Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2019-09-30/In the media

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A net loss: Wikipedia attacked, closing off Russia? welcoming back Turkey?: The internet may not be as stable as it seems

Net loss?

Wikipedia down: 'Malicious attack' brings down online encyclopedia after pages fail to load according to The Independent on Saturday, September 7. The attack was a distributed denial of service (DDoS). About a dozen other news outlets reported the story, but few went beyond the report on the WMF News which condemned the attack and attributed it only to "bad faith" actors. One exception was Haaretz, which reported that a Twitter account named "@UkDrillas" (since suspended) had claimed responsibility for the attack, indicating that it was exploiting an Internet of Things (IoT) vulnerability. Haaretz quoted an expert (Alp Toker, head of NetBlocks) as saying that the attack had lasted at least nine hours, and that "our data suggest at least two regional networks were targeted, in the U.S. and in Europe, causing different parts of the world to be out at different times."

Toker also pointed out that "organizations like the Wikimedia Foundation seek to maintain a direct relationship with users in the interest of privacy, which means they can't readily opt for commercial DDoS protection services. Developing defenses against large-scale attacks while running a free and open service is an unsolved technical problem." He was apparently referring to the fact that Wikimedia's privacy principles generally preclude the sharing of private reader data such as IP addresses with third parties, whereas e.g. Cloudflare's standard DDoS protection service involves redirecting traffic to the company's proxy servers. However, on the day after the attack began, WMF Executive Director Katherine Maher stated that Cloudflare was indeed coming to the rescue: "they’ve been absolutely top notch, helping us roll onto a new service offering of theirs that was barely yet in the wild, direct lines of collaboration between staff on both sides" - apparently a reference to the "Magic Transit" service Cloudflare had announced in mid-August, with presumably somewhat differing privacy implications. In any case, the apparent attacker had already announced they would stop targeting Wikipedia (at least for some time) and take down certain video gaming services instead, with and Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft subsequently seeing major outages as well. On September 20, PC Gamer reported that a suspect had been arrested, quoting a Blizzard employee.

Perhaps something good came out of the attack: Wikipedia Gets $2.5m Donation to Boost Cybersecurity from Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, according to InfoSecurity. Other coverage followed that of the WMF News.

Turkey's ban of Wikipedia to be overturned? Citing a pro-government journalist, Ahval News on September 11 was the first of several outlets to predict: "Turkey’s top court set to rescind Wikipedia ban". But there's no actual news yet.

Russia's internet to be sealed off and the Great Russian Encyclopedia is still the future of the Russian internet according to Belsat, a Belarusian-language broadcaster funded by the Polish government. Tests are scheduled on equipment that has already been installed that will enable the Russian government to isolate the Russian internet in case the World Wide Web threatens its stability. The Great Russian Encyclopedia, which has been proposed since at least 2016, is predicted to cost the state $30 million and to be available in four years. It will be edited exclusively by experts. The Signpost predicts that the GRE will always be the future of the Russian internet and that Belsat will continue to have a contentious relationship with the Belarusian and Russian governments.

Net gain?

Grant Ingersoll has been hired as the Chief Technical Officer of the WMF (WMF News). His background with Apache Solr (now part of Lucene), and especially Apache Mahout led him to be interviewed by Java technology zone technical podcast series back in 2011. During the discussion, Ingersoll speaks primarily about scalable machine learning. More recently, Ingersoll has been the CTO of Lucidworks. Ingersoll is a recognized expert on automated data retrieval.


XOR'easter cleans up. The Washington Post reports that editor XOR'easter cleaned up the Hunter Biden article after the former Vice-President's son became news last week. The article was reportedly biased by sources including the Epoch Times and The New American. WaPo quoted XOR'easter saying "I had to get in there and clean it out like a garbage disposal. Sometimes you just have to muck around."

You've been published in a fake academic journal

BuzzFeed News reports that This Website Will Turn Wikipedia Articles Into "Real" Academic Papers. If only it were that easy. The so-called academic papers are missing a few things, like a listing of the authors' names, abstracts, publishing dates, footnotes, graphs, tables, and other illustrations. But if your professor has never read an academic paper, you may be in luck citing the "academic paper".

The best way to view the output is to go to the site and enter the name of your favorite Wikipedia entry. The site then generates the "article" and can also generate a citation. If you resubmit the same Wikipedia entry, you get a nearly identical article, but with a different title, authors and publication dates. See the two citations for Seth Kinman below.

Those who get upset at violations of the CC-By license will have enough material to be angry for at least a year. But don't take this seriously folks. Please don't take this seriously.

Odd bits

  • Automated translation of English to Hindi Wikipedia: The Hindu reports that the Indian Ministry of Science and Technology is using automated processes including artificial intelligence to translate articles into the Hindi language Wikipedia. Scientists will also help translate and create new articles in Hindi and other Indian languages costing up to $US1.4 million over three years.
  • Ask Alexa (and an Anonymous Crowd Answers?): Denyse O'Leary on Mind Matters questions the use of crowdsourcing as it's being tested by Amazon to answer questions posed to Alexa. Her argument is that "Wikipedia is a classic example of how crowdsourcing can go wrong", so why would it work for Alexa? She gives five reasons why it doesn't work on Wikipedia:
    • hidden points of view can be inserted
    • doubtful claims can appear to be well-accepted
    • crowds can shout down experts on obscure topics
    • sourced, but untrue, information can be accepted as factual
    • the end result can be "appallingly biased" — where she's quoting Larry Sanger
The ultimate source of these problems, according to O'Leary is the anonymity and lack of accountability of the authors. Mind Matters and O'Leary are associated with the Discovery Institute which is known for its strong support of intelligent design over Darwinian evolution. The Discovery Institute has previously taken issue with how Wikipedia handles intelligent design content.
  • Which witch, when and where? Try Wikidata: Emma Carroll, a new Wikipedian, landed a challenging internship "to use the data recorded within" the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft Database and "find visually interesting ways to document the data for public viewing through the form of digital maps and Wikidata." From this June through September she tracked down the residences of many of the over 3000 accused Scots witches from the period 1563 – 1736, then displayed these and other locations on digital maps and uploaded the data to Wikidata. The Scotsman covers the details of the project with the help of Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence at the University of Edinburgh. About 20 accused Scots witches now have Wikipedia articles.
  • Mad Gasser of Mattoon: The Matoon Journal Gazette & Times-Courier cites Wikipedia 75 years after they first reported this case. No, it's not a time warp. The Journal Gazette first reported the story in 1944, which was then reported in academic journals, which were then cited by more questionable sources, which were cited in the Wikipedia article. For the anniversary of the event, the Journal Gazette & Times-Courier cited Wikipedia. The case may have resulted from mass hysteria. Or was it industrial pollution? Spilled nail polish? A real "mad anaesthetist"? Or was it just a normal case of the paranormal?
No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider,
in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Every Wikipedian could benefit from knowing the issues surrounding these words and how this law might change.

Do you want to contribute to "In the media" by writing a story or even just an "in brief" item? Edit next week's edition in the Newsroom or leave a tip on the suggestions page.