Research Finds Hacking Operation Targeted Climate Action Groups
By Julia Conley
The Canadian digital watchdog group Citizen Lab reported Tuesday that a hack-for-hire group targeted thousands of organizations around the world, including climate advocacy groups involved in the #ExxonKnew campaign.
Groups that have asserted ExxonMobil knew about and hid data linking fossil fuel extraction to the climate crisis for years were among those that faced phishing attempts by a group dubbed "Dark Basin" by Citizen Lab. According to the research, numerous progressive groups—including Public Citizen, Greenpeace, 350.org, and Oil Change International—were among those targeted.
After an extensive multi-year investigation, Citizen Lab reported that it has linked Dark Basin "with high confidence" to BellTroX InfoTech Services, a technology company based in India which has publicly stated its hacking capabilities.
In 2017 when Citizen Lab began its investigation, the group believed Dark Basin could be state-sponsored, but soon determined it was likely a hack-for-hire operation. Its targets—which also included journalists, elected officials, and digital rights groups that have lobbied for net neutrality—"were often on only one side of a contested legal proceeding, advocacy issue, or business deal."
The watchdog has not been able to definitively link Dark Basin's phishing efforts to particular entities which would have an interest in threatening the #ExxonKnew campaign and net neutrality advocates.
"That said, the extensive targeting of American nonprofits exercising their First Amendment rights is exceptionally troubling," wrote Citizen Lab in its report.
A global hack-for-hire scheme, Citizen Lab wrote, "is a serious problem for all sectors of society, from politics, advocacy, and government to global commerce," particularly because the targets have little recourse without a robust investigation by law enforcement.
"Many of Dark Basin's targets have a strong but unconfirmed sense that the targeting is linked to a dispute or conflict with a particular party whom they know," the report reads. "However, absent a systematic investigation, it is difficult for most individuals to determine with certainty who undertakes these phishing campaigns and/or who may be contracting for such services, especially given that Dark Basin's employees or executives are unlikely to be within the jurisdiction of their local law enforcement."
350.org responded to the report, noting that Citizen Lab's ongoing investigation could eventually uncover the fossil fuel industry's involvement. While acknowledging the evidence does not exist to directly implicate Exxon or any specific corporate actor behind the effort, the group said it would be deeply troubled to find out the company would behave in such a manner.
"If the investigation demonstrates that Exxon is behind these attacks, it only shows how far the fossil fuel industry will go to silence critics and avoid accountability for fueling climate change," said 350.org.
Net neutrality advocates are accustomed to seeing "an uptick in breach attempts whenever we're engaged in heated and high-profile public policy debates," Tim Karr of Free Press told CBC Tuesday. Free Press was targeted by Dark Basin in 2017 as President Donald Trump's FCC was working to repeal net neutrality rules.
"When corporations and politicians can hire digital mercenaries to target civil society advocates, it undermines our democratic process," Evan Greer, deputy director of digital rights group Fight for the Future, told CBC.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
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