CEOs Are Feeling Better About Data Security But Hackers Aren’t Far Behind

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No matter what you do to protect your business from hackers, cybersecurity will always be a moving target. Increasingly sophisticated hacking techniques mean CEOs always have to stay one step ahead of the latest ploys. A November Inc. survey of CEOs and other senior executives from more than 150 Inc. 5000 companies asked respondents about their level of confidence in the security of both their company and personal data.

The results: 53 percent of respondents said they feel more confident about the security of their company’s data now compared to five years ago, while just 28 percent said the same about their personal data. Matt Singley, founder of Chicago real estate firm Pinnacle Furnished Suites, is concerned about new methods being used by hackers, but feels confident in his company’s defenses against them.

One way the company minimizes the potential impact of a breach is by storing customer information only when necessary. Pinnacle also performs regular audits to purge its system of data it doesn’t need. “The only way to be completely secure with your data,” he says, “is to not store it.”

John Kailunas II, CEO of wealth management firm Regal Financial Group, says that the external threats his company faces have increased in both quantity and complexity. The company has countered this by adding required security awareness training for every employee and hiring cybersecurity consultants to recommend changes.

Kailunas says cybersecurity is an issue that requires constant examination. “Still,” he adds, “we have seen a significant improvement in our ability to identify potential threats.” Advances in hacking practices aren’t the only factor that have made security more challenging. “More and more, people are working from different devices that companies own,” says Shana Cosgrove, CEO of cloud software firm Nyla Technology Solutions, which provides software and cybersecurity services to the Department of Defense. “It’s a lot harder to handle security when you don’t own the entire platform.”

Jack Wight, CEO of device rebate company Buyback Boss, says his company is under near-constant attack from hackers trying to access bank account information. Scammers will spoof the company’s vendors over email and ask for wire payments, so Buyback Boss has implemented a policy of always calling vendors before sending payments.

“Five years ago there just wasn’t as much of this going on,” he says. “Now we’re dealing with scammers almost on a daily basis.” Claude Burns used to work in data security for the U.S. Navy before founding corporate beverage service Office Libations. He says his knowledge of the cybersecurity field has led him to be constantly on guard.

“I don’t think any information is safe or secure,” he says. “Your personal information is out there. Companies whose whole job is to protect it, like Equifax, are getting breached and hacked repeatedly.” Burns compares being hacked to getting in a car accident: Drive enough miles, and it’s going to happen eventually.

For him, the key is making sure that if something does look weird, his team can detect it quickly. “That way,” he says, “when something does happen, you’re able to mitigate the damage from it. In other words, wear your seat belt.”

By Kevin J. Ryan

Source: CEOs Are Feeling Better About Data Security–but Hackers Aren’t Far Behind | Inc.com

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Google And Facebook Hit With $238 Million Fines In France Over Privacy Violations

France’s data protection regulator on Thursday hit Google and Facebook with fines of €150 million ($170 million) and €60 million ($68 million), respectively, for failing to provide internet users an easy way to disable online trackers, marking the latest in a series of fines faced by the two American tech giants for failing to comply with European privacy laws.

Key Facts

In a statement outlining its investigation, French regulator CNIL noted that Facebook, Google and Youtube’s websites offered a button that allowed users to immediately accept cookies but did not provide a similar button to easily refuse them.

The regulator added that the process of refusing the online trackers was several steps longer.

The CNIL ruled that this process affects users’ freedom of consent as it influences their choice of accepting or rejecting cookies.

While cookies can be essential for a website’s functioning—allowing for user authentication and remembering preferences among other things—they can also be used to track a user’s online behavior and serve them advertising.

In addition to the hefty fines, both companies have been ordered to update their interface for French users—making it easier for them to reject cookies—within three months.

Key BackgroundThe fines against Google and Facebook follow a series of similar regulatory actions facing U.S  tech giants including Apple and Amazon in Europe. In December 2020, Google and Amazon were hit with similar fines for their handling of web cookies to track user activities without seeking proper consent..

