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Irrespective of US legal battles, terrorists are plotting to use 3D-printed weapons against us

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3D-printed firearms blueprints

Regardless of the final outcome of an ongoing US court battle over the online availability of 3D-printed firearms blueprints, the genie is already well and truly out of the bottle when it comes to how easily people are able to get their hands on downloadable weapons. While pro-gun advocates argue the availability of 3D-printed gun blueprints is more a question of freedom and their right to bear arms under the Second Amendment than anything else, firearms control campaigners have rightly raised concerns over how these types of weapons could pose a significant threat if they fall into the wrong hands, where they are all but guaranteed to end up.

Downloading a 3D-printed weapon blueprint allows anybody with a rudimental level of knowledge and access to the right technology to create a plastic gun that is virtually untraceable and could be smuggled past metal detectors. Irrespective of which way the legal battle goes over the availability of 3D-pirnted gun blueprints goes, the information needed to create them is already widely available on the dark web, making the outcome of such proceedings close to irrelevant. And while firearms experts have noted that the current generation of 3D weapons are too flimsy and unreliable to pose a major law enforcement threat, it is all but inevitable that organised criminals and terrorists will look to harness the technology as it advances.

While the prospect of petty criminals and gangsters getting their hands on blueprints for untraceable guns they can make at home is of course concerning, the opportunities 3D-printed weapons could open up for terrorist organisations are perhaps of greater worry. Groups such as al-Qa’ida and Daesh are constantly developing new forms of weapons they hope can be used to attack targets in the West, as well as organisations and individuals in the territories from which they operate. Over the years, jihadi groups such as these have proved adept at creating new types of explosive devices and other weapons they can use to spread terror around the globe, and while more recent attacks across Europe and the US have been more low tech in nature, it would be foolish to assume that Islamist organisations have abandoned more sophisticated methods in favour of lone wolf truck and knife assaults.

In fact, evidence has already emerged that Daesh has been experimenting with creating 3D-pirnted bombs. In November 2016, Popular Mechanics reported that Iraqi forces had discovered a Daesh drone factory that appeared to contain such weapons. The components from which the explosives were constructed were made up of honeycomb structures, suggesting they could have been made using a 3D printer. Security services around the globe have feared for some time that groups such as Daesh might launch bomb attacks in the West using consumer drones after the jihadi organisation did just that close to the Iraqi city of Mosul in October 2016, killing two Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and wounding two French soldiers. Since then, security experts have cautioned that Islamists could use explosive-laden drones to attack events such as this summer’s World Cup football tournament in Russia.

Jihadi terrorist plotters have a rich recent history of coming up with new ways in which to attack Western interests, resulting in the security services of target nations struggling to stay ahead of their innovations. It has now been more than 12 years since the aviation industry was forced to introduce a blanket ban on the carrying on board of liquids measuring over 100ml after a plot was discovered to bring down a transatlantic flight from London to North America in 2006. Last year, the US temporarily banned passengers travelling from certain airports in the Middle East and North Africa from carrying larger electronic devices on board after a jihadi from the UK planned to smuggle bombs “disguised as laptop batteries” on planes. Previously, an al-Qa’ida master bomb maker had experimented with the idea of surgically implanting explosives into suicide bombers’ bodies. Ibrahim al-Asiri, who was reported to have been killed in a coalition drone strike earlier this month, is said to have abandoned the idea in favour of exploring new ways of concealing explosives in electronic devices such as laptops and printers.

While it may be the case that the types of 3D-printed weapon downloads currently available online can only be used to create guns that are too flimsy and unreliable to depend on while attempting to carry out a terrorist attack, the fact that these firearms could already be smuggled past airport security should raise significant fears for security services worldwide. It would appear that Jihadi groups are already exploring how they can use this emerging technology to attack their enemies, and will almost certainly be able to stay at the cutting edge as it develops. As it is now just a matter of time until a sturdy and reliable 3D-printed weapon is developed, it is more vital than ever that our security services are able to stay one step ahead of those who wish to do us harm.

 

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Airbnb expands anti-human trafficking partnership with US NGO Polaris

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Airbnb expands anti-human trafficking partnership

Airbnb has stepped up efforts to prevent rental properties being used by human traffickers by expanding its partnership with US anti-trafficking charity Polaris.

In February 2018, the online accommodation marketplace’s Global Head of Trust and Risk Management Nick Shapiro told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the website had joined forces with Polaris to stop traffickers who sexually exploit vulnerable women and girls from using the properties it rents out.

At the time, Shapiro said Airbnb would work with Polaris to stop its properties being used as “pop-up brothels”, and train members of its staff on how to spot the signs of modern slavery and human trafficking.

Now, having been faced with repeated criticism for failing to tackle human trafficking, Airbnb has announced that the partnership between the two organisations will be strengthened as they endeavour to eradicate trafficking crimes across the world.

The expanded tie-up will see Airbnb and Polaris offer enhanced training to Airbnb employees, property owners and guests, which will be provided both physically and online.

Airbnb said it has worked with Polaris, which aims to tackle and support the victims of sex and labour exploitation in North America, to establish a robust training curriculum for Airbnb’s customer support agents, and develop protocols to work with law enforcement agencies.

The two organisations have also designed new methods to better flag possible exploitation on Airbnb before it happens, and convened a range of companies and local anti-human trafficking experts to explore new areas of collaboration to strengthen the private sector’s efforts in combating trafficking.

