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Press review EX - 20 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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China's influence on TikTok: US and EU try to defend democracy and national security | Multiple Chinese APTs are attacking European targets, EU cyber agency warns | FBI says it has ‘contained’ cyber incident | CSIS documents reveal Chinese strategy to influence Canada’s 2021 election

  • Beijing wants global prominence and, for this, uses all the arsenal at its disposal, including the social network TikTok. But why if Western democracies feel threatened, don't they just ban the app? At stake are freedom of expression and national security, a balance must be found. AGENDA DIGITALE

  • Several Chinese military hacking groups are targeting European businesses and organizations, the European Union’s cybersecurity agency warned this week. The EU Agency for Cybersecurity and the Computer Emergency Response Team of the European Union said government hacking groups — known as advanced persistent threats — have been seen “recently conducting malicious cyber activities against business and governments in the Union.” The Record by Recorded Future

  • The FBI has been investigating and working to contain a malicious cyber incident on part of its computer network in recent days, according to people briefed on the matter. CNN

  • China employed a sophisticated strategy to disrupt Canada’s democracy in the 2021 federal election campaign as Chinese diplomats and their proxies backed the re-election of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals – but only to another minority government – and worked to defeat Conservative politicians considered to be unfriendly to Beijing. The Globe and Mail


Beijing wants global prominence and, for this, uses all the arsenal at its disposal, including the social network TikTok. But why if Western democracies feel threatened, don't they just ban the app? At stake are freedom of expression and national security, a balance must be found.


India to record largest number of cashless transactions: Jaishankar The Statesman External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Saturday stated that in today’s global landscape, like-minded countries need to work together to de-risk the economy, rise to the challenges of the digital world and build relationships that serve as stabilisers for the economy. Speaking at the Raisina @ Sydney Business Breakfast, organised jointly by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) and India’s Observer Research Foundation (ORF) in Sydney, Jaishankar noted that transformational governance changes under way in India were showing results. A strong digital backbone was paving the way for efficient and effective delivery.


Only 11 of 36 hacks revealed to market: ASIC warns on disclosure Australian Financial Review Patrick Durkin The corporate regulator has warned it will seek record penalties for breaches of market disclosure amid new findings that listed companies are acting illegally by failing to disclose material cyber attacks.

Health data ‘most vulnerable’ to hack attack The Australian Damon Kitney Healthcare has become the most vulnerable sector to cyber hackers, with attacks on the personal health records of children carrying lifelong consequences, according to the chief executive of one of the world’s biggest cyber security software providers.

China’s solar dominance a risk for Australia’s renewable energy supply: Bowen The Sydney Morning Herald David Crowe Australia is exposed to a looming shortage of solar and other renewable technology that will threaten the nation’s transition from coal and gas, Energy Minister Chris Bowen has warned in a pledge to invest billions of dollars in local manufacturing.

Scott Morrison, in Tokyo, to warn China would start war with ‘bits and bytes’ not bullets The Sydney Morning Herald Latika Bourke Former prime minister Scott Morrison has warned that any war started by China would not begin with bullets, but with “bits and bytes”, and that Beijing would first disable military systems and civil infrastructure.


China’s tech regulator meets top bosses from Didi, Baidu, Tencent, Xiaomi, NetEase as Beijing eases crackdown South China Morning Post Coco Feng Top executives from China’s largest internet companies met officials from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, one of the nation’s major technology industry regulators, to discuss ways to push forward the “high-quality development of the internet sector”.

Why China didn’t invent ChatGPT The New York Times Li Yuan Just a few years ago, China was on track to challenge United States dominance in artificial intelligence. The balance of power was tilting in China’s direction because it had abundant data, hungry entrepreneurs, skilled scientists and supportive policies. The country led the world in patent filings related to artificial intelligence. Today, much has changed. Microsoft — an icon of American technology — helped the start-up OpenAI usher its experimental chatbot, ChatGPT, into the world. And China’s tech entrepreneurs are shocked and demoralized. It has dawned on many of them that despite the hype, China lags far behind in artificial intelligence and tech innovation.


FBI says it has ‘contained’ cyber incident on bureau’s computer network CNN Evan Perez and Sean Lyngaas The FBI has been investigating and working to contain a malicious cyber incident on part of its computer network in recent days, according to people briefed on the matter.

