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Press review EX - 24 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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Digital China: The Strategy and Its Geopolitical Implications | China sought to divide parliament in Canada's 2021 elections | The European Commission banned TikTok | Google tests blocking news content for some Canadians | ‘Nevada Group’ hackers target thousands of computer networks | Ukraine says Russian hackers backdoored govt websites in 2021

  • Over the past few years, there has been growing concern inside the United States, Europe, and in the Indo-Pacific on the strategic direction behind China’s technology policies. Beginning with the debate over 5G and Huawei, this debate has covered Artificial ntelligence (AI), quantum teachnology, and semi-conductors – a foundational technology. And despite a large number of policies in place – Made in China: 2025, Cyber Super Power, and the New Generation AI Development Plan – few in the West have known China’s overall digital grand strategy. EXTREMA RATIO

  • Despite China’s assertions that it is not supporting Russia militarily in its war with Ukraine, China should not be seen as a neutral peacebroker, Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman said on BBC World News.

  • China sought to divide parliament in Canada's 2021 elections: China attempted to usher in a divided and ineffective Canadian government by interfering in the country’s 2021 elections through covert cash payments to campaigns and by assigning Chinese students to volunteer for candidates, according to Canadian government documents.

  • Between 2020 and 2022, there were 73 instances where China applied economic pressure against 19 countries and the EU, according to a new report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

  • Google is rolling out tests that block access to news content for some Canadian users, the company confirmed on Wednesday, in what it says is a test run of a potential response to the government's online news bill. Reuters

  • A mysterious and unidentified group of hackers has sought to paralyse the computer networks of almost 5,000 victims across the US and Europe, in one of the most widespread ransomware attacks on record. Financial Times

  • The Computer Emergency Response Team of Ukraine says Russian state hackers have breached multiple government websites this week using backdoors planted as far back as December 2021. Bleeping Computer

China

G Iuvinale

Over the past few years, there has been growing concern inside the United States, Europe, and in the Indo-Pacific on the strategic direction behind China’s technology policies. Beginning with the debate over 5G and Huawei, this debate has covered Artificial Intelligence (AI), quantum teachnology, and semi-conductors – a foundational technology. And despite a large number of policies in place – Made in China: 2025, Cyber Super Power, and the New Generation AI Development Plan – few in the West have known China’s overall digital grand strategy.

In the first installment of a three-part research project by the Pacific Forum, Dr. David Dorman, Retired U.S. Government China Specialist, and Dr. John Hemmings, Senior Director of Indo-Pacific Foreign and Security Policy Program at Pacific Forum, lay out the rise of China’s overall digital grand strategy, Xi’s role in it, and how it has been organized to fulfil Party objectives. "Digital China shows us that China’s geopolitical ambitions go beyond becoming the unrivalled power in the Indo-Pacific. Under Xi, the PRC is building a domestic digital universe that, over time, will parallel its global economic, diplomatic, and military expansion. Anchored in Marxist ideology, Xi’s digital universe is expeditionary by nature. For those of us who want to remain untethered from the PRC surveillance state, Digital China is essential reading. Our digital sovereignty depends on it," said Andrew Hastie, Shadow Minister for Defence, Australia. The report tracks the rise of the strategy over the past 10 years, the acceleration of that rise during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the current state of the strategy.

Despite China’s assertions that it is not supporting Russia militarily in its war with Ukraine, China should not be seen as a neutral peacebroker, Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman said on BBC World News.


Chinese diplomats and state media focused on three main topics:

  • Russia-China relations: Chinese diplomats and state media promoted China’s top diplomat Wang Yi’s visit to Moscow, during which he reaffirmed China’s intention to “deepen its strategic partnership” with Russia. This comes on top of Chinese state media’s extensive coverage, in Europe, Africa, and Latin America, of the Russian President Vladimir Putin’s anti-Western state of the nation speech.

  • Biden in Ukraine: Chinese state media portrayed President Joe Biden’s trip and his promise to deliver more aid to Ukraine as an escalation. They also argued that he made peace talks between Kyiv and Moscow more unlikely.

  • Beijing's take on global security: Chinese messaging attacked US “hegemony” and “plunder” with extraordinary vehemence over the past week. In parallel to these attacks, Chinese diplomats around the world also promoted Beijing’s latest concept paper for a new global security architecture, which they argue demonstrates “China's sense of responsibility for safeguarding world peace”.

