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Press review EX - 6 February

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


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Italy sounds alarm on large-scale computer hacking attack | China aids Russia’s war in Ukraine, trade data shows | Nigeria asks social media giants to curb fake news ahead of election


  • Thousands of computer servers around the world have been targeted by a ransomware hacking attack, Italy's National Cybersecurity Agency said on Sunday, warning organisations to take action to protect their systems. Reuters

  • China is providing technology that Moscow’s military needs to prosecute the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine despite an international cordon of sanctions and export controls, according to a Wall Street Journal review of Russian customs data. The customs records show Chinese state-owned defense companies shipping navigation equipment, jamming technology and jet-fighter parts to sanctioned Russian government-owned defense companies. The Wall Street Journal

  • Nigeria has asked Google and Meta to control the spread of fake news on their platforms ahead of a presidential election this month, Information Minister Lai Mohammed said on Friday. Reuters


ASPI

A balloon is spying on the U.S. from the sky. Here’s why China may be using old-fashioned surveillance technology when satellites exist Time Chade De Guzman The advent of satellites and drones rendered spy balloons mostly obsolete. Until recently, it seems. And though the technology is old, says Bec Shrimpton, director at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, balloons can complement surveillance technology in orbit, while they can be built and deployed at a fraction of the cost. According to a 2020 analysis in defense publication Armada International, the development, launch, operation, and insurance of a single satellite can cost up to $300 million.

World

Italy sounds alarm on large-scale computer hacking attack Reuters Elvira Pollina Thousands of computer servers around the world have been targeted by a ransomware hacking attack, Italy's National Cybersecurity Agency said on Sunday, warning organisations to take action to protect their systems.


Interpol working out how to police the metaverse BBC News Marc Cieslak & Tom Gerken Interpol secretary general Jurgen Stock says the global police agency is investigating how the organisation could police crime in the metaverse. The metaverse is the widely-discussed, but not yet realised, concept that in the future people will be represented by 3D avatars in their online lives.

Australia

Cyber security spend spikes after Optus, Medibank hacks The Australian David Swan Some 80 per cent of Australia’s large organisations have upped their cyber security spend in 2022, a significant jump on prior years, amid a rise in high-profile data breaches affecting the likes of Optus and Medibank and their millions of customers.

Albanese government wants to foster crypto industry Australian Financial Review Aleks Vickovich The Albanese government wants to foster thriving crypto-businesses in Australia despite plunging confidence following the collapse of the mega-exchange FTX. Treasurer Jim Chalmers and Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones said the government wanted to protect consumers against “unsustainable business models” in the cryptocurrency industry, claiming it had “acted swiftly” following the collapse of FTX.

China

Chill pervades China’s tech firms even as crackdown eases Associated Press Zen Soo A grinding crackdown that wiped billions of dollars of value off Chinese technology companies is easing, but the once-freewheeling industry is bracing for much slower growth ahead. Analysts say China’s easing of restrictions on companies like e-commerce giant Alibaba and online games company Tencent and talk of support for the private sector reflects Beijing’s decision to refocus on growth after the economy was ravaged by the pandemic and restrictions imposed to fight COVID-19. But controls on internet content r emain firmly in place. And the crackdown has left a “chilling” effect on the industry, potentially slowing innovation, while U.S. restrictions against China’s computer chips industry are hindering progress in developing leading edge technology in 5G and artificial intelligence.

USA

Downing of Chinese spy balloon ends chapter in a diplomatic crisis The New York Times Helene Cooper and Edward Wong The United States shot down a Chinese spy balloon on Saturday that had spent the last week traversing the country, an explosive end to a drama that put a diplomatic crisis between the world’s two great powers onto television screens in real time. The Pentagon said that Navy and Coast Guard personnel would conduct a recovery effort to retrieve the debris of the balloon, which had landed in relatively shallow water. American national security agencies hope the material they collect will add value to their database of Chinese intelligence gathering.

NY attorney general forces spyware vendor to alert victims Bleeping Computer Sergiu Gatlan The New York attorney general's office has announced a $410,000 fine for a stalkerware developer who used 16 companies to promote surveillance tools illegally.