As U.S. Supreme Court weighs YouTube's algorithms, 'litigation minefield' looms Reuters Andrew Chung In 2021, a California state court threw out a feminist blogger's lawsuit accusing Twitter of unlawfully barring as "hateful conduct" posts criticizing transgender people. In 2022, a federal court in California tossed a lawsuit by LGBT plaintiffs accusing YouTube, part of Alphabet, of restricting content posted by gay and transgender people. These lawsuits were among many scuttled by a powerful form of immunity enshrined in U.S. law that covers internet companies. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 frees platforms from legal responsibility for content posted online by their users.

Terrorists killed their daughter. Now they’re fighting Google in the Supreme Court The Washington Post Gerrit De Vynck In 2017, the Gonzalez family and the lawyers filed their case, arguing that Google’s YouTube video site broke the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act by promoting Islamic State propaganda videos with its recommendation algorithms. Google says the case is without merit because the law protects internet companies from liability for content posted by their users. The lower courts sided with Google, but the family appealed, and last October the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

Director Wray's remarks at the 2023 Homeland Security Symposium and Expo Federal Bureau of Investigation If you take a look at the topics for the conference today, each panel discusses something the FBI is heavily involved in right now—cyber intrusions and ransomware attacks, risks posed by unmanned systems, domestic and international terrorism, and vulnerable supply chains that run through China and everywhere else. So, I appreciate the opportunity to kick off these discussions and share a little bit about how the FBI is working with critical partners like many of you in this room to combat these threats.

Wikimedia wants the Supreme Court to hear case over NSA surveillance. Here’s what’s at stake. CyberScoop Tonya Riley The Supreme Court will meet on Friday to decide whether to review a case challenging the legality of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program that hoovers up Americans’ internet traffic as it flows in and out of the U.S.

How Putin's Russian goon squad used Mexican gig workers to troll an American election Business Insider Mattathias Schwartz The real boss of Social CMS was a notorious Russian warlord, Yevgeny Prigozhin — the man who founded the Internet Research Agency, the troll farm in St. Petersburg, Russia, that propagated pro-Trump and anti-Clinton memes in an attempt to influence the US presidential election in 2016. Over the years, Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, had used his personal military operation to prop up Putin-aligned leaders across Africa. Now, with Trump once again running for president, the Russian warlord had set up shop in Mexico, in the months leading up to another US election, in an attempt to spread divisive messages and build a horde of devoted online followers.

Tech layoffs hit H1B visa workers hard The Wall Street Journal Te-Ping Chen Given the pullback in tech, laid-off foreign workers seeking new jobs are in especially bad straits, says Leena Sujan, who runs a tech-focused recruiting firm. Many tech companies she works with are telling her they are reluctant to move ahead with hires, whether candidates have H1B visas or not.

On this week’s show, The Spectator’s diary editor James Heale speaks to political editor Katy Balls and Scotland editor Alex Massie about Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation, former Pentagon official Elbridge Colby and journalist Andrew Stuttaford discuss the Chinese balloons spotted over America, assistant editor Cindy Yu and journalist Bryan Appleyard look at whether China’s tech is really up to scratch, and economics editor Kate Andrews explains why she thinks there’s a toxic cult of self-love.

ASG, MERICS, and MSC decided to review the state of play and produced an update with the support of members of the reflection group as a contribution to the 2023 Munich Security Conference — “Bridging the Gap.” In a nutshell, the 2023 report concludes that there has been further convergence in perspectives, solid progress in terms of creating a framework for structured dialogue, and a number of joint actions taken.

North Asia

Taipei fears Washington is weakening its silicon shield Foreign Policy Aidan Powers-Riggs TSMC founder Morris Chang is a revered figure in Taiwan for making the island a technological powerhouse—but he is also one of the most outspoken critics of Biden’s plan to reinvigorate the U.S. semiconductor industry. In recent months, Chang has sounded the alarm that Taiwan’s chip sector is being “hollowed out” at the expense of its security. But unable to resist lush financial incentives and diplomatic pressure from Washington, TSMC and Taiwanese authorities approved the new Arizona plant.

South & Central Asia

Work with India to lose China dependency, top diplomat says as he defends Russian links The Sydney Morning Herald Matthew Knott Australia and India will take their trade, defence and diplomatic ties to unprecedented heights this year despite profound differences over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the subcontinental superpower’s top representative in Australia says. Indian High Commissioner Manpreet Vohra called on the two nations to work together to create direct supply chains of rare earth minerals and solar panels so they are no longer dependent on China for critical technology.

