Trump Signs into Law US Government Ban on Kaspersky Lab Software

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President Donald Trump signed into law on Tuesday legislation that bans the use of Kaspersky Lab within the U.S. government, capping a months-long effort to purge the Moscow-based antivirus firm from federal agencies amid concerns it was vulnerable to Kremlin influence.

The ban, included as part of broader defense policy spending legislation that Trump signed, reinforces a directive issued by the Trump administration in September that civilian agencies remove Kaspersky Lab software within 90 days. The law applies to both civilian and military networks.

“The case against Kaspersky is well-documented and deeply concerning. This law is long overdue,” said Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who led calls in Congress to scrub the software from government computers. She added that the company’s software represented a “grave risk” to U.S. national security.

Kaspersky Lab has repeatedly denied that it has ties to any government and said it would not help a government with cyber espionage. In an attempt to address suspicions, the company said in October it would submit the source code of its software and future updates for inspection by independent parties.

U.S. officials have said that step, while welcomed, would not be sufficient.

In a statement on Tuesday, Kaspersky Lab said it continued to have “serious concerns” about the law “due to its geographic-specific approach to cybersecurity.”

It added that the company was assessing its options and would continue to “protect its customers from cyber threats (while) collaborating globally with the IT security community to fight cybercrime.”

On Tuesday, Christopher Krebs, a senior cyber security official at the Department of Homeland Security, told reporters that nearly all government agencies had fully removed Kaspersky products from their networks in compliance with the September order.

Kaspersky’ official response to the ban did not appear to contain any information that would change the administration’s assessment of Kaspersky Lab, Krebs said.

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China Displays Clout at Internet Conference But Some Doubts Remain

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China made an impressive display of its clout in the digital economy during a three-day internet conference in Beijing last week by pulling together the participation of U.N. agencies, the World Telecom Union and CEOs of major US based IT companies like Google, Apple and Cisco System.

The conference started with a message from Chinese president Xi Jinping who said, “China would never close its doors. They will only be open wider and wider going forward.”

But at the same time, Xi and Wang Huning, one of the ruling Communist Party’s seven most powerful men, emphasized the need for “cyber sovereignty,” which allows individual countries to establish cyber boundaries to protect their respective sovereign interests.

Xi said that besides benefits, “the internet has also brought many new challenges to the sovereignty, security and development interests of nations across the world.”

The Cyber Administration of China, which organized the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen city, was trying to obtain public confirmation about its Internet policies. This was also the first time the annual conference, which started in 2014, had attracted a high-profile attendance from heads of major international companies and agencies.

Analysts are skeptical the conference helped to boost China’s quest to influence rulemaking in the digital world. Many have noted that none of the foreign speakers specifically referred to Internet controls in China, which include bans on U.S. based services like Google, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

“I certainly don’t see (this) as China’s role as a rule setting has expanded. The regulatory bodies and standards actually usually doesn’t apply to China,” Jacob Cooke, CEO of consulting firm, Web Presence in China told VOA. “There is actually a noticeable lack of Chinese presence… And, likewise here there is no international presence in terms of regulatory body or rules and regulations.”

 Apple’s challenge

Apple recently removed hundreds of apps from its app store in China to adhere to the Chinese great firewall of censorship. Apple CEO Tim Cook did not mention that at the conference but said Apple shared the same vision with China on open Internet.

“The theme of this conference—developing a digital economy for openness and shared benefits—is a vision we at Apple share,” Cook said adding, “We are proud to have worked alongside many of our partners in China to help build a community that will join a common future in cyberspace.”

But in the wake of Apple’s decisions to remove APPS and similar moves, questions have surfaced about whether American CEOs are indirectly endorsing China’s censorship methods in their eagerness to obtain a larger slice of the country’s lucrative market.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy specifically targeted the Apple chief for failing to promote freedom of expression. “Apple is clearly a force for good in China, but I also believe it and other tech companies must continue to push back on Chinese suppression of free expression,” Leahy said.

Cook responded with a statement saying, “Each country in the world decides their laws and their regulations, and so your choice is do you participate or stand on the sideline and yell at how things should be…. And my own view, very strongly, is that you show up and you participate, you go in the arena. Because nothing changes from sideline.”

Cooke of Web Presence in China agrees, adding that such questions are not Apple’s responsibility.

