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Press review EX - 27 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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More European leaders visit China to seek "common ground" on the Ukraine crisis and to talk trade deals | Australia: Anthony Albanese to set up agency to fight cyber attacks | Taiwan says 'Fab 4' chip group held first senior officials meeting | Pentagon investigating two-week email server leak


  • The European pilgrimage to China begins. More European leaders visit China to seek "common ground" on the Ukraine crisis and to talk trade deals EXTREMA RATIO.

  • Anthony Albanese will set up a new agency to lead Australia’s fight against mass cyber attacks by state-sponsored hackers and criminal gangs, under a seven-year strategy to strengthen defences and end blame-shifting inside government and across the ­private sector. The Australian

  • The U.S.-led "Fab 4" semiconductor alliance of Taiwan, the United States, Japan and South Korea held its first video meeting of senior officials last week focused on supply chain resilience, Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said on Saturday. Reuters

  • The Defense Department’s U.S. Special Operations Command has confirmed that it is investigating how one of its servers leaked sensitive data for two weeks. The investigation was prompted after an independent security researcher found the open server last weekend and notified TechCrunch, a tech news organization, which alerted the agency. The Hill

Europe

Extrema Ratio

More European leaders are planning to visit China in the coming week or months, focusing on resuming high-level talks and seeking practical cooperation amid the country's post-pandemic recovery on the Ukraine crisis. At the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko will pay a state visit to China from February 28 to March 2, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying announced on Saturday. Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Saturday he would visit China in early April and called on Beijing to "help us pressure Russia" to end the war in Ukraine, AFP said. Macron is convinced that he can exert a positive influence on Xi Jinping, however the past mistakes made with Putin must be remembered.

Extrema Ratio

Wang Yi made his first European tour after being promoted to the Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs. Wang gave a full account of his trip to the media.

EU asks who should fund future networks, as telcos eye Australia-style Big Tech bargaining code TechCrunch Natasha Lomas The European Union has kicked off a consultation on how to fund the “massive” upgrades to Internet connectivity which regional lawmakers believe are needed for the bloc to make the most of transformative technologies like AI or immersive virtual worlds while delivering on the big bang, cross-industry digitization it also wants to characterize the next decade — to both push the envelope on green goals and secure the region’s economic fortunes into the future.

Australia

Anthony Albanese to set up agency to fight cyber attacks The Australian Geoff Chambers Anthony Albanese will set up a new agency to lead Australia’s fight against mass cyber attacks by state-sponsored hackers and criminal gangs, under a seven-year strategy to strengthen defences and end blame-shifting inside government and across the ­private sector.

Queensland human rights commissioner says police must watch for vigilante activity The Guardian Ben Smee The Queensland human rights commissioner, Scott McDougall, says police must closely monitor vigilante activity, amid concern about the role of anti-crime Facebook groups where residents have threatened children or called for violent responses to youth crime.

Space consultant’s visa cancelled over ‘potential security threat’ The Sydney Morning Herald Nick McKenzie A consultant working in the Australian space industry who boasted of close ties to the Russian government and who spent months cultivating Australian government and business contacts has been declared a potential national security threat by the nation’s spy chief.

Albanese: Keep critical minerals in Australia, make our own batteries The Sydney Morning Herald David Crowe Australia should keep more of its critical minerals inside the country despite requests from China to invest in new mines, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has declared in a pledge to spur local industries to make batteries and other renewable technologies.

How your phone and mood will be tracked at Mardi Gras The Sydney Morning Herald Ben Grubb Several CCTV cameras with sophisticated data analytics software that monitors crowd mood and density will be temporarily installed along Sydney’s Oxford Street as part of the Mardi Gras Parade on Saturday.

China

Prairie Fire Magazine

The Twelve Points are good politics in China and the developing world. The peace ploy is a propaganda weapon, and a good one. And they leveraged western media to spread it. Of course China doesn’t expect anyone serious to take the Twelve Point Plan seriously, in terms of actually bringing peace. It is excellent information (disinformation) warfare from China’s point of view. The twelve points play well to the Chinese audience, around the world, and they vote in your country’s elections too. People in the west tired of war may be fooled, but it’s people in the developing world most likely to be taken in by it, especially if China has a leading role in their media and they have an existing antipathy to the west.

