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Press review on 30 January

Extrema Ratio focuses on the topics we work on, including cybersecurity, critical technologies, foreign interference & disinformation.

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Latvia confirms phishing attack on Ministry of Defense | China’s top nuclear-weapons lab used American computer chips decades after ban | U.S. and EU to launch first-of-its-kind AI agreement.



  • The Russian cyber-espionage group known as Gamaredon may have been behind a phishing attack on Latvia’s Ministry of Defense last week, the ministry told The Record on Friday. Hackers sent malicious emails to several employees of the ministry, pretending to be Ukrainian government officials. The attempted cyberattack was unsuccessful, the ministry added. The Record by Recorded Future

  • China’s top nuclear-weapons research institute has bought sophisticated U.S. computer chips at least a dozen times in the past two and half years, circumventing decades-old American export restrictions meant to curb such sales. The Wall Street Journal

  • The United States and European Union on Friday announced an agreement to speed up and enhance the use of artificial intelligence to improve agriculture, healthcare, emergency response, climate forecasting and the electric grid. Reuters

World

U.S. and EU to launch first-of-its-kind AI agreementReuters Suzanne Smalley The United States and European Union on Friday announced an agreement to speed up and enhance the use of artificial intelligence to improve agriculture, healthcare, emergency response, climate forecasting and the electric grid.

Australia

Schools crack down on AI as chatbot cheats test teachersThe Australian Natasha Bita Students will be taught “ethical’’ ways to use artificial intelligence to write school assignments, despite three states cutting off classroom access to a chatbot widely used for cheating.

China

China’s top nuclear-weapons lab used American computer chips decades after banThe Wall Street Journal Liza Lin and Dan Strumpf China’s top nuclear-weapons research institute has bought sophisticated U.S. computer chips at least a dozen times in the past two and half years, circumventing decades-old American export restrictions meant to curb such sales.

Apple brings mainland Chinese web censorship to Hong KongThe Intercept Sam Biddle When Safari users in Hong Kong recently tried to load the popular code-sharing website GitLab, they received a strange warning instead: Apple’s browser was blocking the site for their own safety. The access was temporarily cut off thanks to Apple’s use of a Chinese corporate website blacklist, which resulted in the innocuous site being flagged as a purveyor of misinformation. Neither Tencent, the massive Chinese firm behind the web filter, nor Apple will say how or why the site was censored.

China mulls protecting solar tech dominance with export banBloomberg Dan Murtaugh China is considering an export ban that would help the nation maintain its substantial dominance in solar manufacturing just as other countries are trying to strengthen their industries.

USA

Biden mulling broad prohibitions on U.S. investments in Chinese techPOLITICO Gavin Bade The White House is considering new action to block U.S. business with entire swaths of the Chinese tech economy — an investment blockade stricter than previously reported — according to the new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and four other congressional and former national security officials.

DoD to assess department-wide guidance on ‘contested information environment’ trainingBreaking Defense Jaspreet Gill The Pentagon plans to develop department-wide guidance on what content it should include in its training and education efforts for decision-making in a “contested information environment,” following recommendations made by the Government Accountability Office.

Chinese engineer sentenced to 8 years in U.S. prison for spyingNBC News Chantal Da Silva A former Chicago graduate student in electrical engineering was sentenced Wednesday to eight years in prison for spying for the Chinese government. "This tasking was part of an effort by the Jiangsu provincial department to obtain access to advanced aerospace and satellite technologies being developed by companies within the U.S.," the Justice Department said.

On Trump’s social network: Ads for miracle cures, scams and fake merchandiseThe New York Times Stuart A. Thompson Ads from major brands are nonexistent on the site. Instead, the ads on Truth Social are for alternative medicine, diet pills, gun accessories and Trump-themed trinkets, according to an analysis of hundreds of ads on the social network by The New York Times.

TikTok general counsel no longer oversees US relationsBloomberg Law Jennifer Jacobs and Alex Barinka ByteDance Ltd.’s general counsel is no longer overseeing US government relations for TikTok, part of a shuffle to improve the company’s standing during intense national security scrutiny, according to people familiar with the matter.