“If you want do to business in a country you got to obey rules and laws of that country. That’s with any business. I mean it is not up to you to criticize or change the laws that serve the politicians,” Cooke said.

Robert Elliot Kahn, regarded by many as father of the Internet for co-inventing Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP) views the controversy over China’s internet restrictions in a somewhat different light.

“Governments are going to impose their own rules and regulations; that’s the way the world works,” he told VOA on the sidelines of the conference. “But if we can make it easier for people to build better products and services, to get more services to the public and is supported by people and governments around the world, I think that’s progress for humanity.”

Seeking business

It was apparent from the meeting that western businessmen, including Cook and Google CEO Sudar Pichai, were doing what they can to expand in the Chinese market. Although Google’s browser and Gmail is banned in China and the company left China more than seven years ago, Bloomberg recently reported that the company was making a comeback investing artificial intelligence. 

“A lot of work Google does is to help Chinese companies. Many small and medium-sized businesses in China take advantage of Google to get their products to many other countries outside of China,” Pichai said.

Cook pointed out that Apple’s app store has helped give China’s 1.8 million developers total earnings worth $16.9 billion, which is the highest earned by developers in any country.

In a quote widely used in state media Cook said, “many people see China as a big market, but for us the main attraction is the quality of the people.”

But in the end, analysts note that China’s influence remains limited to the extent of the market it can offer to foreign companies and this is limited by the fact that several giant Chinese companies are jostling to fill every inch of the space.

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Silicon Valley Job Fair Caters to New Immigrants, Refugees

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Khaled Turkmani fled Syria and traveled through five countries before he ended up in San Francisco. He immediately began to look for work in the technology industry.

Despite his degree in computer science, Turkmani spent nine months working at “survival jobs” – selling shoes and assembling furniture. He also worked as a web site developer earning $10 an hour, a job he says typically pays U.S. workers $50 an hour.

 

“It was super painful,” he said. “But for me, work is work.”

 

Turkmani, who has asylum, is lucky. He found a training program called Upwardly Global, a non-profit that teaches skilled immigrants and refugees how to search for their first professional jobs in the United States.

 

At the organization, Turkmani learned about networking, America-style, and is now an IT manager.

 

“The job won’t come to you and say, ‘Take me,’” he said. “You have to search for it.”

 

For new immigrants to the United States, the first few years are often a struggle, even for those who have university degrees and years of experience in professional careers. According to one report, more than a million college-educated immigrants in the United States work in low-skilled jobs.

 

These immigrants are often overlooked in the political debate about immigrants in the United States who lack the proper work authorization, as well as tech companies seeking temporary work visas so that skilled workers can be brought to the United States. These immigrants, who have work authorization, often comprise an untapped talent pool within the community, says Upwardly Global.

Language barriers

 

The need to learn English is part of the problem for many new arrivals, but also, the way people get jobs in the United States is often different than in other countries, a gap that Upwardly Global works to bridge. Founded in 2000, with offices in San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Washington, the organization serves immigrants, with college degrees or higher, who have authorization to work in the United States.

The organization says it has placed 4,700 people into their careers. In the San Francisco Bay Area, participants’ salaries jump $52,000 on average after completing the training and finding a professional position.

 

At a recent job fair focused on people with technical skills, immigrants and refugees from countries including Russia, Iran and Eritrea, met with 10 potential employers such as Yelp and TaskRabbit.

 

Ivan Vislov, a Russian immigrant attending the event with his wife, expected tech jobs would be easy to find when they arrived in California’s technology corridor known as Silicon Valley. They were IT professionals coming to a region eager for qualified, talented workers, after all.

 

The reality is he has had to brush up on his English, and he has a mentor, who can give him quick advice on his resumes and how to network.

 

In fact, there are many small things newcomers to the United States have to learn about searching for jobs, said Emmanuel Iman, a graduate of Upwardly Global and now the head of the organization’s alumni network. He came from Nigeria.

 

For one thing, curriculum vitae in other countries tend to have a long list of duties, he said. In the United States a resume is typically no more than two pages long and is a document of a person’s accomplishments.

 

Also, a strong handshake and looking a potential employer in the eye, which in some other cultures may be seen as disrespectful, are key in the United States.

 

“Here in the United States, you are expected to look directly into someone’s eyes,” he said. “And when you meet someone, you have to give them a firm handshake. All those show confidence.”

