Intellectual Property Theft a Growing Threat

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The new U.S.-China trade agreement includes provisions that are aimed at curbing forced technology transfers, in which companies hand over technical know-how to foreign partners. For many high-tech businesses, the intellectual property behind their products represents the bulk of their companies’ value.  To learn more about the risks of IP theft, Elizabeth Lee recently visited the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where companies talked about the risks to their technology secrets.

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EU Legal Opinion: Mass Data Retention at Odds With EU Law

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A legal adviser at the European Union’s highest court said Wednesday that the bloc’s data protection rules should prevent member states from indiscriminately holding personal data seized from Internet and phone companies, even when intelligence agencies claim that national security is at stake.
In a non-binding opinion on how the European Court of Justice, or ECJ, should rule on issues relating to access by security and intelligence agencies to communications data retained by telecommunications providers, advocate general Campos Sanchez-Bordona said “the means and methods of combating terrorism must be compatible with the requirements of the rule of law.”
Commenting on a series of cases from France, the U.K. and Belgium — three countries that have been hit by extremist attacks in recent years and have reinforced surveillance — Sanchez-Bordona said that the ECJ’s case law should be upheld. He cited a case in which the court ruled that general and indiscriminate retention of communications “is disproportionate” and inconsistent with EU privacy directives.
The advocate general recommended limited access to the data, and only when it is essential “for the effective prevention and control of crime and the safeguarding of national security.”
The initial case was brought by Privacy International, a charity promoting the right to privacy. Referring to the ECJ’s case law, it said that the acquisition, use, retention, disclosure, storage and deletion of bulk personal data sets and bulk communications data by the U.K. security and intelligence agencies were unlawful under EU law.
The U.K.’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal referred the case to the ECJ, which held a joint hearing with two similar cases from France and another one from Belgium.
“We welcome today’s opinion from the advocate general and hope it will be persuasive to the Court,” said Caroline Wilson Palow, the Legal Director of Privacy International. “The opinion is a win for privacy. We all benefit when robust rights schemes, like the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, are applied and followed.”
The ECJ’s legal opinions aren’t legally binding, but are often followed by the court. The ECJ press service said a ruling is expected within two months.
“Should the court decide to follow the opinion of the advocate general, ‘metadata’ such as traffic and location data will remain subject to a high level of protection in the European Union, even when they are accessed for national security purposes,” said Luca Tosoni, a researcher at the Norwegian Research Center for Computers and Law. “This would require several member states — including Belgium, France, the U.K. and others — to amend their domestic legislation.”
  

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National Security Agency Discovers a Major Security Flaw in Microsoft’s Windows Operating System

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The National Security Agency has discovered a major security flaw in Microsoft’s Windows operating system and tipped off the company so that it can fix it.Microsoft made a software patch to fix it available Tuesday and credited the agency as the flaw’s discoverer.The company said it has not seen any evidence that hackers have used the technique discovered by the NSA.”Customers who have already applied the update, or have automatic updates enabled, are already protected,” said Jeff Jones, a senior director at Microsoft, in a statement.Priscilla Moriuchi, who retired from the NSA in 2017 after running its East Asia and Pacific operations, said this is a good example of the “constructive role” that the NSA can play in improving global information security. Moriuchi, now an analyst at the U.S. cybersecurity firm Recorded Future, said it’s likely a reflection of changes made in 2017 to how the U.S. determines whether to disclose a major vulnerability or exploit it for intelligence purposes.The revamping of what’s known as the “Vulnerability Equities Process” put more emphasis on disclosing unpatched vulnerabilities whenever possible to protect core internet systems and the U.S. economy and general public.Those changes happened after a group calling itself “Shadow Brokers” released a trove of high-level hacking tools stolen from the NSA.

