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Press review EX - 15 February

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


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Chinese cameras found in 88 MP offices | Australia foils Iran surveillance plot, vows to bring foreign interference ‘into the light' | The toll that Twitter's glitches are taking on Chinese activists


  • Eighty-eight Chinese-made surveillance cameras have been found in the offices of federal parliamentarians, with the Department of Finance racing to remove them. The government has confirmed 122 Hikvision or Dahua devices – mainly surveillance cameras and intercoms – have been installed in 88 federal electorate offices, where members of the public come to meet their elected representatives. The Australian

  • Australian security agencies have disrupted a foreign interference plot by Iran that was targeting an Iranian-Australian on Australian soil, the government has said. The plot allegedly included individuals monitoring the home of a critic of the Iranian regime and extensively researching the person and their family. The Guardian

  • What the Chinese activists encountered on Twitter is representative of issues that have plagued the social media service since Elon Musk took over the company in October. As Mr. Musk has slashed Twitter’s work force to about 2,200 employees from 7,500, fewer people have been available to oversee the company’s spam filters, handle user queries about accounts and fix other issues, six people with knowledge of the service said. The New York Times


Australia

Chinese cameras found in 88 MP offices The Australian Ellen Whinnett Eighty-eight Chinese-made surveillance cameras have been found in the offices of federal parliamentarians, with the Department of Finance racing to remove them. The government has confirmed 122 Hikvision or Dahua devices – mainly surveillance cameras and intercoms – have been installed in 88 federal electorate offices, where members of the public come to meet their elected representatives.

Australia foils Iran surveillance plot and vows to bring foreign interference ‘into the light’ The Guardian Daniel Hurst Australian security agencies have disrupted a foreign interference plot by Iran that was targeting an Iranian-Australian on Australian soil, the government has said. The plot allegedly included individuals monitoring the home of a critic of the Iranian regime and extensively researching the person and their family. The home affairs minister, Clare O’Neil, revealed the incident in a speech to the Australian National University on Tuesday while also describing foreign interference as “one of the core threats our democracy faces”.

Singapore tech firms offered acceleration scheme to expand in Australia ZDNet Eileen Yu Enterprise Singapore and Haymarket HQ team up for a six-month acceleration scheme that aims to help Singapore startups expand into Australia, covering sectors such as Web3, fintech, and deep tech. "We see Australia as a fast-moving, growing market that Singaporean businesses should keep their eyes on," said Joseph Zhang, Enterprise Singapore's director of Northeast Asia and Oceania.

China

The toll that Twitter's glitches are taking on Chinese activists The New York Times Chang Che and Paul Mozur What the Chinese activists encountered on Twitter is representative of issues that have plagued the social media service since Elon Musk took over the company in October. As Mr. Musk has slashed Twitter’s work force to about 2,200 employees from 7,500, fewer people have been available to oversee the company’s spam filters, handle user queries about accounts and fix other issues, six people with knowledge of the service said.

Chinese cyber spies “compromising” diplomatic targets in South America, warns Microsoft Cybernews Justinas Vainilavičius A China-based cyber threat actor tracked as DEV-0147 was observed spying on South American diplomatic targets by Microsoft Security Intelligence in a “notable” expansion of the group’s operations from Asia and Europe. DEV-0147’s attacks in South America included “post-exploitation activity involving the abuse of on-premises identity infrastructure for recon and lateral movement,” Microsoft’s security experts said in a Twitter thread, as well as “the use of Cobalt Strike for command and control and data exfiltration.”

Chinese mobile masts loom over the Munich Security Conference POLITICO Louis Westendarp, Antoaneta Roussi and Laurens Cerulus The question of whether to allow Chinese 5G suppliers into Western countries in past years became a bone of contention between Berlin on the one hand and Washington and like-minded partners on the other. This week’s gathering also comes as the U.S. continues to call out Germany’s economic reliance on Beijing, with a new report showing the German trade deficit with China exploded in 2022, and amid sky-high tensions between Washington and Beijing.

The National Interest

Casey Babb

Ensuring that his messaging, aura, and image are preserved abroad is equally important for Xi—a priority that has been reflected in the country’s use of cyberspace for years. In fact, Xi considers both internal and external threats as intertwined mutually reinforcing vulnerabilities. For starters, to combat and quell foreign threats, Xi has an entire army of cyber propagandists at his disposal who work around the clock to shape and influence public opinion abroad on social media sites.

USA

Ransomware attacks surge against US manufacturing plants CyberScoop Christian Vasquez The manufacturing industry suffered at least 437 ransomware attacks in 2022, making up more than 70% of these types of costly and disruptive assaults that industrial companies faced last year, according to the cybersecurity firm Dragos. The number of attacks against manufacturing plants also jumped about 107% compared with the 211 recorded against the sector in 2021. Overall, the firm recorded a total of 605 ransomware attacks affecting the industrial sector last year, a 92% increase over the 315 attacks the firm detected in 2021.

