FBI held back ransomware decryption key from businesses | Biden sanctions cryptocurrency exchange over ransomware attacks | Hack reveals embarrassing details of who’s behind far-right websites

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  • The FBI refrained for almost three weeks from helping to unlock the computers of hundreds of businesses and institutions hobbled by a major ransomware attack this summer, even though the bureau had secretly obtained the digital key needed to do so, according to several current and former U.S. officials. The key was obtained through access to the servers of the Russia-based criminal gang behind the July attack. Deploying it immediately could have helped the victims, including schools and hospitals, avoid what analysts estimate was millions of dollars in recovery costs. The Washington Post

  • The Biden administration on Tuesday unveiled sanctions against a cryptocurrency exchange over its alleged role in enabling illegal payments from ransomware attacks, officials said, part of a broader crackdown on the growing threat. Reuters

  • Epik long has been the favorite Internet company of the far-right, providing domain services to QAnon theorists, Proud Boys and other instigators of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol — allowing them to broadcast hateful messages from behind a veil of anonymity. The Washington Post

ASPI ICPC

Action, not talk, needed to realise Australia's quantum opportunity
InnovationAus
@TimWattsMP
Just this year, both the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and the Australian Information Industry Association released major reports outlining the opportunity and warning that government inaction risks letting it slip through our fingers once again. According to ASPI, investment in the sector by China, the US, France, Germany, the EU, India, and Russia now exceed Australian investment in quantum by factors of up to 100:1. When quantum computing researchers meet with Australian politicians today, they tell the story of a national brain drain as Australian quantum talent decamps to more accommodating nations. To countries with governments that have a vision for their quantum computing industries and an investment plan to match it.

World

No More Apologies: Inside Facebook’s Push to Defend Its Image
The New York Times
@RMac18 @sheeraf
Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive, has signed off on an effort to show users pro-Facebook stories and to distance himself from scandals.

Facebook Rolls Out News Feed Change That Blocks Watchdogs from Gathering Data
The Markup
@corintxt
Facebook has begun rolling out an update that is interfering with watchdogs monitoring the platform. The Markup has found evidence that Facebook is adding changes to its website code that foils automated data collection of news feed posts—a technique that groups like NYU’s Ad Observatory, The Markup, and other researchers and journalists use to audit what’s happening on the platform on a large scale.

Australia

‘Woeful’: ANZ chief slams business preparedness for cyberattacks
The Sydney Morning Herald
@CharlotteGriev1
ANZ chief executive Shayne Elliott says the majority of Australian businesses are hopelessly unprepared for cyberattacks, a mounting threat as society’s digitisation gains pace and criminals exploit vulnerabilities during COVID-19.

Which federal MP is spending the most on Facebook advertising? (Hint: it is not Craig Kelly)
The Conversation
@chrisscanlon_
As recent scandals around the 2016 US presidential elections and the Brexit vote show, knowing how those in the political sphere spend their advertising dollars is key to maintaining trust and integrity in our political system. This has never been more important in an age where political messages can be targeted to particular audiences with laser-like precision.

AUKUS is an agreement missing a strategy
The Strategist
@lesleyseebeck
AUKUS—as proffered thus far—is about cementing old ties and shoring up defences against a rising revisionist power. The statements, the language, don’t offer a vision of the sort of future that we, the United States and the United Kingdom want to see in the region, or globally.

Australia Badly Needs Nuclear Submarines
Foreign Policy
@Andrew S. Erickson
The country’s maritime scope, and China’s rise, makes the AUKUS deal a no brainer.

China

Nine charts that show who’s winning the U.S.-China tech race
The Washington Post
@JeanneWhalen @chrisalcantara
Chinese companies have made massive strides in many areas, though there are sectors where U.S. firms still dominate.

"The One Like One Share Initiative" - How China deploys social media influencers to spread its message
Selected Wisdom
Clint Watts
Today, those that can rapidly create, distribute, and repeat a message across many audiences over a sustained period can shape the perceptions of unwitting audiences, leading mobs to madness and making social media users mindless minions for hidden forces. Those creepy synchronized American newscasters from a couple years back … well that’s child’s play compared to what China’s government is doing today.

China's tech job applicants seek tutors as competition heats up
Nikkei Asia
Nikki Sun
Candidates pay up to $3,000 for tips to pass interviews.

