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AT&T, Verizon, Others to Pay $6 Million to Settle Probes Over Failed 911 Calls During 2020 Network Outages

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By Reuters | Updated: 18 December 2021

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said Friday that four telecom providers will pay a total of $6 million (roughly Rs. 45,60,81,000) to settle investigations into compliance with the agency’s 911 reliability rules during 2020 network outages.

AT&T, CenturyLink, now Lumen Technologies, Intrado, and Verizon Communications will implement compliance plans to ensure adherence to FCC emergency call rules. Lumen will pay $3.8 million (roughly Rs. 28,88,51,300), while Intrado will pay $1.75 million (roughly Rs. 13,30,23,600). AT&T will pay a total of $460,000 (roughly Rs. 3,49,66,210 to settle two investigations, while Verizon will pay $274,000 settlement.

“The most important phone call you ever make may be a call to 911,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “It’s vital that phone companies prevent these outages wherever possible and provide prompt and sufficient notification to 911 call centres when they do occur.”

Last month, T-Mobile USA agreed to settle an FCC probe for $19.5 million after a massive 2020 outage led to more than 20,000 failed 911 emergency calls.

The settlement was prompted by an FCC investigation into a more than 12-hour outage in June 2020 that led to congestion across No. 3 wireless carrier T-Mobile’s networks, and caused “the complete failure of more than 23,000 911 calls.”

T-Mobile as part of the consent decree with the FCC has also agreed to make new commitments to improve 911 outage notices.

An October 2020 FCC report found the T-Mobile outage disrupted calling and texting services nationwide and access to data service in some areas. It resulted in at least 250 million total calls failing.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

Internet

Cyber Safety Review Board: Delay in Creating New US Cybersecurity Body Prompts Concern

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By Associated Press | Updated: 25 January 2022

It’s a key part of President Joe Biden’s plans to fight major ransomware attacks and digital espionage campaigns: creating a board of experts that would investigate major incidents to see what went wrong and try to prevent the problems from happening again — much like a transportation safety board does with plane crashes.

But eight months after Biden signed an executive order creating the Cyber Safety Review Board it still hasn’t been set up. That means critical tasks haven’t been completed, including an investigation of the massive SolarWinds espionage campaign first discovered more than a year ago. Russian hackers stole data from several federal agencies and private companies.

Some supporters of the new board say the delay could hurt national security and comes amid growing concerns of a potential conflict with Russia over Ukraine that could involve nation-state cyberattacks. The FBI and other federal agencies recently released an advisory — aimed particularly at critical infrastructure like utilities — on Russian state hackers’ methods and techniques.

“We will never get ahead of these threats if it takes us nearly a year to simply organise a group to investigate major breaches like SolarWinds,” said Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Such a delay is detrimental to our national security and I urge the administration to expedite its process.”

President Biden’s order, signed in May, gives the board 90 days to investigate the SolarWinds hack once it’s established. But there’s no timeline for creating the board itself, a job designated to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

In response to questions from The Associated Press, DHS said in a statement it was far along in setting it up and anticipated a “near-term announcement,” but did not address why the process has taken so long.

Scott Shackelford, the cybersecurity programme chair at Indiana University and an advocate for creating a cyber review board, said having a rigorous study about what happened in a past hack like SolarWinds is a way of helping prevent similar attacks.

“It sure is taking, my goodness, quite a while to get it going,” Shackelford said. ”It’s certainly past time where we could see some positive benefits from having it stood up.”

The Biden administration has made improving cybersecurity a top priority and taken steps to bolster defenses, but this is not the first time lawmakers have been unhappy with the pace of progress. Last year several lawmakers complained it took the administration too long to name a national cyber director, a new position created by Congress.

The SolarWinds hack exploited vulnerabilities in the software supply-chain system and went undetected for most of 2020 despite compromises at a broad swath of federal agencies and dozens of companies, primarily telecommunications and information technology providers. The hacking campaign is named SolarWinds after the US software company whose product was exploited in the first-stage infection of that effort.