TikTok’s transparency campaign echoes effort by Huawei to ease security concerns The Wall Street Journal Georgia Wells and Stu Woo TikTok is trying to win Washington’s trust with a playbook recalling the unsuccessful strategy that another Chinese-owned company, Huawei, took in the U.S. and swaths of Europe. As part of its push to demonstrate openness to U.S. authorities, TikTok this week gave journalists a tour of what it calls its Transparency and Accountability Center. In an office park in this city next to Los Angeles, screens explained how TikTok moderates and recommends the short-form videos on its app.

Harvard is shutting down project that studied social media misinformation The Washington Post Drew Harwell and Joseph Menn Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government said Thursday that it will shut down a prominent research center that studied online misinformation next year, marking the latest turning point for the study of social media’s impact on American society and politics. Since 2019, the Technology and Social Change Project has published research into the spread of coronavirus hoaxes and the online incitement techniques that preceded the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol. It will wind down due to a school policy that requires a faculty member lead such an undertaking, Nancy Gibbs, the director of the Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy, said in an internal email shared with The Washington Post.

U.S. weighs sanctions for Chinese companies over Iran surveillance buildup The Wall Street Journal Benoit Faucon and Liza Lin The U.S. is considering new sanctions on Chinese surveillance companies over sales to Iran’s security forces, officials familiar with the deliberations said, as Iranian authorities increasingly rely on the technology to crack down on protests.

North Asia

Japan to restrict chip manufacturing machine exports to China, Kyodo reports Reuters Tim Kelly Japan's government will begin restricting exports of advanced semiconductor manufacturing equipment to China in Spring after it amends a foreign exchange law to allow the change, Kyodo News reported on Saturday.

South & Central Asia

Wikipedia is blocked in Pakistan over ‘sacrilegious’ content Bloomberg Kamran Haider Pakistan has blocked Wikipedia services in the South Asian nation after the platform failed to remove “sacrilegious” content. The action was taken because some of the content is still available on Wikipedia after the expiry of a 48-hour deadline, Malahat Obaid, spokesperson for Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, said by phone.

India to block over 230 betting and loan apps, many with China ties TechCrunch Manish Singh India is moving to block 232 apps, some with links to China, that offer betting and loan services in the South Asian market to prevent misuse of the citizens’ data, the state-owned public broadcaster said Sunday.

Ukraine - Russia

China aids Russia’s war in Ukraine, trade data shows The Wall Street Journal Ian Talley and Anthony DeBarros China is providing technology that Moscow’s military needs to prosecute the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine despite an international cordon of sanctions and export controls, according to a Wall Street Journal review of Russian customs data. The customs records show Chinese state-owned defense companies shipping navigation equipment, jamming technology and jet-fighter parts to sanctioned Russian government-owned defense companies.

Europe

ChatGPT in spotlight as EU's Breton bats for tougher AI rules Reuters Foo Yun Chee and Supantha Mukherjee EU industry chief Thierry Breton has said new proposed artificial intelligence rules will aim to tackle concerns about the risks around the ChatGPT chatbot and AI technology, in the first comments on the app by a senior Brussels official.

Microsoft accuses Iran’s government of cyber operation against Charlie Hebdo The Record by Recorded Future Jonathan Greig News Microsoft accuses Iran’s government of cyber operation against Charlie Hebdo Microsoft’s Digital Threat Analysis Center says a hacking group within the Iranian government is behind a cyber operation that targeted French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The group — which Microsoft calls Neptunium and the U.S. Justice Department calls Emennet Pasargad — claimed in January it had stolen the personal information of 200,000 Charlie Hebdo customers after hacking into one of the magazine’s databases.

Italy bans U.S.-based AI chatbot Replika from using personal data Reuters Elvira Pollina and Martin Coulter Italy's Data Protection Agency said on Friday it was prohibiting artificial intelligence chatbot company Replika from using the personal data of Italian users, citing risks to minors and emotionally fragile people.

UK

The UK rolls back controversial plans to open up text and data mining regulations TechCrunch Paul Sawers The U.K. government is seemingly backtracking on plans that would have allowed text and data mining “for any purpose,” plans designed to position the U.K. as a “global AI superpower.” The news emerges following months of blowback from creative industries concerned about what impact the rules might have on protected works.

