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Press review EX - 8 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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  • A global ransomware outbreak has scrambled servers belonging to Florida's Supreme Court and several universities in the United States and Central Europe, according to a Reuters analysis of ransom notes posted online to stricken servers. Reuters

  • North Korea stole a record amount of cryptocurrency assets in 2022, according to a draft United Nations report obtained by Nikkei, another sign of how the isolated country is circumventing international sanctions to raise funds. Nikkei Asia

  • A state-backed digital pound is likely to be launched later this decade, according to the Treasury and the Bank of England. Both institutions want to ensure the public has access to safe money that is easy to use in the digital age. BBC


World

Florida state court system, US, EU universities hit by ransomware outbreak Reuters James Pearson and Raphael Satter A global ransomware outbreak has scrambled servers belonging to Florida's Supreme Court and several universities in the United States and Central Europe, according to a Reuters analysis of ransom notes posted online to stricken servers.

US-India tech deal could speed up global supply chain realignment, hurting China South China Morning Post Ben Jiang A new partnership between the US and India – targeting semiconductors, artificial intelligence and telecommunications, among other areas – could accelerate the realignment of global supply chains at the expense of China’s interests, according to analysts.

Australia

Scammer who targeted Optus hack victims avoids jail over ‘unsophisticated’ crime The Guardian Manish Singh Pakistan has unblocked Wikipedia in the South Asian market, three days after the online encyclopedia was censored in the nation over noncompliance with removing what the local regulator deemed as “sacrilegious” content.

China

China’s tech weapons roll in to quell demonstrations, identify protesters The Record by Recorded Future Dina Temple-Raston China’s censorship machine is considered one of the most sophisticated in the world. Its algorithms and armies of human censors hunt down and delete countless posts on China’s internet every day. And that apparatus went into overdrive after Peng’s banners snapped back into action after the Xinjiang fire. As thousands of people posted videos of demonstrations, Chinese censors were overwhelmed. It turns out thousands of videos from a variety of angles were much harder for the censoring algorithm to identify than a single video shared millions of times. So the leadership pulled another weapon out of its digital arsenal: spambots, an army of zombie computers that they use to inject irritating content into feeds outside China.

ChatGPT mania pumps up Chinese AI technology stocks Reuters Samuel Shen, Jason Xue and Brenda Goh Chinese artificial intelligence stocks are the latest rage in mainland markets as the global frenzy around the Microsoft-backed ChatGPT chatbot spurs speculative bets on the revolutionary computing technology.

China tries to play down balloon dispute with censorship and memes The New York Times Vivian Wang and Joy Dong On Chinese social media, jokes about the suspected spy balloon have been making the rounds. People quipped that the vessel was a misunderstood attempt at wishing Americans a happy Lantern Festival, the Chinese holiday this past Sunday. Others compared it to a glutinous rice ball, a traditional food eaten during the celebrations. The wisecracking was, in part, what happens on social media anywhere in the world: current events transformed to memes to attract likes and follows. But it also dovetailed with signs of a broader government strategy to downplay an incident that has potentially embarrassed China and threatened to further derail U.S.-China relations.

How the Chinese spy balloon drama played out on Chinese-owned TikTok The Washington Post Drew Harwell TikTok’s critics have argued that the spy balloon should serve as a reminder of the threat posed by China’s surveillance and propaganda work. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) tweeted Sunday that “TikTok is a bigger threat than the Balloon” and urged the Biden administration to “blow up” TikTok next. But many of the most popular TikTok videos around the episode haven’t looked like Chinese propaganda at all. They’ve come from authoritative U.S.-based news channels. They’ve poked fun at the Chinese government. And, in some cases, they’ve featured loud, proud American patriots.

USA

U.S. senators question Meta over Chinese, Russian access to Facebook data -statement Reuters Rami Ayyub A bipartisan pair of U.S. senators said on Monday they had sent a letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg questioning the company about documents that they say reveal that Facebook developers in China and Russia had access to user data.

Biden says he is not sure whether U.S. would ban TikTok Reuters Jeff Mason U.S. President Joe Biden said on Monday he was not sure if Washington would ban Chinese-owned short video app TikTok.

North Asia

North Korea stole record amount of crypto in 2022: U.N. report Nikkei Asia Kaori Yoshida North Korea stole a record amount of cryptocurrency assets in 2022, according to a draft United Nations report obtained by Nikkei, another sign of how the isolated country is circumventing international sanctions to raise funds. The report, compiled by a U.N. Security Council panel, details that North Korean actors used increasingly sophisticated techniques to gain access to digital networks involved in cyber finance and steal information of potential value, including for weapons programs.

Southeast Asia

They released a sex video to shame and silence her. She’s one of many women in Myanmar doxxed and abused on Telegram by supporters of the military. CNN Pallabi Munsi After the coup two years ago, as state repression intensified, civilians came together to defend towns and villages, and some rebel armies with a long history of conflict against the military united under the People’s Defence Force, armed units aligned with the shadow government. But conflict in Myanmar is not only happening on the ground; attacks are prevalent online, and doxxing has emerged as a tool used extensively by supporters of the junta to threaten and silence people they see as their opponents.

