Politics/National Security

Photography exhibit gives candid and ominous view of what immigration detention facilities are really like

By Carolina Gonzalez
Medill Reports

Barren land, industrial facilities, deserts and then a small concrete building in the middle of the void. These are the scenes portrayed in the 12 panoramic photographs covering the walls of the Gage Gallery in Chicago’s Loop.

Greg Constantine, a famed American social justice photographer, unveiled his latest work this month at the gallery at Roosevelt University. The series sheds a light on how ominous detention facilities really look from the outside, accompanied by stories from people who were caught inside.

People gather at the Gage Gallery for the opening of the documentary exhibit, with Greg Constantine’s photographs of detention centers. (Carolina Gonzalez/Medill)

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‘Hidden Figures’ author brings to life the visionary women mathematicians behind early NASA launches

By Anne Snabes
Medill Reports

The pioneering African American women engineers and mathematicians who helped land Neil Armstrong on the moon also maintained a strong family life outside of work and some played bridge and music, according to author Margot Lee Shetterly.

“They were very passionate about their hobbies and their families, as passionate as they were about their work,” Shetterly told a packed audience at Northwestern University’s Evanston campus Thursday evening.

Three of these women — Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson — are the focus of “Hidden Figures,”  Shetterly’s book  that was adapted into an Academy Award-nominated movie. The book is about the women at NASA who were called “computers,” because they made the calculations that modern-day computers make, guided instead by their own prowess and simple adding machines.

Shetterly talked to the Northwestern community about her own story growing up in the city in Virginia where NASA’s first field center was located after the space agency was created in 1958. She explained what life was like for women who worked at this facility. She said there are more opportunities for women of color in computer science and engineering now, but some still feel isolated as they are the only women of color in their work spaces.
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Should the U.S. continue prosecuting illegal immigrants? Northwestern community split but majority favors decriminalization

By Carolina Gonzalez
Medill Reports

Northwestern University students were divided at a recent campus debate on  whether the U.S. should decriminalize illegal immigration, offering arguments both in favor and against the Democratic presidential candidate proposals to repeal or rewrite the existing law.

Sachin Shukla, a sophomore studying viola performance and the main debate proponent in favor of decriminalization, opened the discussion by telling participants that the existing law was the work of white supremacist Sen. Coleman Blease of South Carolina and adopted in 1929.

Shukla explained how the law specifically targets and criminalizes a small group of immigrants coming to the U.S. through the Southern border at Mexico. Under the current law, illegal entry is a misdemeanor.

“The whole conversation is centered around a very small minority of these people that are coming illegally and so it just seems punitive to this particular group,” Shukla said. “So, I think decriminalization seems like a better option because we are not even talking about the majority of the people that come illegally.”

Immigration debate
Sachin Shukla, a sophomore studying viola performance at the Bienen School of Music,  defended the decriminalization of illegal immigration.

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Hyderabad, India, captures a nexus of ancient and modern culture

By Aaron Dorman
Medill Reports

I traveled to India for the first time in my life for an all-too-brief three weeks’ of learning how farmers are adapting to increasing drought in the central province of Telangana with water conserving greenhouses.

Hyderabad and environs are about as far inland as can be at this latitude.  But in the heart of the city, the human-made Hussain Sagar Lake serves as a community hub. The lake is surrounded by parks and temples, and you can take a ferry to a statue of the Buddha in the middle of the lake.

Hussain Sagar Lake at sunset. Aaron Dorman/Medill

My first day in Hyderabad, I walked along the beautiful lake’s east side. It’s cut off from the rest of the city by an elevated highway, the “Tank Bund,” and layered with litter and trash along the banks. Near the hotel where I stayed, a family of feral pigs picked at garbage on a dry river bed that feeds into the lake.

Fruit vendor along the Take Bund in Hyderabad. Aaron Dorman/Medill.
A temple on the banks of Hussain Sagar Lake in Hyderabad. Aaron Dorman/Medill.

A province  conservation group has put up signs asking people to keep the lake shore clean and trash free. The group established  a row of planters filled with palm trees to beautify this portion of the waterfront. On the other side, fruit vendors and cane juice stalls offer respite from the 95-degree weather. A cold bottle of water will only set you back 20 rupees, or about 30 cents USD.

Swastika graffiti is a common site in Hyderabad; here it is a symbol for peace. Aaron Dorman/Medill.

Visitors should come prepared for the high volume of swastika graffiti and understand that it means “all is well” in its use by Hindus and Buddhists long before Nazi Germany adopted the symbol. Here, the former meaning persists. Tthe swastika also has been used as a symbol for the sun dating back millennia.