Clamping Down on ‘Spiritual Opium’
The New York Times
@karaswisher
You’d think the biggest story in tech to watch right now is the increasing power of the giant U.S. tech firms — and how to regulate them (regulation will come, at some point). But I can’t stop paying attention to what’s happening to China’s enormous tech industry and the entrepreneurial leaders who built it.

It's Going to Get Easier to Use China’s Apps
Bloomberg
Zheping Huang
China’s big tech companies don’t typically allow rivals’ content on their platforms. That’s resulted in an awkward, siloed experience for users in the world’s largest smartphone market. But things started to change last week when Tencent Holdings Ltd. opened up external links on its super-app WeChat. For global users, it would be the equivalent of Facebook letting you watch YouTube videos on its site for the first time in years.

USA

FBI held back ransomware decryption key from businesses to run operation targeting hackers
The Washington Post
@nakashimae @rachelerman
The FBI refrained for almost three weeks from helping to unlock the computers of hundreds of businesses and institutions hobbled by a major ransomware attack this summer, even though the bureau had secretly obtained the digital key needed to do so, according to several current and former U.S. officials. The key was obtained through access to the servers of the Russia-based criminal gang behind the July attack. Deploying it immediately could have helped the victims, including schools and hospitals, avoid what analysts estimate was millions of dollars in recovery costs.

Biden sanctions cryptocurrency exchange over ransomware attacks
Reuters
Alexandra Alper
The Biden administration on Tuesday unveiled sanctions against a cryptocurrency exchange over its alleged role in enabling illegal payments from ransomware attacks, officials said, part of a broader crackdown on the growing threat.

Zoom’s Nearly $15 Billion Deal for Five9 Under U.S. Government Review Over China Ties
The Wall Street Journal
@Kate_OKeeffe @aatilley @dawnmlim
A Justice Department-led panel is investigating Zoom Video Communications Inc.’s deal to buy an American customer-service software company, citing potential national-security risks posed by the U.S. videoconferencing giant’s China ties..The U.S. government has been ramping up its scrutiny of Zoom’s China ties. The Justice Department last year charged one of its China-based executives with conspiring to disrupt videoconference commemorations of the Tiananmen Square democracy protests. Zoom is also facing multiple ongoing federal investigations related to its dealings with Beijing.

Facebook Says It Has Spent $13 Billion on Safety, Security
Bloomberg
@KurtWagner8
Facebook Inc. said it has spent more than $13 billion on safety and security efforts since the 2016 U.S. election, and now has 40,000 employees working on those issues.

The Oversight Board wants Facebook to explain its controversial rules for VIPs
endgadget
@karissabe
The Oversight Board is pushing Facebook to provide more information on its controversial “cross-check” system, following a report that the company has allowed celebrities, politicians and other public figures to break its rules.

State medical boards should punish doctors who spread false information about covid and vaccines
The Washington Post
Nick Sawyer Eve Bloomgarden Max Cooper
Nineteen months into the covid-19 pandemic, American medicine is at an inflection point. Tens of thousands of physicians — and an even larger number of our colleagues in the allied health professions — have been caring for sick covid patients under extreme, often under-resourced, conditions. Many have become ill with the virus; more than 3,600 health-care workers are among the more than 668,000 Americans who have died because of it. With the development of three vaccines, we in the medical profession thought this nightmare might soon come to an end. We were wrong.

Trump Campaign Knew Lawyers’ Voting Machine Claims Were Baseless, Memo Shows
The New York Times
@alanfeuer
Days before lawyers allied with Donald Trump gave a news conference promoting election conspiracy theories, his campaign had determined that many of those claims were false, court filings reveal.

Huge hack reveals embarrassing details of who’s behind Proud Boys and other far-right websites
The Washington Post
@drewharwell @craigtimberg @HannahAllam
Epik long has been the favorite Internet company of the far-right, providing domain services to QAnon theorists, Proud Boys and other instigators of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol — allowing them to broadcast hateful messages from behind a veil of anonymity.

