy sessions, and provide for companionship.

Both Madison Avenue and the new digital advertising behemoths occupying large office spaces on the West Side of Manhattan are beginning to take notice of the opportunities related to catering to the needs and wants of the gray consumer. Boomers have the bucks, but advertisers don’t seem to care, noted the AARP in a recent article.

Even so, the new buzzword in advertising circles is the “ageless” approach, emphasizing attitudes and lifestyles as opposed to age, in yet another acknowledgment that aging is not what it used to be. Politicians learned a long time ago how important this demographic is. At long last, companies are realizing that gray is the new black.

Mauro Guilln is a professor at the Wharton School, and the author of the forthcoming book, 2030: How Today’s Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything (St. Martin’s Press), out Tuesday.

Posted by Elvis on 09/09/20 •
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Monday, August 03, 2020

The World Without The Rich

image: rick kids and poor kids

What if world leaders and multilateral institutions focused on the $5.50 line, or measures of poverty that capture social exclusion and relative deprivation? What if the headline story were that half the world still qualifies as desperately poor, and poverty head counts remain stubbornly high in dozens of countries? What if the story were not that we are succeeding, but that we are failing?
- Poverty is a Choice, The Atlantic, July 29, 2020

The World Would Be a Better Place Without the Rich

By Sam Pizzigati
The Atlantic
October 17, 2018

Do we need - does progress demand - grand private fortunes?

Cheerleaders for grand fortune regularly make this case. The prospect of becoming phenomenally wealthy, they avow, gives people of great talent a powerful incentive to do great things. The enormous wealth these talented accumulate, the argument continues, propels philanthropy forward and benefits individuals and institutions that need a helping hand.

Even the idle rich, as conservative patron saint Frederick Hayek once insisted, have a socially constructive role to play. Wealth gives them the freedom to experiment with “new styles of living,” “new fields of thought and opinion,” “of tastes and beliefs.” The wealthy enrich our culture.

These defenders are wrong. The awesomely affluent have no net redeeming social value.

Their presence coarsens our culture, erodes our economic future, and diminishes our democracy. Any society that winks at the monstrously large fortunes that make some people decidedly more equal than others is asking for trouble.

But the trouble the rich engender often goes obscured. Most of us will spend our entire existences without ever coming into contact with anyone of enormous means. In the daily rush of our complicated lives, we seldom stop to ponder how those lives could change without a super rich pressing down upon us. So, lets ponder.

An obvious initial question: Why do so many of us always seem to be rushing? Why are we stretching ourselves so thin? The answer we tell ourselves: We’re doing so much, were working so hard, to ensure our families ever more happiness.

“But all our hard work,” notes Cornell University economist Robert Frank, “increasingly ensures nothing of the sort.” Frank asks us, as an example, to contemplate the modern wedding, life’s signature happy day. “What Americans spend on average for weddings,” he points out, “has tripled over recent years.” “Nobody believes that marrying couples are happier,” observes Frank, “because we spend so much more now.”

So why do we spend more? “Because people at the top have so much more,” he notes. “They’re spending more on their own celebrations, and they set the consumption standard, unleashing what Frank has labelled “expenditure cascades.” People at every income level feel increasing pressure to reach the higher consumption bar those directly above them have set.

Sometimes we buy things because we truly need them. But grand concentrations of private wealth, even in these situations, end up undermining the quality of our everyday transactions.

Cheerleaders for grand fortune, predictably, claim the opposite. “We all benefit,” they argue, “when the wealthy go shopping.” Bold new products typically cost a pretty penny - and only wealthy consumers can afford them. By paying that high price, the wealthy give exciting new products a foothold in the marketplace. Eventually, this “product cycle” theory holds, the prices of these products will start falling, and everybody gets to enjoy them.

Economists who examine consumption patterns tell a different story.

“The more that wealth concentrates,” Robert Frank notes in his 1999 classic Luxury Fever, “the more retailers tend to lavish their attention - and their innovating - on the luxury market. Year by year, products come to embody ever more costly new features.”

But the superrich dont just drive prices up. In the communities where these rich congregate, they suck the vitality out.

America’s ultra-high net worth individuals own on average nine homes outside the United States. Most of these homes lie empty for most of the year. Their streets go lifeless. In London and other world capitals, entire well-to-do neighborhoods have become luxury ghost towns.