 

At the end of the job fair, having handed out his resume and shaken many hands, Vislov said he planned to follow up with employers. And in the weeks ahead, he would attend hackathons and job fairs, doing what it takes to find that first U.S. professional job.

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Fusion Reactor Under Construction in France Halfway Complete

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The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, ITER, now under construction in southern France, is often called the most complicated scientific instrument in the world. The project was launched in 1985 at the US-Soviet summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. Its director says it is now 50% complete and on track to produce cheap energy from what will essentially be a tiny sun in its core. VOA’s George Putic reports.

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A Silicon Valley Job Fair Caters to New Immigrants and Refugees

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More than a million college-educated immigrants in the U.S. are in low skilled jobs, according to estimates. But they have trouble finding work in their professions, including in the U.S. tech industry, which desperately needs skilled workers. A special technology industry job fair this week in San Francisco brought together refugees and new immigrants with potential employers. VOA’s Michelle Quinn reports.

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Digital World Provides Benefits and Risks for Children

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The U.N. Children’s Fund says the explosion of digital technology and growing internet access holds both benefits and risks for children.  UNICEF’s annual State of the World’s Children report explores ways to protect children from the potential harm of the expanding digital world. 

The U.N. children’s fund reports one in three internet users around the world is a child.  Despite this huge and growing online presence, UNICEF says little is known about the impact of digital technology on children’s wellbeing and little is being done to protect them from the perils of the digital world.

UNICEF Director of Data Research and Policy Laurence Chandy tells VOA the internet can be a game changer for children.

“We sincerely believe that especially for kids in places where opportunities are few or for children who are disabled living in remote places … it is completely intuitive that the internet has enormous potential and is already helping children access opportunity that just was not conceivable not long ago,” said Chandy. 

At the same time, he says the internet poses many risks.  These include the misuse of children’s private information, access to harmful content and cyberbullying.  Chandy says criminal digital networks make children vulnerable to some of the worst forms of exploitation and abuse, including trafficking and online child sexual abuse.

He says safeguarding children’s privacy on the internet is an issue of major concern.

“We really emphasize the importance of putting in place safeguards to prevent children’s personal data from falling in wrong peoples’ hands and protecting their identities,” said Chandy. “This is an issue which is only going to grow in importance.” 

While the risks are great, Chandy criticizes businesses and regulators for doing little to reduce the dangers.    

The report finds millions of children still are missing out on the benefits offered by the internet.  It notes around one-third of the world’s youth, most in developing countries, are not online.  It calls for these inequities to be addressed.  It says children everywhere must be given the opportunity to participate in an increasingly digital economy. 

 

 

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Satellite Technology Helps Protect Ocean Wildlife

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Scientists around the world are increasingly using satellite technology to study life on earth. Small, inexpensive transponders attached to animals track their movement and interaction with humans, helping scientists and activists protect endangered species. Oceana, an international organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of the world’s oceans, teamed with shark researchers to study the fishing industry’s impact on one shark species. VOA’s George Putic reports.

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UN Calls on Social Media Giants to Control Platforms Used to Lure African Migrants

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The U.N. migration agency called on social media giants Friday to make it harder for people smugglers to use their platforms to lure West African migrants to Libya where they can face detention, torture, slavery or death.

The smugglers often use Facebook to reach would-be migrants with false promises of jobs in Europe, International Organization for Migration (IOM) spokesman Leonard Doyle said.

When migrants are tortured, video is also sometimes sent back to their families over WhatsApp, as a means of extortion, he said.

“We really … ask social media companies to step up and behave in a responsible way when people are being lured to deaths, to their torture,” Doyle told a Geneva news briefing.

There were no immediate replies from Facebook or WhatsApp to requests by Reuters for comment.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants have attempted to cross the Mediterranean to Europe since 2014, and 3,091 have died en route this year alone, many after passing through Libya.

This year, 165,000 migrants have entered Europe, about 100,000 fewer than all of last year, but the influx has presented a political problem for European countries.

Who ‘polices’ pages?

IOM has been in discussions with social media providers about its concerns, Doyle said, adding: “And so far to very little effect. What they say is, ‘Please tell us the pages and we will shut them down.’

“It is not our job to police Facebook’s pages. Facebook should police its own pages,” he said.

Africa represents a big and expanding market for social media, but many people are unemployed and vulnerable, he said.

