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Apple to Release New Lockdown Mode to Battle Spyware, Provide Extra Layer of Protection



By Reuters | Updated: 7 July 2022

Apple on Wednesday said it plans to release a new feature called Lockdown Mode this fall that aims to add a new layer of protection for human rights advocates, political dissidents and other targets of sophisticated hacking attacks.

The move comes after at least two Israeli firms have exploited flaws in Apple’s software to remotely break into iPhones without the target needing to click or tap anything. NSO Group, the maker of the Pegasus software that can carry out such attacks, has been sued by Apple and placed on a trade blacklist by US officials.

Lockdown Mode will come to Apple’s iPhones, iPads and Macs this fall and turning it on will block most attachments sent to the iPhone’s Messages app. Security researchers believe NSO Group exploited a flaw in how Apple handled message attachments. The new mode will also block wired connections to iPhones when they are locked. Israeli firm Cellebrite has used such manual connections to access iPhones.

Apple representatives said that they believe sophisticated attacks the new feature is designed to fight — called “zero click” hacking techniques — are still relatively rare and that most users will not need to active the new mode.

Spyware companies have argued they sell high-powered technology to help governments thwart national security threats. But human rights groups and journalists have repeatedly documented the use of spyware to attack civil society, undermine political opposition, and interfere with elections.

To help harden the new feature, Apple said it will pay up to $2 million (nearly Rs. 15 crore) for each flaw that security researchers can find in the new mode, which Apple representatives said was the highest such “bug bounty” offered in the industry.

Apple also said it is making a $10 million (nearly Rs. 80 crore) grant, plus any possible proceeds from its lawsuit against NSO Group, to groups that find, expose and work to prevent targeted hacking. Apple said the grant will go to the Dignity and Justice Fund established by the Ford Foundation, one of the largest private foundations in the United States.

© Thomson Reuters 2022


Xiaomi Feels Sting of China Covid Curbs With 20 Percent Fall in Q2 Revenue, Smartphone Sales Fall 29 Percent



By Reuters | Updated: 19 August 2022

Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi posted a steep drop in second quarter revenue on Friday as the world’s biggest smartphone market shrank, hit by strict COVID restrictions. Sales fell 20 percent year on year to CNY 70.17 billion (roughly Rs. 82,200 crore), missing estimates and marking a steeper decline from the previous quarter, when the company posted its first-ever revenue drop since listing.

Net income fell 67 percent to CNY 2.08 billion (roughly Rs. 2,400 crore), missing analysts’ estimates.

China’s consumer consumption has struggled to rebound from the impact of lockdowns in Shanghai and other cities in the first half of the year.

Data this week showed China’s economy slowed unexpectedly in July, indicating the world’s second largest economy is struggling to shake off the June quarter’s hit to growth from COVID restrictions and prompting a central bank rate cut.

China’s long-stagnant smartphone sector has been especially hit by the downturn, with unit shipments down 10 percent year on year in the second quarter, according to research firm Canalys.

Smartphone sales for Xiaomi, which generate more than half of the company’s total revenue, fell 29 percent.

In 2021, Xiaomi saw a sales surge after it grabbed market share from rival Huawei, whose ability to proscure components was heavily cripled by US sanctions.

Yet the bump was short-lived, and the company’s stock price has tumbled nearly 40 percent since the start of 2022, hit by the slowing Chinese economy and weakening overseas growth.

In India, Xiaomi’s strongest market outside of China, the company has been subject to government probes for allegedly dodging tax regulators.

In April, Indian tax authorities seized $725 million (roughly Rs. 5,800 crore) in assets from the company, claiming it illegally transferred funds abroad under the guise of royalty payents. Xiaomi has denied any wrongdoing.

The weak smartphone market in China and globally has led the company to seek new opportunities.

Xiaomi said earlier this month it had started testing self-driving vehicles in select cities in China.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Government to Set Up Expert Groups for Exploring Adoption of Common Chargers for Mobiles, Electronic Devices



charger mobile
By Press Trust of India | Updated: 17 August 2022

The government will set up expert groups to explore the adoption of common chargers for mobile and all portable electronic devices and submit a detailed report in two months, Consumer Affairs Secretary Rohit Kumar Singh said on Wednesday. Emerging out of the meeting with industry stakeholders, the secretary said India can initially think of exploring shifting to two types of chargers, including a C-Type port.

“It is a complex issue. India has a position in the manufacturing of chargers. We have to understand everybody’s perspective — industry, the users, manufacturers and environment — before taking a final decision,” he said told reporters.