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While Shuttered at Home, China Exploits Social Media Abroad

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China says its diplomats and government officials will fully exploit foreign social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter that are blocked off to its own citizens.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on Monday likened the government to “diplomatic agencies and diplomats of other countries” in embracing such platforms to provide “better communication with the people outside and to better introduce China’s situation and policies.”
Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms have tried for years without success to be allowed into the lucrative Chinese market, where Beijing has helped create politically reliable analogues such as Weichat and Weibo. Their content is carefully monitored by the companies and by government censors.
Despite that, Geng said China is “willing to strengthen communication with the outside world through social media such as Twitter to enhance mutual understanding.” He also insisted that the Chinese internet remained open and said the country has the largest number of users of any nation, adding, “we have always managed the internet in accordance with laws and regulations.”
The canny use of social media by pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong has further deepened China’s concern over the use of such platforms, prompting further crackdowns on the mainland, including on the use of virtual private networks.  

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US Scanning Cyberspace for Signs of Iranian Aggression

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U.S. government officials are watching and waiting, with many believing it is only a matter of time before Iran lashes out in cyberspace for the U.S. drone strike that killed Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani last week.According to the latest advisory from the Department of Homeland Security, there are still “no specific, credible threats” to the United States. But officials say Iran’s public assurances that it is done retaliating mean little.“Iran has been one of the most malicious actors out there,” a senior State Department official said Thursday. “We’re very concerned about Iran’s capabilities and activities.”U.S. government officials have been hesitant to comment in any detail on what Iranian cyber actors have been up to in recent days, though they note Iran’s capabilities are on par with Russia, China and North Korea when it comes to using cyber to target industrial control systems or physical infrastructure.“DHS [Department of Homeland Security] is operating under an enhanced posture to improve coordination and situational awareness should any specific threats emerge,” a department spokesperson told VOA.The spokesperson added DHS is coordinating with U.S. intelligence agencies, key private sector companies and organizations, and is ready to “implement enhanced security measures, as needed.”Iranian Cyber ActivityBracing for a ‘significant’ attackIntelligence officials say much of Iran’s cyber activity is driven by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), sometimes using front companies or sometimes carrying out cyberattacks themselves.Past Iranian cyberattacks have ranged from distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS), which block access to websites by overwhelming the server hosting the site with internet traffic, to efforts to deface websites or attempts to steal personal data.An alert this week from the FILE – The Twitter and Facebook logos, Nov. 26, 2019.Ramping up disinformation campaignsAnd once the U.S. airstrike took out Soleimani, the Iranian disinformation machinery went into action.“As that news came out, we saw them ramp their program and start pushing that stuff out,” Hultquist said.The disinformation from Iran’s proxy forces in the Middle East further increased Tuesday during Iran’s retaliatory missile strike on Iraqi bases hosting U.S. and coalition forces — “in terms of reports coming in about certain hits that happened and numbers of casualties from the Iranian response,” said Phillip Smyth, an analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who has been tracking social media activity by the Iranian-backed militias.But Iran-linked cyber actors have also eyed more ambitious campaigns.In October 2018, for example, Facebook and Instagram removed 82 accounts, pages and groups from their platforms.The posts, Facebook said, focused on “politically charged topics such as race relations, opposition to the [U.S.] president and immigration.”Facebook Removes 82 Iranian-Linked Accounts

        Facebook announced Friday that it has removed 82 accounts, pages or groups from its site and Instagram that originated in Iran, with some of the account owners posing as residents of the United States or Britain and tweeting about liberal politics.At least one of the Facebook pages had more than one million followers, the firm said. The company said it did not know if the coordinated behavior was tied to the Iranian government. 