“Facebook is pushing out, seeking market share across West Africa and pushing out so-called free basics, which allows … a ‘dumb phone’ to get access to Facebook. So you are one click from the smuggler, one click from the lies,” he said.

Social media companies are “giving a turbocharged communications channel to criminals, to smugglers, to traffickers, to exploiters,” he added.

Images broadcast by CNN last month appeared to show migrants being auctioned off as slaves by Libyan traffickers. This sparked anger in Europe and Africa and highlighted the risks migrants face.

Doyle called for social media companies to invest in civic-minded media outreach and noted that on Google, pop-up windows appear if a user is looking at pornography images, to warn of danger or criminality.

The IOM has helped 13,000 migrants to return voluntarily to Nigeria, Guinea and other countries from Libya this year. It provides them with transport and pocket money and documents their often harrowing testimonies.

Doyle said it was currently repatriating 4,000 migrants to Niger. Switzerland said Friday that it was willing to take in up to 80 refugees in Libya in need of protection, among 5,000 who the U.N. refugee agency says are in a precarious position.

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Net Neutrality Advocates Speak Up as FCC Set to Strike Down Rules

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Net neutrality is a simple concept but a dense and often technical issue that has been argued over for years in tech and telecom circles. Now everyday folks are talking about it.

That’s because the Federal Communications Commission has scheduled a vote next week to gut Obama-era rules meant to stop broadband companies such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon from exercising more control over what people watch and see on the internet. The protests aren’t likely to stop the agency’s vote on Thursday, but activists hope the outcry will push Congress to intervene and will show support for stricter regulation down the road.

Net neutrality has been a hot button before, thanks to assists from Silicon Valley and TV host John Oliver speaking out about what they see as threats to the internet. More Hollywood celebrities have been joining the cry against the agency’s direction.

“Long live cute dog videos on YouTube! #RIPinternet. Share what you loved about The Internet,” actor Mark Ruffalo tweeted as he urged people to push Congress to intervene. Big-time Hollywood producer Shonda Rhimes tweeted a link to a story about saving net-neutrality on her lifestyle website.

Net-neutrality rules bar cable and phone companies from favoring certain websites and apps — such as their own services — and give the FCC more oversight over privacy and the activities of telecom companies. Supporters worry that repealing them would hurt startups and other companies that couldn’t afford to pay a broadband company for faster access to customers.

Critics of the rules say that they hurt investment in internet infrastructure and represent too much government involvement in business. Phone and cable companies say the rules aren’t necessary because they already support an open internet.

While libertarian and conservative think tanks and telecom trade groups have spoken up against net neutrality, everyday people have been vocal in protesting the rules’ repeal.

Since the FCC announced just before Thanksgiving that it was planning to gut the rules, there have been about 750,000 calls to Congress made through Battle for the Net, a website run by groups that advocate for net neutrality. By contrast, there were fewer than 30,000 calls in the first two weeks of November. While Congress doesn’t need to approve FCC decisions, it can overrule the agency by passing a law.

Net neutrality also has triggered discussions all over social media, even in groups that typically do not discuss tech policy. In one Facebook group about leggings seller LuLaRoe, one woman’s lament about the repeal triggered more than 270 responses. They included questions about what net neutrality was, links to explanations and statements of support. The discussion sprawled into the next day.

Meanwhile, net-neutrality supporters protested outside 700 Verizon stores Thursday, said Tim Karr, senior director of strategy for Free Press, an advocacy group involved in Battle for the Net. In midtown Manhattan, some 350 people came to chant slogans and wave signs.

“Access to a free and fair internet is necessary for a functioning democracy,” said Lauren Gruber, a writer for a branding agency who joined the New York protest. If the net-neutrality rules are repealed, she said, “it’s just another showcase of oligarchy upon America.”

Most people don’t follow what federal agencies like the FCC are doing, even though decisions can have a lot of impact on people’s lives, said Beth Leech, political science professor at Rutgers University. Having celebrities speak out can help spark people’s interest, she said.

“Protests that draw average people out into the streets across the country are relatively rare,” she said. “It’s the rarity that gives them some of their power.”

The liberal organization MoveOn is urging Americans to speak up for net neutrality. Democratic senators have called for a delay in next Thursday’s vote, while Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel urged backers to “make a ruckus.” Some Democrats are hoping that the gutting of Obama-era net neutrality rules will become a campaign rallying cry in 2018 and beyond.