  • China sought to divide parliament in Canada's 2021 elections: China attempted to usher in a divided and ineffective Canadian government by interfering in the country’s 2021 elections through covert cash payments to campaigns and by assigning Chinese students to volunteer for candidates, according to Canadian government documents.Research Analyst Etienne Soula told the Dispatch,“The latest reports of Chinese interference in Canadian elections fit into a broader pattern of disregard for, and in many cases, of active disruption of, democratic processes by the Chinese state. More countries around the Atlantic, and beyond, should follow Canada’s example and investigate, and ideally publicize, Chinese efforts to deploy malign finance and other asymmetric tactics to stalemate democratic institutions.”

  • Between 2020 and 2022, there were 73 instances where China applied economic pressure against 19 countries and the EU, according to a new report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping is reportedly planning to visit Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in the coming months, following US accusations that China might supply Russia with weapons and other lethal support.

  • The European Commission banned TikTok on official staff devices and from personal devices if work apps are installed, citing security reasons.

DW

William Yang

Leaked data and a search tool have allowed some overseas Uyghurs to gain insights into their family members in China's Xinjiang region. Some say they feel a deep sense of guilt while others are filled with fear.

The Guardian

Helen Davidson

Chinese regulators have reportedly clamped down on access to ChatGPT, as Chinese tech firms and universities push forward with developing domestic artificial intelligence bots.

Australia

Victoria Police to replace all Chinese-made cameras by end of 2024 The Age Broede Carmody Victoria Police has confirmed it will replace all Chinese-made cameras by the end of next year amid a growing debate about how best to counter foreign intelligence gathering.

Video: Investing in emerging technologies is imperative to Australia’s prosperity ABC Science & Technology Australia CEO Misha Schubert says there are raft of opportunities in emerging technologies

The Strategist

John Coyne

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil launched the government’s ‘critical infrastructure risk management program’ yesterday. The minister is clearly focused on preventing a repeat of last year’s high-profile and publicly contentious hacks of Optus and Medibank. The new program’s broad, all-hazards approach to the resilience of our critical national infrastructure illustrates an enhanced security posture in response to the heightened security threats that Australia now faces.

USA

U.S. aims to create semiconductor manufacturing clusters with Chips Act funds The Wall Street Journal Yuka Hayashi The U.S. will target funds from the $53 billion Chips Act to create at least two manufacturing clusters for leading-edge semiconductors by 2030, according to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, marking the initial stages of a plan to bring more chip manufacturing back to the U.S. The aim would be to create ecosystems that would bring together fabrication plants, research-and-development labs, final packaging facilities for assembly of chips and the suppliers needed to support each phase of the operation, Ms. Raimondo said Thursday.

More vulnerabilities in industrial systems raise fresh concerns about critical infrastructure hacks CyberScoop Christian Vasquez A slew of new reports about vulnerabilities in operational technology systems are raising fresh concerns about potential weaknesses inside U.S. critical infrastructure organizations. In just the past few weeks, researchers revealed flaws that in some cases could let hackers bypass security systems or give them remote access to equipment that runs manufacturing facilities and energy companies.

A longtime DOJ cyber official gives an exclusive exit interview The Washington Post Tim Starks Adam Hickey spoke with me on Wednesday about how the department has evolved its approach to cyber issues during his time there and some of the related areas he has focused on, like scrutinizing foreign companies investing in U.S. businesses. He also talked about challenges ahead for the department.

Vanderbilt apologizes for using ChatGPT in email on Michigan shooting The Guardian Sam Levine Officials at Vanderbilt University apologized for using an AI chatbot to write a consoling email to students after a mass shooting at Michigan State University.

  • Former Ariz. attorney general hid report debunking voter fraud claims: Then-Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich kept private a March 2022 report that found claims of errors in Maricopa County’s 2020 election were unfounded, instead releasing an “interim report” the following month claiming the county’s election system was vulnerable and ignoring the annotations left by the investigators. Managing Director Rachael Dean Wilson said, “It’s important to note that former Arizona Attorney General Brnovich quickly affirmed the election results in 2020 and resisted efforts to overturn the election. That being said, this latest news further exposes the choices made by some Arizona Republicans to fuel conspiracy theories they knew to be false and withhold accurate information that could help rebuild trust in elections in the hopes of winning or keeping political power. Leadership matters, and when it lacks integrity, the long list of losers includes candidates, voters, and democracy.”

  • Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy gave Fox News host Tucker Carlson exclusive access to US Capitol security footage from the January 6 insurrection, despite Carlson’s record of spreading conspiracies about the riot.

Americas

Google tests blocking news content for some Canadians Reuters Rhea Binov Google is rolling out tests that block access to news content for some Canadian users, the company confirmed on Wednesday, in what it says is a test run of a potential response to the government's online news bill.