U.S. House panel to vote next month on possible TikTok banReuters David Shepardson The House Foreign Affairs Committee plans to hold a vote next month on a bill aimed at blocking the use of China's popular social media app TikTok in the United States, the committee confirmed on Friday.

Biden nears win as Japan, Dutch back China chip controlsBloomberg Jenny Leonard and Cagan Koc Japan and the Netherlands are poised to join the US in limiting China’s access to advanced semiconductor machinery, forging a powerful alliance that will undercut Beijing’s ambitions to build its own domestic chip capabilities, according to people familiar with the negotiations.

US targets Chinese company in broader Russia sanctions pushBloomberg Iain Marlow and Daniel Flatley The US unveiled new sanctions Thursday aimed at blunting Russia’s ability to wage war in Ukraine, including by targeting a Chinese company that allegedly provided satellite imagery to Wagner Group mercenaries.

How US police use digital data to prosecute abortionsTechCrunch Runa Sandvik In late April, police in Nebraska received a tip saying 17-year-old Celeste Burgess had given birth to a stillborn baby and buried the body. Officers soon learned that her mother, Jessica Burgess, and a friend had helped her with transportation and burial. The police issued citations for concealing the death of another person and false reporting. But in June, they also charged Jessica with providing an abortion for her teenage daughter. Police had made the discovery after obtaining a warrant that required Meta to hand over their conversations on Facebook Messenger. The messages, which were not encrypted, showed the two had discussed obtaining and using abortion pills.

North Asia

Cyberattacks on Japan soar as hackers target vulnerabilitiesNikkei Asia Akinobu Iwasawa The number of cyberattacks in Japan is surging as hackers try to exploit the country's weak defenses. Japan has lagged other advanced nations in updating systems to detect attacks and protect data, according to cybersecurity experts.

Japanese firms step up intelligence gathering as US-China tensions mountFinancial Times Eri Sugiura and Kana Inagaki A growing number of Japanese businesses are strengthening their intelligence gathering as the country finds itself increasingly exposed to the mounting tensions between the US and China. Companies in sectors that have historically been less exposed to geopolitical disruptions — including Suntory and Mitsubishi Chemical — have hired risk executives and created new job roles and dedicated teams in recent months, as they catch up with their counterparts in more politically sensitive sectors.

South & Central Asia

India just took a dangerous step on disinformationThe Washington Post Rana Ayyub India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology filed a draft amendment last week to a recent media law that could have sweeping consequences for free expression in the world’s largest democracy. According to the proposed language, any information marked as “fake” by the fact-checking division of India’s Press Information Bureau will need to be taken down by “online intermediaries,” a category that would include social media companies.

Ukraine - Russia

Russia’s Sandworm hackers blamed in fresh Ukraine malware attackCyberScoop AJ Vicens One of the Russian military’s most prolific hacking units deployed yet another destructive malware attack against Ukrainian targets this week, researchers with cybersecurity firm ESET said Friday. The researchers attributed the attack to the hacking unit known widely as “Sandworm,” a group in the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, behind a series of destructive malware attacks and hack-and-leak campaigns over the years, according to the U.S. government and private researchers.

Racial slurs discovered in leaked Yandex source codeCyberScoop AJ Vicens Russian tech giant Yandex apologized on Friday for racial slurs uncovered in the company’s source code. The apology came in response to the discovery of multiple references to the N-word in the company’s code base after it leaked online. “We deeply regret that this word ever appeared in our internal codes,” the Yandex press office told CyberScoop in an email Friday.

Europe

Latvia confirms phishing attack on Ministry of Defense, linking it to Russian hacking groupThe Record by Recorded Future Daryna Antoniuk The Russian cyber-espionage group known as Gamaredon may have been behind a phishing attack on Latvia’s Ministry of Defense last week, the ministry told The Record on Friday. Hackers sent malicious emails to several employees of the ministry, pretending to be Ukrainian government officials. The attempted cyberattack was unsuccessful, the ministry added.

Greece's spy scandal must shake us out of complacencyEU Observer Glykeria Arapi A surveillance scandal that has smouldered for almost a year erupted this week after the leader of Greece's main opposition party filed a no-confidence motion against the government after a string of exposés that journalists and politicians were targeted with spyware and/or were under state surveillance. The controversy began in March last year when digital rights group Citizen Lab told journalist Thanasis Koukakis that his phone had been under surveillance for ten weeks by powerful spyware called Predator.

