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Wikistrat’s Outlook on China: Foreign Policy

Wikistrat - Outlook on China Foreign Policy poster

Wikistrat’s analysts have been busy over the last few months projecting the social, economic, political and foreign policy future of China.

This poster highlights some of the key takeaways from our recent simulations:

  • China is investing significantly into modernizing trade routes with Europe. It is notable that China’s focus on Europe decidedly lacks a security component.
  • China’s interest in East Africa is in directly managing political stability so economies thrive and goods can be sold.
  • China will gain disproportionately from a partnership with Russia and will continue to use Russia to gain position and experience in world affairs.
  • China is unlikely to do more than admonish North Korea for recent nuclear tests.
  • As tensions increase with Taiwan, the mainland is likely to seek the KMT’s return to power.
  • Uncertainty about China’s intentions in the South China Sea could trigger a conflict there. Read More →

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IEDs and Artificial Intelligence: An Overlooked Trend

IEDs and Artificial Intelligence cover

The biggest — and most overlooked — new trend in terrorism may be “smart” delivery systems. IED detonation has been controlled by mobile phones for some time now, and the detection of these trigger mechanisms has been deployed as a countermeasure. But as advances are made in artificial intelligence, these IEDs could begin to operate on their own to achieve programmed or learned objectives.

A terrorist attacks could be carried out somewhat crudely by programing the target coordinates into an autonomous vehicle and loading the passenger and cargo spaces with explosives. If the car is perceived as arriving to pick up someone, little attention may be paid to the fact that it is empty — and there would be no driver acting suspiciously to tip someone off.

A more sophisticated approach could be that of “teaching” a fleet of cars to bypass certain safety protocols and or to intentionally malfunction in timed but spontaneously dangerous ways that endanger or take the lives of their passengers on a mass scale. Read More →

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The Orthodox Church’s Ambiguous Role in Russian Politics

Vladimir Putin

Kremlin Photo

While the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has played an important role in shoring up public support for Vladimir Putin’s government, it is not a monolithic institution and one whose power is waning.

At a glance, the ROC looks like a valuable partner. Some 80 percent of Russians self-identify as Orthodox and the Church enjoys higher levels of trust than any other institution in the country.

However, religious groups also pose a challenge to the political system as nationalists intertwine with the religious far-right. While occasionally there have been attempts to harness such radicals, they are increasingly treated as a nuisance and even a threat, as official reactions to their public antics become more severe.

The Church’s progressive, reformist wing was decimated in the 1990s and the clergy who still fall in that category have little support. The ’90s resurgence of the hard right within the ROC, by contrast, was curtailed to a lesser degree. The current mainstream is closer to its positions than to that of the failed progressives.

But even the current mainstream of the Church is not entirely beholden to Putin’s politics. The Patriarchate, for example, has not supported Russia’s “adventures” in Ukraine as actively as the government would undoubtedly have preferred.

The ROC is slowly losing popularity. Religion was in vogue in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse, but while the overwhelming majority of Russians still identify as Orthodox – and more do so than actually profess belief in a God – the shiny, uncorrupted image of the post-Soviet ROC has failed to last. Very few people in Russia practice, as measured by somewhat regular church attendance, parish involvement and so forth. The overwhelming majority of those who do are poor female retirees – not exactly a crucial demographic in shaping political trajectories. Read More →

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EY and Wikistrat Crowdsource the Implications of Industry Convergence

The Future of Industry is Convergence banner

In an era of disruption and convergence, what are the new skills and competencies businesses need to succeed?

To find out, EY has partnered with Wikistrat in an online, crowdsourced analytic exercise. Some 70 analysts, including hand-picked experts from Wikistrat’s global community and invited associates and clients of EY’s, are collaborating to map out how convergence will change the competitive landscape for industries and how it will affect leading global companies.

At one level, convergence is about the gradual interweaving of previously discrete areas of activity. But it is more than a merger or an acquisition. The broader implication of convergence is that it actually transforms existing activities into something entirely new – in essence, shifting the paradigm so that the previous activities or industries are no longer the same.

Wikistrat’s methodology is particularly suited to this type of forecasting and analysis. We leverage the wisdom of the crowd to explore many different and competing scenarios at the same time — and assess which ones are the most likely to come about. Analysts are encouraged to approach the subject matter from various points of view and challenge conventional wisdoms.

