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Press review EX - 13 February

Extrema Ratio focuses on the topics we work on, including cybersecurity, critical technologies, foreign interference, disinformation, international law, national security.

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  • The Commerce Department announced a new round of sanctions Friday targeting six Chinese aerospace companies that it identified as supporting the nation’s military’s reconnaissance balloon program. CNBC

  • South Korea has announced its first independent sanctions on North Korea over its illicit cyber activities. The South Korean Foreign Ministry said on Friday that the sanctions target four North Korean tech experts including hackers, and seven organizations including those under the country's military intelligence agency. NHK World-Japan

  • Anthony Albanese commissioned a secret probe in the wake of the devastating Optus and Medibank cyber hacks that saw the details of millions of Australians compromised. Sky News


Canada’s research security is getting tighter, but there are still loopholes to close The Globe and Mail Shawn Barber A landmark study by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in 2018 titled Picking Flowers, Making Honey painted a startling portrait of the deep links between the Chinese military-industrial complex and universities in the West. It estimated that in 2017, Canada ranked third behind the U.S. and Britain for the highest number of university research partnerships with the Chinese military.

  • Read our report ‘Picking flowers, making honey’ here.

Rex Patrick’s FOI lifts the lid on Future Fund’s China investments Michael West Media Rex Patrick The Future Fund further holds a $17 million stake in the Chinese manufacturing conglomerate BYD Co Ltd which in 2020 was identified by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute as being connected with the exploitation of forced Uyghur labour in Xinjiang.


What technologies and tactics are countries using to spy on each other? ABC Annika Burgess China gave a brazen reminder of this when one of its suspected spy balloons traversed US airspace — before being shot down — last week. But the US has since said China has used such surveillance balloons to target more than 40 countries on five continents. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg warned this week there had been increased Chinese intelligence activities in Europe, citing the use of satellites and cyber threats.

U.S., U.K. team up to sanction 7 members of Trickbot ransomware gang The Washington Post Joseph Menn U.S. and British authorities on Thursday announced sanctions against seven men for their involvement in ransomware attacks on hospitals and other targets, the latest measure targeting such gangs after officials began moving as aggressively against financially motivated attacks on critical infrastructure as they have against other threats to national security.


Prime Minister Anthony Albanese launched secret investigation into devastating Optus and Medibank cyber attacks Sky News Olivia Caisley Anthony Albanese commissioned a secret probe in the wake of the devastating Optus and Medibank cyber hacks that saw the details of millions of Australians compromised. It detailed how a leak or breach could be patched up, how cyber functions could be more easily co-ordinated in future cases, as well as streamlining processes to ensure the privacy commissioner is notified more quickly.

Australian intelligence agency advised departmental discretion on using Chinese equipment 14 months ago The Guardian Daniel Hurst An Australian intelligence agency declared a year ago it was up to government departments whether to use equipment from Chinese companies Hikvision and Dahua, despite a new bipartisan push to remove such devices.

SMS registry could block scams that cost Australians more than $1m a day The Age Jessica Yun Under directions from Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones and Communications Minister Michelle Rowland, the Australian Communications and Media Authority will explore the implementation of an SMS sender ID register that would block cyber criminals from sending texts appearing to be from agencies such as the Australian Tax Office (ATO), myGov and Australia Post.


Chinese tech firms take heed of country’s strict online moderation as they rush to bring their ChatGPT-like services to market South China Morning Post Coco Feng Chinese ChatGPT-like services are expected to encounter ‘more layers of filtering and processing’ in terms of content review on the mainland. Access to US firm OpenAI’s viral chatbot on the mainland remains difficult, which has prompted local tech companies to offer alternative services.