Last year, regulators in France, the U.K., and the EU initiated formal antitrust probes into Google and Facebook’s online advertising business. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which went into effect in May 2018 has dramatically increased the powers of the bloc’s privacy enforcers. Under the law, serious privacy breaches can lead to fines of as much as 4% of a company’s annual global revenue.

Follow me on Twitter. Send me a secure tip.

I am a Breaking News Reporter at Forbes, with a focus on covering important tech policy and business news. Graduated from Columbia University with an

Source: Google And Facebook Hit With $238 Million Fines In France Over Privacy Violations

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Controversial facial recognition firm Clearview AI has been ordered to destroy all images and facial templates belonging to individuals living in Australia by the country’s national privacy regulator.

Clearview, which claims to have scraped 10 billion images of people from social media sites in order to identify them in other photos, sells its technology to law enforcement agencies. It was trialled by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) between October 2019 and March 2020.

Now, following an investigation, Australia privacy regulator, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), has found that the company breached citizens’ privacy. “The covert collection of this kind of sensitive information is unreasonably intrusive and unfair,” said OAIC privacy commissioner Angelene Falk in a press statement. “It carries significant risk of harm to individuals, including vulnerable groups such as children and victims of crime, whose images can be searched on Clearview AI’s database.”

Said Falk: “When Australians use social media or professional networking sites, they don’t expect their facial images to be collected without their consent by a commercial entity to create biometric templates for completely unrelated identification purposes. The indiscriminate scraping of people’s facial images, only a fraction of whom would ever be connected with law enforcement investigations, may adversely impact the personal freedoms of all Australians who perceive themselves to be under surveillance.”

The investigation into Clearview’s practices by the OAIC was carried out in conjunction with the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). However, the ICO has yet to make a decision about the legality of Clearview’s work in the UK. The agency says it is “considering its next steps and any formal regulatory action that may be appropriate under the UK data protection laws.”

As reported by The Guardian, Clearview itself intends to appeal the decision. “Clearview AI operates legitimately according to the laws of its places of business,” Mark Love, a lawyer for the firm BAL Lawyers representing Clearview, told the publication. “Not only has the commissioner’s decision missed the mark on the manner of Clearview AI’s manner of operation, the commissioner lacks jurisdiction.”

Clearview argues that the images it collected were publicly available, so no breach of privacy occurred, and that they were published in the US, so Australian law does not apply.

Around the world, though, there is growing discontent with the spread of facial recognition systems, which threaten to eliminate anonymity in public spaces. Yesterday, Facebook parent company Meta announced it was shutting down the social platform’s facial recognition feature and deleting the facial templates it created for the system. The company cited “growing concerns about the use of this technology as a whole.” Meta also recently paid a $650 million settlement after the tech was found to have breached privacy laws in Illinois in the US.

Source: Clearview AI ordered to delete all facial recognition data belonging to Australians – The Verge

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Samsung Galaxy S21 Smartphone Hacked During $1 Million, 61 Zero-Days, Hacking Romp

Just weeks after hackers managed to breach iOS 15 security measures and hack an Apple iPhone 13 Pro, now it’s the turn of Samsung’s current flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S21, to feel the hacking heat.

Unfortunately, like the iPhone 13 Pro before it, the Galaxy S21 has been hacked not once but twice. Indeed, within just a few days, hackers were able to demonstrate a total of 61 unique zero-day security flaws across a range of products and make themselves a whopping $1,081,250 in the process. Here’s how it all went down.

Over the weekend of 16-17 October, Chinese hackers taking part in the annual Tianfu Cup hacking challenge were able to bypass Safari security protections and achieve remote code execution on an iPhone 13 Pro running the fully patched iOS 15.0.2 at the time. What’s more, a different team of hackers went on to jailbreak the same flagship device by way of a ‘one-click’ attack.