Each stakeholder has a different perspective and expert groups will be formed to examine separately those issues, he said.

Separate expert groups will be formed to study charging ports used in three segments — mobile and feature phones, laptops and iPads, and wearable electronic devices.

The groups will be notified this month and will submit the recommendations in two months, he said.

Although the sector-specific associations and manufacturers agreed to the concerns of e-waste but sought more discussion on the matter, he added.

The announcement came on Wednesday after government’s meeting with industry experts and stakeholders on the possibility of using common charger for all mobiles, portable electronic devices.

Currently, in India, consumers are forced to buy a separate charger every time they buy a new device due to incompatibility of the ports of the existing charger.

Recently, the European Union announced the adoption of a USB-C port common charging standard for small electronic devices by 2024. A similar demand is in the US as well.

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Google Rolls Out Android 13 for Pixel Smartphones; Fixes Issues With the Fingerprint Scanner: All Details



By Dhruv Raghav | Updated: 16 August 2022

Google has announced rolling out Android 13 to Pixel smartphones on Monday, August 15. The company announced that the new OS version will be rolled out on Samsung, Xiaomi, Nokia, and more smartphones later this year. The Android 13 will let multilingual users assign specific languages to individual apps. It also comes with an updated media player that changes its appearance based on the music or podcast a user is listening to. According to the company, Android users will soon be able to mirror a messaging app from their handset to their Chromebook with the new OS version.
Android 13 availability

Google has announced that the tech giant has started rolling out the stable version of the Android 13 to its Pixel smartphones starting Monday. According to the changelog, the Pixel phones that are getting the update are Google Pixel 4 XL, Pixel 4a, Pixel 4a 5G, Pixel 5, Pixel 5a 5G, Pixel 6, Pixel 6 Pro, and Pixel 6a.

The Google Play Services website reveal that the Android 13 rollout for Google Pixel 6 ₹ 44,990, Pixel 6 Pro, and Pixel 6a contain a bootloader update that increments the anti-roll back version. This means that once updated, a user will not be roll back to Android 12. “After flashing an Android 13 build on these devices, you will not be able to flash older Android 12 builds,” the company said.

The company also said that later this year, the Android 13 update will be rolled out to other smartphones from brands including Samsung Galaxy, Asus, HMD (Nokia phones), iQOO, Motorola, OnePlus, Oppo, Realme, Sharp, Sony, Tecno, Vivo, Xiaomi, and more.
Android 13: What’s new

Android 13 update for Pixel smartphones brings with it several bug fixes related to apps, Google Assistant, Audio, charging, and more. The most notable fix with the update seems to be for the Biometrics. Google said that the update fixes issue where the app crashes during fingerprint unlock, an eroor that occasionally didn’t allow users to use fingerprint unlock when the notification shade was down. The company has also fixed an issue that didn’t allow the face unlock feature to trigger. The update also includes improvements for the performance, stability, and reliability of the fingerprint scanner and its enrolment.

The Android 13 update for the Google Pixel phones also adds support for NFC payments in secondary profiles. It gets fixes for connectivity over Bluetooth, and for the camera. The company said that the touch screen palm detection and response has been improved with Android 13 on Pixel handsets. In the user interface, Google has worked on gesture navigation support with third-party launchers, along with the phone setup experience, according to the changelog.

Google revealed that the Android 13 update brings an “evolved look and style that builds on Material You”. This allows users to customise third-party apps to match the theme and colour with the wallpaper. The company is also adding the ability to assign specific languages to individual apps with the Android 13 update. Moreover, there is an updated media player with the latest OS update that changes its “look and feel” based on the type of music and podcast a user is listening to.

Android 13 brings more customisation features for Bedtime mode. In addition, it will enable users to choose specific images and videos they wish to let apps access. Now, with the new Android OS version, apps will have to seek “explicit” permission of the user to send notifications. The company has also announced that users will be soon able to mirror a messaging app from their phone to their Chromebook. Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) audio has too been added to Android 13 that allows a user to hear better synced audio with reduced delay, according to the company.

The new Android OS version brings the HDR video support for third-party camera apps. Users will now be able to copy-paste content from a phone to a table or vice-versa with the Android 13 update. For tablets, the Android 13 update brings a new, updated taskbar that is said to make multitasking easier. With the update, the tablets will now register touches from a user’s palm and a stylus pen separately.

