Twitter HQ. Photo: Kevin Krejci via Flickr.
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Twitter's new porn-spotting robot moderators

The social networking site has introduced new artificial intelligence systems that can spot and delete sexual and violent images – and spare human moderators in the process. 

Under the compelling headline “The labourers who keep dick pics and beheadings out of your Facebook feed”, journalist Adrien Chen delved last year into the little-known world of social media’s content moderators. These thousands of workers, most based in Asia, trawl through social networking sites in order to delete or flag offensive content. In the process, they are exposed to the very worst the internet has to offer – beheadings, violent pornography, images of abuse – all for wages as low as $300 a month.

But this month, Twitter has taken a first step towards automating this process, and thus sparing a huge unseen workforce from their daily bombardment of horrors. Almost exactly a year ago, Twitter bought start-up Madbits, which offers, in the words of its co-founders, a “visual intelligence technology that automatically understands, organises and extracts relevant information from raw media”. 

At the time, tech websites speculated that the Madbits would be used to develop facial recognition or tagging on Twitter photos. But in fact, the start-up’s first task was very different: it was instructed by Alex Roetter, Twitter’s head of engineering, to build a system which could find and filter out offensive images, defined by the company as "not safe for work". 

This month, Wired reported that these artificial intelligence (AI) moderators are now up and running. Roetter claims the new moderator-bots can filter out 99 per cent of offensive imagery. They also tend to incorrectly identify about 7 per cent of acceptable images as offensive – but, the company reasons, better safe than sorry. 

Like other artificial intelligence robots, the moderator “learns” how to spot offensive imagery by analysing reams of pornography and gore, and then applies its knowledge of the content and patterns to new material. Over time, the system continues to learn, and get even better at spotting NSFW images. Soon, systems like these could replace content moderation farms altogether.

In most cases like these, it's worth remembering those whose jobs might be lost as the robots advance, especially in developing countries – but considering the psychological damage brought on by endless exposure to violent images, we can only hope Twitter and sites like it can offer less distressing moderation jobs (and higher salaries) to these workers instead. 

Barbara Speed is comment editor at the i, and was technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman, and a staff writer at CityMetric.

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Marcus Hutchins: What we know so far about the arrest of the hero hacker

The 23-year old who stopped the WannaCry malware which attacked the NHS has been arrested in the US. 

In May, Marcus Hutchins - who goes by the online name Malware Tech - became a national hero after "accidentally" discovering a way to stop the WannaCry virus that had paralysed parts of the NHS.

Now, the 23-year-old darling of cyber security is facing charges of cyber crime following a bizarre turn of events that have left many baffled. So what do we know about his indictment?

Arrest

Hutchins, from Ilfracombe in Devon, was reportedly arrested by the FBI in Las Vegas on Wednesday before travelling back from cyber security conferences Black Hat and Def Con.

He is now due to appear in court in Las Vegas later today after being accused of involvement with a piece of malware used to access people's bank accounts.

"Marcus Hutchins... a citizen and resident of the United Kingdom, was arrested in the United States on 2 August, 2017, in Las Vegas, Nevada, after a grand jury in the Eastern District of Wisconsin returned a six-count indictment against Hutchins for his role in creating and distributing the Kronos banking Trojan," said the US Department of Justice.

"The charges against Hutchins, and for which he was arrested, relate to alleged conduct that occurred between in or around July 2014 and July 2015."

His court appearance comes after he was arraigned in Las Vegas yesterday. He made no statement beyond a series of one-word answers to basic questions from the judge, the Guardian reports. A public defender said Hutchins had no criminal history and had previously cooperated with federal authorities. 

The malware

Kronos, a so-called Trojan, is a kind of malware that disguises itself as legitimate software while harvesting unsuspecting victims' online banking login details and other financial data.

It emerged in July 2014 on a Russian underground forum, where it was advertised for $7,000 (£5,330), a relatively high figure at the time, according to the BBC.

Shortly after it made the news, a video demonstrating the malware was posted to YouTube allegedly by Hutchins' co-defendant, who has not been named. Hutchins later tweeted: "Anyone got a kronos sample."

His mum, Janet Hutchins, told the Press Association it is "hugely unlikely" he was involved because he spent "enormous amounts of time" fighting attacks.

Research?

Meanwhile Ryan Kalember, a security researcher from Proofpoint, told the Guardian that the actions of researchers investigating malware may sometimes look criminal.

“This could very easily be the FBI mistaking legitimate research activity with being in control of Kronos infrastructure," said Kalember. "Lots of researchers like to log in to crimeware tools and interfaces and play around.”

The indictment alleges that Hutchins created and sold Kronos on internet forums including the AlphaBay dark web market, which was shut down last month.

"Sometimes you have to at least pretend to be selling something interesting to get people to trust you,” added Kalember. “It’s not an uncommon thing for researchers to do and I don’t know if the FBI could tell the difference.”

It's a sentiment echoed by US cyber-attorney Tor Ekeland, who told Radio 4's Today Programme: "I can think of a number of examples of legitimate software that would potentially be a felony under this theory of prosecution."

Hutchins could face 40 years in jail if found guilty, Ekelend said, but he added that no victims had been named.

This article also appears on NS Tech, a new division of the New Statesman focusing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Oscar Williams is editor of the NewStatesman's sister site NSTech.