The Tianfu Cup came about after China’s elite ethical hackers were banned by the Chinese government from taking part in international competitive hacking events where zero-day exploits are demonstrated. Zero-day exploits target a vulnerability that is unknown to the vendor and, therefore, cannot be stopped immediately.

The most popular hacking event is Pwn2Own (pronounce the ‘pwn’ bit like the ‘own’ bit, you’re welcome), organized by Trend Micro’s Zero Day Initiative, ZDI, and held twice a year in North America.

Pwn2Own hackers use exploit chains to hack Samsung Galaxy S21

The latest Pwn2Own event took place in Austin, Texas, between 2-5 November, and it was here that the Samsung Galaxy S21 smartphone fell to hackers. Twice.

It would have been three times, but one of the hacking teams was unable to successfully execute their zero-day exploit in the allotted timeframe.

However, on Wednesday, 3 November, the STARLabs team used an exploit chain to successfully attack the Samsung Galaxy S21. Officially, this was categorized as a ‘collision’ rather than an outright success as that attack chain included a vulnerability that was already known to Samsung rather than being a full zero-day chain.

On Thursday, 4 November, Sam Thomas, director of research at Pentest Limited, was able to get code execution on the Samsung Galaxy S21 using a three-bug chain that earned a full success label. It also earned the Pentest Limited team a $50,000 cash prize. The STARLabs team were awarded $25,000 for their hacking efforts. The successful hackers also get to keep the devices concerned in what ZDI called ‘the shipping of everything pwned to those who owned.’

Considering that this is the second Pwn2Own hacking event this year, if you combine the two, more than $2 million has been awarded. As far as Pwn2Own Austin was concerned, there could be only one winner. Well, two if you count security in general. It was a close call between the top three hacking teams, with STARLabs third on 12 ‘Master of Pwn’ points and a cash haul of $112,500. However, the top two were neck and neck, with DEVCORE in second on 18 points and $180,000 earned, just behind the Synacktiv team with 20 points and $197,500.

Where were all the ‘wow factor’ hacking targets?

It’s true to say that Pwn2Own Austin lacked wow factor targets, if not wow factor money, at least when compared to the Tianfu Cup. Alongside the Samsung Galaxy S21 smartphone, Pwn2Own also saw a Sonos One Speaker fall (earning the Synacktiv team a cool $60,000 in the process), but otherwise, it was a bunch of routers and printers.

Not that these aren’t worthy products to target, and once the impacted vendors have patched the vulnerabilities exposed (they have 120 days before the methodologies are publicly disclosed), users will be that bit more secure. However, the Chinese event went full out for dramatic impact with Microsoft Windows 10 and Google Chrome getting pwned.

Indeed, it was disappointing not to see any of the new iPhone 13 range running iOS 15.1, or the latest Google Pixel 6, up for hacker inspection. I asked Brian Gorenc, senior director of vulnerability research and head of the ZDI program at Trend Micro, why this was.

“When we announced the contest, we included the latest handsets available from each vendor,” Gorenc says. Since that time, although Apple and Google both released new smartphones, “these new models weren’t available to all of our researchers,” he explains, “so we continued with the hardware versions we initially announced.” It’s still something of a shame to see only the Samsung Galaxy S21 being put to the test, it has to be said.

While I had the opportunity, I also asked Gorenc about his view of the Tianfu Cup and how the withdrawal of the hugely successful Chinese hacking teams had impacted Pwn2Own?

“When Chinese teams withdrew from our competition, we did see an initial drop in participation,” Gorenc says, “however, their exclusion has actually opened the door for other researchers.” Indeed, he says that Pwn2Own Austin is the largest Pwn2Own event ever with “more than double the number of entries than we are used to seeing.”

If anything, he adds, “the lack of teams from China has allowed independent researchers and other teams to have their own success and grow the contest to heights we never expected.” Indeed, the discovery of no less than 61 unique zero-days would appear to be a testament to that.