In MANHATTAN, developers catering to the superrich have spent recent years building incredibly tall and thin - ultra-luxury “needle” towers. The narrowest of New York’s needles, rising seventy-seven stories, rests on a base only sixty-feet wide.

Why such a slender profile? Why so many floors? Developers are simply following the “logic” of luxury: the superrich are willing to pay a premium - up to $90 million and more - for lofty condos that take up entire floors and offer spectacular views looking in any direction.

The rest of us pay a price for those views. New York’s luxury towers are blocking out the sun in CENTRAL PARK, Manhattan’s historic commons. The superrich are altering our lived environment for the worse.

And not only along the canyons of New York. The lush lives these rich lead are consuming our planet’s resources at a rate thats speeding the degradation of our natural world.

Between 1970 and 2000, the number of private jets worldwide multiplied by ten times over. These luxury planes emit six times more carbon per passenger than normal commercial jets. Private yachts that stretch the length of football fields burn more than 200 gallons of fossil fuel per hour. The top-earning 1 percent of households, one Canadian study has found, generate three times more greenhouse gas emissions than average households - and twice as much as the next 4 percent.

Those in the global 1 percent, Oxfam calculates, may well be stomping a carbon footprint 175 times deeper than the poorest 10 percent. Another analysis concludes that the richest 1 percent of Americans, Singaporeans, and Saudis on average emit over 200 tons of carbon dioxide per person per year, 2,000 times more than the poorest in Honduras, Rwanda, or Malawi.

Our global environmental crisis would not, of course, suddenly melt away if the worlds most affluent suddenly ended their profligate consumption. But the wealthy pose our single biggest obstacle to environmental progress.

Great fortunes both rest on environmental degradation and blind the wealthy to it. The rich, observes the Global Sustainability Institute, have the resources to “insulate themselves” from the impact of climate change. Grand fortune also immunizes them from carbon and other environmental taxes that may affect people of modest means. The rich, the Institute notes, can afford to pay to continue polluting.

In a world of billionaires, all our problems become more difficult to address. Democratic political systems operate under the assumption that gathering together to collectively debate our common problems will eventually generate solutions. Unfortunately, in deeply unequal societies, this assumption does not hold.

The superrich inhabit their own separate universe. They have their own problems, and the rest of us have ours. The rich have the resources to make sure their problems get addressed. Ours go begging.

Take the morning commute. The Washington, D.C. area, one of AmericaԒs most deeply unequal metro centers, has some of Americas worst traffic congestion. No coincidence there.

In starkly unequal urban regions, the wealthy bid up the price of close-in, conveniently located real estate. Rising prices force middle-class families to move farther out from job centers to find affordable housing. The farther people live from their work, the more traffic. Those American counties where commuting times have increased the most just happen to be those counties with the largest increases in inequality.

How could we ease congestion? We could build new roads and bridges or, better yet, extend and improve public transportation. But both these courses of action typically involve tax dollars, and the exceedingly rich usually blanch whenever someone proposes tax-funded solutions, mainly because they figure that sooner or later people will want to tax them. So officials in Greater Washington - and other unequal metro areas - have come up with solutions to traffic congestion that avoid any need to levy big new taxes.

Enter “Lexus lanes,” segregated stretches of highway that pay for themselves by charging motorists rising tolls as traffic increases. This system works wonderfully - for motorists of means. Affluents don’t particularly care how much in tolls they have to pay. They just want to get where they’re going as quickly as possible. With Lexus lanes, they do. Everybody else sits and stews in traffic.

Meanwhile, Washingtons subway system - 117 miles of rail has become a public embarrassment, with long delays, rising fares, and nagging safety problems. The systemגs chronic underfunding reflects a national trend. US investments in infrastructure have fallen off dramatically, from 3.3 percent of GDP in 1968 to 1.3 percent in 2011, a long-term decline that began at almost exactly the same time as inequality in America started rising. The US states where the rich have gained the most at the expense of the middle class turn out to be the states that invest the least in infrastructure.

One explanation: Working- and middle-class people have a vested interest in infrastructure investment. They depend on good public roads, schools, and parks. Wealthy people dont. If public services frazzle, they can opt out to private alternatives.

And the more wealth concentrates, the more our political leaders tilt the wealthy’s way. The wealthy do not like paying for public services they don’t use. Political leaders don’t make them. They cut taxes and deny public services the funds they need to thrive. And so, we get more Lexus lanes that give the wealthy speedy commutes - and remind the rest of us that only the rich ever really win in societies as unequal as ours.