Online safety bill needs tougher rules on misogyny, say peers The Guardian Tobi Thomas Tougher rules are needed to target misogyny online as part of the online safety bill, a group of peers has said. Under the online safety bill, which is being finalised, social media firms will be legally required to abide by their terms and conditions, which generally bar misogynistic abuse. Failure to enforce them will result in fines and their services could be blocked by Ofcom, the online watchdog.

Africa

Nigeria asks social media giants to curb fake news ahead of election Reuters Chijioke Ohuocha Nigeria has asked Google and Meta to control the spread of fake news on their platforms ahead of a presidential election this month, Information Minister Lai Mohammed said on Friday.

Big Tech

Lackluster earnings reports show Big Tech’s golden age is fading The Washington Post Gerrit De Vynck, Rachel Lerman and Julian Mark The Big Tech companies that won dominance of the internet brought in billions of dollars a year, spending it on eye-popping salaries, gleaming offices and constant acquisition of smaller companies. But the past year of rising interest rates and falling stock prices has shaken the industry, along with the San Francisco Bay region it dominates. Now, tens of thousands of layoffs from Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and dozens of other companies have made it clear: The golden age is over. Speeches about austerity have replaced the free-flowing stock grants and free sushi lunches.

Twitter is getting rid of its free API tier. That's a nightmare for accessibility activists. Mashable Chase DiBenedetto Elon Musk’s latest blow to the platform's functionality removes free access to its API, posing an imminent threat for users with disabilities, accessibility advocates, and helpful bots.

  • RIP to the best bots on Twitter BuzzFeed Katie Notopoulos and Pranav Dixit Twitter just announced that starting next week, it “will no longer support free access” to its application programming interface, the trove of data that bots like @MakeItAQuote need to use in order to reply, search for text, and produce automated tweets.

Artificial Intelligence

A judge just used ChatGPT to make a court decision VICE Janus Rose A judge in Colombia used ChatGPT to make a court ruling, in what is apparently the first time a legal decision has been made with the help of an AI text generator—or at least, the first time we know about it.

How ChatGPT kicked off an A.I. arms race The New York Times Kevin Roose In the months since its debut, ChatGPT (the name was, mercifully, shortened) has become a global phenomenon. Millions of people have used it to write poetry, build apps and conduct makeshift therapy sessions. It has been embraced (with mixed results) by news publishers, marketing firms and business leaders. And it has set off a feeding frenzy of investors trying to get in on the next wave of the A.I. boom.

Decoding the hype about AI The Markup Julia Angwin Meta’s chief AI scientist, Yann LeCun, told reporters ChatGPT was “nothing revolutionary.” University of Washington computational linguistics professor Emily Bender warns that “the idea of an all-knowing computer program comes from science fiction and should stay there.” So, how worried should we be?

AI tech enables industrial-scale intellectual-property theft, say critics The Wall Street Journal Christopher Mims AI require large sets of training data, but generative AI can actually synthesize that data to produce new content, not just recognize what already exists. Critics of these systems include artists, coders, legal experts, and even some of the engineers who build them. They argue that the systems that make this possible, including text-generating ChatGPT from OpenAI, Microsoft’s GitHub Copilot for code, and art-generating AIs, all ingest content without securing permission from its creators. Then they use that content to create systems that actively compete with the individuals whose work they ingested. Without all that free content, gathered under what some argue are fair-use protections, these content-generating AIs could not exist.

Misc

Vulnerabilities could let hackers remotely shut down EV chargers, steal electricity CyberScoop Christian Vasquez Two vulnerabilities in a commonly used networking protocol for electric vehicle chargers could allow hackers to remotely shut down charging stations or manipulate docking stations to recharge for free, according to a report from cybersecurity firm Saiflow.

Beyond the Quad: Booming security cooperation efforts in the Indo-Pacific Observer Research Foundation Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan Japan and the U.K. kickstarted a new bilateral digital partnership to augment their bilateral cooperation in cyber resilience, online safety, and semiconductors. Japan and the U.S. will step up their cooperation for “effective employment of Japan’s counterstrike capabilities in close coordination with the United States.” Emerging and critical technologies, including space, cyber, and information security, found mention in the statement, with the goal “to strengthen mission assurance, interoperability, and operational cooperation, including through enhanced collaboration in space domain awareness.”

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