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Press review EX - 16 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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Israeli hacking & disinfo team meddling in elections revealed | Ransomware gang steals data on 1 million patients | UK: Police use of Chinese camera tech criticised by surveillance watchdog | What do we know about the objects that were shot down over Canada and the U.S.?


  • A team of Israeli contractors who claim to have manipulated more than 30 elections around the world using hacking, sabotage and automated disinformation on social media has been exposed in a new investigation. The Guardian

  • A prolific ransomware operation is back with old tricks — and new victims. Community Health Systems, one of the largest healthcare providers in the United States with close to 80 hospitals in 16 states, confirmed this week that criminal hackers accessed the personal and protected health information of up to 1 million patients. TechCrunch

  • Police use of cameras made by Chinese firms should be at least as concerning a security issue as alleged Chinese spy balloons, a watchdog head has said. Forces were using kit despite acknowledging "security and ethical concerns”. BBC

  • Four objects have been shot down over Canada and the U.S. over the past two weeks. So, why all the sudden airborne sightings? And what exactly is going on? Former Pentagon official Elbridge Colby said intelligence sensors have been adjusted to detect objects they wouldn't have been able to see before, which could be why we have seen the recent discoveries. That means it's still possible we could see more news of unknown objects in our skies or being shot down BBC News - Canada



Extrema Ratio

Focus on China - UE relations

Ambassador Fu Cong, Head of the Chinese Mission to the EU, Met Dimitris Dimitriadis, President of the External Relations Section of the European Economic and Social Committee.

Chinese AI Investment and Commercial Activity in Southeast Asia

China’s government has pushed the country’s technology and financial firms to expand abroad, and Southeast Asia’s growing economies — and AI companies — offer promising opportunities. The recent report published by CSETexamines the scope and nature of Chinese investment in the region. It finds that China currently plays a limited role in Southeast Asia’s emerging AI markets outside of Singapore and that Chinese investment activity still trails behind that of the United States. Nevertheless, Chinese tech companies, with support from the Chinese government, have established a broad range of other AI-related linkages with public and commercial actors across Southeast Asia.

DIA: a newly declassified U.S. military report points to Iran's role in Ucraine

The Pentagon's intelligence analysts just published a detailed look at Iranian-made drones getting heavy use inside Ukraine.

The document, which was released early Tuesday with findings as recent as late October, includes multi-directional analysis of Shahed-136s, Shahed-131s, and Mohajer 6 Multirole UAVs.

Washington backs Manila as Philippines lodges laser protest with China

The U.S. has expressed support for the Philippines over the laser incident in the South China Sea, condemning China’s “provocative and unsafe” conduct.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday also lodged a diplomatic protest with the Chinese Embassy in Manila

SOUTHEAST ASIA’S EMERGING GEOPOLITICAL ORDER:CHINA’S STRUCTURAL INFLUENCE

Southeast Asia is of core strategic importance to both the West and China, in its geographical position at the heart of the Indo-Pacific, for its central role in the world’s supply chains, as a source of raw materials and components critical to national security, and as a large and growing market.

The rapid growth of China’s influence in Southeast Asia should be of pressing concern to Western nations; a region of core importance to the West is increasingly under the influence of a major strategic competitor.


ASPI

The Quad’s role in tech diplomacy The Strategist Guy Boekenstein Achieving the Quad’s goals will also require deepening and strengthening people-to-people links, building trusted professional networks, making policy and regulatory adjustments, and facilitating better information sharing. As a first step to developing a roadmap for cooperation, ASPI hosted the inaugural Quad Technology Business and Investment Forum in Sydney in December 2022, supported by the Australian Department of Home Affairs. The forum will become an annual Quad event and report directly to the Quad Critical and Emerging Technology Working Group.

Australia

As China’s dominance in space grows, NASA deputy urges Australia to ‘go faster’ The Sydney Morning Herald Anthony Segaert NASA’s second-most senior leader has called on Australia to increase its spending on high-tech space developments in a bid to counter China’s growing dominance in outer space.

Cyber resilience not aided by default data localisation: Kate Pounder InnovationAus Brandon How Tech Council of Australia chief executive Kate Pounder has warned that Australia should not accept growing cyber threats as the cost of doing business online, saying that greater investment in the local cybersecurity industry should be incentivised.