“Net neutrality has the potential to motivate young and progressive voters to turn out,” said Tyler Law, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which tries to get Democrats elected to the House.

“There will be a political price to pay for those who are on the wrong side of this issue, because net neutrality’s time as a campaign issue has arrived,” Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., a longtime net neutrality supporter, said on a call with reporters Wednesday.

Republican campaign officials didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The FCC’s commenting system has logged 23 million comments, compared with roughly 4 million for the last blockbuster issue — when the agency approved the net-neutrality rules in 2015. An August study by a data firm backed by the telecom industry found that 60 percent of the comments made this year supported keeping the 2015 rules.

But the commenting system has been messy. The FCC says millions of comments used temporary email accounts from fakemailgenerator.com, hundreds of thousands of comments came from one address in Russia and many comments were duplicates.

Some net-neutrality supporters have become intensely personal in their advocacy. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and his staff have called out ugly and racist tweets and death threats. Pai also said activists came to his home to post signs that referenced his children. One man was charged in November with threatening to kill U.S. Rep. John Katko and his family if the New York Republican didn’t support net neutrality.

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Ford to Test New Self-driving Vehicle Technology in 2018

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Ford Motor Co will begin testing its latest self-driving vehicle technology next year in at least one city but has not changed its plan to begin commercial production until 2021, the company said.

The automaker said on Thursday that it would test self-driving prototypes in various pilot programs with partners such as Lyft, the ride services company in which rival General Motors owns a minority stake, and Domino’s Pizza. However, Ford has still not decided whether to operate its own on-demand transportation service.

New business models

In a blog post, Jim Farley, president of global markets, said Ford also would test new business models that involve its self-driving vehicles, including the movement of people and goods.

GM unveiled plans last week to introduce its own on-demand ride-sharing service in several U.S. cities in 2019, using self-driving versions of the battery-powered Chevrolet Bolt.

Ford is shifting production of a future battery electric vehicle to Mexico to free up capacity at its Flat Rock, Michigan, plant to build the self-driving vehicles in 2021, according to spokesman Alan Hall.

The electric vehicle, whose more-advanced battery system will enable a driving range of more than 300 miles, will go into production in 2020 at Ford’s Cuatitlan plant, which suppliers say will also build a new hybrid crossover vehicle around the same time.

Adding 850 jobs

At the Flat Rock plant, Ford is boosting investment to $900 million from $700 million and adding 850 jobs.

Both the 2020 electric and the 2021 self-driving vehicles will draw on the next-generation Ford Focus for some of their underbody structure and components while using different propulsion systems.

Unlike the full electric vehicle from Cuatitlan, the self-driving vehicle from Flat Rock will use a hybrid system with a gasoline engine and an electric motor, Hall said.

 

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Report: Ethiopia Targeted Dissidents, Journalists With International Spyware Attacks 

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Since 2016, the Ethiopian government has targeted dissidents and journalists in nearly two dozen countries with spyware provided by an Israeli software company, according to a new report from Citizen Lab, a research and development group at the University of Toronto.

Once their computers are infected, victims of the attack can be monitored covertly whenever they browse the web, the report says.

Based on an in-depth analysis of the methods used to trick victims into installing the software, Citizen Lab concluded that “agencies of the Ethiopian government” deployed the spyware to target individuals critical of their policies. 

More than 40 devices in 20 countries were infected, according to Citizen Lab’s research. It’s unknown how many individuals might have been targeted.

​Full access

Citizen Lab’s report found that attackers used email to target dissidents, outspoken critics and perceived enemies by impersonating legitimate websites and software companies. In some cases, they sent messages about events related to Ethiopian politics, with links purporting to show related videos. 

Those links led to web pages that prompted victims to update their Flash Players or download “Adobe PdfWriter,” fictitious software that, in fact, led to CutePDF Writer, a tool to create PDF files.

The attackers embedded the spyware in bona fide programs by exploiting security vulnerabilities, creating the impression that recipients were installing legitimate software and coaxing them to provide the administrator-level permissions needed to activate the surveillance. Once installed, the spyware spread to additional files tied to web browsers, making the software difficult to remove and nearly always active.

Any activity on an infected computer can be monitored, and information from web searches, emails and Skype contact lists can be extracted. A remote operator can take screenshots and record audio and video from a connected webcam.