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Pegasus Spyware Creator NSO Group Has Large Presence in Europe With 22 Active Contracts: Report



By Press Trust of India | Updated: 11 August 2022

Israeli technology firm NSO Group, which grabbed global attention, including in India, amid allegations of misuse of its controversial spyware Pegasus, apparently has a large presence in the Europe Union with at least 22 contracts covering 12 of the 27 member states, a media report said on Wednesday. Pegasus spyware and competing products make it possible to infect the cell phone of the victim of the surveillance, and afterwards enable the operator to eavesdrop on conversations, read apps with encrypted messages, and provide total access to contacts and files on the device.

The Pegasus spyware enables eavesdropping in real time on what is taking place around the cellphone by operating the camera and the microphone.

Representatives of the European Parliament Committee of Inquiry on Pegasus spyware recently visited Israel and learned from NSO personnel that the company has active contracts with 12 European Union members, daily Ha’aretz reported.

The replies of the Israeli cyber warfare company to the committee’s questions, which were obtained by the newspaper, reveal that the company is now working with 22 security and enforcement organisations in the EU, it added.

The company’s representatives in their conversations and exchanges with PTI have maintained that their spyware is used by “government clients” to target terrorists and other serious crimes.

Members of the European Parliament Committee of Inquiry who came to Israel are said to have been surprised to discover contracts with their countries of origin.

The Committee’s representatives visited Israel in recent weeks “to learn in-depth about the local cyber warfare industry”, and held discussions with NSO employees, representatives of the Israeli Defence Ministry and local experts.

Among the committee members was a Catalan legislator whose cell phone was hacked by an NSO customer, the report noted.

“The committee was established after the publication of Project Pegasus last year, and its objective is to create pan-European regulations for the acquisition, import and use of cyber warfare software such as Pegasus,” the report said.

“But while committee members were in Israel, and particularly since their return to Brussels, it was revealed that Europe also has a well-developed cyber warfare industry – and many of its customers are European countries,” it said.

The EU legislators were tasked to know the identity of NSO customers in Europe at present and were surprised to discover that most of the EU countries had contracts with the company: 14 countries have done business with NSO in the past and at least 12 are still using Pegasus for lawful interception of mobile calls, as per NSO’s response to the committee’s questions.

In response to the legislators’ questions, the company explained that at present NSO works with 22 “end users” – security and intelligence organisations and law enforcement authorities – in 12 European countries.

In some of the countries there is more than one client as they are with operating organisations, the report said.

In the past, as per NSO’s submission, the company worked with two additional countries with whom the ties have now been severed. NSO did not disclose which countries are active customers and with which two countries the contract was frozen, it said.

NSO reportedly did not respond to Haaretz’s request for comment.

Israel, earlier in January this year, distanced itself from the controversy triggered by the blacklisting of the NSO Group after allegations of illegal use of its Pegasus spyware to target government officials, activists and journalists globally, saying that it is a private company and it has nothing to do with the policies of the Israeli government.

“NSO is a private company, it is not a governmental project and therefore even if it is designated, it has nothing to do with the policies of the Israeli government,” Israel’s then Foreign Minister and now Prime Minister Yair Lapid had said at a press conference days after the company was blacklisted by the US Department of Commerce.

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Greek Government Rocked by Resignations Amid Long-Simmering Surveillance Scandal



By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 6 August 2022

Greece’s conservative government was rocked Friday by a long-simmering surveillance scandal after its intelligence chief and a close aide to Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis resigned in the space of an hour. Panagiotis Kontoleon offered his resignation due to management “errors” during his time in the role, Mitsotakis’ office said in a statement.

The announcement that Kontoleon had resigned from his position at the head of national intelligence service EYP came less than an hour after the secretary general of the prime minister’s office, Grigoris Dimitriadis, also quit.

The resignations came a week after the leader of the country’s Socialist opposition party, Nikos Androulakis, filed a complaint with the supreme court over “attempted” spying on his mobile phone using Predator malware.

Two Greek journalists have also taken legal action this year after they claimed to have been victims of surveillance.

Androulakis on Friday called for a special investigation by parliament into the incident.

“I never expected the Greek government to spy on me using the darkest practices,” he said.

Two Greek journalists have also taken legal action this year after they claimed to have been victims of surveillance.

Androulakis on Friday called for a special investigation by parliament into the incident.

“I never expected the Greek government to spy on me using the darkest practices,” he said.

The government has consistently denied any state involvement, saying it had not bought software of that type, but the rows have sparked an outcry in the country.