Canadian privacy regulators launch joint investigation into TikTok Reuters Canada is launching a joint federal and provincial investigation into short-video app TikTok over concerns about the Chinese-owned platform's collection, use and disclosure of personal information, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada said on Thursday.

  • China sought to divide parliament in Canada's 2021 elections: China attempted to usher in a divided and ineffective Canadian government by interfering in the country’s 2021 elections through covert cash payments to campaigns and by assigning Chinese students to volunteer for candidates, according to Canadian government documents. Research Analyst Etienne Soula told the Dispatch, “The latest reports of Chinese interference in Canadian elections fit into a broader pattern of disregard for, and in many cases, of active disruption of, democratic processes by the Chinese state. More countries around the Atlantic, and beyond, should follow Canada’s example and investigate, and ideally publicize, Chinese efforts to deploy malign finance and other asymmetric tactics to stalemate democratic institutions.”

  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador signed a law that curtails the powers and budget of the country’s independent election watchdog, which has been seen as a vital player in the country’s democratic development.

RFA

A Chinese ship confiscated the catch of a Vietnamese fishing boat anchored in the waters off the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea on Feb. 19, the state-sponsored Tuoi Tre Newspaper reported.

The incident is one of several recent cases of Chinese ships intimidating Vietnamese fishing boats around the islands, which are claimed by Vietnam, China and Taiwan, the paper said.

North Asia

China is practicing how to sever Taiwan’s internet Foreign Policy Elisabeth Braw As the United States was watching the skies in the aftermath of the spy balloon incident, China may have been acting at sea. In early February, maritime vessels disabled the two undersea cables connecting Taiwan’s Matsu Islands, a tiny archipelago just 10 nautical miles off China’s coast, to the internet. Now residents of the islands face highly reduced internet connectivity until the cables are repaired. The activity looks like targeted harassment by Beijing—or an exercise in preparation for cutting off the whole of Taiwan.

Taiwan cuts 2023 GDP forecast with global electronics demand showing ‘no signs’ of recovery South China Morning Post Ralph Jennings Taiwan, which ships PCs and smartphones to much of the world, has lowered its 2023 economic growth forecast amid predictions that consumers will buy fewer electronic goods this year.

Ukraine - Russia

The Ukraine mess is daily looking more like the Spanish Civil War of 1936 to 1939, a meat grinder that took 500,000 lives. That three-year conflict became a savage proxy war and prelude for the belligerents of World War II.

The Ukraine battlefield is proving a similar laboratory of death. New lethal weaponry and tactics are introduced, modified—and always improved—from drones to guided missiles to internet-fed artillery.

Likewise, a similar pre-global war lineup of the eventual adversaries is emerging in preview of a much larger, much scarier war to come.

The first mission of Ukraine, the aggrieved victim of a peremptory Russian attack, was simple survival.

But now that it has been armed to the teeth and its soldiers proved far more capable and heroic than Putin’s once-feared Russia, Kyiv now seeks to push back Russians to their 2014 Ukrainian acquired borders.

Ukraine says Russian hackers backdoored govt websites in 2021 Bleeping Computer Sergiu Gatlan The Computer Emergency Response Team of Ukraine says Russian state hackers have breached multiple government websites this week using backdoors planted as far back as December 2021.

Russian covert influence operations have become ‘low-quality,’ says Meta The Record by Recorded Future Alexander Martin Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Russia’s covert influence operations on Facebook and Instagram have shied away from building convincing brands or personas, Meta announced on Thursday.

Russian diplomats and state media focused on three main narratives:

  • Putin's speech: Russian state media and diplomats tweeted "Putin" more than 1,000 times on the day of the state of the nation speech, drawing in more than 26,000 retweets and 71,000 likes as they amplified President Vladimir Putin’s attacks on Ukraine and the West.

  • Biden in Ukraine: Russian propagandists framed President Biden’s trip to Kyiv as a provocation, a failed public relations stunt, and proof that Biden cared more about Ukrainians than Americans. State media and diplomats retweeted Republicans who criticized Biden for going to Ukraine while East Palestine, Ohio, deals with the fallout of a chemical spill.

  • Russia-China relations: After Russian and China’s top diplomats met, Kremlin-affiliated accounts touted the “rock solid ties” between the two countries as they seek to usher in a “more just” world order. Moscow-funded outlets showcased Beijing’s accusation that the West was “fueling the fire” in Ukraine, and they highlighted Moscow’s support for China’s approach to major issues, including around Taiwan and Xinjiang.