Analysts said while those Iranian disinformation efforts paled in comparison to the campaign run by Russia in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, the effort showed signs of increasing sophistication, which has continued to this day.Some former U.S. officials and analysts also suspect Iran may be targeting news outlets.The Kuwaiti government Wednesday said the Kuwait News Agency’s Twitter account was hacked after it posted false reports that the U.S. was withdrawing all troops based in the country.Separately, hackers claiming to be working on behalf of Iran defaced the website of the U.S. Federal Depository Library Program.Despite suspicions and concerns, though, officials have yet to definitely attribute either attack to Iran. And there is a risk that such attacks are actually the work of other cyber actors.For example, former officials said there have been instances in the past where Russian cyber operatives hijacked Iranian infrastructure or malware to launch intrusions of their own.Targeting AmericansIran, though, has other tools it can use to strike the U.S. and the West. “Iranian cyber actors are targeting U.S. government officials, government organizations and companies to gain intelligence and position themselves for future cyber operations,” U.S. intelligence agencies warned in their most recent threat assessment.Iran’s Cyber Spies Looking to Get Personal

        Iran appears to be broadening its presence in cyberspace, stealing information that would allow its cyber spies to monitor and track key political and business officials, including some in the United States.A new, U.S. intelligence report released Tuesday warned Iranian cyber actors "are targeting U.S. Government officials, government organizations, and companies to gain intelligence and position themselves for future cyber operations."The latest Worldwide Threat Assessment also said Tehran has been…

The U.S.-based cybersecurity firms FireEye and Symantec have said their research shows Iranian-linked cyber actors have paid particular attention to telecommunications and travel companies, mining them for personal data that could prove useful in such cyber campaigns.Not everyone, however, is convinced Iran is positioned to launch a major cyber offensive.“A lot of the doom and gloom headlines that are out there right now, I think, are overblowing or overhyping the immediate cyberthreat coming from Iran,” Hoover Institution Fellow Jacquelyn Schneider said.“The reality is that Iranians have been conducting these cyberattacks over the last year, if not longer,” she said, adding that while there may well be an uptick in attacks, “they’ve been trying this entire time.”Still, a former U.S. National Security Agency threat manager cautions even a small cyberattack can inadvertently do widespread damage.“There’s always the potential that an attack or an intrusion, which is physically or strategically designed to only impact a certain geography or certain network, creeps to other parts of the network,” said Priscilla Moriuchi, now head of nation-state research at the cybersecurity firm Recorded Future.

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Vietnamese Investors More Cautious with Tech Startups

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Vietnamese startups are heading into the new year looking to avoid the mistakes of such companies as Uber and WeWork, which disappointed investors in 2019 for failing to turn a profit after so much buildup.Investors and entrepreneurs in the communist nation are taking a more critical look at their businesses after seeing others get burned overseas. WeWork, which rents out shared workspaces, was seen as a cautionary tale of a startup that did not live up to expectations and was not profitable.For years, investors were willing to back losing businesses to gain market share. But now, there is more scrutiny of new investments.Benchmarks setThe Vietnam Innovative Startup Accelerator (VIISA) requires its technology startups to meet a list of benchmarks throughout their time in the program.“Apart from very intuitive selection criteria that all applying startups have to go through, the program has introduced a new development measurement method, which helps us to capture the progress of startups that are accepted into VIISA,” Hieu Vo, a board member and chief financial officer at VIISA, said. “I think this process will bring out the best in each person for the particular business they have founded and committed to.”Vo said his colleagues sit down with startups when they join the accelerator to discuss key performance indicators, or KPI, that will be set as goals. VIISA also does training for the young businesses so they have quantifiable skills, such as how to structure a business deal, or how to set up their accounting system.Having metrics and ratings, Vo said, supports “both business performance, as well as personal transformation of founders.”Founder scrutinyThe founder as an individual has become a point of scrutiny for investors, who used to be more forgiving of an eccentric or aggressive founder, seen as part of the package to have a tech genius head an innovative business. But there has been a backlash among those who think too much permissiveness can damage a business, from the sexual misconduct amid the workplace culture of Uber, to the conflicts of interest in business decisions at WeWork.It helps to not just think short term and to have an outside perspective, according to Pham Manh Ha, founder and chief executive officer of Beekrowd, an investment platform in Ho Chi Minh City.“As a first-time founder, it seems impossible for us to look beyond the first six months to a year of our business,” he said, adding that experienced third parties can help businesses take the long view. “They stand outside the trees that are blocking us from seeing the forest.”To see the forest, Vietnamese businesses like his are taking a more measured approach. Vietnam has seen an escalation of tech startups, as investors have rushed to put their money to work and take advantage of the economy’s fast growth.They also remember the dot-com bubble in the United States, and the more recent global tech bubble, two reminders for caution.

