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Iranian espionage campaign targeted satellite and defense sectors | Israeli cyber firms developed new spyware tool | European Union will investigate Chinese subsidies of electric cars
Good morning. It's Friday 15th September.
An Iranian cyber espionage group successfully compromised dozens of entities and exfiltrated data from a subset of them as part of a campaign targeting organizations in the satellite, defense and pharmaceutical sectors, Microsoft said in a report published Thursday. The group in question — which Microsoft tracks as Peach Sandstorm but known otherwise as Holmium, APT33 or Elfin — compromised the accounts as part of a high volume of password spray attacks, where attackers try one known password against a list of usernames. CyberScoop
A Haaretz investigation reveals that Israeli cyber companies developed technology that exploits the advertising system at the heart of the online economy to monitor civilians, hack into their phones and computers, and spy on them. This terrifying capability, against which no defense currently exists, has already been sold to a nondemocratic country. Haaretz
The European Union will begin an investigation into Chinese subsidies of electric vehicles, the bloc’s top official announced Wednesday, in a move that highlights Europe’s growing industrial and geopolitical competition with China. The inquiry could lead to trade restrictions, such as import tariffs on Chinese vehicles. Chinese automakers have gained a dominant position in the global electric vehicle industry and see Europe as a key potential market. The New York Times
Tech leading to 'truth decay' in democracies: ADF chief
Australia’s top military leader has warned that democracies will be vulnerable to “truth decay” as artificial intelligence tools eventually leave citizens struggling to sift fact from fiction. Gen Angus Campbell, the chief of the Australian Defence Force, accused Russia of wielding disinformation as “a weapon of statecraft” in the United States and the United Kingdom. Such campaigns could increasingly be used to fracture “the trust that binds us”. Campbell also warned of increasing disruption sparked by the climate crisis, saying if the world failed to take stronger collective action, “we may all be humbled by a planet made angry by our collective neglect”. Addressing an Australian Strategic Policy Institute conference on Thursday evening, Campbell said rapid advances in technology were occurring at the same time as increasing great power competition.
Tech leading to 'truth decay' in democracies: ADF chief
The West Australian
Australia's defence force chief General Angus Campbell has warned artificial intelligence might harm democracies through "truth decay," as people are unable to distinguish fact from fiction. In an address to an Australian Strategic Policy Institute conference in Canberra on Thursday evening, General Campbell said disinformation was being used as a "weapon of statecraft" at a time of soaring competition between great powers. "This tech future may accelerate truth decay," he said. "Greatly challenging the quality of what we call public common sense, seriously damaging public confidence in elected officials and undermining trust that binds us.
AI won’t replace human analysts, top spy Andrew Shearer says
The head of Australia’s national security community says artificial intelligence will offer “incredibly powerful” insights for the nation’s spy agencies, but won’t replace the “hard critical thinking” of experienced human analysts. In a rare public appearance on Thursday, Office of National Intelligence director-general Andrew Shearer said AI would give intelligence agencies the ability to analyse vast classified and unclassified datasets. However, he cautioned AI was “just a tool”, and required “people in the loop so that they can do the hard, critical thinking”. “It offers real power, but if you don't go back to the basics … you’re not going to be any better off by unleashing the AI beast. It’s not going to solve the problem for us,” Mr Shearer told the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Disruption and Deterrence conference.
China leads high-tech research in 80% of critical fields: report
China leads advanced technological research in 80% of critical fields including hypersonics and underwater drones, a report from an Australian think tank shows, as the country pulls ahead of the U.S., Europe and Japan through state-led investment. Out of 23 technologies analyzed by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, China leads research in 19. The rankings are based on the 10% most cited academic papers among 2.2 million published between 2018 and 2022, with a focus on fields considered key to the trilateral security partnership among the U.S., the U.K. and Australia, or AUKUS.
Australian Federal Police officer data impacted by cyberattack
The Australian Federal Police is one of several government agencies impacted by a cyberattack. The initial target of a major cyber breach in April was national law firm HWL Ebsworth, with data leaked about government departments and agencies later published to the dark web. 9News understands the AFP, a client of the law firm, is one of the many government agencies impacted.