Pro-Russia accounts increase engagement using Twitter's paid verification: Accounts spreading pro-Russian disinformation, including one retweeted by Elon Musk, have appeared more prominently on the site after purchasing blue check-mark verification under Twitter’s new paid verification system, according to the research group Reset. Research Analyst Joseph Bodnar said,“Twitter’s verification-via-credit card scheme is low hanging fruit for bad actors who want the prestige of a check mark and the extra reach that comes with it. For the low price of $8 a month, users can push disinformation with an account that appears as legitimate as a New York Times reporter’s account. Reset highlighted a small group of pro-Russian accounts taking advantage of this feature. But the abuse is almost certainly more widespread. And it’s unlikely that the Kremlin’s allies are the only ones exploiting the system.”

The Spectator

General Valeriy Zaluzhny, stocky, forceful, apple-cheeked, sits at the desk in Kyiv from which he commands all Ukraine’s armed forces. I ask him what they need from the West. First, air defence. With a twinkle in his eye, he unzips his khaki fleece to reveal a garish T-shirt demanding ‘F-16s!’ Next on his list are long-range missiles such as the American ATACMS and the Franco-British Storm Shadow, so they can hit Russian targets beyond the range of their current armoury. Now the General jumps up, disappears behind a glass-fronted office cupboard into an improvised sleeping area, and returns with another T-shirt, this time calling for missiles. It seems he has a T-shirt for every weapon system.

Just Security

How to bring the Ukrainian war to an end? That should be the immediate priority. After one year, thousands of civilians and soldiers have been killed, 14 million Ukrainians have been displaced, more than Berlin, Paris, and Rome’s population combined, the world economy is suffering and WWIII became a possibility. The current strategy to stop Russia’s aggression is a military escalation that involves the risk of the use of nuclear weapons.

Russia’s intervention in Ukraine is the most serious violation of the UN Charter, but the UN Security Council, in charge of peace and international security, is unable to end a conflict that includes its permanent members. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has no jurisdiction to prosecute President Putin for aggression crime. It is a failure by design.

India

Pacific Forum

Dr. Shristi Pukhrem

The 19th Summit of ASEAN and India on Nov. 12, 2022 in Phnom Penh, commemorating the 30th anniversary of their dialogue relations and celebrating the ASEAN-India Friendship Year, elevated the India-ASEAN strategic relationship. Both sides reviewed their strategic partnership, endorsed by the 12th Commemorative Summit in New Delhi in 2012. They declared establishment of the ASEAN-India Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP), and the goals of making it a meaningful, substantive, and mutually beneficial arrangement.

Europe

European Commission bans TikTok from corporate devices Euractiv Luca Bertuzzi The EU executive’s IT service has asked all Commission employees to uninstall TikTok from their corporate devices, as well as the personal devices using corporate apps, citing data protection concerns.

UK

UK military intelligence team wins Western Europe’s ‘largest cyber warfare exercise’ held in Estonia The Record by Recorded Future Alexander Martin A team from British military intelligence placed first at a cyber warfare exercise described as “Western Europe’s largest” hosted at the CR14 cyber range in Estonia, the Ministry of Defence announced this week.

Africa

How Ghana and Gambia are planning to bolster their digital economies Quartz Faustine Ngila As legacy economies continue to fall out of favor the world over, Ghana and Gambia are ramping up efforts to build tech-based economies. Now, they have joined Nigeria, Rwanda, Morocco, and Djibouti as members of the Digital Cooperation Organization that aims to link Africa and Gulf countries in the realization of a common digital economy agenda.

Middle East

Tech leaders in Israel wonder if it’s time to leave The New York Times David Segal A right-wing government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, recently announced plans for a sweeping overhaul to the country’s judiciary that many believe will end its 75-year run as an independent institution. The proposed changes would severely curtail the court’s capacity to strike down laws passed by the Knesset, the country’s Parliament, and give the ruling coalition far greater say in who sits on the bench. “It’s all about risk management and the risk is to the brand that is Israel,” said Assaf Rappaport, the chief executive and co-founder of Wiz, a cloud security company worth $6 billion. “It took a lot of time to build this brand, and today every company in the world can trust Israel as a partner in their cyberdefense. These reforms will put all that in question.”

Big Tech

Popular IBM file transfer tool vulnerable to cyberattacks, CISA says The Record by Recorded Future Jonathan Greig The IBM Aspera Faspex file transfer tool used by dozens of large organizations and businesses has a serious bug that malicious hackers are actively exploiting, according to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

Mercedes-Benz cars to have 'supercomputers', unveils Google partnership Reuters Victoria Waldersee and Joseph White Mercedes-Benz said on Wednesday it has teamed up with Google on navigation and will offer "super computer-like performance" in every car with automated driving sensors as it seeks to compete with Tesla and Chinese newcomers.