Australians able to opt out of targeted ads and erase their data under proposed privacy reforms The Guardian Paul Kemp Australians would gain greater control of their personal information, including the ability to opt out of targeted ads, erase their data and sue for serious breaches of privacy, under a proposal to the Albanese government. On Thursday the attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, will release a review conducted by his department into modernisation of the Privacy Act which calls to expand its remit to small businesses and add new safeguards for use of data by political parties.

China

China accuses U.S. of flying balloons over Xinjiang and Tibet The New York Times David Pierson China accused the United States on Wednesday of flying high-altitude balloons over the western Chinese regions of Xinjiang and Tibet, pointing the finger at Washington amid growing scrutiny over Beijing’s global surveillance efforts.

Chinese chip trade group opposes export controls from U.S., Netherlands, Japan Reuters Josh Horwitz The China Semiconductor Industry Association, the country's top chip industry trade group, opposes reported export controls from the United States, Japan and the Netherlands, it said on Wednesday.

Former ASML employee in China misappropriated data, company says The Wall Street Journal Kyle Morris ASML said it had experienced an unauthorized misappropriation of data relating to proprietary technology by a former employee in China, but that it believes it isn’t material to the business. The Dutch semiconductor-equipment maker said in its annual report that it launched an internal review. As a result of the incident, certain export-control regulations might have been violated, it said.ù

An Unrecognised Threat from China's Dominance in the Internet of Things

To discuss the threat, Sam and Stewart are joined by eminent China watcher and former diplomat Charlie Parton to discuss a paper he has written on this very topic.

A summary of our discussion:

  • Cellular IoT modules are small pieces, only a couple of centimetres squared, but very powerful and embedded with sensors, software, antennae, and geolocation capability. They connect to the internet, rather like your cellular phone does.

  • They pass data to and from each other, and they have the potential of passing the data back to the people that manufacture them.

  • Chinese companies like Quectel or Fibocom have an almost monopoly on their manufacture. Thus cellular IoT modules, when installed in Western devices, can send data back to China.

  • Much of this data can be very sensitive, for example spotting where a car is parked (thus potentially unmasking MI6 or CIA agents if they are parked at Vauxhall or Langley). It is likely that the component the British authorities just removed from a Ministerial car was a cellular IoT module made in China.

  • Western companies do manufacture these components, but are often restricted in their success by unfair Chinese subsidies.

  • The West needs to take this threat seriously and find a way to marginalise China’s presence in the cellular IoT market.

USA

What do we know about the objects that were shot down over Canada and the U.S.?

Four objects have been shot down over Canada and the U.S. over the past two weeks.

So, why all the sudden airborne sightings? And what exactly is going on?

Former Pentagon official Elbridge Colby said intelligence sensors have been adjusted to detect objects they wouldn't have been able to see before, which could be why we have seen the recent discoveries.

That means it's still possible we could see more news of unknown objects in our skies or being shot down.

Constitutional Hypocrisy and the Nord Stream 2 Explosion | Opinion

Last September, the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines exploded beneath the North Sea. The pipelines were designed to transport natural gas from Russia to Germany (Nord Stream 2 had not yet become operational, at the time of the explosion).

Ransomware gang uses new zero-day to steal data on 1 million patients TechCrunch Carly Page A prolific ransomware operation is back with old tricks — and new victims. Community Health Systems, one of the largest healthcare providers in the United States with close to 80 hospitals in 16 states, confirmed this week that criminal hackers accessed the personal and protected health information of up to 1 million patients.

U.S. House Judiciary subpoenas Big Tech CEOs over free speech Reuters Diane Bartz, Susan Heavey, David Shepardson and Doina Chiacu U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan on Wednesday subpoenaed the chief executives of Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Instagram parent Meta Platforms, and Microsoft for documents and communications relating to free-speech issues.

  • Pro-ISIS content at heart of Section 230 Supreme Court arguments The Hill Zach Schonfeld The Supreme Court will have its sights set on Big Tech next week when it hears arguments involving Section 230, a controversial liability shield for online platforms, in cases in which Twitter, Google and Facebook are at the center. But the dispute may have broader impacts for diplomats and international organizations.

Texas Instruments to build new $11 billion semiconductor plant in Utah The Dallas Morning News Alexandra Skores Texas Instruments will build a new $11 billion 300-millimeter semiconductor wafer fabrication plant in Lehi, Utah.