The hack highlighted the Russians’ skill at getting to high-level targets. The AP previously reported that SolarWinds hackers had gained access to emails belonging to the then-acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.

The Biden administration has kept many of the details about the cyberespionage campaign hidden.

The Justice Department, for instance, said in July that 27 US attorney offices around the country had at least one employee’s email account compromised during the hacking campaign. It did not provide details about what kind of information was taken and what impact such a hack may have had on ongoing cases.

The New York-based staff of the DOJ Antitrust Division also had files stolen by the SolarWinds hackers, according to one former senior official briefed on the hack who was not authorised to speak about it publicly and requested anonymity. That breach has not previously been reported. The Antitrust Division investigates private companies and has access to highly sensitive corporate data.

The federal government has undertaken reviews of the SolarWinds hack. The Government Accountability Office issued a report this month on the SolarWinds hack and another major hacking incident that found there was sometimes a slow and difficult process for sharing information between government agencies and the private sector, The National Security Council also conducted a review of the SolarWinds hack last year, according to the GAO report.

But having the new board conduct an independent, thorough examination of the SolarWinds hack could identify inconspicuous security gaps and issues that others may have missed, said Christopher Hart, a former National Transportation Safety Board chairman who has advocated for the creation of a cyber review board.

“Most of the crashes that the NTSB really goes after … are ones that are a surprise even to the security experts,” Hart said. “They weren’t really obvious things, they were things that really took some deep digging to figure out what went wrong.”

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Computers

Chip Shortage Study Details Set to Be Released by US Amid Funding Push

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By Reuters | Updated: 25 January 2022

The US Commerce Department is expected to soon release details from a study of semiconductor chips it conducted last year amid a push to win funding to boost US manufacturing from Congress.

In September, the department asked semiconductor chip manufacturers and other companies in the supply chain to voluntarily submit data amid a shortage of chips that has curtailed auto production around the world.

The department has said it received cooperation but has not yet released details. Automakers and chips manufacturers have warned the supply shortages could last until least 2023.

On Monday, the Commerce Department sought input on planning potential programs to incentivise government investment in semiconductor manufacturing and research.

“The United States faces both an immediate supply shortage that’s driving up prices and a long-term threat to America’s economic and national security if we don’t increase domestic supply of chips,” said Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo on Monday.

Chrysler-parent Stellantis said Friday it was halting production this week at its Windsor Assembly Plant in Ontario where it builds minivans because of the chips shortage.

House Democrats are expected as early as this week to introduce legislation aimed at increasing US competitiveness with China and spending $52 billion (roughly Rs. 3,88,925 crore) on semiconductor production and research, sources told Reuters, after the Senate approved funding in June.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week said the bill would come “soon” and a vote on the House floor is expected in February, the sources said.

US President Joe Biden has been pressing Congress to approve more funds to boost chip production in the United States as shortages of the key components used in autos and computers have exacerbated supply chain bottlenecks.

On Friday, Intel announced it plans to invest $20 billion (roughly Rs. 1,49,580 crore) and build two new chips plants in Ohio, while Samsung Electronics in November picked Taylor, Texas for a new $17 billion (roughly Rs. 1,27,140 crore) plant to make advanced chips.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Internet

Shein Said to Revive Plan for New York Listing in 2022, Founder Considering Ways to Bypass Offshore IPO Rules

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By Reuters | Updated: 25 January 2022

Chinese fashion retailer Shein is reviving plans to list in New York this year and its founder is considering a citizenship change to bypass proposed tougher rules for offshore IPOs in China, two people familiar with the matter said.

It was not immediately clear how much the company was looking to raise from its New York debut.

The initial public offering (IPO), if finalised, would be the first major equity deal by a Chinese company in the United States since regulators in the world’s second-largest economy stepped in to tighten oversight of such listings in July.

Shein, founded by Chinese entrepreneur Chris Xu in 2008, first started preparing for a US IPO about two years ago, but shelved the plan partly due to unpredictable markets amid rising US-China tensions, the sources said.