Meta’s adversarial threat report, fourth quarter 2022 Meta Ben Nimmo and Nathaniel Gleiche As part of our quarterly integrity reporting, we’re sharing a number of updates on our work to protect public debate and people’s ability to connect around the world.

Facebook wants to start charging you $12 for all the wrong reasons The Washington Post Geoffrey A. Fowler Meta is testing a paid account “verification” service. That will come with a blue check mark after they’ve checked your ID and something desperately needed by everyone on Facebook: access to real-human customer service to deal with rampant account lockouts and hacker takeovers. They see your vulnerability as a business opportunity.

Elon Musk’s Twitter goes dark on government data grabs Rolling Stone Adam Rawnsley Musk has railed against what he sees as U.S. government attempts to “censor” the social media company. Musk has also promised, over and over again, to build a more transparent Twitter — one that makes it clear when a government agency requests a user’s data, or asks to take an account offline. “Transparency is the key to trust,” he tweeted around the same time. For a decade, Twitter published rundowns twice a year of all of those government requests. But under Musk, that appears to have ended.

Artificial Intelligence

Almost 40% of domestic tasks could be done by robots ‘within decade’ The Guardian Alexandra Topping A revolution in artificial intelligence could slash the amount of time people spend on household chores and caring, with robots able to perform about 39% of domestic tasks within a decade, according to experts.

As chatbots boom, Nvidia sales outlook beats Wall Street expectations Reuters Chavi Mehta, Stephen Nellis and Jane Lanhee Lee Chip designer Nvidia forecast first-quarter revenue above Wall Street estimates on Wednesday as its CEO said use of its chips to power artificial intelligence services like chatbots had "gone through the roof in the last 60 days."

Section 230 won’t protect ChatGPT Lawfare Matt Perault The emergence of products fueled by generative artificial intelligence such as ChatGPT will usher in a new era in the platform liability wars. Previous waves of new communication technologies—from websites and chat rooms to social media apps and video sharing services—have been shielded from legal liability for content posted on their platforms, enabling these digital services to rise to prominence. But with products like ChatGPT, critics of that legal framework are likely to get what they have long wished for: a regulatory model that makes tech platforms responsible for online content.

Microsoft has been secretly testing its Bing chatbot ‘Sydney’ for years The Verge Tom Warren Microsoft’s new Bing chatbot AI often refers to itself as Sydney because what you see today in Microsoft’s search engine is the result of years of work to make Bing chatbots a reality. Microsoft first started publicly testing its Sydney chatbot inside Bing in a small number of countries throughout 2021. The testing went largely unnoticed, even after Microsoft made a big bet on bots in 2016. In fact, the origins of the “new Bing” might surprise you.

How I broke into a bank account with an AI-generated voice VICE Joseph Cox On Wednesday, I phoned my bank’s automated service line. To start, the bank asked me to say in my own words why I was calling. Rather than speak out loud, I clicked a file on my nearby laptop to play a sound clip: “check my balance,” my voice said. But this wasn't actually my voice. It was a synthetic clone I had made using readily available artificial intelligence technology.

When the movies pictured A.I., they imagined the wrong disaster The New York Times A.O. Scott In the real world, the bots aren’t our overlords so much as the enablers of our boredom. Our shared future — our singularity — is an endless scroll, just for the lulz.

Misc

Internal chaos plagues Bannon-fronted $FJB cryptocurrency, critics say ABC News Soo Rin Kim and Laura Romero When former Trump White House strategist Steve Bannon and Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn took control of a MAGA-branded cryptocurrency in December 2021, the venture seemed poised for success. A white-hot crypto market had set the stage for high returns. And in an industry that relies on promotion and marketing savvy, the two high-profile Trump associates quickly leveraged their enormous megaphones to attract throngs of buyers.

Research

Examining the activities of Russian state-controlled media on Facebook and Instagram one year after the invasion of Ukraine Graphika Avneesh Chandra & Rodrigo Ferreira On Feb. 24, 2022, Russia illegally invaded Ukraine. The invasion started the largest military conflict in Europe since World War II and prompted social media platforms to take unprecedented actions to curtail the reach of Russian state-controlled media entities. One year on from the invasion, Graphika worked with industry partners at Meta to better understand how those actions have impacted the activities of Russian state media outlets on Facebook and Instagram.

Chinese AI investment and commercial activity in Southeast Asia Center for Security and Emerging Technology Ngor Luong, Channing Lee and Margarita Konaev 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. This report examines the scope and nature of Chinese investment in the region.

National Security Archive



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