Would the rest of us win more often in societies without a superrich? Well, defenders of the rich caution, any society that grinds down grand fortune would also be grinding down the billions that make philanthropy possible. Who would want to do that?

Philanthropy, proclaims one 2013 study from the global bank Barclays, has become דnear-universal among the wealthy. Most wealthy worldwide, pronounces Barclays, share ԓa desire to use their wealth for ԓthe good of others. Headlines regularly trumpet this good at every opportunity. Bill Gates fighting neglected tropical diseases! Bono fighting poverty! Diane von Furstenberg pledging millions for parks!

PhilanthropistsԒ publicists have skillfully clouded the core facts: the superrich as a class dont actually give all that much җ and they get back plenty from what they do give.

At first glance, the basic giving numbers in the United States look impressive. In 2015, gifts of $100 million or more alone totaled over $3.3 billion. But the aura of generosity fades the moment we start contemplating what the superrich could be contributing. In 2013, for instance, Americas fifty largest charitable donors gave away $7.7 billion in charitable gifts, a 4 percent increase over the year before. That same year, the wealth of the Forbes magazine billionaires list increased 17 percent.

So, the rich donҒt give all that much to charity. What do they get in return for what they do give? For starters, tax breaks. Costly ones. The general rule: For every three dollars that 1 percenters in the United States contribute, the federal government loses one dollar in lost tax revenue.

Americas wealthiest also get the heartfelt thanks of institutions near and dear to their hearts.

The superrich have a sweet spot for cultural palaces. Los Angeles will soon be home to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, a billion-dollar edifice that will house the Hollywood memorabilia of the billionaire filmmaker behind Star Wars. Los Angeles already also hosts The Broad, a $140-million contemporary art museum funded by billionaire Eli Broad that opened in 2015, and the Marciano Art Foundation, a newly completed museum that billionaire retailers Paul and Maurice Marciano have installed in a grand old Masonic Temple.

Meanwhile, “despite a state law that requires California public schools to offer music, art, theater, and dance at every grade level, arts-education programs in the budget-strapped public schools of Los Angeles remain woefully inadequate,” the Los Angeles Times reported late in 2015, with thousands of school children “not getting any arts instruction at all.” Nationwide, budget cutbacks have left millions of children without art education, especially in communities of color. In 1992, just over half of African-American young adults studied art in school. By 2008, that share had dropped to just over a quarter.

Millions for showcasing Star Wars memorabilia, pennies to help poor kids create and enjoy art. Even some billionaires find these sorts of philanthropic contradictions difficult to swallow. As financial industry maverick Bill Gross notes: “A $30 million gift to a concert hall is not philanthropy, it is a Napoleonic coronation.”

What else do the superrich get from their philanthropy? They get control over the public policymaking process. The think tanks, institutions, and organizations the wealthy underwriteshape and distort our political discourse. They define the bounds of what gets discussed and what gets ignored.

The foundations our mega rich endow, notes policy analyst Joanne Barkan, fund researchers ԓlikely to design studies that will support their ideas. These foundations engage ԓexisting nonprofits or set up new ones to implement projects theyve designed themselves.Ҕ Projects in place, they then devote substantial resources to advocacy selling their ideas to the media, to government at every level, and to the public,Ӕ even directly bankrolling journalism and media programming.Ӕ

Peter Buffett understands this dynamic from the inside. He runs a foundation created by his father Warren Buffett, by some accounts Americas most publicly spirited billionaire. In elite philanthropic gatherings, notes the younger Buffett, youҒll see heads of state meeting with investment managers and corporate leaders,Ӕ all of them searching for answers with their right hand to problems that others in the room have created with their left.Ӕ And their answers, Buffett charges, almost always keep the existing structure of inequality in place.Ӕ

Peter Buffett dubs this comforting charade “conscience laundering.” Philanthropy helps the wealthy feel less torn about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need. They sleep better at night.

Through all this, income and wealth distribution remain a concern that few philanthropic foundations dare to address. Americas Foundation Center recorded nearly four million foundation grants in the decade after 2004. Only 251 of these referenced ғinequality.

Some philanthropic heavies, most noticeably the Ford Foundation, have recently announced a commitment to addressing inequality. But philanthropy’s observers remain skeptical about how much difference this will make. Societies most dependent on philanthropy, notes foundation veteran Michael Edwards, remain the most unequal, and those nations mostly in Scandinavia - that have the highest levels of equality and social well-being have the tiniest philanthropic sectors.