Mystery around China’s new science and tech body a sign of secrecy to come, analysts say
South China Morning Post
Jane Cai, William Zheng and Echo Xie
The founding of China’s new top science and technology planner – a Communist Party body at the core of Beijing’s technology competition with Washington – went quietly. It was not publicly known that the Central Science and Technology Commission, a new party organ stemming from a sweeping institutional revamp, had been set up or held its first meeting until a brief mention by the Ministry of Science and Technology on its website in July. The science and tech policy planner is the final body to be established under a far-reaching overhaul plan targeting a handful of government and party organs announced in March, with a focus on expanding the party’s direct control over policy priorities.
Apple and Huawei's smartphone rivalry divides China
Yelin Mo and Brendah Goh
Apple's iPhone 15 drew mixed reactions in its third largest market of China on Wednesday, with many online users liking its faster chip and improved gaming capabilities while others preferred Huawei's new smartphone. China remains key for the U.S. tech giant, which unveiled its new iPhone lineup on Tuesday. The company occupies a leading position in China's premium smartphone market, in part due to the decimation of Huawei Technologies' smartphone business by U.S. export controls, but has also come under scrutiny in the run-up to the iPhone 15's launch.
China’s AI boom depends on an army of exploited student interns
Rest of World
Viola Zhou and Caiwei Chen
Lucy is part of China’s new digital underclass — one of hundreds of thousands of data annotators fuelling the country’s booming artificial intelligence industry. Data annotators label vast quantities of raw data — tagging images of cars, screening videos for violent content, and filtering audio for keywords — to train machine learning models. Their labor, often underpaid and overlooked, is crucial to the development of new AI applications — from intelligent chatbots to autonomous vehicles. In recent years, China’s data labeling companies have partnered with vocational schools, recruiting student interns to do this tedious and labor-intensive work — often for subminimum wages and under poor conditions — in order to fulfill their graduation requirements, a Rest of World investigation has found.
China hits out at US tech curbs in call for new cyber rules order at UN, says Japan’s Fukushima water release should undergo ‘international supervision’
The South China Morning Post
China has hit out at US-led tech curbs in its latest position paper to the United Nations, calling for an “open, fair, equal and non-discriminative” environment for all countries to develop new technologies. In the paper released on Wednesday, the Chinese government said science and technology should benefit all people, and not be used to limit the development of any country.
China watchdog fines Tencent over illegal content on its messaging platform
China's cyberspace regulator has imposed a fine of 1 million yuan ($137,390.95) on Tencent Holdings due to what it said was illegal and pornographic information on its messaging platform Tencent QQ, the regulator said on Wednesday. Tencent QQ's security center said it accepted the fine and would take actions to improve the platform.
DHS unveils new guidelines on AI use
The Department of Homeland Security will not collect or disseminate data used in artificial intelligence activities and will ensure all facial recognition technologies will be thoroughly tested as part of a new set of AI guidelines released Thursday. The new DHS policies, developed by a department task force on AI, are part of the broader Biden administration aim to manage the risks of the technology.
Tech leaders agree on AI regulation but divided on how in Washington forum
A delegation of top tech leaders including Sundar Pichai, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Sam Altman convened in Washington on Wednesday for a closed-door meeting with US senators to discuss the rise of artificial intelligence and how it should be regulated. The discussion, billed as an “AI safety forum”, is one of several meetings between Silicon Valley, researchers, labor leaders and government and is taking on fresh urgency with the US elections looming and the rapid pace of AI advancement already affecting people’s lives and work.
Tech leaders including Musk, Zuckerberg call for government action on AI
The Washington Post
Cat Zakrzewski, Cristiano Lima and David DiMolfetta
Some of the most powerful tech leaders in the world — including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg — traveled to Capitol Hill for a meeting on artificial intelligence, where they expressed unanimous agreement that the government needs to intervene to avert the potential pitfalls of the evolving technology.
In show of force, Silicon Valley titans pledge ‘getting this right’ With A.I.