So what does widespread media exposure of each of these points set out to achieve for China?

Star banker in China who vanished is said to be aiding government inquiry The New York Times David McCabe China Renaissance Holdings said Sunday that its chief executive, Bao Fan, a prominent investment banker in China, was cooperating with a government investigation, weeks after the company had announced it was unable to contact him.

China to train 5,000 security personnel from developing countries over next 5 years South China Morning Post Amber Wang China plans to train 5,000 security personnel from developing countries over the next five years in a move that is expected to boost Beijing’s global security influence.

China asks smaller firms to declare data transfers abroad Reuters Brenda Goh and Josh Ye China on Friday moved to further strengthen its oversight of data, issuing a contract that smaller firms will be required to sign should they want to send user information abroad.

Ex-ASML employee accused of data theft is being probed for ties to China Bloomberg Jordan Robertson, Cagan Koc and Chris Strohm Investigators are looking at potential ties between the Chinese government and an ex-employee accused of stealing data from ASML — a company critical to producing the world’s most advanced computer chips.

  • Biden does not anticipate China giving Russia major weapons aid. Bloomberg

  • Belarus President Lukashenko to visit China this week. Al Jazeera

  • Lab leak most likely origin of Covid-19 pandemic - US Energy Department. The US Energy Department has concluded that the Covid pandemic most likely arose from a laboratory leak, according to a classified intelligence report recently provided to the White House and key members of Congress. The Energy Department’s conclusion is significant because the agency has considerable scientific expertise and oversees a network of US national laboratories. WSJ, 26 February

  • Chinese CCTV cameras being used at British Army bases. A Mail on Sunday investigation discovered CCTV cameras from equipment providers such as Hikvision and Dahua are being used at Army bases over a year since they should have been replaced, it has emerged. Tobias Ellwood MP called for a Cabinet-led inquiry, but said that the process should not stop the MoD acting now “to ensure their systems are not relying on Chinese surveillance technology”. The Mail on Sunday, 26 February

  • China pushes for resurrection of EU investment deal. Beijing has proposed it and the EU simultaneously scrap sanctions that derailed the proposed Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) in 2021 in its latest effort to improve ties with the Brussels-based bloc. Emmanuel Macron is to visit China in April in an attempt to convince Beijing to put pressure on Vladimir Putin to end the war in Ukraine. Nikkei Asia, 25 February

  • TikTok under investigation by Canadian privacy authorities. Canadian privacy protection regulators have launched an investigation into TikTok over its collection of users' data. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is resisting calls to ban government officials from using TikTok amid renewed concerns from some MPs. BBC, 25 February

  • China approved most coal power plants since 2015 last year, research shows. China embarked on a massive expansion of its coal-fired power capacityin response to last summer’s historic power crisis, approving the equivalent of two large coal power plants per week, new research has found. SCMP, 27 February

  • Deepfake newsreaders pump out pro-China news. A British company’s AI technology has been hijacked to create a pro-Chinese news channel featuring a pair of computer-generated presenters. The Times, 25 February

  • Xi pick for next chief of staff draws speculation before leadership shuffle. Nikkei Asia, 27 February

  • Abby Choi: dismembered body of Hong Kong model found. The Times, 25 February

  • Missing Chinese billionaire banker Bao Fan assisting authorities in investigation, company says. It is the first time China Renaissance Holdings has given a reason for the disappearance of its founder and chairman, who was reported missing 10 days ago. No details about the investigation were shared. The Guardian, 27 February

  • US, Asian partners discussed supply chains in ‘Chip 4’ talks. Officials from the so-called Chip 4 grouping of the US, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan held a video conference on Feb. 16 to discuss an early warning system to ensure a steady chip supply, a Taiwanese official familiar with the talks said on Sunday. Bloomberg, 26 February