Why the US needs the Bureau of Cyber Statistics right now CyberScoop Jim Richberg In March 2020, the congressionally mandated Cyberspace Solarium Commission recommended — among other things — that the federal government set up an agency to track and store details about cyber incidents partly as a way to close the gap in comprehensive and actionable data related to information security. The proposed Bureau of Cyber Statistics would serve as a repository of data on cybersecurity incidents that would help both public and private sector organizations inform their risk-based decision-making and cyber strategy planning.

Walmart to close three U.S. tech hubs, relocate staff Siddharth Cavale and Granth Vanaik Walmart will close three of its U.S. technology hubs, asking hundreds of workers to relocate to keep their jobs, a company spokesperson told Reuters on Monday. Nearly all technology employees across the company would be expected to work in their offices for at least two days a week, added Robert Munroe, Walmart's director of global communications.

US Space Force crafting new schedule for GPS ground system C4ISRNET Courtney Albon An already delayed U.S. Space Force effort to develop a modern, cybersecure GPS ground system is facing new schedule setbacks. The service is re-evaluating the delivery schedule for the Next-Generation Operational Control Segment, an upgraded version of the ground system used to operate GPS satellites. The program, dubbed OCX, was most recently planned for delivery this April, but a spokeswoman for Space Systems Command told C4ISRNET this week that timeline is now in question.

North Asia

North Korea's Lazarus group rebrands crypto mixer Blender to Sinbad, says Elliptic TechCircle Sohini Bagchi Hackers affiliated with North Korean government, who are sometimes referred to as the Lazarus Group, are using a new tool to launder stolen virtual currency, according to crypto-tracing firm Elliptic Enterprises. The new laundering tool 'Sinbad', is likely to be a related successor to another crypto mixer called 'Blender', which was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department in May 2022, said the blockchain analytics firm, which believes that the sanctioned “coin mixer” used by criminals to launder money appears to have been relaunched under a different name.

S. Korea, NATO carve out path to step up military cooperation The Korea Herald Ji Da-gyum South Korea and NATO held their first military staff-to-staff talks in Seoul to pave the way to strengthen military exchanges and cooperation, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said Tuesday. Park pointed out that South Korea’s steps to bolster military cooperation with the NATO alliance by themselves will bolster its deterrence against North Korea. Cooperation in the fields of cyber and space security will also strengthen South Korea’s deterrence and readiness posture against escalating cyber and missile threats from North Korea.

Southeast Asia

Myanmar's nuclear ambitions could see it becoming a new North Korea Crikey Michael Sainsbury After a string of meetings and agreements with Russia, the military junta of violence-torn Myanmar announced last week it has established a “nuclear technology and information centre” in the country’s commercial capital, Yangon. [Myanmar’s dire power shortage] preceded the military’s coup d’etat in February 2021, but has since resulted in serial power cuts across the country, further angering citizens already suffering under the regime.

Activists suing govt over Pegasus spyware Bangkok Post Rina Chandran Activists in Thailand are suing the government for using spyware technology to monitor dissidents, the first such case in the country that they hope will help raise awareness and better protect citizens.

South & Central Asia

India’s government wants total control of the internet WIRED Varsha Bansal Over the next few months, the Indian government will release a draft of the Digital India Act. Although the content hasn’t yet been revealed, news reports say it will attempt to regulate the entire digital world—from social media to the metaverse and OTT platforms like Netflix and Amazon—and include provisions on misinformation and online safety for women and children.

What the US tech layoffs mean for India The Diplomat Jagriti Gangopadhyay and Srijan Sengupta Thousands of Indian IT professionals were hit by the layoffs. That could entice more Indian tech workers to stay in their homeland to work. Although working in the United States once seemed more attractive for overall career prospects, thanks to the recent layoffs, tens of thousands of Indian nationals face an uncertain future. These layoffs will also have a direct impact on future generations of Indians who aspire to go abroad for better job opportunities.

India and the US to partner for future technologies EIU On January 31st India and the US announced partnerships in the fields of space, defence, semiconductors and next-generation technologies. The bilateral agreement is another example of the US strengthening relations with allies in strategic areas while isolating China. India will benefit from initiatives on combined research, development and potential lowering of barriers on US tech exports for supercomputers.

Ukraine - Russia

Russian-linked malware was close to putting U.S. electric, gas facilities ‘offline’ last year POLITICO Maggie Miller Hackers linked to Russia got very close to being able to take a dozen U.S. electric and gas facilities offline in the first weeks of the war in Ukraine, the head of a top cybersecurity company warned Tuesday. “This is the closest we’ve ever been to having U.S. or European infrastructure, I’d say U.S. infrastructure, go offline" Robert M. Lee, the founder and CEO of Dragos, told reporters in a briefing. “It wasn’t employed on one of its targets, they weren’t ready to pull the trigger, they were getting very close.”