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Facebook Again Refuses to Ban Political Ads, Even False Ones

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Despite escalating pressure ahead of the 2020 presidential election, Facebook reaffirmed its freewheeling policy on political ads Thursday, saying it won’t ban them, won’t fact-check them and won’t limit how they can be targeted to specific groups of people.Instead, Facebook said it will offer users slightly more control over how many political ads they see and make its online library of political ads easier to use.These steps appear unlikely to assuage critics — including politicians, activists, tech competitors and some of the company’s own rank-and-file employees — who say that Facebook has too much power and that social media is warping democracy and undermining elections.And Facebook’s stance stands in contrast to what its rivals are doing. Google has decided to limit targeting of political ads, while Twitter is banning them outright.Facebook Ads Show Russian Effort to Stoke Political Division

        Democrats on the House intelligence committee have released more than 3,500 Facebook ads that were created or promoted by a Russian internet agency, providing the fullest picture yet of Russia's attempt to sow racial and political division in the United States before and after the 2016 election.

Most of the ads are issue-based, pushing arguments for and against immigration, LGBT issues and gun rights, among other issues. A large number of them attempt to stoke racial divisions by mentioning police…
Since last fall, Facebook has insisted that it won’t fact-check political ads, a move that critics say gives politicians license to lie. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly argued that “political speech is important” and that Facebook doesn’t want to interfere with it.Google, the digital ads leader, is limiting political-ad targeting to broad categories such as sex, age and postal code.Facebook said in a blog post Thursday that it considered limiting custom audience targeting, known as microtargeting, for political ads. But it said it learned about the importance of such practices for “reaching key audiences” after talking with political campaigns from both major parties in the U.S., political groups and nonprofits.The company said it was guided by the principle that “people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all, and that what they say should be scrutinized and debated in public.”Facebook does plan to let users choose to see fewer political and social-issue ads, although it won’t let people exclude them entirely. It’s also going to let people choose whether or not to see ads, political or otherwise, from advertisers targeting them using their contact details, such as email address or phone number.US House Panel to Publicly Release Russia Facebook Ads

        The leaders of the U.S. 

The company is also tweaking its ad library so people can search for exact phrases and limit results using filters such as dates and regions reached.Facebook’s ad library currently lets anyone find out how much was spent on an ad, how many times it was seen, and the age, gender and location of the people who saw it.Sam Jeffers, co-founder of Who Targets Me, an advocacy group researching political advertising, said Facebook is wise to permit microtargeting for political ads, despite calls for a ban.He said it is better to provide more background information on ads because it can give more insight into the actors behind them and their strategies. Facebook has made a start in that direction by adding information on an ad’s audience size, but he said it should give much more explanation about targeted ads.“By making it easier for you to understand what data’s in there, you can also understand what the advertiser’s intent was,” Jeffers said.The changes related to ad disclosures will go into effect over the next three months in the U.S. and other countries where Facebook puts the “paid for by” disclaimers on political ads. The political-ad controls won’t roll out in the U.S. until early summer.