Navy eyeing Littoral Combat Ships as ‘mothership’ for unmanned platforms, SecNav tells lawmakers

The Navy is studying the potential of using Littoral Combat Ships as motherships for unmanned vessels, with the “current phase” of its study expected to wrap up in 2023, according to a letter to key lawmakers obtained by Breaking Defense. “The Navy continues to conduct fleet experimentation in pursuit of future capabilities across multiple platforms, including an ongoing study of the supporting infrastructure required to operate a future hybrid manned/unmanned fleet,” Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro wrote in a Feb. 1 letter. The memo was sent to House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., and House Appropriations defense subcommittee chairman Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif.

If the LCS can be used in such a manner, it could give new life to a ship that has has been plagued with design and production issues almost from inception.

Americas

Ottawa ends all research funding with Chinese military and state security institutions The Globe and Mail Robert Fife and Steven Chase The federal government will no longer fund research with Chinese military and state security institutions and is urging the provinces and universities to adopt similar national-security measures.

Ukraine - Russia

Who blew up Nord Stream?

The controversial Nord Stream gas pipelines connecting Russia to Germany and Europe made headlines last September when several sections mysteriously exploded deep underwater, causing the surface of the Baltic Sea to bubble.

Multiple investigations determined the explosions were an act of sabotage, but they failed to identify a culprit. Most experts in the West pointed the finger at Russia, suspecting it was an attempt to worsen the winter prospects of an already energy-starved Europe to weaken its resolve to support Ukraine.

But I never fully bought into that theory.

Ukraine war shows urgency of military AI, Palantir CEO says Reuters Toby Sterling and Stephanie van den Berg Ukraine's effective use of artificial intelligence to target Russian forces has pushed the technology onto the agenda of military and political leaders around the world, the CEO of U.S. software firm Palantir said on Wednesday.

The keyboard warriors on Ukraine’s digital front line Financial Times Gillian Tett During the past year, Grozev and his colleagues have repeatedly exposed dark events in Ukraine and Russia using a digital-sleuthing technique called open-source intelligence analysis (Osint). That prompted Vladimir Putin’s regime to put Grozev, a 53-year-old computer nerd with a keen sense of humour, on a “most-wanted” list.

Advocating for democracy during the Ukraine and Russia war: Interview with Professor Michael McFaul

Hoover Institution fellow Michael McFaul discusses his career in politics and his take on the current Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Europe

French broadcaster BFMTV suspends presenter amid disinformation scandal The Guardian Manisha Ganguly and David Conn France’s most-watched news channel, the 24-hour BFMTV, has suspended one of its longest-serving presenters and launched an internal investigation into news packages linked to an Israeli disinformation unit calling itself “Team Jorge”.

UK

Police use of Chinese camera tech criticised by surveillance watchdog BBC Paul Seddon & Chris Vallance Police use of cameras made by Chinese firms should be at least as concerning a security issue as alleged Chinese spy balloons, a watchdog head has said. Forces were using kit despite acknowledging "security and ethical concerns" about suppliers, UK Camera Commissioner Prof Fraser Sampson said.

Africa

Nigeria election triggers deluge of ‘fake news’ on social media Al Jazeera Pelumi Salako Ahead of the vote, there has been an explosion of fake news across social media platforms. Divisive content on subjects like religion and ethnicity is also littered across social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and WhatsApp.

Middle East

Revealed: the hacking and disinformation team meddling in elections The Guardian Stephanie Kirchgaessner, Manisha Ganguly, David Pegg, Carole Cadwalladr and Jason Burke A team of Israeli contractors who claim to have manipulated more than 30 elections around the world using hacking, sabotage and automated disinformation on social media has been exposed in a new investigation.

  • Political aides hacked by ‘Team Jorge’ in run-up to Kenyan election The Guardian Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Jason Burke An Israeli disinformation specialist hired to run covert dirty tricks campaigns in African elections hacked political advisers close to Kenya’s president, William Ruto, in the run-up to last year’s election, an investigation can reveal. The interference did not prevent Ruto winning the poll, nor the peaceful transfer of power in Kenya, but the revelation highlights the growing risks posed by the involvement of bad actors and paid operatives in the relatively new democratic systems and institutions across Africa.