Based on information provided by WiFi networks, attackers can also track the physical location of the infected device.

“Once the government has that information, they can do things like hijacking your email account,” said Bill Marczak, a senior research fellow at Citizen Lab and lead author of the new report.

“So, they’ll sign into your email account and then use your account to target your friends and basically expand the number of targets they have,” Marczak told VOA.

Eritrean, Ethiopian dissidents among those targeted

In October 2016, the Ethiopian government declared a nearly year-long state of emergency following months of protests that spread across the country.

Those protests — and a subsequent government crackdown that resulted in more than 800 deaths, according to a 2016 report by Amnesty International — were monitored by diaspora media groups, including the Oromia Media Network. 

OMN’s executive director, Jawar Mohammed, was a confirmed target of the recently uncovered spyware attack. 

“The pattern seems to be that they were very interested in what these Oromo activists and journalists were saying, how they were working, and perhaps even whom they were talking to back in Ethiopia,” Marczak said.

The Citizen Lab report also found seven infections in Ethiopia’s neighbor and longtime rival, Eritrea, most of whom were targets with ties to Eritrean government agencies and businesses.

According to Human Rights Watch, this is at least the third spyware vendor since 2013 that Ethiopia has used to target dissidents, journalists and activists. 

Ethiopia previously used Remote Control System spyware from HackingTeam, an Italian company, to target journalists based in the United States, Citizen Lab said. It said Ethiopia also targeted dissidents using FinSpy spyware by FinFisher, a company based in Munich, Germany.

Citizen Lab’s analysis produced an unusual level of detail about the program due to the discovery of a publicly available log file with in-depth data about both the attackers and targets. After analyzing that file, Citizen Lab concluded “that the spyware’s operators are inside Ethiopia, and that victims also include various Eritrean companies and government agencies.”

Since the Israel-based spyware manufacturer was only authorized to sell their software to intelligence and law enforcement agencies, Citizen Lab concluded that the Ethiopian government was behind the attacks.

Israeli security firm

The group behind the spyware, Cyberbit, is a subsidiary of Elbit Systems, a $3 billion company that trades on the NASDAQ. Cyberbit describes itself as “a team of cybersecurity experts, who know firsthand what it means to protect high-risk organizations and manage complex incidents.”

The spyware used in the attacks uncovered by Citizen Lab is called PC Surveillance System (PSS). Cyberbit no longer lists PSS on its website, but marketing materials from 2015 describe the software as “a comprehensive solution for monitoring and extracting information from remote PCs.” 

Key features touted by Cyberbit include covert operation, the ability to bypass encryption and the ability to target devices anywhere in the world. Cyberbit marketed the product to intelligence organizations and law enforcement agencies.

Citizen Lab also determined that Cyberbit representatives contacted Zambia’s Financial Intelligence Center and potential clients in Rwanda and Nigeria.

Spying with impunity

Citizen Lab and Human Rights Watch both have raised concerns about the ease with which governments can acquire sophisticated surveillance tools to target dissidents with impunity.

According to Marczak, it’s legal to produce and sell spyware to governments and law enforcement organizations, but Cyberbit would have required approval from the Israeli government to export the software to Ethiopia.

Missing in the process, Marczak said, is careful consideration of the impact on human rights.

In their report, researchers with Citizen Lab concluded that, “The fact that PSS wound up in the hands of Ethiopian government agencies, which for many years have demonstrably misused spyware to target civil society, raises urgent questions around Cyberbit’s corporate social responsibility and due diligence efforts, and the effectiveness of Israel’s export controls in preventing human rights abuses.”

The use of spyware by governments to monitor people around the world also occupies a murky legal space.

In 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissed a lawsuit filed by an American citizen born in Ethiopia. The plaintiff claimed the Ethiopian government used spyware to monitor his activities for months, but the court dismissed the case because the law allegedly broken did not apply to foreign states.

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Bitcoin Worth Millions Stolen Days Before US Exchange Opens

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A bitcoin mining company in Slovenia has been hacked for the possible theft of tens of millions of dollars, just days before the virtual currency, which hit a record above $15,000 on Thursday, is due to start trading on major U.S. exchanges.

NiceHash, a company that mines bitcoins on behalf of customers, said it is investigating a security breach and will stop operating for 24 hours while it verifies how many bitcoins were taken.

