Microsoft Disables Most of Cybercriminals’ Control Over Massive Computer Network

Microsoft Corp said Tuesday it had disabled more than 90% of the machines used by a gang of Russian-speaking cyber criminals to control a massive network of computers with a potential to disrupt the U.S. election. Aided by a series of U.S. court orders and relationships with technology providers in other countries, Microsoft said its weeklong campaign against the gang running the Trickbot network was heading off a possible source of disruption to the November 3 U.S. vote. “We’ve taken down most of their infrastructure,” corporate Vice President Tom Burt said in an interview. “Their ability to go and infect targets has been significantly reduced.” The criminals in charge of Trickbot have infected more than 1 million personal computers, including many inside local governments, according to cybersecurity professionals. They then make deals with other gangs to install ransomware and other malicious programs on the infected machines, security professionals say. Although there is no evidence that the gang has worked with foreign governments, Burt said he wanted to disrupt Trickbot before the election in case Russian agencies attempted to use it to interfere with voting or cast doubt on the results by manipulating data. Some security experts who had seen little impact from Microsoft’s initial efforts to combat Trickbot said this week that new control servers being brought online by the gang were getting cut off, making it harder for the group to install new programs on infected computers. “Disruption operations against Trickbot are currently global in nature and have had success against Trickbot infrastructure,” said Intel 471 Chief Executive Mark Arena. “Regardless, there still is a small number of working controllers based in Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia and Kyrgyzstan that still are able to respond.” The Trickbot gang is now asking other malware groups to install its software, Arena and others said, and it is expected to rebuild its infrastructure in other ways. Burt said such efforts to adapt would at least distract the gang from bringing chaos to voting or other local government activity if it had been so inclined. 
 

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US 2020 Election Carries High Stakes for Twitter, Facebook

Facebook, Twitter and other internet companies are rolling out new policies on controversial content during the U.S. presidential campaign. Michelle Quinn reports.
Camera: Deana Mitchell

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US Justice Department Files Antitrust Lawsuit Against Google

The U.S. Justice Department has filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google for allegedly violating federal law by using its dominant market position to stifle competition.The agency alleged in its long-awaited lawsuit Tuesday that Google abused its dominant market position to maintain monopolies in online search and search advertising.Google did not immediately comment on the lawsuit, the most significant legal challenge to the U.S. technology sector in more than two decades.Consumer advocates and legislators have long accused Google of abusing its dominant market position to suppress competition, increase profits and hurt consumers. The suit, filed in federal court in Washington, could be the first of many other significant government antitrust actions against Silicon Valley. The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission also are currently investigating Apple, Amazon and Facebook.A senior economic adviser to President Donald Trump said two years ago that the administration was considering whether Google searches should be regulated by the government. Trump has frequently criticized Google and promoted unsubstantiated claims by conservatives that the company suppresses conservative viewpoints, meddles in U.S. elections and favors collaborating with the Chinese military over the U.S. Defense Department.Google has captured about 90% of the world’s internet search market, the result of offering a product that is preferred by billions of users daily, the company has said.The California-based corporation has been preparing for the lawsuit and is expected to aggressively oppose any efforts to force it to spin off its services into individual businesses. A recent House Judiciary subcommittee report concluded after a yearlong investigation into Silicon Valley’s market dominance that Google has monopolized the search market. The report said Google established its dominant position through acquisition in several markets, buying about 260 companies that other businesses had developed over a 20-year span. Google was fined $1.7 billion by the European Union in 2019 for preventing websites from using the tech giant’s rivals from locating advertisers. The EU also fined Google $2.6 billion in 2017 for favoring its own online shopping venues over its rivals, and $4.9 billion in 2018 for blocking competitors from its Android operating system.

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US Charges Six Russian Military Officers in Global Cyberattacks