Gender & Women in Tech

These women journalists were doing their jobs. That made them targets. The Washington Post Taylor Lorenz The voices of thousands of women journalists worldwide have been muffled and, in some cases, stolen entirely as they struggle to conduct interviews, attend public events and keep their jobs in the face of relentless online smear campaigns.

Big Tech

Combating disinformation wanes at social media giants The New York Times Steven Lee Myers and Nico Grant YouTube, like other social media platforms, spent years expanding its efforts to tackle misinformation after the 2016 election. It hired policy experts and content moderators and invested in more technology to limit the reach of false narratives. Not anymore. Last month, the company, owned by Google, quietly reduced its small team of policy experts in charge of handling misinformation, according to three people with knowledge of the decision. The cuts, part of the reduction of 12,000 employees by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, left only one person in charge of misinformation policy worldwide, one of the people said.

‘Every parent’s nightmare’: TikTok is a venue for child sexual exploitation The Wall Street Journal Tawnell D. Hobbs Adults have been starting improper relationships with minors online since the dawn of the internet. TikTok, the most downloaded social-media app in recent years, has emerged as the biggest, fastest-growing danger zone yet, according to law-enforcement officials and others who track child exploitation.

Artificial Intelligence

Lessons from the world’s two experiments in AI governance Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Matt O’Shaughnessy and Matt Sheehan Artificial intelligence is both omnipresent and conceptually slippery, making it notoriously hard to regulate. Fortunately for the rest of the world, two major experiments in the design of AI governance are currently playing out in Europe and China. The European Union is racing to pass its draft Artificial Intelligence Act, a sweeping piece of legislation intended to govern nearly all uses of AI. Meanwhile, China is rolling out a series of regulations targeting specific types of algorithms and AI capabilities. For the host of countries starting their own AI governance initiatives, learning from the successes and failures of these two initial efforts to govern AI will be crucial.

Users report Microsoft's 'unhinged' Bing AI is lying, berating them VICE Jordan Pearson Microsoft's new AI-powered chatbot for its Bing search engine is going totally off the rails, users are reporting. The tech giant partnered with OpenAI to bring its popular GPT language model to Bing in an effort to challenge Google's dominance of both search and AI. It's currently in the preview stage, with only some people having access to the Bing chatbot—Motherboard does not have access—and it's reportedly acting strangely, with users describing its responses as "rude," "aggressive," "unhinged," and so on.

Eric Schmidt is building the perfect AI war-fighting machine WIRED Will Knight Expensive military hardware like a new tank undergoes rigorous testing before heading to the battlefield. A startup called Istari, backed by Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google and chair of Alphabet, reckons some of that work can be done more effectively in the metaverse.

Misc

Binance, Huobi freeze some cryptocurrency stolen in $100 million Harmony hack The Record by Recorded Future Jonathan Greig Cryptocurrency exchanges Binance and Huobi froze accounts that contained $1.4 million worth of assets stolen from blockchain company Harmony last June. The platforms were notified about the funds by blockchain research company Elliptic, which managed to trace it through sanctioned cryptocurrency mixer Tornado Cash.

Academics say bots keep targeting their research on LGBTQ health VICE Nick Keppler Bot attacks are a growing problem for social science researchers, some of whom have noticed that they often strike studies that pertain to social inequity, minority health and other issues that right-wing reactionaries often decry as “woke”.

Turkey

'We Didn't Have the Ships,' to Send the 'Best Option' to Help Earthquake Victims, Commandant Says

The Marine Corps could not send a large crisis response unit to aid Turkey after the devastating earthquake there because there weren’t any amphibious ships in the region, the Marine Corps commandant said Wednesday, raising new concerns about the service’s ability to carry out one of its core missions.

Russia

A Quest For The Third Rome: Comprendere la radicalizzazione apocalittica di Putin

In this talk, Beatrice de Graaf lays out how, since coming to power in 2000, Vladimir Putin has relied increasingly on a toxic combination of Tsarist history and Russian Orthodoxy to two ends: for inspiration and to mobilize his followers. In the process, Putin created an apocalyptical, metaphysical scheme that has served to fuel his own radicalization and helped pave the way to the invasion of Ukraine. The talk is based on research de Graaf and Niels Drost carried out on a collection of over 11,000 speeches, statements, declarations, and interviews from 1999 to 2022.

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