Tech war: China’s top memory chip maker YMTC slashes equipment orders amid US sanctions, market headwinds South China Morning Post Che Pan YMTC has slashed up to 70 per cent of its orders from Naura Technology, a Chinese maker of production tools for wafer fabs, according to a source. The cancelled orders come amid tighter US export restrictions on China’s chip industry, as well as a slowdown in the global memory market

China chipmaker SMIC sticks to expansion plans amid downturn Nikkei Asia Geopolitical tensions and weak demand have left the global chip industry facing an "unprecedentedly severe" situation, China's chip making giant Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. said on Friday.


Washington Examiner

Elbridge Colby, Pentagon lead for the 2018 National Defense Strategy and author of the acclaimed Strategy of Denial, is a little kinder to the Pentagon official. He told me that “Kahl is right that we should not panic. We have advantages. But the attitude we need is not blithe dismissiveness but an all-hands-on-deck sense of urgency. We need a five-alarm fire level of attention if we are to make the changes needed even for five years from now. We should take nothing for granted.”

U.S. sanctions six Chinese tech companies for supporting spy balloon programs CNBC Chelsey Cox and Christina Wilkie The Commerce Department announced a new round of sanctions Friday targeting six Chinese aerospace companies that it identified as supporting the nation’s military’s reconnaissance balloon program.

FBI’s Christopher Wray wants business to help fight China, cyber threats The Wall Street Journal Aruna Viswanatha Director Christopher Wray and other senior officials are waging an intense campaign to turn that around. His new message to the private sector: The biggest national-security threats are from the Chinese government and the cyber arena. You are often the target, and to protect you we need your help.

The FBI’s most controversial surveillance tool is under threat WIRED Dell Cameron An existential fight over the US government’s ability to spy on its own citizens is brewing in Congress. And as this fight unfolds, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s biggest foes on Capitol Hill are no longer reformers merely interested in reining in its authority. Many lawmakers, elevated to new heights of power by the recent election, are working to dramatically curtail the methods by which the FBI investigates crime.

Biden says Chinese spy balloon not a major security breach Reuters Steve Holland President Joe Biden, under fire from some lawmakers, said on Thursday he did not view a Chinese spy balloon that transited the United States before it was shot down in the Atlantic Ocean to have been a major security breach.

North Asia

S.Korea imposes sanctions on N.Korea over illicit cyber activities NHK World-Japan South Korea has announced its first independent sanctions on North Korea over its illicit cyber activities. The South Korean Foreign Ministry said on Friday that the sanctions target four North Korean tech experts including hackers, and seven organizations including those under the country's military intelligence agency. The ministry said they are suspected of involvement in cyberattacks and programming related to cryptocurrency theft.

Tech war: South Korea on alert for technology leaks to China as US restrictions intensify South China Morning Post Seong Hyeon Choi In the latest intellectual property (IP) theft case, the Suwon District Prosecutor’s Office last month accused five suspects, including a researcher from SEMES Co, of sending confidential information related to semiconductor cleaning equipment to China. Separately, the Korean Intellectual Property Office and Daejeon District Prosecutor’s Office announced last month that six people from three South Korean companies will stand trial for allegedly leaking core chip manufacturing technology to China.

Two Japan firms to join hands with Britain in new network technology The Japan Times Two major Japanese telecom companies are expected to join up with British organizations to promote a new communications network amid economic security concerns over China’s growing influence over the field, a source said Saturday.

Southeast Asia

U.S. chip tool makers eye Southeast Asia as China business shrinks Nikkei Asia Lauly Li Key American chip equipment suppliers are shifting operations from China to Southeast Asia in a sign that U.S. export controls enacted last October are accelerating the decoupling of tech supply chains between the world's two biggest economies.

Ukraine - Russia

Seven Russians sanctioned over ransomware cyber-crime BBC Joe Tidy Seven Russian men have been sanctioned by the UK and US for having links to recent ransomware attacks. The UK's Foreign Office, along with US authorities, has released pictures of the men, frozen their assets and imposed travel restrictions. US authorities have accused them of being members of loosely defined Russian-based hacking network Trickbot.