U.S. prosecutors on Monday announced charges against six Russian military intelligence officers in connection with a global computer hacking campaign that targeted the 2017 French presidential election and the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, and carried out other high-profile cyberattacks.   The campaign, spanning from 2015 to 2020, was the “most disruptive and destructive” carried out by a single group of cyber intruders, law enforcement officials said.  The six hackers, all officers of the Russian military intelligence service known as GRU, “engaged in computer intrusions and attacks intended to support Russian government efforts to undermine, retaliate against, or otherwise destabilize” entities and institutions seen as anti-Russia, the Justice Department said.  The same unit, known to cybersecurity researchers as the “Sandworm” team, was allegedly behind the hacking of Democratic computer networks as part of Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.  FILE – Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, visits the new GRU military intelligence headquarters building in Moscow, Nov. 8, 2006.One of the six hackers charged in a new 50-page indictment, Anatoliy Sergeyevich Kovalev, had been indicted along with 11 other GRU officers in 2018 in connection with the 2016 election interference.  Russian President Vladimir Putin recently called for a cyber reset between Russia and the United States.  John Demers, head of the Justice Department’s national security division, said the indictment underscores why Russia’s proposed reset “is nothing more than dishonest rhetoric and cynical and cheap propaganda.”  The indictment “lays bare Russia’s use of its cyber capabilities to destabilize and interfere with the domestic political and economic systems of other countries,” Demers said at a virtual press conference at the Justice Department.  The five others were identified as Yuriy Sergeyevich Andrienko, Sergey Vladimirovich Detistov, Pavel Valeryevich Frolov, Pavel Valeryevich Frolov and Petr Nikolayevich Pliskin. They face charges of conspiracy, computer hacking, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and false registration of a domain name. All six remain at large. The Russian Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment. The charges, which come two weeks before another contentious U.S. presidential election, do not allege election interference, Demers said. “Rather, today’s charges illustrate how Unit 74455’s election activities were but one part of the work of a persistent, sophisticated hacking group busy sabotaging perceived enemies or detractors of the Russian Federation, regardless of the consequences to innocent bystanders or their destabilizing effect,” Demers said.  In recent months, the Justice Department has announced a series of indictments charging hackers working for China, Iran and North Korea.     Asked if the indictment was meant to be a warning to U.S. adversaries seeking to disrupt the U.S. elections, a Justice Department official said, “I would say that generally, it is a warning, a warning to these countries and the actors that are working for them, these activities are not quite as deniable as they might have hoped they were originally.” The official spoke during a press call and asked not to be identified. Cyberattack targetsThe GRU hackers’ targets included Ukrainian government and critical infrastructure; Georgian companies and government entities; the elections in France; an investigation into Russia’s poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal in Britain; the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang; and several U.S. corporations. FILE – Flag bearers from various nations attend the closing ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Feb. 25, 2018.During their yearslong campaign, the hackers used “some of the world’s most destructive malware” to strike targets on three continents, according to the Justice Department.   In Ukraine, using malware known as BlackEnergy, Industroyer, and KillDisk, the hackers attacked the country’s electric power grid, Ministry of Finance, and State Treasury Service from December 2015 through December 2016.Ahead of the 2017 presidential election in France, the GRU officers allegedly carried out spear-phishing and hack-and-leak operations targeting President Emmanuel Macron’s party, French politicians and local French governments.In June 2017, the hackers deployed malware known as NotPetya to infect computers around the world, targeting the networks of hospitals and medical facilities in the Heritage Valley Health System in Pennsylvania; a FedEx subsidiary; and an unidentified U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturer. Masquerading as ransomware, NotPetya was capable of bringing down entire computer networks within seconds, officials said. At Heritage, patient lists, patient history, physical examination files, and laboratory records were wiped out. In all, the attacks resulted in losses of nearly $1 billion to the companies.    During the Winter Olympic Games, the hackers used malware known as Olympic Destroyer to knock the games’ official website offline and prevented attendees from gaining their tickets. The attack came within hours of the Olympic Committee’s decision to disqualify Russian athletes over doping.In Georgia, with which Russia has tense relations, the hackers targeted a major media company in 2018 and defaced about 15,000 websites in 2019. “They replaced the homepages of those websites with an image of a former Georgian president known for his efforts to counter Russian influence in Georgia with the caption, ‘I’ll be back,'” said a Justice Department official. John Hultquist, senior director of analysis for cybersecurity firm FireEye, said the indictment “reads like a laundry list of many of the most important cyberattack incidents we have ever witnessed.” “Sandworm has been involved in many of the most aggressive cyberattacks and information operations ever seen,” Hultquist said in a statement. Smuggling ring Separately, the Justice Department unsealed charges against 10 alleged members of an international smuggling ring for trafficking more than $50 million worth of electronic devices, from the United States to Russia. The defendants, eight of whom have been arrested, allegedly used employees of Russia’s Aeroflot Airlines as couriers to smuggle Apple products and other electronics to Russia.   
  