After the Capitol riot, 'Stop the Steal' organizer Ali Alexander was scrambling to hide his digital footprint
The Daily Dot
@MikaelThalen
Just days after supporters of former President Donald Trump violently stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, Ali Alexander, one of the primary organizers of the rally that day, appeared to be busy, attempting to hide his ties to dozens and dozens of websites calling the 2020 election stolen. Domains tied to Alexander that pushed Stop the Steal, which the Daily Dot reviewed, including ones he publicly posted on as himself, were scrambled in the wake of the riot to hide ownership. But hacked documents show they trace right back to Ali and an anonymize service from the web hosting company Epik.

Former NSA Hacker Describes Being Recruited for UAE Spy Program
Zero Day
@KimZetter
David Evenden was hired in 2014 to work in Abu Dhabi on a defensive cybersecurity project, only to discover it was actually an offensive spy operation for a United Arab Emirates intelligence service.

North-East Asia

Gig workers are uncertain, scared, and barely scraping by
Rest of World
The platform work model is reshaping entire economies, sectors, lifestyles, and livelihoods.

South-East Asia

Details of 100 million travellers to Thailand exposed online: report
South China Morning Post
British firm Comparitech said any foreigner who has travelled to Thailand in the last decade ‘might have had their information exposed’.

South and Central Asia

Chinese Hackers Target Indian Agency, Media Company, Report Says
Bloomberg
@jamietarabay
Chinese state-sponsored hackers are believed to have infiltrated and stolen data from an Indian government agency responsible for a national identification database and one of that country’s largest media conglomerates, according to a new report by cybersecurity firm Recorded Future Inc.

Report: China-linked hackers take aim at Times of India and a biometric bonanza
The Record by Recorded Future
@Dina Temple-Raston
When Chinese and Indian troops clashed in the Galwan Valley border region last year, the battle was decidedly low-tech—the two sides went after each other with rocks and clubs. Now, more than a year later, the skirmish has moved to cyberspace.

Europe

Top EU official warns ‘something broken’ in transatlantic relations
Financial Times
Thierry Breton, the EU commissioner for internal markets, has warned that “something is broken” in transatlantic relations, as Franco-American tensions over Washington’s new Indo-Pacific security pact threaten to spill over into trade and technology. Breton’s comments came after France tried to push Brussels to postpone the high-level US-EU trade and technology council meeting due to take place in Pittsburgh this month in anger at the Biden administration’s handling of its submarine deal with Australia and the UK.

To Counter China, the U.S. and EU Need to Get Back on the Same Page — Fast
POLITICO
Evelyn N. Farkas
If the two sides don’t resolve their disagreement over the proposed Digital Markets Act, the only winners will be China and Russia.

He has been uncovering the lavish lifestyle of Viktor Orbán’s circles. This summer, he was surveilled with Pegasus spyware
Direkt 36
Panyi Szabolcs Pethő András
That’s what made photographer-journalist Dániel Németh think that it might be worth traveling to the Southern Italy this summer. Németh has spent years investigating and documenting the luxury lifestyle of Hungary’s ruling elite, following them with his camera as they travelled around Europe. This time, however, someone was watching him too.

Brussels eyes online ad restrictions for political parties
Financial Times
There are some restrictions on online platforms and behavioral advertising, but the EU writes that it is considering the rules of political parties trying to deploy this tool.

100 arrested in €10m cyber fraud linked to Italian mafia
The National
Nicky Harley
More than 100 people linked to the Italian mafia have been arrested in Spain in connection with a €10 million cyber fraud. Spanish police carried out raids across the Canary Islands in connection with an online fraud using phishing attacks. Italian police supported Spain in the investigation into online fraud, money laundering, drug trafficking and property crime.

Lithuania says throw away Chinese phones due to censorship concerns
Yahoo! Finance
Andrius Sytas
Lithuania's Defense Ministry recommended that consumers avoid buying Chinese mobile phones and advised people to throw away the ones they have now after a government report found the devices had built-in censorship capabilities.