Sir Richard Barrons on how the characteristics of war are changing The Economist Richard Barrons It is equally true that although the nature of war does not change, its characteristics—how it is actually fought—change constantly according to circumstances, technology and thinking. Today that thinking is mostly about how to apply digital technologies created in the civilian sector to create new ways of operating and organising in conflicts.


Botswana warns of dangers in dash for African minerals Reuters Helen Reid African governments must be wary of the risks created by rising global competition for the continent's minerals, Botswana's mines minister said, as world powers seek new sources of metals needed for the transition to a lower carbon economy.

Microsoft calls for 'coalition' to improve Congo's informal cobalt mines Reuters Helen Reid and Clara Denina Microsoft visited an artisanal cobalt mine in Democratic Republic of Congo in December as part of attempts to jump-start formalisation of the little-regulated and dangerous industry that experts say is key to meeting global demand for the battery material.

Artificial Intelligence

Disinformation researchers raise alarms about A.I. chatbots The New York Times Tiffany Hsu and Stuart A. Thompson Soon after ChatGPT debuted last year, researchers tested what the artificial intelligence chatbot would write after it was asked questions peppered with conspiracy theories and false narratives. The results — in writings formatted as news articles, essays and television scripts — were so troubling that the researchers minced no words.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates: ChatGPT 'will change our world' Reuters Rachel More Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates believes ChatGPT, a chatbot that gives strikingly human-like responses to user queries, is as significant as the invention of the internet, he told German business daily Handelsblatt in an interview published on Friday.

Developers created AI to generate police sketches. Experts are horrified VICE Chloe Xiang Two developers have used OpenAI’s DALL-E 2 image generation model to create a forensic sketch program that can create “hyper-realistic” police sketches of a suspect based on user inputs. AI ethicists and researchers told Motherboard that the use of generative AI in police forensics is incredibly dangerous, with the potential to worsen existing racial and gender biases that appear in initial witness descriptions.

Big Tech

TikTok fires entire staff in India 3 years after it was banned in the country, 40 employees lose jobs India Today Ankita Chakravarti Almost three years after TikTok was banned in India, the Bytedance-owned social media app has wiped out entire staff in the country. TikTok, which had the second largest user base in India, was banned in 2020 over national security reasons. The TikTok employees who worked out of the India office, worked mostly for the Brazil and Dubai markets.

Extremist influencers are generating millions for Twitter, report says The Washington Post Taylor Lorenz Elon Musk’s restoration of 10 Twitter accounts that were banned under the platform’s previous management has generated enough engagement since they returned to the platform to likely generate $19 million in advertising revenue annually, a nonprofit dedicated to countering hate speech online has concluded.

Twitter is running ads next to tweets from Holocaust deniers The Verge Mia Sato Twitter is running ads for companies including Nokia, The Wall Street Journal, and Mailchimp alongside tweets from Holocaust deniers, according to a report by nonprofit watchdog group Media Matters for America.

SpaceX admits blocking Ukrainian troops from using satellite technology CNN Alex Marquardt and Kristin Fisher The president of SpaceX revealed the company has taken active steps to prevent Ukrainian forces from using the critical Starlink satellite technology with Ukrainian drones that are a key component of their fight against Russia.


How technology is disrupting the intelligence world Foreign Affairs Kate Brannen, Julia Fleming-Dresser, and Molly McAnany Last week, a Chinese surveillance balloon floating over the United States set off a political firestorm in Washington. It also offered a glimpse into the secret world of intelligence gathering, where countries are racing to harness new technologies that will help them gain a competitive edge. But these same new technologies are making spycraft, especially the collection of human intelligence, far more challenging.

Foreign Policy

Foreign Policy, with support from Schmidt Futures and the International Strategy Forum, will convene leading scientists, policymakers, and defense officials to discuss how the nuclear risks in Ukraine, recent attacks on critical infrastructure, and scenario planning can inform policy, investment plans, and partnerships to strengthen international security going forward.

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