  • HSBC admits putting human rights at risk in China pivot. Freedom of speech and freedom from arbitrary arrest were among a host of human rights that an internal review found the bank was at risk of undermining as a result of its business activities and relationships. The admission marks the first time the London-headquartered company has acknowledged the impact its operations could have on human rights. The Telegraph, 25 February

  • EY China staff encouraged to wear Communist party badges. FT, 27 February

  • Billionaire Chinese owner of Newport Wafer Fab was handed jail sentence over alleged stolen trade secrets. The Telegraph, 25 February

USA

Pentagon investigating two-week email server leak The Hill Ines Kagubare The Defense Department’s U.S. Special Operations Command has confirmed that it is investigating how one of its servers leaked sensitive data for two weeks. The investigation was prompted after an independent security researcher found the open server last weekend and notified TechCrunch, a tech news organization, which alerted the agency.

White House cybersecurity strategy to force large companies to make systems secure by design CyberScoop Elias Groll A forthcoming White House cybersecurity strategy document aims to force large companies to shoulder greater responsibility for designing secure products and to redesign digital ecosystems to be more secure, Camille Stewart Gloster, the deputy national cyber director for technology and ecosystem security, said at a CyberScoop event Thursday.

News Corp says state hackers were on its network for two years Bleeping Computer Sergiu Gatlan Mass media and publishing giant News Corporation says that attackers behind a breach disclosed in 2022 first gained access to its systems two years before, in February 2020. This was revealed in data breach notification letters sent to employees affected by the data breach, who had some of their personal and health information accessed, while the threat actors had access to an email and document storage system used by several News Corp businesses.

Smuggler provided sensitive US tech to Russian, N. Korean governments, prosecutors say The Record by Recorded Future Daryna Antoniuk A Russian national has been charged in the U.S. with smuggling devices used in counterintelligence operations out of the U.S. and into Russia.

U.S. likely to cap level of S.Korean chips made in China- U.S. official Reuters Ju-min Park and Heekyong Yang The United States will likely limit the level of advanced semiconductors made by South Korean companies in China, a senior U.S. official said.

Investing in federal cyber resilience Center for Strategic and International Studies Suzanne Spaulding, Devi Nair, and Sophia Barkoff According to one definition from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, cyber resilience is “the ability to anticipate, withstand, recover from, and adapt to adverse conditions, stresses, attacks, or compromises on systems that use or are enabled by cyber resources.” The more resilient an agency or department, the greater its ability to bounce back after a cyber incident or maintain mission-essential functions in a degraded environment.

Front Page Magazine

A new book explores how civilians and soldiers work with - and against - each other. In The Gathering Storm, the opening volume of his memoirs of the World War II era, Winston Churchill catalogues the causes of the conflict. Among them he lists “the structures and habits of democratic states,” which “lack those elements of persistence and convictions which can alone give security the humble masses. . . . Even in matters of self-preservation, no policy is pursued even for ten or fifteen years at a time.” From the birth of democracy in ancient Athens until the present, the political institutions that protect the freedom and rights of citizens have also been potentially dangerous in times of war—by complicating and interfering with the policies and decisions that, during a conflict, require swift execution, decisiveness, and persistence.

Americas

TikTok under investigation by Canadian privacy authorities BBC Canadian privacy protection regulators have launched an investigation into TikTok over its collection of users' data. The video-sharing platform, owned by Chinese giant ByteDance, has come under scrutiny over concerns that it hands information to Beijing.

UK

Spectator

Ayear ago on Friday, President Vladimir Putin unleashed blitzkrieg on Ukraine. It was an unprovoked assault that has so far led to more than 200,000 people being killed or wounded, but has failed in its intention of establishing Russian hegemony over its democratic neighbour. The West and much of the rest of the civilised world were shocked by the invasion, as well as being horrified and disgusted by the brutality of the Russian armed forces.

North Asia

Taiwan says 'Fab 4' chip group held first senior officials meeting Reuters Ben Blanchard The U.S.-led "Fab 4" semiconductor alliance of Taiwan, the United States, Japan and South Korea held its first video meeting of senior officials last week focused on supply chain resilience, Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said on Saturday.