Research company Coindesk said that a wallet address referred to by NiceHash users indicates that about 4,700 bitcoins had been stolen. At Thursday’s record price of about $15,000, that puts the value at over $70 million.

There was no immediate response from NiceHash to an emailed request for more details.

“The incident has been reported to the relevant authorities and law enforcement and we are cooperating with them as a matter of urgency,” it said. The statement urged users to change their online passwords.

Slovenian police are investigating the case together with authorities in other states, spokesman Bostjan Lindav said, without providing details.

 

The hack will put a spotlight on the security of bitcoin just as the trading community prepares for the currency to start trading on two established U.S. exchanges. Futures for bitcoin will start trading on the Chicago Board Options Exchange on Sunday evening and on crosstown rival CME Group’s platforms later in the month.

That has increased the sense among some investors that bitcoin is gaining in mainstream legitimacy after several countries, like China, tried to stifle the virtual currency.

 

As a result, the price of bitcoin has jumped in the past year, particularly so in recent weeks. On Thursday it surged to over $15,000, up $1,300 in less than a day, according to Coindesk. At the start of the year, one bitcoin was worth less than $1,000.

 

Bitcoin is the world’s most popular virtual currency. Such currencies are not tied to a bank or government and allow users to spend money anonymously. They are basically lines of computer code that are digitally signed each time they are traded.

 

A debate is raging on the merits of such currencies. Some say they serve merely to facilitate money laundering and illicit, anonymous payments. Others say they can be helpful methods of payment, such as in crisis situations where national currencies have collapsed.

Miners of bitcoins and other virtual currencies help keep the systems honest by having their computers keep a global running tally of transactions. That prevents cheaters from spending the same digital coin twice.

 

Online security is a vital concern for such dealings.

In Japan, following the failure of a bitcoin exchange called Mt. Gox, new laws were enacted to regulate bitcoin and other virtual currencies. Mt. Gox shut down in February 2014, saying it lost about 850,000 bitcoins, possibly to hackers.

Ali Zerdin in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and Carlo Piovano in London contributed to this story.

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Apple CEO Hopeful Banned Apps Will Return to China Store

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Apple’s chief executive said Wednesday he’s optimistic some apps that fell afoul of China’s tight internet laws will eventually be restored after being removed earlier this year.

Speaking at a business forum in southern China, CEO Tim Cook also dismissed criticism of his appearance days earlier at an internet conference promoting Beijing’s vison of a censored internet.

Cook’s high-profile appearance Sunday at the government-organized World Internet Conference drew comments from activists and U.S. politicians who say Apple should do more to push back against Chinese internet restrictions.

He said he believed strongly in freedoms but also thought that foreign companies need to play by local rules where they operate.

When asked about Chinese government policies requiring removal of apps, including ones from operators of virtual private networks that can get around the country’s internet filters, he said, “My hope over time is that some of these things, the couple things that have been pulled, come back.”

“I have great hope on that and great optimism,” he added.

Cook said he didn’t care about being criticized for working with China, because he believes change is more likely when companies participate rather than opting to “stand on the sideline and yell at how things should be.”

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Flourishing Esports Eye Olympic Games Link for Extra Boost

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Booming esports do not need the Olympics to maintain their explosive growth, but a link with the world’s biggest multisports event would validate gaming worldwide and give the Games a much-needed younger audience, industry leaders say.

Esports, the competitive side of electronic gaming, have an estimated 250 million players, more than several of the traditional Olympic sports federations combined.

The market is also worth about $1 billion dollars a year and growing, with lucrative tournaments springing up across the world and professional teams competing for huge prize money in front of millions of mainly young viewers online.

“This will be the biggest sport in the world within 20 years,” said Logitech CEO Bracken Darrell, whose company has been making computer and gaming equipment for decades and is now riding the wave of esports.

Logitech’s gaming division has enjoyed 25 to 35 percent growth annually in the past four years alone, Darrell told Reuters. “What has happened surprises us as much as it does everyone. Esports will probably be as big or bigger than football. The earlier the Olympics gets in the mix, the better.”

Tournaments around the world are packing arenas, with the Beijing’s Birds Nest stadium, host of the 2008 Olympics, filling up for last month’s League of Legends World Championship final, which also attracted 60 million viewers online.

Traditional sports team owners from every major league are buying into esports, eager to tap into the growing market.