Both sources declined to be named as the plans are confidential. A Shein spokesperson said the company had no plans to go public.

The Nanjing-based company is one of the world’s largest online fashion marketplaces targeting overseas consumers. The United States is its biggest market.

The sources said Shein founder Xu was eyeing Singapore citizenship partly to bypass China’s new and tougher rules on overseas listings. The change in citizenship, if applied for and successful, would ease the path to an offshore IPO, they said.

Neither Xu nor other Shein executives have applied for Singaporean citizenship, the company spokesperson said, without elaborating. Xu did not respond to Reuters queries sent via this spokesperson.

New rules issued by China’s cyberspace administration and the offshore listing filing regime to be finalised by China’s securities regulator are set to make a US listing process for Chinese firms more complicated, if not lengthier.

The securities regulator’s draft rules for offshore listings targets companies where a majority of senior management are either Chinese citizens or reside in China, or whose main business activities are conducted in China.

Valuation jump

Shein ships to 150 countries and territories from its many global warehouses, according to its website.

It made around CNY 100 billion (roughly Rs. 1,18,170 crore) in revenue in 2021, taking advantage of the pandemic that shifted global consumption online, said one of the sources and another person with knowledge of the matter. Its valuation was around $50 billion (roughly Rs. 3,73,990 crore) in early 2021, they said.

The valuation is estimated to have as much as doubled in the past year, one of the first two sources said.

The company, whose investors include Sequoia Capital China, IDG Capital and Tiger Global, was valued at $15 billion (roughly Rs. 1,12,200 crore) in its last funding round in August 2020, according to CB Insights data.

According to Coresight Research, Shein’s estimated sales in 2020 jumped 250 percent over the preceding year to $10 billion (roughly Rs. 74,800 crore), with over 2,000 items added on its website weekly.

The Shein spokesperson said as a private company it did not disclose financial figures.

Shein has hired Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan to work on the IPO, said the source with knowledge of the company’s valuation, and another person familiar with the matter.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Internet

Tencent Fires 70 Staff, Blacklists 13 Firms in Anti-Graft Campaign

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By Reuters | Updated: 25 January 2022

Tencent Holdings, China’s biggest social media and video games company, on Tuesday said it fired nearly 70 staff over bribery and embezzlement incidents last year and named 13 companies it had blacklisted from future contracts.

Tencent said in a social media post that it had also reported more than 10 people to authorities over their actions.

As the Chinese government has intensified a crackdown on corruption in recent years, tech companies have doubled down on their own investigations into irregularities as their valuations and profiles have soared following the country’s tech boom.

Tencent started its anti-graft campaign in 2019 and has been regularly reporting the results of its probes.

In 2021, one case involved a former employee from its digital music department asking for and getting favours from its suppliers, Tencent said. Another involved a sports content staffer profiting from using a company he controlled to enter a deal with Tencent, the company added.

Beijing, which has since last year reasserted control over its once-freewheeling Internet sector through a wide-ranging regulatory crackdown, said last week it would investigate and punish any corrupt behaviour found behind Internet platform monopolies.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Technology

5G Rollout Race: European Union Asked by Watchdog to Pick Up Pace

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By Associated Press | Updated: 25 January 2022

As the United States grapples with the 5G rollout affecting airlines, a European Union watchdog warned on Monday the EU faces much bigger economic and security threats unless member countries step up cooperation.

The alarm bells are included in a special report on the 27-nation bloc’s preparations for 5G, the fifth and next generation of wireless communications. 5G is projected to propel the world into a new digital age – one with greater technological innovations but also vulnerabilities.

The study by the European Court of Auditors has a two-pronged clarion call, saying Europe is falling behind North America and Asia in the rollout of 5G networks and the EU needs to beef up its strategy to counter accompanying national-security risks.

“There are considerable delays in the member states’ deployment of 5G networks and further efforts are necessary to address security issues in 5G deployment,” the Luxembourg-based ECA said in its 69-page evaluation.