South & Central Asia

Wikipedia unblocked in Pakistan after Prime Minister’s intervention TechCrunch Manish Singh Pakistan has unblocked Wikipedia in the South Asian market, three days after the online encyclopedia was censored in the nation over noncompliance with removing what the local regulator deemed as “sacrilegious” content.

Ukraine - Russia

Remcos software deployed in spying attempt on Ukraine’s government, CERT says The Record by Recorded Future Daryna Antoniuk In a recent phishing campaign against Ukrainian government agencies, hackers attempted to install Remcos surveillance software on victims’ computers, according to a recent alert. Remcos is a legitimate remote management software for Windows systems developed by the German firm Breaking Security. However, it is sometimes used by hackers to gain remote access and complete control over victims’ computers.

Europe

EU’s top diplomat fires warning shot at Elon Musk over Twitter disinformation TechCrunch Natasha Lomas A controversial move by Twitter-owner Elon Musk to end free access to its APIs by February 9 has attracted criticism from the European Union’s top diplomat who has warned it could threaten the ability of researchers to study disinformation at a critical time — with Russia aggressively weaponizing disinformation to try to provide cover for its war in Ukraine.

Big Tech not doing enough to remove fake news, activist NGO Avaaz says Reuters Foo Yun Chee Twitter, Google's YouTube, Meta Platform's Facebook, Microsoft's LinkedIn and TikTok are not doing enough to remove fake news from their platforms, raising doubts about their ability to comply with new EU online content rules, activist NGO Avaaz said on Tuesday.

UK

Digital pound likely this decade, Treasury says BBC Faisal Islam A state-backed digital pound is likely to be launched later this decade, according to the Treasury and the Bank of England. Both institutions want to ensure the public has access to safe money that is easy to use in the digital age.

LockBit ransomware group threatens Royal Mail with data leak deadline The Record by Recorded Future Alexander Martin Royal Mail is now listed on the LockBit ransomware group’s extortion site, with the criminals giving the company a deadline of Thursday, February 9, to make an extortion payment. The listing, as is typical, claims “all available data will be published” without specifying what kinds of data the criminal group managed to steal.

Big Tech

Musk’s Twitter has just 180,000 U.S. subscribers, two months after launch The Information Erin Woo Around 180,000 people in the U.S. were paying for subscriptions to Twitter, including Twitter Blue, as of mid-January, or less than 0.2% of monthly active users, according to a document viewed by The Information. The tiny number signals the challenge Elon Musk faces in turning the subscription product into a major source of revenue.

Artificial Intelligence

Microsoft unveils new Bing with ChatGPT powers BBC James Clayton Microsoft has announced a new version of its search engine Bing, which incorporates the latest in artificial intelligence. The overhaul deploys OpenAI's ChatGPT technology, which has taken the world by storm since its launch last year.

Meta, long an A.I. leader, tries not to be left out of the boom The New York Times Cade Metz and Mike Isaac Two weeks before a chatbot called ChatGPT appeared on the internet in November and wowed the world, Meta, the owner of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, unveiled a chatbot of its own. Called Galactica, it was designed for scientific research. It could instantly write its own articles, solve math problems, generate computer code and annotate images.

The people onscreen are fake. The disinformation is real. The New York Times Adam Satariano and Paul Mozur “Deepfake” technology, which has progressed steadily for nearly a decade, has the capability to create talking digital puppets. The A.I. software is sometimes used to distort public figures, like a video that circulated on social media last year falsely showing Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, announcing a surrender. But the software can also create characters out of whole cloth, going beyond traditional editing software and expensive special effects tools used by Hollywood, blurring the line between fact and fiction to an extraordinary degree.

AI-generated 'Seinfeld' show banned on Twitch after transphobic standup bit VICE Jason Koebler “Nothing, Forever,” the infinitely-generating AI version of Seinfeld that tens of thousands of people were watching has been banned for 14 days from Twitch after Larry Feinberg—a clone of Jerry Seinfeld—made transphobic statements during a standup bit late Sunday night.

ChatGPT’s ‘jailbreak’ tries to make the A.I. break its own rules, or die CNBC Rohan Goswami ChatGPT debuted in November 2022, garnering worldwide attention almost instantaneously. The artificial intelligence is capable of answering questions on anything from historical facts to generating computer code, and has dazzled the world, sparking a wave of AI investment. Now users have found a way to tap into its dark side, using coercive methods to force the AI to violate its own rules and provide users the content - whatever content - they want.

Research

Deepfake it till you make it Graphika In late 2022, Graphika observed limited instances of Spamouflage, a pro-Chinese influence operation, promoting content that included video footage of fictitious people almost certainly created using artificial intelligence techniques. We believe the use of commercially-available AI products will allow IO actors to create increasingly high-quality deceptive content at greater scale and speed. In the weeks since we identified the activity described in this report, we have seen other actors move quickly to adopt the exact same tactics. Most recently, this involved unidentified actors using the same AI tools to create videos targeting online conversations in Burkina Faso.

2022 report on EEAS Activities to counter FIMI European Union The EEAS has a specific team working on the challenge of Foreign Information Manipulation and Interference, including disinformation. Following the Activity Report for 2021, the Strategic Communication, Task Forces and Information Analysis Division has just published a report on its 2022 activities to counter FIMI.

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