Elaborate mosques and temples line the other side of the Tank Bund.  Some of these structures are ages old, such as the one across the street from my temporary home in Secunderabad.

My first friend in India, the stray who has discovered that the Kheyti staff will give him food and water. Aaron Dorman/Medill.

Meanwhile, at the Kheyti Project office where I am embedded as a reporter, a street dog has discovered that benevolent humans there will feed him. He and I have become friends. Kheyti’s work here involves providing farmers with efficient greenhouses that help them grow crops in this drought-ridden area, providing harvests and easing poverty.

Kheyti has installed nearly 100 greenhouses already and project founders hope to have as many as 1,000 in place by the end of the year. My reporting will focus on the moving target of sustainable farming as climate change threatens the farmers’ crops and livelihood within coming decades – or even sooner.

A Hindu Temple in downtown Hyderabad. (Aaron Dorman/Medill)

Conservation, Culture, Community: The School for Field Studies in Cambodia

By Karyn Simpson
Medill Reports

SIEM REAP, Cambodia – If you turn left off the main road going west out of Siem Reap, Cambodia, you’ll find yourself on a sandy path not quite wide enough for two tuk-tuks.

You’ll bounce along the uneven road as the rush of city traffic abruptly gives way to the gentle hubbub of everyday community life. Take a right, then a left on unmarked dirt roads, past the dog with the orange fur and the second family selling clothing – everything from jeans to formal dresses – and you’ll find a tall metal gate, green paint chipping in the hot sun. This is the entrance to the School for Field Studies, an international study abroad program that not only immerses students into Cambodian culture, but also gives them first-hand experience in performing community-relevant research. Continue reading

Life at a research lab in Israel’s Negev desert

By Alexis Shanes
Medill Reports

SDE BOKER, ISRAEL — Two hours south of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where political drama unraveled amid Tuesday’s Israeli elections, I finished my morning coffee and stepped out into the blinding desert sunshine.

I’m spending this month at the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, which are part of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The main BGU campus is located in Be’er Sheva, the Negev desert’s largest city. But I’m at the BIDR outpost 45 minutes south, in Sde Boker, where I’m embedded with researchers tackling water stewardship in the Middle East. I’m reporting by observation and taking notes I’ll later use for Medill News Service stories.
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Q and A with Laura Polanco, candidate for District 99 school board in her hometown of Cicero

By Ankur Singh
Medill Reports

Laura Polanco, 34, is a parent who was born and raised in Cicero. She’s currently running for school board for Elementary School District 99 and hoping to advocate for other parents like her in the district where she attended school. She is one of four candidates running for three seats up for re-election on the board in the April 2 elections.

 Medill Reports: Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?

Laura: Sure. My name is Laura Polanco. I’m a lifetime resident here in Cicero. I went through District 99, District 201 [high school], and I’m an alumni of Morton College. I was born here and I grew up here. I’m married and I currently have two kids. My oldest is currently at Columbus West (elementary) and that’s one of my biggest reasons that made me pursue [running for school board]. Continue reading

New cyberattacks such as cryptojacking make past risks kids’ stuff

By Xieyang Jessica Qiao
Medill Reports

Blockchain, AI, IoT and a storm of new technologies are leading to greater operational efficiency and consumer opportunities, while triggering an increasing range of cyberattacks.

In the age of digital transformation, the best defense for users is to understand past breaches in order to maintain constant vigilance for future threats.

AI applications have made inroads in robotic process automation that allows users in all professions to extract key metadata from their text, including entities, relations, concepts and sentiments. This helps lawyers run a smarter practice, for instance.

“Process automation can extract basic entities from your contracts’ metadata across different repositories and move that metadata into a contract life cycle management system,” said Andrew Pery, consultant of ABBYY, a software company that offers AI-based solutions. “So you have a single point of resources from which you can manage the contract life cycle.”

More advanced instances of process automation focus on cognitive analytics. By using the neural network, natural language processing and semantic analysis, AI extracts meaning from legal documents and may even predict the outcome of a court case.

While high technology generates excited chatter with its wide-ranging applications, it also creates new security incidents that have become increasingly complex. Recent years saw the growth of malware attacks targeting AI-powered and IoT devices.

“Everything that is connected to the internet is potentially susceptible to data breaches, and getting attached to the internet can become in essence a risk factor,” said Tomas Suros, chief solutions architect of AbacusNext, a software and private cloud services provider. “We’ve seen attacks specific to those AI-powered or IoT devices. Malware may propagate through Alexa, Siri or anything that can be used to automate activities.”

Suros said 60 percent of small- and medium-sized businesses had been infected or had a data breach at one point. Within six months, 60 percent of them went out of business.