The New York Times
Elon Musk warned of civilizational risks posed by artificial intelligence. Sundar Pichai of Google highlighted the technology’s potential to solve health and energy problems. And Mark Zuckerberg of Meta stressed the importance of open and transparent A.I. systems.
Supreme Court pauses order curbing Biden administration efforts to block social media posts
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday temporarily blocked a lower court order curbing Biden administration efforts to combat controversial social media posts on topics including COVID-19 and election security. White House communications staffers, the surgeon general and the FBI are among those affected by the order, which resulted from a lawsuit claiming the White House and executive branch agencies unconstitutionally squelched conservative points of view.
CISA panel pitches idea of a National Cybersecurity Alert System
The Record by Recorded Future
The U.S. needs a national cybersecurity alert system that would provide actionable information on threats and risks, according to a panel that advises the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. Without specifying what such a system would look like or how it would behave, the panel found that “there is a genuine need for a national cybersecurity alert system that routinizes the 24/7 consideration and provisioning of cyber alerts.”
Software and tear: Can Microsoft safely shepherd the U.S. government through an era of transpacific saber-rattling?
The Wire China
“Great power conflict is back,” declared the organizers of this year’s prestigious Aspen Security Forum, in July. “And the technologies used to win it are changing much faster than we can digest.” In an attempt to try, the conference invited two men squarely at the center of that great power technological conflict onto the stage together. Dressed nearly identically with their top buttons undone was Microsoft president Brad Smith and Rob Joyce, the National Security Agency’s cybersecurity director. Their easy mutual air reflected what has been a very close relationship between Microsoft and the U.S. government over the past two decades.
MGM hack followed failed bid to rig slot machines, ‘Scattered Spider’ group claims
In a trick reminiscent of a heist movie, the hackers who allegedly breached the security at MGM’s casinos this month originally planned to manipulate the software running the slot machines, and “recruit mules to gamble and milk the machines”. Thwarted in that plan, the group fell back on a decade-old formula that has reaped billions of dollars for ransomware operators — they siphoned off the company’s data, encrypted some of it and are now demanding cryptocurrency to release it.
GOP lawmakers call for heavier sanctions against China’s Huawei, SMIC
The Washington Post
Ten Republican lawmakers are calling on the Commerce Department to impose heavier sanctions against China’s Huawei Technologies and Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp., after the two companies displayed a domestically manufactured advanced smartphone chip, circumventing U.S. export controls.
Japan aims for nationwide autonomous driving lanes
The Japanese government will set up dedicated and priority lanes in Hitachi, Ibaraki prefecture, north of Tokyo, in preparation for the widespread use of level 4 autonomous driving, Nikkei has learned. This will be the first introduction of lanes for autonomous vehicles on a public road in Japan. The government hopes to have such lanes nationwide once their safety is established, aiming to ease a shortage of bus and truck drivers.
European Union will investigate Chinese subsidies of electric cars
The New York Times
Matina Stevis-Gridneff and Melissa Eddy
The European Union will begin an investigation into Chinese subsidies of electric vehicles, the bloc’s top official announced Wednesday, in a move that highlights Europe’s growing industrial and geopolitical competition with China. The inquiry could lead to trade restrictions, such as import tariffs on Chinese vehicles. Chinese automakers have gained a dominant position in the global electric vehicle industry and see Europe as a key potential market. Automakers in Europe, who are racing to expand their battery-powered lineups, have expressed concern that they face unfair competition against models from China that can be sold at a lower price, thanks to subsidies from the government in Beijing.
Did Europe just start a trade war with China over electric cars?
Alberto Nardelli, Shawn Donnan and Gabrielle Coppola
If a surge in government support for strategic industries risks fueling a global subsidy war, then the European Union may have just sparked one of its biggest battles. With European officials fearing millions of auto jobs are at risk from China’s surging electric vehicle exports, the bloc’s executive arm on Wednesday launched an investigation into Beijing’s financial support for the EV industry.