Ukraine - Russia

Civilian hackers could become military targets, Red Cross warns The Record by Recorded Future Alexander Martin Civilians taking to cyberspace to participate in hostilities between Russia and Ukraine could be lawfully exposed to military actions in response, a senior official from the International Committee of the Red Cross warned on Friday.

Elon Musk, U.S. discussed Starlink in Ukraine, Blinken says Reuters Michael Martina and Richard Cowan U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Saturday that the U.S. government has had conversations with Elon Musk about the use of Starlink satellite internet in Ukraine.

Inside the Kremlin’s disinformation war against Ukraine Yahoo News Michael Weiss A document obtained by Yahoo News from a Western intelligence agency reveals how Putin’s security services rely on local journalists to launder narratives intended to undermine Ukraine’s unexpectedly robust performance on the battlefield.

On the front lines of Ukraine war: tech and social media South China Morning Post Mark Magnier Evidence that information technology, social media and open-source data would loom large in the Ukraine conflict – dubbed the “world’s first TikTok war” – emerged in advance of the first shot. Well before the February 24 attack, Washington publicised normally top-secret intelligence on Russia’s invasion plans, blunting Moscow’s hope of a surprise attack, intensifying pressure on Ukrainians to prepare and galvanising Western allies behind Kyiv.

The drone war in Ukraine is cheap, deadly, and made in China Foreign Policy Faine Greenwood When Russia launched its full-scale invasion, I knew two things for sure. First, that Ukraine was going to stun the world with what it could do with small do-it-yourself and consumer drones, a skillset that their drone hobbyists and tech experts had been tirelessly expanding ever since Russia’s earlier invasion in 2014 – efforts led by now-famous volunteer drone organizations like Aerorozvidka, whose members had become some of the world’s premier experts on building, modifying, and using small, cheap drones in warfare. Second, I knew that as an expert in both consumer and hobby drones, I was going to do my best to document what happened next.


Multiple Chinese APTs are attacking European targets, EU cyber agency warns The Record by Recorded Future Jonathan Greig Several Chinese military hacking groups are targeting European businesses and organizations, the European Union’s cybersecurity agency warned this week. The EU Agency for Cybersecurity and the Computer Emergency Response Team of the European Union said government hacking groups — known as advanced persistent threats — have been seen “recently conducting malicious cyber activities against business and governments in the Union.”

The Spanish firm that uses dubious methods to ‘erase your past’ from the internet The Guardian David Pegg Officially the company Eliminalia performs “a deep search across the internet for all information – whether it be an article, a blog, social media posts or even a mistaken identity”. It then endeavours, on behalf of its clients, to get any negative information removed. The Guardian, however, found that over several years, the company deployed unethical or deceptive methods to scrub unwanted and damaging content from the internet.

High-profile ‘Belt and Road’ plan to build Europe’s first ‘smart city’ in Bulgaria lies in tatters South China Morning Post Simon Parry Covering 1 million square metres (247 acres) – 4,000 dedicated to a Bulgarian rose garden – St Sofia was to include Europe’s biggest world-class hotel, office blocks, a multipurpose indoor coliseum, a casino, an exhibition centre able to hold 31,000 people, an artificial lake and a children’s entertainment centre based on Sega’s Joypolis theme park in Tokyo, Japan.

Tech giants from Google to TikTok face tougher EU rules Reuters Foo Yun Chee Tech giants including Facebook, Google, Twitter and TikTok face stricter online content rules in the European Union due to their huge number of users.

TikTok commits to two new data centers in Europe The Wall Street Journal Stu Woo TikTok said it planned to build two new data centers in Europe in addition to a previously announced one, as the Chinese-owned video-sharing app tries to address security concerns in Europe and the U.S.

Facebook ran ads in Moldova for oligarch sanctioned by US Associated Press David Klepper and Stephen McGrath Facebook allowed an exiled Moldovan oligarch with ties to the Kremlin to run ads calling for protests and uprisings against the pro-Western government, even though he and his political party were on U.S. sanctions lists.

NATO official: Alliance needs to consider ‘a more structural cooperation’ with Microsoft, Google The Record by Recorded Future Jonathan Greig “The work that companies like Microsoft and Google have been doing in Ukraine is really unique,” says David van Weel, NATO’s assistant secretary general for emerging security challenges, and the alliance should consider how they can cooperate during future conflicts.