Generations ago, during the original GILDED AGE, the millionaire soap manufacturer Joseph Fels announced to Americans of his deeply unequal time that “philanthropy was only making matters worse.” Fels urged his fellow millionaires to fight for a new America that would make the superrich such as you and myself “impossible.”

His advice remains sound. We could survive without a superrich. Indeed, we would thrive without them.


Posted by Elvis on 08/03/20 •
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Friday, September 06, 2019

Call Center Worker Survey

inage: call center blues

The folks at PROPUBLICA are doing a story of those of us that work in CALL CENTERS:

We’re doing some research into what it’s like to work at customer service contracting firms

Tell your story HERE

Posted by Elvis on 09/06/19 •
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Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Bad Moon Rising Part 76


How Chinese Spies Got N.S.A. Hacking Tools, and Used Them for Attacks

By Nicole Perlroth, David E. Sanger and Scott Shane
NY Times
May 6, 2019

Chinese intelligence agents acquired National Security Agency hacking tools and repurposed them in 2016 to attack American allies and private companies in Europe and Asia, a leading cybersecurity firm has discovered. The episode is the latest evidence that the United States has lost control of key parts of its cybersecurity arsenal.

Based on the timing of the attacks and clues in the computer code, researchers with the firm Symantec believe the Chinese did not steal the code but captured it from an N.S.A. attack on their own computers like a gunslinger who grabs an enemy’s rifle and starts blasting away.

The Chinese action shows how proliferating cyberconflict is creating a digital wild West with few rules or certainties, and how difficult it is for the United States to keep track of the malware it uses to break into foreign networks and attack adversaries infrastructure.

The losses have touched off a debate within the intelligence community over whether the United States should continue to develop some of the world’s most high-tech, stealthy cyberweapons if it is unable to keep them under lock and key.

The Chinese hacking group that co-opted the N.S.A.s tools is considered by the agency’s analysts to be among the most dangerous Chinese contractors it tracks, according to a classified agency memo reviewed by The New York Times. The group is responsible for numerous attacks on some of the most sensitive defense targets inside the United States, including space, satellite and nuclear propulsion technology makers.

Now, Symantecs discovery, unveiled on Monday, suggests that the same Chinese hackers the agency has trailed for more than a decade have turned the tables on the agency.

Some of the same N.S.A. hacking tools acquired by the Chinese were later dumped on the internet by a still-unidentified group that calls itself the Shadow Brokers and used by Russia and North Korea in devastating global attacks, although there appears to be no connection between China’s acquisition of the American cyberweapons and the Shadow Brokers later revelations.

But Symantec’s discovery provides the first evidence that Chinese state-sponsored hackers acquired some of the tools months before the Shadow Brokers first appeared on the internet in August 2016.

Repeatedly over the past decade, American intelligence agencies have had their hacking tools and details about highly classified cybersecurity programs resurface in the hands of other nations or criminal groups.

The N.S.A. used sophisticated malware to destroy Irans nuclear centrifuges - and then saw the same code proliferate around the world, doing damage to random targets, including American business giants like Chevron. Details of secret American cybersecurity programs were disclosed to journalists by Edward J. Snowden, a former N.S.A. contractor now living in exile in Moscow. A collection of C.I.A. cyberweapons, allegedly leaked by an insider, was posted on WikiLeaks.

We’ve learned that you cannot guarantee your tools will not get leaked and used against you and your allies, said Eric Chien, a security director at Symantec.

Now that nation-state cyberweapons have been leaked, hacked and repurposed by American adversaries, Mr. Chien added, it is high time that nation states ԓbake that into their analysis of the risk of using cyberweapons - and the very real possibility they will be reassembled and shot back at the United States or its allies.

In the latest case, Symantec researchers are not certain exactly how the Chinese obtained the American-developed code. But they know that Chinese intelligence contractors used the repurposed American tools to carry out cyberintrusions in at least five countries: Belgium, Luxembourg, Vietnam, the Philippines and Hong Kong. The targets included scientific research organizations, educational institutions and the computer networks of at least one American government ally.

One attack on a major TELECOMMUNICATIONS NETWORK may have given Chinese intelligence officers access to hundreds of thousands or millions of private communications, Symantec said.

Symantec did not explicitly name China in its research. Instead, it identified the attackers as the Buckeye group, Symantecs own term for hackers that the Department of Justice and several other cybersecurity firms have identified as a Chinese Ministry of State Security contractor operating out of Guangzhou.