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Hollywood-Backed Quibi Thinks You’ll Pay for its Video Bites

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A startup heavily backed  by Hollywood is wagering that you’re ready to set aside YouTube and TikTok to watch star-studded short videos on your phone — for a price.The company behind this billion-dollar bet is Quibi, which is preparing to offer movies, shows and other short-form video designed for viewing in short bursts on mobile devices. It’s an enormous gamble, especially considering that several earlier efforts in mobile entertainment — most notably Verizon’s ill-fated Go90 service — fell flat.Founded by former Disney studios chief and DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and helmed by former Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman, Quibi is heavy on big ideas and Hollywood muscle. It has backing from all the major movie studios and entertainment companies, $1 billion invested in original programming, and star power in the form of creators and producers from Steven Spielberg to Chrissy Teigen.Quibi plans to launch April 6. It will charge $5 a month for an ad-supported service, and $8 a month for an ad-free version.Company executives argued at CES that Quibi will offer the first entertainment platform designed exclusively for the phone. In an interview at CES, Katzenberg said it represents the first time “professional storytellers” have tackled the problem of delivering a high-quality viewing experience on mobile.Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg speaks during a Quibi keynote address at the 2020 CES in Las Vegas, Nevada, Jan. 8, 2020.But the big question is whether a subscription service like Quibi can attract mobile viewers — particularly younger ones — already immersed in an ocean of free-to-watch short video on YouTube and other social-media services. It will also go up against roughly a half-dozen other paid streaming platforms from Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu to Disney Plus and upcoming services from WarnerMedia and NBC Universal.Upcoming showsDuring the keynote, Quibi previewed shows including “Don’t Look Deeper,” a sci-fi show starring Don Cheadle and Emily Mortimer, and “#Freerayshawn” a crime thriller starring Laurence Fishburne as a cop and executive produced by “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua. Shows and movies, as well as other material like news and weather, are designed to be watched in “quick bites” of 10 minutes or less.”‘Paid premium short form (video)’ has never been in the same sentence, it has never really been proven,” said Seth Shapiro, managing partner at Pacific Strategy Partners. “That’s the challenge.” Among other things, he noted, it’s already possible for people to watch those other services in the same quick bites Quibi plans.Quibi executives at the CES gadget show in Las Vegas showed off technology on Wednesday designed to make video viewing on the phone easier. For instance, it will let you watch full-screen video whether you hold the phone upright or sideways.Filmmakers deliver two edits to the company, one vertical, one horizontal, and Quibi stitches them together with one audio track. Some creators have incorporated that feature into their productions, as in one show in which horizontal viewing delivers a traditional picture — but turning the phone upright displays a view from the main character’s phone camera.AdvertisingAdvertisers, at least, are on board. Quibi said it has sold out its $150 million first-year advertising slots to blue-chip companies including Procter & Gamble, Anheuser Busch, General Mills, Google, T-Mobile and Walmart. Ads will appear before shows and aren’t skippable.Jeff Wlodarczak, principal analyst at Pivotal Research Group, says he understands why advertisers are flocking to the product. Millennials can be hard to reach, he said, and when a brand places ads on YouTube or Snapchat, they never quite know what kind of video they might end up next to.Quibi offers a safe place for advertisers by delivering a known quantity “as opposed to people doing something stupid on YouTube,” he said.That advertising model will stick around, Whitman said. Quibi guarantees that all creators own their own intellectual property, and can repackage it and take it wherever else they want after seven years. It brought creators in, but it also means that Quibi needs both subscriber dollars and advertising revenue to stay afloat.The company just closed on another $400 million equity funding round from investors, Whitman said, and has a plan to be profitable “soon.”Others have tried short-form content, mostly in ad-supported form. Facebook Watch features original shows with episodes as short as 12 or 13 minutes, but none have garnered much buzz or mainstream attention so far. Verizon pulled the plug on Go90 in 2018, roughly three years after it launched; several concurrent efforts have also shut down. Meanwhile, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have all been experimenting with short-form offerings,  many of them in comedy.Quibi is “either brilliant or tone deaf,” said Tim Hanlon, CEO of Vertere Group. “I just don’t know what the answer is and I don’t think anybody does.”
 

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