Gorenc wouldn’t be drawn into the more political debate surrounding China and how it is putting a ringfence around the domestic hacking community when it comes to discovering and disclosing zero-days. “We can’t speak to other contests, but at Pwn2Own, vendors are provided full details of the exploit minutes after the bug was demonstrated on stage,” he says. “Pwn2Own seeks to harden platforms by revealing vulnerabilities and providing that research to the vendors,” Gorenc says, concluding, “the goal is always to get these bugs fixed before they’re actively exploited by attackers.”

I have reached out to Samsung to get an idea when Galaxy S21 users can expect to see these vulnerabilities patched and will update this article in due course.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website or some of my other work here.

Davey is a three-decade veteran technology journalist and has been a contributing editor at PC Pro magazine since the first issue in 1994. A co-founder of the Forbes Straight Talking Cyber video project, which has been named ‘Most Educational Content’ at the 2021 European Cybersecurity Blogger Awards, Davey also won the 2020 Security Serious ‘Cyber Writer of the Year’ title. A three-time winner of the BT Security Journalist of the Year award (2006, 2008, 2010) I was also fortunate enough to be named BT Technology Journalist of the Year in 1996 for a forward-looking feature in PC Pro called ‘Threats to the Internet.’ In 2011 I was honored with the Enigma Award for a lifetime contribution to IT security journalism. Contact me in confidence at davey@happygeek.com if you have a story to reveal or research to share.

Source: Samsung Galaxy S21 Hack, $1 Million Hackers, Pwn2Own, 61 Security Bugs

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“Samsung Galaxy Neo announced, headed to Korea”. GSMArena. 3 April 2011. Archived from the original on 22 May 2011. Retrieved 22 May 2011.

The Global Housing Market is Broken, and It’s Dividing Entire Countries

Soaring property prices are forcing people all over the world to abandon all hope of owning a home. The fallout is shaking governments of all political persuasions.

It’s a phenomenon given wings by the pandemic. And it’s not just buyers — rents are also soaring in many cities. The upshot is the perennial issue of housing costs has become one of acute housing inequality, and an entire generation is at risk of being left behind.

“We’re witnessing sections of society being shut out of parts of our city because they can no longer afford apartments,” Berlin Mayor Michael Mueller says. “That’s the case in London, in Paris, in Rome, and now unfortunately increasingly in Berlin.”

That exclusion is rapidly making housing a new fault line in politics, one with unpredictable repercussions. The leader of Germany’s Ver.di union called rent the 21st century equivalent of the bread price, the historic trigger for social unrest.

Politicians are throwing all sorts of ideas at the problem, from rent caps to special taxes on landlords, nationalizing private property, or turning vacant offices into housing. Nowhere is there evidence of an easy or sustainable fix.

In South Korea, President Moon Jae-in’s party took a drubbing in mayoral elections this year after failing to tackle a 90% rise in the average price of an apartment in Seoul since he took office in May 2017. The leading opposition candidate for next year’s presidential vote has warned of a potential housing market collapse as interest rates rise.

China has stepped up restrictions on the real-estate sector this year and speculation is mounting of a property tax to bring down prices. The cost of an apartment in Shenzhen, China’s answer to Silicon Valley, was equal to 43.5 times a resident’s average salary as of July, a disparity that helps explain President Xi Jinping’s drive for “common prosperity.”

In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised a two-year ban on foreign buyers if re-elected.

The pandemic has stoked the global housing market to fresh records over the past 18 months through a confluence of ultralow interest rates, a dearth of house production, shifts in family spending and fewer homes being put up for sale. While that’s a boon for existing owners, prospective buyers are finding it ever harder to gain entry.

What we’re witnessing is “a major event that should not be shrugged off or ignored,” Don Layton, the former CEO of U.S. mortgage giant Freddie Mac, wrote in a commentary for the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

In the U.S., where nominal home prices are more than 30% above their previous peaks in the mid-2000s, government policies aimed at improving affordability and promoting home ownership risk stoking prices, leaving first-time buyers further adrift, Layton said.