Russia

Twitter avatar for @ScottMStedmanScott Stedman @ScottMStedman
View my entire research process which begins minutes after the indictment yesterday and continues up until publication:
writeinstone.com/public/researc…

Scott Stedman @ScottMStedman

BREAKING: The unnamed Russian national who funneled money to Trump and the RNC is Roman Vasilenko, a former military officer at the Leningrad Naval Base whose resume resembles that of an intelligence asset: https://t.co/poPfdfwV3R

OFAC Sanctions Russian Cryptocurrency OTC Suex that Received Over $160 million from Ransomware Attackers, Scammers, Darknet Markets, and Seized Exchange BTC-e
Chainalysis Insights
Today, the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that Russia-based cryptocurrency Over The Counter (OTC) broker Suex was designated pursuant to Executive Order 13694 and added to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN) List, thereby prohibiting Americans from doing business with the company.

Misc

Apple Is Working on iPhone Features to Help Detect Depression, Cognitive Decline
The Wall Street Journal
@RolfeWinkler
Apple is working on technology to help diagnose depression and cognitive decline, aiming for tools that could expand the scope of its burgeoning health portfolio.

PayPal launches its ‘super app’ combining payments, savings, bill pay, crypto, shopping and more
TechCrunch
@sarahintampa
PayPal has been talking about its “super app” plans for some time, having recently told investors its upcoming digital wallet and payments app had been given a go for launch. Today, the first version of that app is officially being introduced, offering a combination of financial tools including direct deposit, bill pay, a digital wallet, peer-to-peer payments, shopping tools, crypto capabilities and more. The company is also announcing its partnership with Synchrony Bank for its new high-yield savings account, PayPal Savings.

Leaked Apple Training Videos Show How It Undermines Third-Party Repair
VICE
@Matthew Gault
Leaked training videos Apple made for its authorized repair partners show how the company trains repair technicians to undermine third party companies and talk customers into buying more expensive first party repairs.

The weaponization of employee resource groups
Protocol
Megan Rose Dickey
Tech companies use ERGs as tools to foster inclusion and support workers. Sometimes, however, ERGs have the opposite effect.

Yes you too can return the corporate gaze
Tech Workers Coalition Newsletter
Over the last half decade, workers in tech have smartly rejected the hackathon theory of social change. But we have perhaps taken our aversion to technology development too far, by spurning any serious effort to continually monitor the corporations we are organizing against.

Events

Research

University of Papua New Guinea Students’ Internet Access during the COVID-19 Pandemic in 2020–21
The Australian National University
Rohan Fox Dr Amanda H A Watson
Access to quality internet has become increasingly important since the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). During 2020 and 2021, people have needed to transition various services such as education and meetings to online platforms to comply with social distancing measures aimed at reducing the spread of the virus. However, not all people have access to affordable, fast and reliable internet, making their ability to access these alternatives limited. In the Pacific region, internet access ‘is still considered unaffordable’. In Papua New Guinea (PNG), there are fewer than one million mobile internet users; thus, many people have only very limited or no access to the internet.

The Global Drive to Control Big Tech
Freedom House
Adrian Shahbaz Allie Funk
Global internet freedom declined for the 11th consecutive year. The greatest deteriorations were documented in Myanmar, Belarus, and Uganda, where state forces cracked down amid electoral and constitutional crises. Myanmar’s 14-point score decline is the largest registered since the Freedom on the Net project began.

Robot Hacking Games
Center for Security and Emerging Technology
Dakota Cary
Software vulnerability discovery, patching, and exploitation—collectively known as the vulnerability lifecycle—is time consuming and labor intensive. Automating the process could significantly improve software security and offensive hacking. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Cyber Grand Challenge supported teams of researchers from 2014 to 2016 that worked to create these tools. China took notice. In 2017, China hosted its first Robot Hacking Game, seeking to automate the software vulnerability lifecycle. Since then, China has hosted seven such competitions and the People’s Liberation Army has increased its role in hosting the games.

Jobs

ICPC Senior Analyst or Analyst - China
ASPI ICPC
ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre (ICPC) has a unique opportunity for exceptional and experienced China-focused senior analysts or analysts to join its centre. This role will focus on original research and analysis centred around the (growing) range of topics which our ICPC China team work on. Our China team produces some of the most impactful and well-read policy-relevant research in the world, with our experts often being called upon by politicians, governments, corporates and civil society actors to provide briefings and advice. Analysts usually have at least 5 years, often 7-10 years’ of work experience. Senior analysts usually have a minimum of 15 years relevant work experience and, in addition to research, they take on a leadership role in the centre and tend to be involved in staff and project management, fundraising and stakeholder engagement.

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