Olympic recognition

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) last month recognized esports as a sport, the first clear indication to the growing industry that it wants to link up.

With the IOC’s traditional audience aging and several Olympic sports past their international sell-by date, it is desperate to attract younger people even if it means breaking with tradition.

“Esports are showing strong growth, especially within the youth demographic across different countries, and can provide a platform for engagement with the Olympic movement,” the IOC said last month.

Global audiences are expected to reach 385.5 million this year, according to research firm Newzoo, and as events multiply and interest grows, it looks like a one-way street for the IOC.

“We consider esports as entertainment with competitive and sports characteristics,” Jan Pommer, director of team and federation relations at the Electronic Sports League (ESL), a worldwide leader in organizing esports competitions, told Reuters.

“We fully recognize, though, the reservations of the traditional sports world. Esports competitors train like traditional athletes, they are very fit, they have their own nutritionists and psychologists. Esports has all the characteristics of traditional sports.”

Growth guaranteed

The lucrative young market has also attracted a multitude of other investors, such as NBA player Jonas Jerebko of the Utah Jazz, who recently acquired esports team Renegades. 

“I did some research and checked out how many people watch esports and how big they are getting,” Jerebko told Reuters. “How much prize money, how many sponsors were getting involved.

“There won’t be less esports — it’s going to continue to grow. Many of the traditional sports are losing athletes, the interest for the Olympics has probably declined with the existing sports, so they’re trying to win back this new audience.”

The benefits for the Olympics are clear, with a potential new stream of revenue through sponsorship, broadcast rights and marketing as well as a rejuvenation of their fan base.

It is not only the IOC, though, that emerges a winner in such a possible alliance, with esports shaking off its still somewhat amateur image, Darrell said.

“There is still a bit of a what-are-they-doing-in-the-basement feel to gaming,” he said. “[An Olympic association] would help validate where the whole industry has got to quietly.”

ESL’s Pommer said esports did not necessarily need to be part of the main Olympics.

“We can build bridges. We do not demand, the industry does not demand, anything from traditional sports. What we would like is a dialogue.

“In a way it could be like the International Paralympic Committee, which has an extended role to the Olympics. Esports could play a similar role,” he said. “The wide majority of the esports community would be happy with it. It would help us in terms of social acceptance if it were part of the Olympic family.”

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‘Smart Bags’ May Not Fly If Battery Cannot Be Removed

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“Smart suitcases” may be able to charge mobile phones or be easily found if misplaced, but unless their battery can be removed they risk being sent packing by the world’s airlines.

Global airlines body IATA said it could issue industry-wide standards on the new luggage soon, after some U.S. airlines issued their own restrictions on smart bags, whose manufacturers include companies such as BlueSmart, Raden or Away.

These contain GPS tracking and can charge devices, weigh themselves or be locked remotely using mobile phones, but they are powered by lithium ion batteries, which the aviation industry regards as a fire risk, especially in the cargo hold.

“We expect guidance to be issued potentially this week,” Nick Careen, IATA senior vice president of airport, passenger, cargo and security, told a media briefing in Geneva on Tuesday, when asked about restrictions placed by some airlines.

U.S.-based carriers American Airlines, Delta and Alaska Airlines all said last week that as of Jan. 15, 2018, they would require the battery to be removed before allowing the bags on board.

Careen gave no details of any potential industry-wide standards, but said he expected others could quickly follow the example of the U.S. carriers.

Away and Raden say on their websites that batteries in their bags can be easily removed.

Concerns over the risk of a lithium ion battery fire were highlighted during the electronics ban temporarily imposed earlier this year on some flights to the United States.

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YouTube Says Over 10,000 Workers Will Help Curb Shady Videos

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YouTube says it’s hiring more people to help curb videos that violate its policies.

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki says “some bad actors are exploiting” the Google-owned service to “mislead, manipulate, harass or even harm.”

She says Google will have more than 10,000 workers address the problem by next year, though her blog post Monday doesn’t say how many the company already has.

Wojcicki says YouTube will also use technology to flag “problematic” videos or comments that show hate speech or harm to children. It’s already used to remove violent extremist videos.

YouTube is also taking steps to try to reassure advertisers that their ads won’t run next to gross videos.

There have been reports of creepy videos aimed at children and pedophiles posting comments on children’s videos in recent weeks.

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