As part of the new training, company employees, property owners and guests will learn about the cause of human trafficking, how to spot signs that exploitation may be taking place, and what action to take should they have any suspicions.

In a statement, Nancy McGuire Choi, CEO of Polaris, said: “Human trafficking is an incredibly complex issue that does not lend itself to quick and easy answers.

“The depth of Airbnb’s commitment is exactly what is necessary to make a real dent in the scope of this global tragedy.”

Last September, Airbnb unveiled a new online portal through which law enforcement officials can request information about users of the short-term property rental service.

The company said the portal was designed to complement the work it does daily to keep its property owners, guests and wider communities safe.

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DEA launches crackdown on Mexican ‘super methamphetamine’ distribution hubs in major cities across US

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DEA launches crackdown on Mexican ‘super methamphetamine’ distribution hubs

The US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has announced a new operation that will see investigators look to eliminate methamphetamine “transportation hubs” across America and block the distribution of the deadly drug.

Operation Crystal Shield will see the DEA target hubs to which large shipments of methamphetamine are trafficked before being broken up and sold onto dealers across the United States.

The agency said it has identified the locations of eight of these hubs, noting that it will concentrate its efforts on major smuggling operations based in Atlanta, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Phoenix and the St Louis Division.

These locations are said to have accounted for 75% of all methamphetamine seizures made in the US last year.

The DEA noted that almost all methamphetamine currently sold in the US comes through major ports of entry along its southern border having been made in industrial-scale labs in Mexico.

Much of the methamphetamine produced in these labs is almost 100% pure and is a far cry from old-fashioned so-called “shake-and-bake” version of the drug that used to be widely made in domestic US labs.

The huge volumes of Mexican “super meth” flooding into the US has resulted in the price of the drug falling dramatically over recent years.

Once smuggled into the US, increasingly in liquid form to avoid the attention of law enforcement agents, large shipments of the drug are transported across the country by tractor trailers and personal vehicles to the transfer hubs the DEA is targeting.

In a statement announcing the new crackdown, DEA Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon said: “Methamphetamine is by far the most prevalent illegal drug being sold on the streets of our community, and therefore warrants a focused plan of attack.

“Meth trafficking makes up more than 60% of the federal drug cases we prosecute in the Western District of Missouri.

“Operation Crystal Shield provides a strategy to stanch the flow of methamphetamine being smuggled into our state by the Mexican cartels.

“If we can reduce the supply of methamphetamine, we can reduce the violence and other criminal activity associated with drug trafficking.”

Earlier this month, authorities San Francisco announced the opening of a new “drug sobering centre” primarily aimed at methamphetamine users suffering from the side effects of taking the substance.

In January, a study published by JAMA Network Open revealed that use of methamphetamine is rocketing across the US, with the number urine samples testing positive for the drug rising from about 1.4% in 2013 to around 8.4% last year.

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ASEAN nations hit by data breaches, ransomware attacks and cryptojacking last year, Interpol says

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ASEAN nations hit by data breaches

Southeast Asia experienced “significant” levels of cyber crime in 2019, including major data breaches, crippling ransomware attacks and a huge rise in cryptojacking, according to a new report from Interpol.

In its ASEAN Cyberthreat Assessment 2020, the International law enforcement agency revealed that the region saw an increase in botnet detections and the hosting of Command and Control (C2) servers in the first half of last year.

Interpol also said phishing campaigns increased in both quantity and sophistication, using advanced social engineering techniques.

Data obtained by Interpol’s private partners for the report showed that the region suffered 5% of global business email compromise (BEC) attacks, with Singapore and Malaysia recording the highest BEC cases of all ASEAN countries (54% and 20%, respectively).

Over the first half of last year, Southeast Asia saw a 50% rise in banking malware attacks compared to the whole of 2018, with prominent malware families such as the Emotet16 banking Trojan shifting from banking credential theft to the distribution business.

Elsewhere, the increasing popularity of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin resulted in the rise of crypto-ransomware and cryptojacking, the latter of which involves hackers exploiting unsuspecting computer users’ processing power and bandwidth to mine virtual currency after infiltrating their systems using purpose-built malware.

The Interpol ASEAN Cybercrime Operations Desk concluded its report by vowing to enhance cyber crime intelligence for effective responses to cyber crime in the region, strengthen cooperation for joint operations against cyber crime, and develop regional capacity and capabilities to combat cyber crime.

Commenting on the contents of the report, Interpol’s Director of Cyber Crime Craig Jones said: “In today’s highly digitalised world, the sooner countries are aware of a threat, the sooner they can take steps to mitigate the risk and minimise the cyber threats coming from all directions.

“To this end, we encourage law enforcement in all countries to be actively engaged in collective efforts against these threats, particularly through sharing intelligence and the formulation of a joint operation framework to effectively reduce the global impact of cybercrime.”

In January, Interpol teamed up with several Southeast Asian law enforcement agencies to crack down on cryptojacking.

They used intelligence obtained from police and partners in the cyber security industry to identify a global cryptojacking campaign facilitated by hackers in the region through the exploitation of a vulnerability in MikroTik routers.

Interpol’s Operation Goldfish Alpha also sought to raise awareness of what is a relatively unknown crime in the region, and teach local law enforcement agencies how to deal with it effectively.

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