In the US, the start of 5G telecommunication services has prompted airlines to complain about possible interference with planes’ navigation instruments and disruptions to air travel.

The world is rushing to install 5G infrastructure as a result of its higher data capacity and transmission speeds, which promise to transform everything from car driving and livestock farming to sports broadcasting and goods manufacturing.

In this race with high economic stakes, EU nations are moving too slowly because of a failure to do things such as assign radio spectrum for 5G services, according to the ECA.

It said a majority of the bloc’s member states is set to miss a common rollout target fixed for 2025, when they are supposed to ensure uninterrupted 5G coverage in urban areas and along main transport routes.

By mid-decade, just 35 percent of all mobile connections in Europe will be based on 5G compared with 51 percent in North America and 53 percent in Australia, Japan, Singapore and South Korea, according to a telecommunications industry study cited by the ECA. The projected 2025 figure for China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan is 48 percent.

As a result, most EU countries may also fail to achieve a more ambitious joint goal for 2030: making 5G services available to all segments of the population.

“There is a high risk that the 2025 deadline — and therefore also the 2030 one for the coverage of all populated areas — will be missed by a majority of member states,” the ECA said.

The lost economic benefits for the EU could be large. 5G is expected to trigger exponential increases in the consumption of data in a bloc, where services account for about 70 percent of gross domestic product.

Citing a separate, tech-industry study, the ECA indicated that 5G could add as much as EUR 1 trillion (roughly Rs. 84,46,400 crore) to the European economy and create or transform 2 million jobs between 2021 and 2025.

But such economic rewards require a lot more spending on 5G, whose deployment across the EU until 2025 could cost almost EUR 400 billion (roughly Rs. 33,78,560 crore), according to the ECA. These funds need to come primarily from mobile network operators, it said.

Differences among EU countries over 5G security partly explain the delays in the rollout of the infrastructure, the ECA said. It highlighted member-state divergences in the treatment of Chinese 5G vendors such as Huawei, which face US allegations of serving the geopolitical ambitions of China’s Communist Party.

While the US government has taken a hard line against Chinese suppliers’ involvement in American 5G networks, the European Commission — the EU’s executive arm — has tread more carefully. A key constraint for the European Commission is that national-security decisions remain in member countries’ hands.

Although the EU has come up with a “toolbox” to align national approaches to classifying high-risk 5G vendors, ambiguities exist and the whole initiative needs more bloc-wide regulatory teeth, according to the ECA.

“There remains a risk that the toolbox in itself cannot guarantee that member states address security aspects in a concerted manner,” the organisation said.

The European Commission sought to offer assurances on 5G security after the ECA published its report, saying in a statement that it’s “very attentive to reinforcing the security of 5G networks” and that, based on the toolbox, “most member states have managed to protect the most sensitive parts of the networks from high-risk suppliers.”

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Internet

China Targets Celebrities, Fan Groups in New Month-Long Online Abuse Clean Up Campaign

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By Reuters | Updated: 25 January 2022

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) on Tuesday launched a month-long “clean cyberspace” campaign, which it said would target online abuse, “chaos” in celebrity fan groups and “money worship”, among other issues.

CAC made the announcement on its official WeChat account on Tuesday, saying that it would closely look at content platforms and advertisements as part of the campaign over the Spring Festival period.

The aim is to “rectify the disorder on the Internet, curb the spread of unhealthy culture”, “to create a healthy, festive and harmonious online environment for Internet users, especially minors during the Spring Festival,” the CAC said in the statement

China first launched a crackdown on its booming entertainment industry in summer last year, targeting celebrity behaviour and fan groups, and has signalled that tight oversight will continue.

The Spring Festival period, also known as the Lunar New Year, is one of China’s biggest holidays and is marked by a week-long holiday.

The CAC said it would focus on cyberbullying and the spreading of online rumours, as well as any online behaviours that could be considered to be showing off lavish lifestyles, encouraging the worship of money or superstition.

It will also strictly prevent “illegal and immoral” celebrities from holding any online events that could help them make a comeback, it added.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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