Africa

Govt internet shutdowns cripple civil society, dissent in AfricaAll Africa According to Bibbi Abruzzini of IPS, Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition have documented that during 2021 at least 182 internet shutdowns in 34 countries were used as a tactic to suppress dissent and quell unrest. This tactic has been used by multiple African governments, particularly during election periods. "African countries that went to the polls in recent years have developed an affinity to restrict internet access before, during and after elections especially in countries where there are disputes," said Leah Mitaba of the Zambia Council for Social Development.

Gender & Women in Tech

After layoffs, Meta, tech companies face uphill battle to boost diversityThe Washington Post Naomi Nix The technology industry has long struggled to recruit a diverse workforce, but the recent spate of cuts by Silicon Valley companies has hit women particularly hard, according to recently published analyses of demographic data from the layoffs. Women and some minorities were particularly vulnerable to layoffs because they were newer to their jobs and occupied roles that companies were less interested in retaining, experts said.

Big Tech

Tears, blunders and chaos: inside Elon Musk’s TwitterThe Guardian Zoë Schiffer, Casey Newton and Alex Heath In the three months since Musk bought Twitter for £44bn, thousands have been sacked and the company has nosedived. Here, staff tell of a firm in disarray and an owner whose reputation is also plummeting.

  • A leaked internal message appears to show Elon Musk ordered Twitter staff to suspend a left-wing activist's accountBusiness Insider Pete Syme A leaked internal Twitter message appears to show that Elon Musk directly ordered staff to suspend a left-wing activist's account on the social-media platform. Bloomberg said it viewed a screenshot of the message in question, involving the account of Chad Loder, which read: "Suspension: direct request from Elon Musk." Loder told Insider's Sawdah Bhaimiya they suspected the suspension resulted from an "organized mass-reporting campaign," whereby a right-wing group published a Substack blog with instructions on how to falsely report breaches of Twitter's rules by particular accounts — with Loder's profile listed near the top.

  • Twitter says users will be able to appeal account suspensionReuters Juby Babu Twitter users will be able to appeal account suspensions and be evaluated under the social media platform's new criteria for reinstatement, starting Feb. 1, the company said on Friday.

Twitter research group stall complicates compliance with new EU lawReuters Sheila Dang The stalling of a Twitter program that was critical for outside researchers studying disinformation campaigns throws into question the company's strategy to comply with upcoming regulation in Europe, former employees and experts told Reuters.

With Trump reinstatement, Meta finds new ways to punish world leadersThe Washington Post Naomi Nix With its announcement that it would be reinstating former president Donald Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts, Meta warned that it could take a stronger stance against world leaders who post content that exacerbates civil unrest or breaks its rules.

Artificial Intelligence

What does GPT-3 “know” about me?MIT Technology Review Melissa Heikkilä Large language models (LLMs), such as OpenAI’s GPT-3, Google’s LaMDA, and Meta’s OPT-175B, are red hot in AI research, and they are becoming an increasingly integral part of the internet’s plumbing. LLMs are being used to power chatbots that help with customer service, to create more powerful online search, and to help software developers write code. If you’ve posted anything even remotely personal in English on the internet, chances are your data might be part of some of the world’s most popular LLMs.

Misc

Your therapist shouldn’t be on TikTokThe New Statesman Sarah Manavis When therapy is going well it is a judgement-free space where you can be truly honest about your feelings and flaws. Your therapist creates a safe environment where you can explore the hardest parts of yourself without fear. The thoughts flow. Walking out of a session you feel lighter, safe in the knowledge that whatever came up in that last hour will remain between you and this trusted person. Which is why I can’t then imagine how it must feel to open up social media later that same day to find your wise, trusted therapist sharing information about your session through the medium of a sassy dance routine, performed while lip syncing along to a Jack Harlow song.

SBF, Bored Ape Yacht Club, and the spectacular hangover after the art world’s NFT gold rushVanity Fair Nate Freeman Auction houses and talent agencies thought the Web3 works were a fast track to billions. If it weren’t for a global crypto meltdown, they might have pulled it off.


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