South & Central Asia

Many mysteries of 'Digital India Bill' Internet Freedom Foundation This post is dedicated towards throwing some light on the much talked, heard, and discussed about ‘Digital India Bill’, which strangely hasn’t even seen the light of the day yet. We highlight the concerns arising from conflicting statements given by unnamed (and sometimes named) officials leading to confusion around the timeline of the Bill. We also list the user harms and issues reported to be considered under the DIB, and the possible consequence of absence of nuance due to the expanded scope of the Bill. Lastly, we re-emphasise the need to have greater inclusivity, more transparency, and a deliberative public consultation process for creating a ‘modern digital law’ that is truly reflective of the developments in the digital-technology ecosystems.

Ukraine - Russia

The Hub

With a new mobilization announced by Russia to continue the war effort, Elbridge Colby, the former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of d for Strategy and Force Development, says he is less concerned about nuclear conflict than he was in recent months. “The Russian mobilization effort is a downside. It’s bad,” says Colby. “But one of the silver linings to it is that it appears to indicate that the Russians don’t think they need to use nuclear weapons that much.”

The Spectator

As the war in Ukraine enters its second year, today seems as a good time as any to reflect on its first, and see what the future might hold. Six foreign policy experts from across the spectrum of opinion offered their thoughts to The Spectator.

Treasury Department hits Russian disinformation operators with sanctions The Record by Recorded Future James Reddick The Treasury Department announced a swath of sanctions on Russian companies and individuals on Friday, including a handful of entities connected to cybersecurity and disinformation operations with links to Russia’s intelligence services.

  • Zelensky wants Xi Jinping meeting following China's peace points. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he plans to meet China's leader Xi Jinping to discuss Beijing's proposals on ending the war in Ukraine. The 12-point document does not specifically say that Russia must withdraw its troops from Ukraine and the Chinese authorities have so far not publicly responded to Zelensky's call for a summit with Xi. BBC


The battle to keep Ukraine connected to the internet amid Russian missile attacks ABC James Purtill Without internet or mobile network connectivity, people have no way of finding out if loved ones have survived, said Mr Matsyk, the director of fixed broadband in the country's Ministry of Digital Transformation. Ukraine's access to the internet is under attack as Russian rocket strikes target the country's energy and communications infrastructure.

Russia's yearlong cyber focus on Ukraine Axios Sam Sabin The last year of Russian cyber aggression has never prompted the all-out cyber war many feared, calling into question how cyber tools will realistically be used in future wars. A year into the invasion, Russia's most aggressive cyberattacks have stayed inside Ukraine — rarely taking a highly anticipated turn toward Western allies.

Data from satellites reveal the vast extent of fighting in Ukraine The Economist The war in Ukraine is the most documented in history. Every day, social media overflows with videos of air strikes, reports from bloggers embedded with troops and round-ups of shifting front lines. Yet such material, despite its abundance, paints only a partial picture. Events that were not recorded, or about which no one has released information, remain invisible. And when videos or photos do get shared, interpreting them can take days of complex work.

China reportedly negotiating with Russia to supply Kamikaze drones DER SPIEGEL The U.S. and Germany have warned China not to deliver weapons to Russia. According to information obtained by DER SPIEGEL, however, Beijing and Moscow are said to be negotiating the purchase of 100 strike drones, which could be delivered as soon as April.

Batteries are Ukraine’s secret weapon against Russia WIRED Justin Ling Working with private industry, Ukraine’s State Service for Special Communications and Information Protection has laid or repaired 3,200 kilometers of fiber optic cable and built or rebuilt 1,500 mobile base stations—another name for cell towers—since the war began. That work has returned Ukraine’s mobile communications to about 77 percent of its pre-war capacity. The biggest problems are in the areas along the front lines, such as Zaporizhzhya and Odessa, and towns occupied by the Russians in Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

Hacker group defaces Russian websites to display the Kremlin on fire TechCrunch Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai A hacker group that goes by CH01 defaced a series of Russian websites on the anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine. The hackers replaced the sites’ content with a video showing the Kremlin on fire, along with a song by a Russian rock band named Kino. The video also includes a QR code that links to a Telegram channel, where the hackers posted a message claiming responsibility for the attacks and making it clear that these defacements were politically motivated.