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US Charges Six Russian Agents in Global Cyber Attack

U.S. prosecutors have charged six Russian military intelligence officers in connection with a global computer malware campaign that struck the 2017 French presidential election and the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea among other targets.  The cyber campaign represented “the most disruptive and destructive series of computer attacks ever attributed to a single group,” said John C. Demers, head of the Justice Department’s national security division. “No country has weaponized its cyber capabilities as maliciously or irresponsibly as Russia, wantonly causing unprecedented damage to pursue small tactical advantages and to satisfy fits of spite,” Demers said Monday at a news conference. The six hackers, all officers of the Russian military intelligence service known as GRU, “engaged in computer intrusions and attacks intended to support Russian government efforts to undermine, retaliate against, or otherwise destabilize” targets around the world, the Justice Department said.    TargetsThese included Ukrainian government and critical infrastructure; Georgian companies and government entities; the elections in France; an investigation into Russia’s poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal in Britain; and the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, the Justice Department said.In addition, the hackers, using the NotPetya malware, struck hospitals and medical facilities in the Heritage Valley Health System in Pennsylvania, a FedEx Corporation subsidiary and an unidentified U.S pharmaceutical manufacturer.   The Justice Department had previously indicted GRU officers with hacking Democratic emails during the 2016 presidential election.  The latest charges do not allege election interference on the part of the GRU.The six defendants were identified as Yuriy Sergeyevich Andrienko, Sergey Vladimirovich Detistov, Pavel Valeryevich Frolov, Anatoliy Sergeyevich Kovalev, Artem Valeryevich Ochichenko, and Petr Nikolayevich Pliskin They face charges of conspiracy, computer hacking, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and false registration of a domain name. 

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Got Any Signal Up Here? Nokia to Build Mobile Network on Moon

Finland’s Nokia has been selected by NASA to build the first cellular network on the moon, the company said on Monday.
 
The lunar network will be part of the U.S. space agency’s efforts to return humans to the moon by 2024 and build long-term settlements there under its Artemis program.
 
Nokia said the first wireless broadband communications system in space would be built on the lunar surface in late 2022, before humans make it back there.
 
The Finnish company will partner with Texas-based private space craft design firm Intuitive Machines to deliver the network equipment to the moon on their lunar lander.
 
After delivery, the network will configure itself and establish the first LTE (Long-Term Evolution) communications system on the moon, Nokia said. “The network will provide critical communication capabilities for many different data-transmission applications, including vital command and control functions, remote control of lunar rovers, real-time navigation and streaming of high definition video,” Nokia said.

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Twitter Blocks Tweet About Masks From White House Coronavirus Team Adviser

Dr. Scott Atlas is a neuroradiologist, a fellow at a conservative-leaning think tank, a science adviser to President Donald Trump and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. He is also the latest person in Trump’s world to have a tweet blocked by Twitter. Facebook to Ban Anti-Vaccine AdsThe social media giant says the efforts are part of an attempt to support vaccinesOver the weekend, Atlas tweeted “Masks work? NO,” and said widespread use of masks is not supported, according to the Associated Press. Twitter told the AP that the tweet violated its policy that prohibits false and misleading information about COVID-19 that could lead to harm. The “This Tweet is unavailable” label was put on Atlas’ Twitter feed where his tweet once was.Atlas followed up with another tweet, which remained on the site as of Sunday night. He praised what he called Trump’s “guideline,” which is to “use masks for their intended purpose – when close to others, especially hi risk. Otherwise, social distance. No widespread mandates.” That means the right policy is @realDonaldTrump guideline: use masks for their intended purpose – when close to others, especially hi risk. Otherwise, social distance. No widespread mandates. #CommonSensehttps://t.co/GZpBZxfNYa— Scott W. Atlas (@SWAtlasHoover) October 17, 2020The deletion of Atlas’ tweet is the latest in what has become an ongoing battle between Trump and internet companies. Twitter has blocked or put warnings on Trump’s tweets regarding COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, as well as vote-by-mail. Last week, Twitter temporarily blocked the Trump campaign’s ability to share a story about his presidential challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden. Some congressional leaders accuse Twitter, Facebook and other internet companies of bias and say they are unfairly limiting speech close to the U.S. election. Some have called for the leaders of Twitter and Facebook, which has also taken action on some of Trump’s posts, to testify in front of Congress as soon as the coming week. Twitter told the AP it relies on public health authorities to determine whether a statement is false or misleading.In September, Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testified at a congressional hearing that masks are “the most powerful public health tool” against the coronavirus.Atlas, a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, joined the White House task force in August. A medical doctor, Atlas does not have a background in infectious diseases or public health. He is reportedly helping to shape the White House policies about how to handle the virus, including policies about masks and other issues. Atlas told the AP that Twitter’s actions were censorship. “General population masks and mask mandates do not work,” he said.