China says EU probe into Chinese electric vehicle exports, subsidies is protectionist
China’s Commerce Ministry has protested a decision by the European Union to investigate exports of Chinese electric vehicles, saying Thursday that it is a “protectionist” act aimed at distorting the supply chain. The EU announced Wednesday it will probe government subsidies provided to Chinese automakers that the EU contends keep EV prices artificially low. China has become the biggest market for electric vehicles after investing billions in subsidies to gain an edge.
China slams EU over electric vehicle subsidy probe
China accused the European Union of "naked protectionist behaviour" on Thursday after Commission President Ursula von der Leyen launched an investigation into state subsidies for Chinese electric vehicles. "China expresses its high concern and strong dissatisfaction" over the probe which "will have a negative impact on China-EU economic and trade relations," the commerce ministry said in a statement.
OpenAI to open its first EU office as it readies for regulatory hurdles
OpenAI is set to open its first office in the European Union and make several strategic hires, as the company prepares for regulatory headwinds. The ChatGPT-maker says that it plans to open its third office, after San Francisco and London, which it announced in June, in Ireland, which has emerged as almost a second home for countless U.S. tech companies seeking to foster closer ties with European lawmakers and customers — while paying a more favorable rate of tax, too.
Greater Manchester Police officers' details hacked in cyber attack
Police officers' personal details have been hacked after a company was targeted in a cyber attack. The firm in Stockport, which makes ID cards, holds information on various UK organisations including some of the staff employed by Greater Manchester Police. The force confirmed it was aware of the ransomware attack. The hack means thousands of police officers' names are at risk of being placed in the public domain.
Microsoft: Iranian espionage campaign targeted satellite and defense sectors
An Iranian cyber espionage group successfully compromised dozens of entities and exfiltrated data from a subset of them as part of a campaign targeting organizations in the satellite, defense and pharmaceutical sectors, Microsoft said in a report published Thursday. The group in question — which Microsoft tracks as Peach Sandstorm but known otherwise as Holmium, APT33 or Elfin — compromised the accounts as part of a high volume of password spray attacks, where attackers try one known password against a list of usernames. The campaign began in February and targeted thousands of organizations, according to Microsoft.
Revealed: Israeli cyber firms have developed an 'insane' new spyware tool. No defense exists
A Haaretz investigation reveals that Israeli cyber companies developed technology that exploits the advertising system at the heart of the online economy to monitor civilians, hack into their phones and computers, and spy on them. This terrifying capability, against which no defense currently exists, has already been sold to a nondemocratic country.
SpaceX no longer taking losses to produce Starlink satellite antennas, a key step to improving profitability
Elon Musk’s SpaceX is no longer absorbing the cost of the Starlink antennas it sells with its satellite internet service, a company executive said Wednesday, a key step to the company improving its profitability. “We were subsidizing terminals, but we’ve been iterating on our terminal production so much that we’re no longer subsidizing terminals, which is a good place to be,” Jonathan Hofeller, SpaceX vice president of Starlink and commercial sales, said during a panel at the World Satellite Business Week conference.
Sam Altman’s cautious defense of artificial intelligence
Sam Altman has in many ways become the face of the artificial intelligence industry. Though formerly the head of Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator and backer of iconic startups such as Airbnb and Stripe, Altman is arguably famous thanks to his current role as co-founder and chief executive of OpenAI, maker of the ChatGPT chatbot. As humanity struggles to make sense of the opportunities and risks posed by AI, Altman says he remains cautiously hopeful for the technology and its long-term impact on humanity.
Efforts to avoid a 'suicidal' AI arms race are failing, scientists warn
Didi Kirsten Tatlow
An urgent call by scientists to pause the development of powerful AI systems and to work out a safe way forward for technologies that could profoundly alter or even threaten human life has not worked, organisers said. "AI labs are recklessly rushing to build more and more powerful systems, with no robust solutions to make them safe," Anthony Aguirre, Executive Director & Secretary of the Board at the U.S.-based Future of Life Institute told Newsweek, as the expiry looms of a six-month pause the institute called for that was signed by over 33,000 people — including Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, Tesla & X, and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. Aguirre described the situation as potentially a "suicidal AI arms race which everyone loses."
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