Because cybersecurity companies operate globally, they often concoct their own nicknames for government intelligence agencies to avoid offending any government; Symantec and other firms refer to N.S.A. hackers as the Equation group. Buckeye is also referred to as APT3, for Advanced Persistent Threat, and other names.

In 2017, the Justice Department announced the indictment of three Chinese hackers in the group Symantec calls Buckeye. While prosecutors did not assert that the three were working on behalf of the Chinese government, independent researchers and the classified N.S.A. memo that was reviewed by The Times made clear the group contracted with the Ministry of State Security and had carried out sophisticated attacks on the United States.

A Pentagon report about Chinese military competition, issued last week, describes Beijing as among the most skilled and persistent players in military, intelligence and commercial cyberoperations, seeking “to degrade core U.S. operational and technological advantages.”

In this case, however, the Chinese simply seem to have spotted an American cyberintrusion and snatched the code, often developed at huge expense to American taxpayers.

Symantec discovered that as early as March 2016, the Chinese hackers were using tweaked versions of two N.S.A. tools, called Eternal Synergy and Double Pulsar, in their attacks. Months later, in August 2016, the Shadow Brokers released their first samples of stolen N.S.A. tools, followed by their April 2017 internet dump of its entire collection of N.S.A. exploits.

Symantec researchers noted that there were many previous instances in which malware discovered by cybersecurity researchers was released publicly on the internet and subsequently grabbed by spy agencies or criminals and used for attacks. But they did not know of a precedent for the Chinese actions in this case - covertly capturing computer code used in an attack, then co-opting it and turning it against new targets.

This is the first time weӒve seen a case that people have long referenced in theory ח of a group recovering unknown vulnerabilities and exploits used against them, and then using these exploits to attack others, Mr. Chien said.

The Chinese appear not to have turned the weapons back against the United States, for two possible reasons, Symantec researchers said. They might assume Americans have developed defenses against their own weapons, and they might not want to reveal to the United States that they had stolen American tools.

For American intelligence agencies, Symantec’s discovery presents a kind of worst-case scenario that United States officials have said they try to avoid using a White House program known as the Vulnerabilities Equities Process.

Under that process, started in the Obama administration, a White House cybersecurity coordinator and representatives from various government agencies weigh the trade-offs of keeping the American stockpile of undisclosed vulnerabilities secret. Representatives debate the stockpiling of those vulnerabilities for intelligence gathering or military use against the very real risk that they could be discovered by an adversary like the Chinese and used to hack Americans.

The Shadow Brokers release of the N.S.A’s most highly coveted hacking tools in 2016 and 2017 forced the agency to turn over its arsenal of software vulnerabilities to Microsoft for patching and to shut down some of the N.S.A.s most sensitive counterterrorism operations, two former N.S.A. employees said.

The N.S.A.Ғs tools were picked up by North Korean and Russian hackers and used for attacks that crippled the British health care system, shut down operations at the shipping corporation Maersk and cut short critical supplies of a vaccine manufactured by Merck. In Ukraine, the Russian attacks paralyzed critical Ukrainian services, including the airport, Postal Service, gas stations and A.T.M.s.

None of the decisions that go into the process are risk free. “That’s just not the nature of how these things work,” said Michael Daniel, the president of the Cyber Threat Alliance, who previously was cybersecurity coordinator for the Obama administration. “But this clearly reinforces the need to have a thoughtful process that involves lots of different equities and is updated frequently.”

Beyond the nation’s intelligence services, the process involves agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services and the Treasury Department that want to ensure N.S.A. vulnerabilities will not be discovered by adversaries or criminals and turned back on American infrastructure, like hospitals and banks, or interests abroad.

That is exactly what appears to have happened in Symantecs recent discovery, Mr. Chien said. In the future, he said, American officials will need to factor in the real likelihood that their own tools will boomerang back on American targets or allies. An N.S.A. spokeswoman said the agency had no immediate comment on the Symantec report.

One other element of SymantecҒs discovery troubled Mr. Chien. He noted that even though the Buckeye group went dark after the Justice Department indictment of three of its members in 2017, the N.S.A.s repurposed tools continued to be used in attacks in Europe and Asia through last September.

“Is it still Buckeye?” Mr. Chien asked. ҔOr did they give these tools to another group to use? That is a mystery. People come and go. Clearly the tools live on.


Posted by Elvis on 05/07/19 •
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