The result, in America as elsewhere, is a widening generational gap between baby boomers, who are statistically more likely to own a home, and millennials and Generation Z — who are watching their dreams of buying one go up in smoke.

Existing housing debt may be sowing the seeds of the next economic crunch if borrowing costs start to rise. Niraj Shah of Bloomberg Economics compiled a dashboard of countries most at threat of a real-estate bubble, and says risk gauges are “flashing warnings” at an intensity not seen since the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis.

In the search for solutions, governments must try and avoid penalizing either renters or homeowners. It’s an unenviable task.

Sweden’s government collapsed in June after it proposed changes that would have abandoned traditional controls and allowed more rents to be set by the market.

In Berlin, an attempt to tame rent increases was overturned by a court. Campaigners have collected enough signatures to force a referendum on seizing property from large private landlords. The motion goes to a vote on Sept. 26. The city government on Friday announced it would buy nearly 15,000 apartments from two large corporate landlords for €2.46 billion ($2.9 billion) to expand supply.

Anthony Breach at the Center for Cities think tank has even made the case for a link between housing and Britain’s 2016 vote to quit the European Union. Housing inequality, he concluded, is “scrambling our politics.”

As these stories from around the world show, that’s a recipe for upheaval.

Argentina

With annual inflation running around 50%, Argentines are no strangers to price increases. But for Buenos Aires residents like Lucia Cholakian, rent hikes are adding economic pressure, and with that political disaffection.

Like many during the pandemic, the 28-year-old writer and college professor moved with her partner from a downtown apartment to a residential neighborhood in search of more space. In the year since, her rent has more than tripled; together with bills it chews through about 40% of her income. That rules out saving for a home.

“We’re not going to be able to plan for the future like our parents did, with the dream of your own house,” she says. The upshot is “renting, buying and property in general” is becoming “much more present for our generation politically.”

Legislation passed by President Alberto Fernandez’s coalition aims to give greater rights to tenants like Cholakian. Under the new rules, contracts that were traditionally two years are now extended to three. And rather than landlords setting prices, the central bank created an index that determines how much rent goes up in the second and third year.

It’s proved hugely controversial, with evidence of some property owners raising prices excessively early on to counter the uncertainty of regulated increases later. Others are simply taking properties off the market. A government-decreed pandemic rent freeze exacerbated the squeeze.

Rental apartment listings in Buenos Aires city are down 12% this year compared to the average in 2019, and in the surrounding metro area they’re down 36%, according to real estate website ZonaProp.

The law “had good intentions but worsened the issue, as much for property owners as for tenants,” said Maria Eugenia Vidal, the former governor of Buenos Aires province and one of the main opposition figures in the city. She is contesting the November midterm elections on a ticket with economist Martin Tetaz with a pledge to repeal the legislation.

“Argentina is a country of uncertainty,” Tetaz said by phone, but with the housing rules it’s “even more uncertain now than before.”

Cholakian, who voted for Fernandez in 2019, acknowledges the rental reform is flawed, but also supports handing more power to tenants after an extended recession that wiped out incomes. If anything, she says greater regulation is needed to strike a balance between reassuring landlords and making rent affordable.

“If they don’t do something to control this in the city of Buenos Aires, only the rich will be left,” she says.

Australia

As the son of first-generation migrants from Romania, Alex Fagarasan should be living the Australian dream. Instead, he’s questioning his long-term prospects.

Fagarasan, a 28-year-old junior doctor at a major metropolitan hospital, would prefer to stay in Melbourne, close to his parents. But he’s being priced out of his city. He’s now facing the reality that he’ll have to move to a regional town to get a foothold in the property market. Then, all going well, in another eight years he’ll be a specialist and able to buy a house in Melbourne.