U.S. spies partnered with American tech companies to fight Russian cyberattackers in Ukraine The Washington Times Ryan Lovelace The U.S. intelligence community relied on American technology companies to battle Russian cyberattackers targeting Ukraine to prevent a catastrophic cyber war capable of spreading across the Atlantic. Details are still emerging about what the U.S. government described as a “power collaboration” teaming private companies, including Microsoft, with the National Security Agency against Russian cyberattackers.

Europe

EU countries told to step up defence against state hackers Reuters European Union countries must step up their defences against cyber attacks on their financial infrastructure as the war in Ukraine raises the risk of hacks by foreign powers, the bloc's systemic risk watchdog said on Tuesday.

The US Secret Service opens a regional cyber training programme in Tallinn Estonian World The United States Secret Service, in partnership with the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences and Baltic regional law enforcement authorities, has opened a new cyber training programme in Tallinn on 13 February. The programme will bring together law enforcement officers from around the Baltic region to develop new techniques to investigate and prosecute cyber criminals.

EU member states back new fund to give high-tech firms a boost Silicon Republic Leigh Mc Gowran The European Tech Champions Initiative aims to give at least €10bn to high-tech scale-ups in the late-stage of growth, to create more jobs and boost European growth. The European Investment Bank said Europe’s tech start-ups often lack access to the capital needed to compete on a global scale, forcing them to relocate overseas. The organisation hopes to boost European growth and create more high-skilled jobs by plugging this funding gap to retain more start-ups.

Africa

South Africa on the cusp of an R18 billion energy boom BusinessTech South Africa may be poised to be a global hotspot for both the mobile and stationary battery storage markets, reports the World Bank Group. According to its latest flagship report assessing the South African battery market and value chain, the country is on the cusp of a change in terms of demand for batteries. The battery market and value chain could lead to the generation of thousands of jobs in the country and a market revenue estimate of $1 billion (R18 billion) by 2030.

Food tech start-up unveils digital platform to bring ‘transparency, efficiency, and sustainability to the African food supply chain’ Food Navigator Oliver Morrison With its tech-enabled B2B platform and logistics infrastructure, Morocco-based company Terraa is hoping to revolutionise the African food supply chain and provide safe and affordable food to hundreds of millions of people.

Middle East

Iran doubles number of cyberattacks on Israel as tensions rise in the Middle East TechMonitor Claudia Glover The number of cyberattacks by Iran on targets in Israel has doubled in the past year, the director general of the Israeli Nation Cyber Directorate (INCD) has told Tech Monitor. Gaby Portnoy says other countries in the region have also been feeling the effects of attacks from Iranian cybercriminals and called for greater data sharing between governments.

Gender & Women in Tech

Will the government’s latest women in STEM initiative pay off? TechMonitor Sophia Waterfield The UK government has launched another initiative to help people re-enter the workforce and tackle the barriers facing women trying to get into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers. The Minister for Women and Equalities, Kemi Badenoch, announced that the scheme would be backed by £150,000 of government funding. It will be run by Women Returners and STEM Returners, targeting women who have taken lengthy career breaks with training to help ensure their skills are up-to-date.

Big Tech

Apple’s manufacturing shift to India hits stumbling blocks Financial Times Patrick McGee and John Reed Apple is hitting stumbling blocks in its effort to increase production in India, as the US tech giant faces pressure to cut its manufacturing reliance on China. The iPhone maker has been sending product designers and engineers from California and China to factories in southern India, to train locals and help establish production, according to four people familiar with the operations.

Twitter is just showing everyone all of Elon Musk’s tweets now The Verge Emma Roth Several of us here at The Verge are seeing more Musk replies than usual, and I personally counted five at the very top of my feed, with many more sprinkled in between tweets from other users. The same is true for some accounts that don’t even follow Musk. In an apparent acknowledgment early Tuesday morning, Musk tweeted, “Please stay tuned while we make adjustments to the uh .… ‘algorithm.’”

Misc

An EMP or solar incident could result in blackout warfare U.S. Naval Institute Gunnery Sergeant Joshua E. Owen, U.S. Marine Corps A coordinated physical attack on multiple targets and facilities from a state or nonstate actor must be considered an imminent threat. An attack on an unprotected civilian grid could result in a long-term blackout event. Since 99 percent of the military depends on the civilian electric grid and food and water infrastructure, the military could be severely crippled.

More Russian hackers hit with sanctions as TrickBot ransomware gang members make the list CPO Magazine Scott Ikeda Some recent studies have found that sanctions on Russian hackers are having a notable effect on both ransomware payments and attempts. This theory will undergo some more testing out as seven members of the TrickBot ransomware gang have now received the honor from the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control. The U.K.’s Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office is also participating, in a first for the country.


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