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YouTube Follows Twitter And Facebook With QAnon Crackdown

YouTube is following the lead of Twitter and Facebook, saying that it is taking more steps to limit QAnon and other baseless conspiracy theories that can lead to real-world violence.
The Google-owned video platform said Thursday it will now prohibit material targeting a person or group with conspiracy theories that have been used to justify violence.  
One example would be videos that threaten or harass someone by suggesting they are complicit in a conspiracy such as QAnon, which paints President Donald Trump as a secret warrior against a supposed child-trafficking ring run by celebrities and “deep state” government officials.
Pizzagate is another internet conspiracy theory — essentially a predecessor to QAnon — that would fall in the banned category. Its promoters claimed children were being harmed at a pizza restaurant in Washington. D.C. A man who believed in the conspiracy entered the restaurant in December 2016 and fired an assault rifle. He was sentenced to prison in 2017.
YouTube is the third of the major social platforms to announce policies intended rein in QAnon, a conspiracy theory they all helped spread.  
Twitter announced in July a crackdown on QAnon, though it did not ban its supporters from its platform. It did ban thousands of accounts associated with QAnon content and blocked URLs associated with it from being shared. Twitter also said that it would stop highlighting and recommending tweets associated with QAnon.  
Facebook, meanwhile, announced last week that it was banning groups that openly support QAnon. It said it would remove pages, groups and Instagram accounts for representing QAnon — even if they don’t promote violence.  
The social network said it will consider a variety of factors in deciding whether a group meets its criteria for a ban. Those include the group’s name, its biography or “about” section, and discussions within the page or group on Facebook, or account on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.
Facebook’s move came two months after it announced softer crackdown, saying said it would stop promoting the group and its adherents. But that effort faltered due to spotty enforcement.  
YouTube said it had already removed tens of thousands of QAnon-videos and eliminated hundreds of channels under its existing policies — especially those that explicitly threaten violence or deny the existence of major violent events.  
“All of this work has been pivotal in curbing the reach of harmful conspiracies, but there’s even more we can do to address certain conspiracy theories that are used to justify real-world violence, like QAnon,” the company said in Thursday’s  blog post.  
Experts said the move shows that YouTube is taking threats around violent conspiracy theories seriously and recognizes the importance of limiting the spread of such conspiracies. But, with QAnon increasingly creeping into mainstream politics and U.S. life, they wonder if it is too late.  
“While this is an important change, for almost three years YouTube was a primary site for the spread of QAnon,” said Sophie Bjork-James, an anthropologist at Vanderbilt University who studies QAnon. “Without the platform Q would likely remain an obscure conspiracy. For years YouTube provided this radical group an international audience.”

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In Blocking Tweets, Is Twitter Protecting the Election or Interfering?

