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Quiz! Can you tell the difference between UK surveillance and the plots of dystopian novels?

Warning: Theresa May will know if you take this quiz.  

Human beings have a limited capacity to care. If we had to wake up every morning and worry about sweatshops/the environment/human trafficking/homelessness/tax evasion/the cure for cancer/the fact that Stephen Mulhern is considered to be a legitimate television entertainer, then we’d all have crippling anxiety and depression. Or, at least, more of it.

That’s why – mostly – we each choose a couple of things to care about. Some people protest this, others protest that, and almost every cause can find its champions. Every so often, however, something so horrendous happens that we’re all forced to care at once (#KONY2012) and right now, one such thing is taking place.

The United Kingdom is slowly becoming a surveillance state. In November, the Investigatory Powers Act (aka Snoopers’ Charter) passed into law, and last week, the Digital Economy Act joined it. The former has been ruled illegal by the EU’s highest court, and the latter called “inappropriate” and “untrammelled” by a House of Lords committee.

But wait! There’s more! On Friday, a leak by privacy campaigners Open Rights Group showed the government are allegedly drafting laws that would allow live surveillance of Britons’ internet use. All in all, then, some #KONY2012 levels of everyone-should-care are occurring, except, well, no one does.

The Digital Economy Act was first proposed way back in the days of Dave, but was quickly curbed by the coalition. Any outrage felt at the time has slowly died down, with the same true of the Snoopers’ Charter – which The Guardian, at the time, said “passed with barely a whimper”. As such, there are relatively few headlines about UK surveillance measures, and it shows. In June 2016 72 percent of Britons didn’t know anything about the Investigatory Powers Act.

It’s hard, then, to keep up to date with the government’s wacky new surveillance methods – which makes it even harder to care. And yet, we all love Black Mirror, right? And I'm pretty sure 1984 sold at least a few hundred copies. So, with that in mind, here's a challenge. Can you tell the difference between the plots of dystopian novels and actual UK laws? 

 

What a twist! What a shock! All of that surveillance is a-OK in the UK. Here are some links to find out more about how the Investigatory Powers Act, Part 5 of the Digital Economy Bill, and the UK's new porn prohibitions are becoming scary fact.

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

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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.