Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Connecting the dots between Cambridge Analytica, The Mercers, Brexit, Russian hackers, WikiLeaks and the US and Kenyan presidential elections

Yesterday Hillary Clinton pointed out that Cambridge Analytica, an ad targeting company financed by billionaires Robert and Rebekah Mercer, worked on the Brexit, US, and Kenyan elections. The Kenyan election was overturned by their Supreme Court and Clinton said she hoped someone would write about the ties between the Mercers, Cambridge Analytica and the Trump Whitehouse.

(While she tentatively connected the dots between the three campaigns, it must be noted that the decision of the Kenyan Supreme Court was not based on the activity of Cambridge Analytica).

The format of this post is unusual. Rather than writing an “article,” I have compiled a short PowerPoint slide deck on the issue. The slides are annotated and have links to sources that would usually have been found in an article or blog post so you can read and study them as you would an article or use them in a presentation. (The slides are a subset of the slides used for a longer presentation, which in turn are a subset of the slides I used in class during the campaign).

The Kenyan Supreme Court, ruled 4-2 to nullify their presidential election.

Links between the Merciers, Cambridge Analytica and Trump

Update 9/21/2017

Mari Christian pointed out that Brexit leader Nigel Farage, who is a person of interest in the FBI investigation into Trump and Russia, met with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy March 9, 2017. Farage said he visited Assange at the behest of LBC Radio “with a view to conducting an interview” and that he had never even been to Russia.

With this in mind, let's modify the above figure as follows:

Update 9/23/2017

There is ample evidence that Russian Hackers acquired the data that was published by WikiLeaks. It remains to be seen whether the Trump campaign and/or Vladimir Putin were co-conspirators. Robert Mueller and congressional committees are investigating that allegation.

Several readers commented on this, so I added a slide on Russian hacking with links to relevant articles.

The final PowerPoint presentation consists of nine slides:


In an informative timeline on the data hacking scandal, CNBC reports that the originally reported figure of 50 million hacked profiles, has been revised to 87 nmillion.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Can constellations of Internet routing satellites compete with long-distance terrestrial cables?

The goal will be to have the majority of long-distance traffic go over this network.
Elon Musk

SpaceX orbital path schematic, source
Four companies, SpaceX, OneWeb, Boeing and Leosat are working on constellations of low-Earth orbiting satellites to provide Internet connectivity. While all four may be thinking of competing with long, terrestrial cables, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said "the goal will be to have the majority of long-distance traffic go over this (satellite) network" at the opening of SpaceX's Seattle office in 2015 (video below) and Leosat is focusing on high-end fast, point-point links.

Can he pull that off?

Their first constellation will consist of 4,425 satellites operating in 83 orbital planes at altitudes ranging from 1,110 to 1,325 km. They plan to launch a prototype satellite before the end of this year and a second one during the early months of 2018. They will start launching operational satellites in 2019 and will complete the first constellation by 2024.

The satellites will use radios to communicate with ground stations, but links between the satellites will be optical.

At an altitude of 1,110 kilometers, the distance to the horizon is 3,923 kilometers. That says each satellite will have a line-of-sight view of all other satellites that are within 7,846 kilometers, forming an immense mesh network. Terrestrial networks are not so richly interconnected and cables must zig-zag around continents and islands if undersea and other obstructions if under ground.

Latency in a super-mesh of long, straight-line links should be much lower than with terrestrial cable. Additionally, Musk says the speed of light in a vacuum is 40-50 percent faster than in a cable, cutting latency further.

Let's look at an example. I traced the route from my home in Los Angeles to the University of Magallanes in Punta Arenas at the southern tip of Chile. As shown here, the terrestrial route was 14 hops and the theoretical satellite link only five hops. (The figure is drawn roughly to scale).

So, we have 5 low-latency links versus 14 higher-latency links. The gap may close somewhat as cable technology improves, but it seems that Musk may be onto something.

Check out the following video of the speech Musk gave at the opening of SpaceX's Seattle office. His comments about the long-distance connections discussed here come at the three-minute mark, but I'd advise you to watch the entire 26-minute speech:

Update 10/30/2017

Elon Musk has set a goal of having the majority of long-distance Internet traffic go over the SpaceX satellite network. The key to that is a richly connected, optical mesh linking their fast-moving satellites.

SpaceX is building a vertically-integrated organization -- rockets, satellites, ground stations, etc. are all being designed and manufactured in-house as opposed to OneWeb, which is working with strategic investors and partners. Based on this, I suspect that SpaceX is designing their own optical mesh network for inter-satellite communication.

I've not heard OneWeb talking about optical links between their satellites but, if they are planning for that, they might be seeking a partner and Mynaric may be a likely candidate. Mynaric says they have solved the problem of steering a narrow laser beam sufficiently accurately to keep it locked on a target only centimeters in diameter on a moving platform hundreds of kilometers away. OneWeb might satisfy their inter-satellite communication requirement by partnering with Mynaric.

Mynaric technology might be a good fit for OneWeb and other airborne platforms.

Update 12/21/2017

As stated above, Elon Musk set a goal of having the majority of long-distance Internet traffic traverse the SpaceX satellite network. He based that goal on an inaccurate assumption about terrestrial networks and said nothing about competition from other LEO satellite networks. Let's look at both factors.

In his talk, Musk claimed that a route from Seattle to South Africa would involve 200 router hops. That is a major overstatement. I just ran a trace from my home to Durbin Technical University in South Africa and it was only 16 hops with an average latency of 350 ms. Musk also asserted that it would take only 2 or 3, perhaps four hops via satellite. My estimate to Chile, shown above, was 5 hops so that claim may have been a little optimistic. Regardless, it is far fewer than 200 hops.

Second -- Musk drew a comparison to terrestrial cables, pointing out that transmission is slower through a cable than in space and cables had to weave around geographic obstacles. That is true, but it seems that SpaceX will have at least one strong, satellite-based long-link competitor, Leosat. Leosat is focusing on the market for low-latency, secure, point-point links.

I can't believe I am contradicting Elon Musk (I am a big fan), but he may not reach his goal in the long-distance Internet service market.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Trump administration -- it's lies all the way down

Browsing the Politifact site convinces one that all politicians, including the Clintons, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Polisi, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, lie, but Trump, his administration, and their supporting media have taken it to a new level

I teach a class on the applications, implications, and technology of the Internet and we spent time on the impact of the Internet on politics during the 2016 election. One of the things we noted was that Donald Trump had lied much more frequently than Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or President Obama. I went back to the fact-checking service, Politifact, and it turns out that Trump is lying as frequently now as he did during the election season:

That is not surprising, but it seems to have set the standard for others in the administration, as illustrated by last week's announcement of the termination of the DACA policy by Jeff Sessions. Politifact found several statements that were one-sided or incomplete during Sessions' announcement.

Slate's Mark Joseph Stern also found a number of lies in Sessions' announcement and, in this 7-minute interview, he spoke of the way lies are picked up and propagated by Fox, Breitbart and other right-wing media outlets.

Browsing the Politifact site convinces one that all politicians, including the Clintons, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Polisi, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, lie, but Trump, his administration, and their supporting media have taken it to a new level.

Update 9/3/2018

From time to time, I revisit Politifact.com to see if Trump's rate of lying (making statements that are rated either "false" or "pants on fire") has changed. As shown below, Politifact finds him lying a little less than a year ago on the statements they chose to fact-check and they are checking more of his statements.

The Washington Post also does extensive fact checking and they find that Trump's rate of lying increased slowly until last June: