The threat spectrum

Planet A

A report by risk analysts Verisk Maplecroft has found that 99 of the world’s 100 most climate-vulnerable cities are in Asia. The report assesses factors including air pollution, resource availability and natural-disaster vulnerability to rank the world’s 576 largest urban centres by climate risk. Of these, 414 cities, with more than 1.4 billion inhabitants, were classified ‘high or extreme environmental risk’.

The most vulnerable city, Jakarta, is exposed to air pollution, annual flooding and seismic activity, while cities like Guangzhou, Osaka and Tokyo are particularly exposed to natural threats like floods, earthquakes and typhoons. Some nations have significant numbers of high-risk cities, such as India (43) and China (37), however, the report found there are no ‘risk-free’ urban environments.

These risk indexes primarily measure threats and resilience through the lens of investment and commercial potential. However, the report also references the existential threat facing citizens as extreme weather events become more common. These threats, combined with the continued trend in Asia towards rapid urbanisation, demand urgent government action.

Democracy watch

It’s been two years since the outbreak of major protests in Hong Kong and the territory has been moving further away from democracy as Beijing’s national security law is enforced. The government has been using the law to arrest and prosecute protestors and pro-democracy activists.

In early April, media tycoon and owner of Next Media, Lai Chee-Ying, also known as Jimmy Lai, was sentenced to 14 months in jail after his participation in protests. On Monday, Lai and nine other activists pleaded guilty to gathering in an ‘unlawful assembly’ and the government froze Lai’s assets, effectively halting Next Media’s trading on the Hong Kong stock exchange. The freezing of Lai’s assets has jeopardised the operation of Apple Daily, a Next Media pro-democratic tabloid. As a harsh critic of China’s takeover of Hong Kong’s politics, Apple Daily has been a key target for the government. With this latest action, freedom of speech in Hong Kong has become even more tenuous.

Information operations

More details have emerged regarding the 7 May Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack by cybercriminal group DarkSide, which caused fuel price surges and shortages throughout the US. It’s been confirmed the company halted pipeline operations because its billing system was compromised and it was concerned it wouldn’t be able to charge customers for fuel. The company reportedly paid a 75 Bitcoin—nearly $4 million—ransom to the attackers, against FBI guidance, in an attempt to restore its disabled computer network.

While Colonial has restarted its pipeline, some have highlighted the national security threat posed by private companies’ cybersecurity vulnerabilities. US Senator Ron Wyden has called for the US government to conduct cybersecurity audits on companies, particularly those responsible for critical infrastructure, and force them to secure their computer systems.

Cryptocurrency analyst Tom Robinson identified that the Bitcoin wallet used by Darkside had received 57 payments since March totalling US$17.5 million, indicating potential ransom payments from other victims. This highlights a concerning trend of companies paying ransoms to attackers, encouraging future attacks.

Follow the money

As the 23 July date for the start of the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics approaches, Japan is suffering from a surge in new Covid-19 cases. On 14 May, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga again declared a state of emergency in several prefectures, including Tokyo, as the country experiences its fourth wave of the virus. A recent survey showed that 83% of citizens are against the rescheduled running of the games.

Japan has invested US$25 billion on the event and, if it falls through, the cost is expected to rise well above that. The potential economic cost of not holding the games is likely one of the main reasons the Japanese government has been reluctant to call them off. Professor Jack Anderson from the University of Melbourne, however, claims Japanese considerations go beyond economics, arguing that the Olympics would also be a symbol of Japan’s revival after economic stagnation, the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, and the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Terror byte

Last week, senior British counterterrorism officer Matt Twist told reporters that extremist groups are exploiting memes and conspiracy theories about Covid-19 to attract vulnerable and young people to their ideologies. Although all extremist groups are employing this tactic, Twist said far-right groups are the biggest perpetrators. The UK trend follows similar ones seen in Australia, the US and Germany, where vulnerabilities in social media platforms have enabled extremist groups to disseminate their narratives and incite terrorism. Mandatory lockdowns, more time spent at home, increased social isolation and extra internet use have led to dramatic growth in the number of people engaging with extremist content online.

Platforms like Twitter and YouTube have updated their content-moderation policies—often broadening the definition of harm in an attempt to suppress the spread of Covid-19 disinformation. However, their largely automated content-moderation procedures cannot capture and remove all conspiracy theories, raising questions as to how governments and law enforcement agencies are going to manage online radicalisation before it turns into offline action.