Government spokesman Yiannis Economou has said it was “plausible” that individuals used Predator to spy and that all of Europe faced surveillance threats.

In November, Greek minister of state George Gerapetritis had insisted to AFP that there is “no surveillance of journalists in Greece” by the state.

“Greece fully adheres to the values of democratic society and rule of law, especially pluralism and the freedom of the press,” Gerapetritis said.

As such, he argued there was “no need for further action” to verify the alleged monitoring of investigative journalist Stavros Malichudis.

Kontoleon, who was appointed EYP head in 2019 after Mitsotakis’s conservative party won power that year, had implied while in that role that the journalists had been targeted on the order of foreign intelligence services.

Investigative websites Reporters United and Inside Story have accused Dimitriadis — a nephew of Mitsotakis — of being linked to the alleged spying scandals involving Androulakis and Greek financial journalist Thanasis Koukakis.

Dimitriadis on Friday threatened to sue Reporters United and leftist daily Efsyn unless they withdraw a story on the case. Koukakis was also warned to refrain from retweeting the story.

In one of his first acts upon assuming power in 2019, Mitsotakis raised eyebrows by attaching the national intelligence service to his office.

The main opposition party, the left-wing Syriza, called the affair “a huge scandal”. Its leader, former premier Alexis Tsipras, said the resignation of Dimitriadis was “an admission of guilt” and that Mitsotakis himself bore some of the responsibility.

“Mr Mitsotakis must give explanations to the Greek people over his own Watergate,” Tsipras said.

A dystopian, Orwellian reality

Experts note that Predator, originally developed in North Macedonia and subsequently in Israel, can access both messages and conversations.

“A few days ago I was informed by the European Parliament that there was an attempt to bug my mobile phone with Predator surveillance software,” Androulakis told the media as he left a court in Athens on July 26.

“Finding out who is behind these harmful practices is not a personal matter but a democratic duty,” he added.

The European Parliament set up a special service for MEPs to check their phones for illegal surveillance software following hacks using a spyware similar to Predator called Pegasus.

Androulakis used the service for “a precautionary check of his phone on June 28, 2022”.

“From the first check, a suspicious link related to the Predator surveillance tool was detected,” his PASOK party said in a statement.

The software can infiltrate mobile phones to extract data or activate a camera or microphone to spy on their owners.

“Predator is among the most expensive spyware and is out of reach for individuals,” cybersecurity specialist Anastasios Arampatzis told AFP, saying only a state would need its sophisticated security features.

“Security and the protection of one’s private life must be guaranteed by any democratic regime. If a state spies on its citizens, we’re heading towards a dystopian, Orwellian reality.”

Spain’s intelligence chief was sacked earlier this year after it emerged that top politicians — including Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Catalan separatists — had been targeted by phone hacking.

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Apple Asks Suppliers to Follow China Customs Rules Amid Sino-US Tensions: Report



By Reuters | Updated: 5 August 2022

Apple has asked suppliers to ensure that shipments from Taiwan to China comply with the latter’s customs regulations to avoid them from being held for scrutiny, according to a Nikkei report on Friday. Sino-US trade tensions have escalated following US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a congressional delegation’s visit to Taiwan. The iPhone maker told suppliers that China had started enforcing a long-standing rule that Taiwanese-made parts and components must be labeled as made either in “Taiwan, China” or “Chinese Taipei”, the report added, citing sources familiar with the matter.

Apple did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Apple iPhone assembler Pegatron said its mainland China plant is operating normally, in response to a media report that shipments to Pegatron’s factory in China were being held for scrutiny by Chinese customs officials.

Taiwanese supply and assembly partners Foxconn and Pegatron are ramping up manufacturing efforts as Apple is set to launch its new iPhone in September.

Meanwhile, Pelosi’s trip To Taiwan coincided with US efforts to convince TSMC – the world’s largest chip manufacturer, on which the US is heavily dependent – to establish a manufacturing base in the US and to stop making advanced chips for Chinese companies.

US support for Taiwan has historically been based on Washington’s opposition to communist rule in Beijing, and Taiwan’s resistance to absorption by China. But in recent years, Taiwan’s autonomy has become a vital geopolitical interest for the US because of the island’s dominance of the semiconductor manufacturing market.

Recently, the US Congress has passed the Chips and Science Act, which provides $52 billion (roughly Rs. 4,11,746 crore) in subsidies to support semiconductor manufacturing in the US. But companies will only receive Chips Act funding if they agree not to manufacture advanced semiconductors for Chinese companies.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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