How microchips migrate from China to Russia The Wall Street Journal Nathaniel Taplin The U.S. invented microchips and it has threatened sanctions on anyone who sells many, if not most, varieties to Russia. Still, recent leaks—and some publicly available data—make clear that they keep showing up on Russian shores. At the center of the trade is China and, allegedly, a few other intermediary countries such as Turkey.

Middle East

Fake friends: Leak reveals Israeli firms turning social media into spy tech Haaretz Omer Benjakob and Phineas Rueckert Like most of the public, A., a former Israeli journalist, knows little to nothing about the OSINT industry. However, the OSINT system sold by an Israeli-owned cyber firm being revealed here for the first time knows a lot about her – and about all of us, too.

Big Tech

Instagram users are being served gory videos of killing and torture The Washington Post Taylor Lorenz Since Instagram launched Reels, the platform’s TikTok competitor, in 2020, it has taken aggressive steps to grow the feature. It rewarded accounts that posted Reels videos with increased views and began paying monthly bonuses to creators whose Reels content performed well on the app. But at least part of that engagement has come from violent videos, a result that shows how Meta’s Instagram has failed to contain harmful content on its platform as it seeks to regain audience lost to TikTok.

Artificial Intelligence

Planning for AGI and beyond OpenAI Our mission is to ensure that artificial general intelligence—AI systems that are generally smarter than humans—benefits all of humanity. If AGI is successfully created, this technology could help us elevate humanity by increasing abundance, turbocharging the global economy, and aiding in the discovery of new scientific knowledge that changes the limits of possibility.

Misc

A basic iPhone feature helps criminals steal your entire digital life The Wall Street Journal Joanna Stern and Nicole Nguyen In the early hours of Thanksgiving weekend, Reyhan Ayas was leaving a bar in Midtown Manhattan when a man she had just met snatched her iPhone 13 Pro Max. Within a few minutes, the 31-year-old, a senior economist at a workforce intelligence startup, could no longer get into her Apple account and all the stuff attached to it, including photos, contacts and notes. Over the next 24 hours, she said, about $10,000 vanished from her bank account.

After a decade of tracking politicians’ deleted Tweets, Politwoops is no more ProPublica Derek Willis Politicians haven’t stopped deleting some of their most cringeworthy tweets, but Politwoops, our project that has tracked and archived more than half a million deleted tweets from candidates and elected officials since 2012, is no longer able to track them. Since Elon Musk took over Twitter, the platform has disabled the function we used to track deletions — and the new method that Twitter says should identify them appears to be broken.

COVID-19

The Wall Street Journal

The New York Times

The conclusion, which was made with “low confidence,” came as America’s intelligence agencies remained divided over the origins of the coronavirus.

Opinion & editorial

  • Xi and Putin have declared a new Cold War. It’s time to wake up before it's too late, and for Britain to lead the way in defending Western values. Tobias Ellwood MP and Hamish de Bretton-Gordon. The Telegraph, 27 February

  • The autocratic axis gains strength every day — it’s time to take a stand. Uniting for Ukraine is just the start in what is now a global struggle to prevent a Third World War. Matthew Syed. The Sunday Times, 26 February

  • Opinion: How to counter China’s scary use of AI tech. Paul Scharre. Los Angeles Times, 26 February

  • China’s public is fed up, but not on the brink of revolt. David Rennie. The Economist, 25 February

Long reads

  • Why Penny Wong says we can’t ‘reset’ with China. Andrew Tillett. Australian Financial Review, 24 February

  • The implications of China’s mid-income trap. The IMF has chainsawed longer-term growth forecasts. Robin Wigglesworth. FT, 27 February

  • From opportunity to risk: The changing economic security policies vis-à-vis China. Francesca Ghiretti. MERICS, 22 February

  • Xi the Survivor. How Washington overestimates Chinese weakness. Christopher Johnson. Foreign Affairs, 22 February


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