Even so, he knows he’s one of the lucky ones. His friends who aren’t doctors “have no chance” of ever owning a home. “My generation will be the first one in Australia that will be renting for the rest of their lives,” he says.

He currently rents a modern two-bedroom townhouse with two others in the inner suburb of Northcote — a study nook has been turned into a make-shift bedroom to keep down costs. About 30% of his salary is spent on rent; he calls it “exorbitant.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative government announced a “comprehensive housing affordability plan” as part of the 2017-2018 budget, including 1 billion Australian dollars ($728 million) to boost supply. It hasn’t tamed prices.

The opposition Labour Party hasn’t fared much better. It proposed closing a lucrative tax loophole for residential investment at the last election in 2019, a policy that would likely have brought down home prices. But it sparked an exodus back to the ruling Liberals of voters who owned their home, and probably contributed to Labor’s election loss.

The political lessons have been learned: Fagarasan doesn’t see much help on housing coming from whoever wins next year’s federal election. After all, Labor already rules the state of Victoria whose capital is Melbourne.

“I feel like neither of the main parties represents the voice of the younger generation,” he says.

It’s a sentiment shared by Ben Matthews, a 33-year-old project manager at a university in Sydney. He’s moving back in with his parents after the landlord of the house he shared with three others ordered them out, an experience he says he found disappointing and stressful, especially during the pandemic.

Staying with his parents will at least help him save for a deposit on a one-bedroom flat. But even that’s a downgrade from his original plan of a two-bedroom house so he could rent the other room out. The increases, he says, are “just insane.”

“It might not be until something breaks that we’ll get the political impetus to make changes,” he says. -Jason Scott

Canada

Days after calling an election, Justin Trudeau announced plans for a two-year ban on foreigners buying houses. If it was meant as a dramatic intervention to blind-side his rivals, it failed: they broadly agree.

The prime minister thought he was going to fight the election — set for Monday — on the back of his handling of the pandemic, but instead housing costs are a dominant theme for all parties.

Trudeau’s Liberals are promising a review of “escalating” prices in markets including Vancouver and Toronto to clamp down on speculation; Conservative challenger Erin O’Toole pledges to build a million homes in three years to tackle the “housing crisis”; New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh wants a 20% tax on foreign buyers to combat a crisis he calls “out of hand.”

Facing a surprisingly tight race, Trudeau needs to attract young urban voters if he is to have any chance of regaining his majority. He chose Hamilton, outside Toronto, to launch his housing policy. Once considered an affordable place in the Greater Toronto Area, it’s faced rising pressure as people leave Canada’s biggest city in search of cheaper homes. The average single family home cost 932,700 Canadian dollars ($730,700) in June, a 30% increase from a year earlier, according to the Realtors Association of Hamilton and Burlington.

The City of Hamilton cites housing affordability among its priorities for the federal election, but that’s little comfort to Sarah Wardroper, a 32-year-old single mother of two young girls, who works part time and rents in the downtown east side. Hamilton, she says, represents “one of the worst housing crises in Canada.”

While she applauds promises to make it harder for foreigners to buy investment properties she’s skeptical of measures that might discourage homeowners from renting out their properties. That includes Trudeau’s bid to tax those who sell within 12 months of a house purchase. Neither is she convinced by plans for more affordable housing, seeing them as worthy but essentially a short-term fix when the real issue is “the economy is just so out of control the cost of living in general has skyrocketed.”

Wardroper says her traditionally lower-income community has become a luxury Toronto neighborhood.

“I don’t have the kind of job to buy a house, but I have the ambition and the drive to do that,” she says. “I want to build a future for my kids. I want them to be able to buy homes, but the way things are going right now, I don’t think that’s going to be possible.”

Singapore

Back in 2011, a public uproar over the city-state’s surging home prices contributed to what was at the time the ruling party’s worst parliamentary election result in more than five decades in power. While the People’s Action Party retained the vast majority of the seats in parliament, it was a wake-up call — and there are signs the pressure is building again.