After identifying which industries are most likely to evolve and reconfigure in new ways, the crowd moved on to studying the implications for companies. What are the questions business leaders should be asking? And what can they do to take advantage of convergence? Read More →

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Big Data and U.S. Politics: A Match Made in Heaven

Wikistrat’s Dr. Roey Tzezana predicts that 2016 will see something of a “Space Race” between Democrats and Republicans in terms of using big data.

United States Capitol

USMC Photo

As a result of the upcoming 2016 U.S. presidential elections, next year will have significant consequences for the use of big data and predictive analytics for human behavior. During the 2012 campaign, President Obama operated a large team of data scientists who analyzed citizens according to dozens of parameters in order to identify the “easily persuadable” voters who could be turned to his side.

Democrats will use the knowledge and tools left over from the 2012 elections in the 2016 campaign; Republicans will almost certainly do the same. These tools will gain in strength because of the exponential growth in computing elements and artificial intelligence over the last four years, but also because of recent rulings allowing larger contributions to be made to political candidates. These funds will be used in part to support big data and predictive analysis ventures in the upcoming elections.

In a way, this is a new “Space Race” being conducted between the two parties. The original Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union led to major leaps forward in space technology due to the need to establish supremacy in the field. The current “Data Race” is forcing both parties to gallop forward and find novel and innovative ways to use big data to secure their political futures.

The consequences of this Data Race are yet to be seen. Society-wise, there are important ethical issues to be considered. Industry-wise, it is likely that the insights and methodologies gained from the Data Race will serve many industries in the years to come, and will allow better targeting of advertisement and product sales. Read More →

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Cybersecurity in an Age of Cheap Solutions

In 2016, cyber experts will understand that the best way to address the issue of ransomware is not trying to prevent it, but rather responding to it, says Wikistrat’s Michael Tanji.

Cyber security

Yuri Samoilov Photo

In the cyber sphere, 2015 was the year of ransomware, which is arguably the most effective and rapidly growing digital criminal activity today. Attackers infect a victim’s system and encrypt its hard drive; the keys to unlock the encrypted files are available for a few hundred dollars in ransom. The power of ransomware is that — unless you have current backup files — no amount of forensics or technical activity will recover your files. Most people have a moral or ethical inhibition to paying a ransom, but if you want your data back you have no choice. This begs the question: What happens to the field of cybersecurity if dealing with criminals is cheaper, easier and more effective than calling for help?

Digital defenders like to promote the idea of raising attacker costs, but the genius of ransomware is that it reduces the expense of the intended response. Ransoms are a few hundred dollars and payable in a few minutes; a digital forensic examination (which will be fruitless) costs thousands of dollars and takes days to complete. Digital criminals are making a large portion of the multi-billion-dollar cybersecurity market redundant. Ransomware is only the beginning. We are already starting to see variants like exposé-ware (pay me or I’ll publish your data online for everyone to see). True innovation in cybersecurity is occurring on the wrong side of the law.

Thus, 2016 will be the year in which cyber experts will understand that the best way to address the issue of ransomware is not by trying to prevent it, but rather by responding to it. In an era when remedying computer security failures is cheaper than calling in computer security experts, watch those who want to survive adopt several changes. It will be difficult for the investigative sub-set of the industry to accept, but the future is more about restoration than conviction. Methodologies designed to produce admissible “evidence” will be replaced by tactics, techniques and procedures for getting organizations back to work. Read More →

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The Coming Clash of Economic Blocs

Will China succeed in carving out a geographically large economic bloc founded on principles and structures quite different from (and challenging to) the liberal international order founded upon the principles and institutions of Bretton-Woods?

Xi Jinping Barack Obama

White House Photo/Pete Souza

With the failure of the WTO’s Doha Round to come to agreement on a global free trade regime, and with the concerted efforts by Russia, China and other BRIC countries to carve out non-Western economic spaces, the world may be breaking into blocs after all — but not precisely the civilizational blocs that Samuel P. Huntington once predicted. Rather, we may have political blocs held together by economic relationships and agreements that harmonize with the political systems that require them. There appear to be three major political-economic groups emerging.