The decision by Twitter to block the dissemination of a story on its site about Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, has added to an already heated discussion in the U.S. about whether internet companies have too much power and are making decisions that could affect the U.S. elections.Some have applauded Twitter’s move as a stand against misinformation. Others have criticized Twitter’s decision as biased, curtailing speech in a way that could affect the outcome of the U.S. election.In recent weeks, Twitter, Facebook and Google, the owner of YouTube, have increasingly taken steps to restrict the spread of what they describe as misinformation and extremist speech on their sites. After the 2016 U.S. election, internet companies were criticized for not doing enough to stop misinformation on their services.This week, Twitter blocked certain accounts on its site as they tried to share a story by the New York Post that cited supposed email exchanges between Hunter Biden and a Ukrainian official about setting up a meeting with Hunter Biden’s father when Joe Biden was the U.S. vice president. The story claimed to rely on records from a computer drive that was allegedly abandoned by Hunter Biden. Rudy Giuliani, lawyer to President Donald Trump, reportedly gave the drive to the Post.No meeting, campaign saysThe Biden campaign said it had “reviewed Joe Biden’s official schedules from the time and no meeting, as alleged by the New York Post, ever took place.””Investigations by the press, during impeachment, and even by two Republican-led Senate committees whose work was decried as ‘not legitimate’ and political by a GOP colleague, have all reached the same conclusion: that Joe Biden carried out official U.S. policy toward Ukraine and engaged in no wrongdoing,” said Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Biden.FILE – President Donald Trump holds up a copy of the New York Post as he speaks before signing an executive order aimed at curbing protections for social media giants, in the Oval Office of the White House, May 28, 2020.No tweeting, no sharingCiting the firm’s hacked-materials policy, Twitter blocked the Post’s ability to tweet about the story from its Twitter account. It also blocked the Trump campaign and other accounts from sharing the story.Facebook said it reduced the reach of the post, pending fact checking from third party fact-checkers.For Lisa Kaplan, chief executive of the Alethea Group, which tracks misinformation and online threats, Twitter’s recent decisions to block some posts are a good sign.“I do applaud Twitter’s efforts and the stances they have taken to address disinformation, making it so that people can’t share a link known to be false that could have potential implications on the election,” she said. “It’s an important step if they are truly going to be a source of accurate information for their users.”GOP respondsThe reaction from Republicans over the Post story has been swift. Senate Republicans said Thursday that they would subpoena Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, to testify next week. Dorsey should “explain why Twitter is abusing their corporate power to silence the press,” said Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican.Senator Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, said he had sent a letter to Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, asking them to testify at a committee hearing.The companies’ decision about the Post stories throws fuel on an issue that has gained traction over the past year: whether companies are publishers, making editorial decisions, or “platforms,” places where people share information but with the companies providing little oversight of what’s said.FILE – FCC Chairman Ajit Pai testifies at a House subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 5, 2019.Protections weighedCongressional leaders of both parties are considering whether to strip the companies of some of their legal protections that say they aren’t responsible for the speech on their sites. On Thursday, Republican Ajit Pai, chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, said the agency would consider weakening the legal protections the companies enjoy.Some Democrats as well have called for stripping the internet firms of some of their legal protections.With the decision about the Post story, Ken Paulson, director of the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University, says the internet firms have not moved closer to being publishers.“If you have a business and the last thing you want is untruthful stories, then you can say, ‘We’re uncomfortable to share this with millions of people globally.’ That’s your right,” Paulson said. “I don’t think we want to mistake Facebook or Twitter for a public utility. And I don’t think a simple ban on content you believe to be unreliable and fraudulent makes you a publisher.“A company has a right to decide what it stands for, and that’s where we are now with Twitter and Facebook,” he said.One thing is certain: With the internet firms making decisions almost daily about curtailing or blocking posts, lawmakers and regulators will have more fodder to point to for changing the rules.

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Republicans to Subpoena Twitter CEO Over Blocking Article Attacking Biden 

Senate Republicans said Thursday they will subpoena Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey over the decision to block a news report critical of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. “This is election interference and we’re 19 days out from an election,” Senator Ted Cruz said, a day after the social network blocked links to the article by the New York Post alleging corruption by Biden in Ukraine. Cruz said the Senate Judiciary Committee would vote next Tuesday to subpoena Dorsey to testify at the end of next week and “explain why Twitter is abusing their corporate power to silence the press.” “The Senate Judiciary Committee wants to know what the hell is going on,” he said. “Twitter and Facebook and big tech millionaires don’t get to censor political speech and actively interfere in the election. That’s what they are doing right now.” Republican Senator Josh Hawley announced separately that he had sent letters to Dorsey and Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg asking them to appear before his Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism. The hearing will “consider potential campaign law violations” in support of Biden with the blocking of the article.  The Post’s story purported to expose corrupt dealings by Biden and his son Hunter Biden in Ukraine. The newspaper claimed that the former vice president, who was in charge of U.S. policy toward Ukraine, took actions to help his son, who in 2014-2017 sat on the board of controversial Ukraine energy company Burisma. But the newspaper’s source for the information raised questions. It cited records on a drive allegedly copied from a computer said to have been abandoned by Hunter Biden, that Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani gave to the Post. The report also made claims about Joe Biden’s actions in Ukraine, which were contrary to the record.   Wary of “fake news” campaigns, both Facebook and Twitter said they took action out of caution over the article and its sourcing. “This is part of our standard process to reduce the spread of misinformation,” said Facebook spokesman Andy Stone. The role of Giuliani, who has repeatedly advanced unproven and poorly sourced conspiracy theories about the Bidens and Ukraine, also raised flags. The Biden campaign rejected the assertions of corruption in the report but has not denied the veracity of the underlying materials, mostly emails between Hunter Biden and business partners. Trump, who trails Biden in polls 19 days before the presidential election, blasted the two social media giants on Wednesday. “So terrible that Facebook and Twitter took down the story of ‘Smoking Gun’ emails related to Sleepy Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in the @NYPost,” Trump posted on Twitter. 

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