Private home prices have risen the most in two years, and in the first half of 2021 buyers including ultra-rich foreigners splurged 32.9 billion Singapore dollars ($24 billion), according to Singapore-based ERA Realty Network Pte Ltd. That’s double the amount recorded in Manhattan over the same period.

However, close to 80% of Singapore’s citizens live in public housing, which the government has long promoted as an asset they can sell to move up in life.

It’s a model that has attracted attention from countries including China, but one that is under pressure amid a frenzy in the resale market. Singapore’s government-built homes bear little resemblance to low-income urban concentrations elsewhere: In the first five months of the year, a record 87 public apartments were resold for at least SG$1 million. That’s stirring concerns about affordability even among the relatively affluent.

Junior banker Alex Ting, 25, is forgoing newly built public housing as it typically means a three-to-four-year wait. And under government rules for singles, Ting can only buy a public apartment when he turns 35 anyway.

His dream home is a resale flat near his parents. But even there a mismatch between supply and demand could push his dream out of reach.

While the government has imposed curbs on second-home owners and foreign buyers, younger people like Ting have grown resigned to the limits of what can be done.

Most Singaporeans aspire to own their own property, and the housing scarcity and surge in prices presents another hurdle to them realizing their goal, says Nydia Ngiow, Singapore-based senior director at BowerGroupAsia, a strategic policy advisory firm. If unaddressed, that challenge “may in turn build long-term resentment towards the ruling party,” she warns.

That’s an uncomfortable prospect for the PAP, even as the opposition faces barriers to winning parliamentary seats. The ruling party is already under scrutiny for a disrupted leadership succession plan, and housing costs may add to the pressure.

Younger voters may express their discontent by moving away from the PAP, according to Ting. “In Singapore, the only form of protest we can do is to vote for the opposition,” he says.

Ireland

Claire Kerrane is open about the role of housing in her winning a seat in Ireland’s parliament, the Dail.

Kerrane, 29, was one of a slew of Sinn Fein lawmakers to enter the Dail last year after the party unexpectedly won the largest number of first preference votes at the expense of Ireland’s dominant political forces, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.

While the two main parties went on to form a coalition government, the outcome was a political earthquake. Sinn Fein was formerly the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, yet it’s been winning followers more for its housing policy than its push for a united Ireland.

“Housing was definitely a key issue in the election and I think our policies and ambition for housing played a role in our election success,” says Kerrane, who represents the parliamentary district of Roscommon-Galway.

Ireland still bears the scars of a crash triggered by a housing bubble that burst during the financial crisis. A shortage of affordable homes means prices are again marching higher.

Sinn Fein has proposed building 100,000 social and affordable homes, the reintroduction of a pandemic ban on evictions and rent increases, and legislation to limit the rate banks can charge for mortgages.

Those policies have struck a chord. The most recent Irish Times Ipsos MRBI poll, in June, showed Sinn Fein leading all other parties, with 21% of respondents citing house prices as the issue most likely to influence their vote in the next general election, the same proportion that cited the economy. Only health care trumped housing as a concern.

Other parties are taking note. On Sept. 2, the coalition launched a housing plan as the pillar of its agenda for this parliamentary term, committing over €4 billion ($4.7 billion) a year to increase supply, the highest-ever level of government investment in social and affordable housing.

Whether it’s enough to blunt Sinn Fein’s popularity remains to be seen. North of the border, meanwhile, Sinn Fein holds a consistent poll lead ahead of elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly due by May, putting it on course to nominate the region’s First Minister for the first time since the legislature was established as part of the Good Friday peace agreement of 1998.

For all the many hurdles that remain to reunification, Sinn Fein is arguably closer than it has ever been to achieving its founding goal by championing efforts to widen access to housing.

As Kerrane says: “Few, if any households aren’t affected in some way by the housing crisis.”

By Alan Crawford

Source: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/

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