The first is the liberal group: the countries represented in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which includes 12 Pacific Rim nations, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which joins together the EU and the United States. The link between the two is of course the United States, which becomes the bridge of a liberal political-economic arc extending from the eastern end of Western Europe all the way to Japan in the Pacific, and which encloses NAFTA at its center. If achieved, this arc will prove to be a powerful engine of world growth for decades.

The second bloc might really constitute a revival of the economic relationships that dominated Asia before the coming of the West, and would be decidedly authoritarian in its politics. This group would have China at its center, an outcome that Beijing is striving mightily to achieve through several initiatives: the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the Silk Road Economic Belt, the Maritime Silk Road, and the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation. This bloc, which would feature not free but managed trade, would comprise China, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa, and would reach into South Asia through the SCO, as well as the Middle East, which is the western end of the Silk Road. This would be a major competitor to the American-led bloc. But it is likely to be less successful for a number of reasons, not the least of which would be the serious economic problems China is now facing — problems that will not go away anytime soon. Read More →

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Using the Internet of Things to Go Deep

Wikistrat’s Bill Sempf warns that the “Internet of Things” can be used to reach deeper into compromised data than ever before.

Internet of Things

ITU Picture/L.Berney

The next twelve months will bring a technical depth to information security unlike anything we have seen before. The deep linking of data will be accompanied by more mature malware, including using Internet of Things devices and mobile platforms to host entire virtual machines, then using those to reach deeper into compromised data than seen before.

As attackers become more sophisticated, watch for deep linking of data to become the norm while seeking more lucrative targets. While hacktivism and digital vandalism will still be extant, the bite of organized crime will become deeper and stronger. Data correlation will play a big role in this as attackers link together details from various breaches to create more complete identities. Complete identities command a greater price on the black market, and Internet users without sufficient protections in place will find themselves the primary target for criminals.

In 2009, a security company conducted a project they reported on at Defcon 17 linking together social networking accounts of various targets using common data to create more complete social profiles. This new effort will be like that — called Social Butterfly — but more subtle. It will start as correlation of passwords (something that is already occurring at a small scale) and move on to the analysis of public data and competitor information to estimate/guess/infer intellectual property. These more complete profiles will become the currency of a certain segment of the criminal underworld. Basic identity theft will be replaced with blackmail like Cryptolocker to generate actual cash from identities rather than bulk sales. Read More →

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Nord Stream II Would Push Central Europeans West

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If Nord Stream II is built, it could push Central European countries that are still mildly sympathetic to Russia into the anti-Russian camp led by Poland and Ukraine, some of Wikistrat’s analyst warn.

This infographic summarizes a discussion members of Wikistrat’s Europe and Energy Security Desks conducted on our online, interactive platform earlier this month.

The proposed extension of the Baltic Sea pipeline between Russia and Germany is controversial. Various former East Bloc nations have written the European Commission to express their concern. The EU executive agrees that current gas pipelines, which run mostly through Ukraine, are safe and sufficient.

But Russia wants to bypass its former satellite and sabotage the European Union’s attempts to diversify away from an over-reliance on Russian gas. Read More →

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Autonomous Cars: From Danger to a Savior

The public will become increasingly aware of progress in the development of self-driving automobiles this year, according to Wikistrat’s Dr. Bruce Wald.

New York traffic

Flickr Photo/Joiseyshowa

The continued advancement of the capabilities of artificial intelligence through the convergence of big data, powerful computers and domain-agnostic machine learning has previously been largely invisible to most people — though nearly everyone understands the cognitive skills required to drive an automobile in traffic.

Not only has the public become aware that Google’s autonomous vehicles have accumulated many miles on public highways (with their few accidents in fact caused by other drivers), but major car makers have also announced their own efforts to build self-driving cars. Some have even demonstrated their prototypes.

Although fully autonomous cars will not be offered to the public until more experience is gained, by late 2015 some manufacturers were boasting that their new models are incorporating some of the underlying technologies, including collision-avoidance and lane-keeping capabilities. These trends will have an important impact on the public perception of autonomous vehicles. One of the main issues is the fear they will make the decisions instead of the driver — and not always the “right one.”

The introduction of collision-avoidance capabilities and other lifesaving technologies will increase their value and image of AI with the consumer public in 2016, pushing companies to invest more in it. Read More →

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