“The scope of malware attacks is increasing,” Suros said. “The damage to your business reputation, your inability to restore and the cost associated with recovery are devastating.”

While the sophistication of cyber crimes increases, its paradigm also shifts. A hacker breaks into your network to steal information or creates a virus to corrupt your network are now “ancient” models of cyberattacks. The new culprit is no longer smash-and-dash.

“Let’s say somebody inadvertently clicks on a link in an email,” Suros said. “The malware attack may not happen immediately. Instead, a bot is dropped on your network. It does password sniffing and siphons off that information in a way that is not immediately apparent. But the bot can penetrate your network and continue to do damage.”

There is also a nefarious nature to the way these innovative attacks are initiated, as they spike immediately before and after Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks.

“The goal is to find you in a weak moment when you’re busy or distracted and all it takes is one weak point in your network to initiate a deadly infection,” Suros said.

One type of malware is Trojan, which purports to be a legitimate software such as a browser or an add-on. When you install the software, however, Trojan drops malware on your system.

“After the infection starts, Trojan can identify an encrypted network drive even a couple of layers deep,” Suros said. “If you have data drives that create backups, Trojan can come in to create an infection and find those drives. Before initiating the attack, it actually has a map. This allows Trojan to hide its traps and potentially remove your ability to restore your backups of that data.”

Ransomware, a subset of malware programmed to encrypt data and block access to the computer network until money is paid, ramped up last year and is likely to rise even more in 2019.

“It comes in many shapes and sizes,” Suros said. “One of the newer variants is described as artisanal, meaning it’s designed to know its targets, what systems they’re using, and then deploy itself in ways that fool individuals by giving them information that seems familiar.”

Samsam, the ransomware used in targeted attacks, is responsible for the 2018 Atlanta cyberattack when one-third of the 424 software programs used by the city were thrown offline or partially disabled.

“Samsam doesn’t immediately start an attack,” Suros said. “It starts a scheme by recognizing the system and looking for vulnerabilities – the shortest path to a disruptive attack. It may install a crypto miner or a keystroke logger, which keeps records of every keystroke and sends them off as a file. People can deconstruct that and find your password.”

Then there’s cryptojacking – an emerging form of ransomware that may hide on your network to gain unauthorized use of your computer to mine cryptocurrency.

“It’s not encrypting your data or preventing you from using the system,” Suros said. “But it uses your resources, your central processing unit (CPU) cycles, your storage and your internet to create cryptocurrencies and send that to someone else who collects them.”

While cryptojacking malware doesn’t take all your data, it steals your resources, slows down your system and limits your security shields.

Last year also saw an upward trend in spear phishing and whaling attacks. While whaling attack is a more specific type of spear phishing that targets high-level executives, both are social engineering attacks that use psychological manipulation to trick users into revealing sensitive information.

“Spear phishing can identify your organization,” Suros said. “It may appear to come from HR, requesting you to update your password. You may receive an email from the IT department, asking you to do something and you will probably do it- thinking that the cause is to improve your technology and security.”

Suros said attacks cost businesses more than $75 billion per year- and it’s not just ransom that is paid. If individuals refuse to pay ransoms, they no longer have access to their servers or workstations.

“They are out of business until they can restore and recover,” Suros said. “There are 1.5 million phishing sites being created each month. This has become an industry and it will continue to grow this year.”

Photo at top: Recent years saw an increasing amount of advanced cyberattacks worldwide. (Miria Grunick/Flickr)

Looming power plant closure leaves Hopi seeking new energy and revenue sources

By Dwight A. Weingarten
Medill Reports

Walpi and the Hopi Landscape

Traveling north nearly 300 miles from Phoenix along winding roads lies Walpi, a village inhabited for more than 1,100 years.

Walpi sits atop First Mesa and looks down from a 300-foot peak on the land of the Hopi nation that stretches across three mesas, encompassing roughly 2,500 square miles in northern Arizona.

The Hopi people, who predate the United States by thousands of years, constitute a sovereign nation recognized and protected by the United States Constitution as well as by legal precedent. Continue reading

Cyber insurance: Consumer friend or foe?

By Jessica Xieyang Qiao
Medill Reports

Warren Buffett is not eager for Berkshire Hathaway to be a pioneer in the “uncharted territory” of investing in cyber insurance.

Yet cyber insurance is growing and evolving rapidly in response to a surge in demand and an increasing level of cyber threats.

The total cybersecurity insurance market in the U.S. reached about $3.1 billion in 2017, a year-to-year increase of 29.5 percent compared to approximately $2.4 billion in 2016 and $1.4 billion in 2015, according to National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC)’s latest cyber report. Continue reading