Legal action launched over sham marriage screening algorithm BBC Paul Seddon The Home Office is facing a legal challenge over an algorithm it uses to identify potential sham marriages, the BBC can reveal. The system identifies couples suspected of getting married just to get round immigration controls, and refers them for investigation by officials. The legal challenge is the latest case to highlight the increasing use of data-driven methods within government for law enforcement purposes.

Beijing to Britain

Although Parliament was on recess this week, three stories floating around Westminster are worth unpacking. The first involves the so-called Chinese “spy balloons”, the second a visit to London by Erkin Tuniyaz, the governor of Xinjiang, and the third a planned intervention from the Foreign Secretary dubbed “the great clarification”.

Big Tech

I watched Elon Musk kill Twitter’s culture from the inside The Atlantic Rumman Chowdhury Everyone has an opinion about Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter. I lived it. I saw firsthand the harms that can flow from unchecked power in tech. But it’s not too late to turn things around.

Tesla workers say Twitter shadowbanned their union account: NLRB charge VICE Paul Blest Tesla workers are claiming that their new union’s Twitter account was shadowbanned, according to a National Labor Review Board charge filed on Friday.

Here's how you can keep your Twitter account secure — without paying $8 US a month CBC Twitter users were greeted early Saturday with an ultimatum from the social media app: Subscribe to the platform's new premium service or lose a popular account security feature.

Artificial Intelligence

Microsoft considers more limits for its new A.I. chatbot The New York Times Karen Weise and Cade Metz When Microsoft introduced a new version of its Bing search engine that includes the artificial intelligence of a chatbot last week, company executives knew they were climbing out on a limb. They expected that some responses from the new chatbot might not be entirely accurate, and had built in measures to protect against users who tried to push it to do strange things or unleash racist or harmful screeds. But Microsoft was not quite ready for the surprising creepiness experienced by users who tried to engage the chatbot in open-ended and probing personal conversations — even though that issue is well known in the small world of researchers who specialize in artificial intelligence.

From retail to transport: how AI is changing every corner of the economy The Guardian Joanna Partridge, Phillip Inman, Alex Lawson, Jasper Jolly, Richard Partington, Gwyn Topham, Kalyeena Makortoff and Sarah Butler The high profile race to enhance their search products has underscored the importance of artificial intelligence to Google and Microsoft – and the rest of the economy, too. Two of the world’s largest tech companies announced plans for AI-enhanced search this month, ratcheting up a tussle for supremacy in the artificial intelligence space. However, the debut of Google’s new chatbot, Bard, was scuppered when an error appeared, knocking $163bn off the parent company Alphabet’s share price. The stock’s plunge showed how crucial investors think AI could be to Google’s future.


Semiconductor industry giant says ransomware attack on supplier will cost it $250 million The Record by Recorded Future Jonathan Greig Multibillion-dollar corporation Applied Materials, which provides technology for the semiconductor industry, said during an earnings call this week that a ransomware attack on one of its suppliers would cost it $250 million in the next quarter.

Welcome to the oldest part of the metaverse MIT Technology Review John-Clark Levin Today’s headlines treat the metaverse as a hazy dream yet to be built, but if it’s defined as a network of virtual worlds we can inhabit, its oldest extant corner has been already running for 25 years. It’s a medieval fantasy kingdom created for the online role-playing game Ultima Online—and it has already endured a quarter-century of market competition, economic turmoil, and political strife. So what can this game and its players tell us about creating the virtual worlds of the future?

Events & Podcasts

FP virtual dialogue: Enhancing cyber nuclear security 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.

Policy, Guns and Money: India’s foreign policy, information warfare and Australia–Netherlands cooperation ASPI In this episode, ASPI’s Baani Grewal speaks to Ashok Malik, partner and chair of the India Practice at The Asia Group and ASPI visiting fellow. They discuss India’s foreign policy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, including its relationships with the West and with China and Russian, and developments in the Australia–India relationship, including why it’s significant that the Raisina Dialogue is coming to Sydney. ASPI’s Jake Wallis asks Janis Sarts, director of the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, how NATO and like-minded countries such as Australia are faring in combating disinformation, and whether there is a model for deterrence in the information domain.

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