By Reuters | Updated: 4 December 2021
Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department employees were hacked by an unknown assailant using sophisticated spyware developed by the Israel-based NSO Group, according to four people familiar with the matter.
The hacks, which took place in the last several months, hit US officials either based in Uganda or focused on matters concerning the East African country, two of the sources said.
The intrusions, first reported here, represent the widest known hacks of US officials through NSO technology. Previously, a list of numbers with potential targets including some American officials surfaced in reporting on NSO, but it was not clear whether intrusions were always tried or succeeded.
Reuters could not determine who launched the latest cyberattacks.
NSO Group said in a statement on Thursday that it did not have any indication their tools were used but canceled access for the relevant customers and would investigate based on the Reuters inquiry.
“If our investigation shall show these actions indeed happened with NSO’s tools, such customer will be terminated permanently and legal actions will take place,” said an NSO spokesperson, who added that NSO will also “cooperate with any relevant government authority and present the full information we will have.”
NSO has long said it only sells its products to government law enforcement and intelligence clients, helping them to monitor security threats, and is not directly involved in surveillance operations.
Officials at the Uganda embassy in Washington did not comment. A spokesperson for Apple declined to comment.
A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on the intrusions, instead pointing to the Commerce Department’s recent decision to place the Israeli company on an entity list, making it harder for U.S. companies to do business with them.
NSO Group and another spyware firm were “added to the Entity List based on a determination that they developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments that used this tool to maliciously target government officials, journalists, business people, activists, academics, and embassy workers,” the Commerce Department said in an announcement last month.
NSO software is capable of not only capturing encrypted messages, photos and other sensitive information from infected phones, but also turning them into recording devices to monitor surroundings, based on product manuals reviewed by Reuters.
Apple’s alert to affected users did not name the creator of the spyware used in this hack.
The victims notified by Apple included American citizens and were easily identifiable as U.S. government employees because they associated email addresses ending in state.gov with their Apple IDs, two of the people said.
They and other targets notified by Apple in multiple countries were infected through the same graphics processing vulnerability that Apple did not learn about and fix until September, the sources said.
Since at least February, this software flaw allowed some NSO customers to take control of iPhones simply by sending invisible yet tainted iMessage requests to the device, researchers who investigated the espionage campaign said.
The victims would not see or need to interact with a prompt for the hack to be successful. Versions of NSO surveillance software, commonly known as Pegasus, could then be installed.
Apple’s announcement that it would notify victims came on the same day it sued NSO Group last week, accusing it of helping numerous customers break into Apple’s mobile software, iOS.
In a public response, NSO has said its technology helps stop terrorism and that they’ve installed controls to curb spying against innocent targets.
For example, NSO says its intrusion system cannot work on phones with U.S. numbers beginning with the country code +1.
But in the Uganda case, the targeted State Department employees were using iPhones registered with foreign telephone numbers, said two of the sources, without the U.S. country code.
Uganda has been roiled this year by an election with reported irregularities, protests and a government crackdown. U.S. officials have tried to meet with opposition leaders, drawing ire from the Ugandan government. Reuters has no evidence the hacks were related to current events in Uganda.
A senior Biden administration official, speaking on condition he not be identified, said the threat to U.S. personnel abroad was one of the reasons the administration was cracking down on companies such as NSO and pursuing new global discussion about spying limits.
The official added that the government has seen “systemic abuse” in multiple countries involving NSO’s Pegasus spyware.
Sen. Ron Wyden, who is on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said: “Companies that enable their customers to hack U.S. government employees are a threat to America’s national security and should be treated as such.”
Historically, some of NSO Group’s best-known past clients included Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Mexico.
The Israeli Ministry of Defense must approve export licenses for NSO, which has close ties to Israel’s defense and intelligence communities, to sell its technology internationally.
In a statement, the Israeli embassy in Washington said that targeting American officials would be a serious breach of its rules.
“Cyber products like the one mentioned are supervised and licensed to be exported to governments only for purposes related to counter-terrorism and severe crimes,” an embassy spokesperson said. “The licensing provisions are very clear and if these claims are true, it is a severe violation of these provisions.”
© Thomson Reuters 2021
India Orders Blocking of 35 Pakistan-Based YouTube Channels, Websites: Here’s Why
By Press Trust of India | Updated: 22 January 2022
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has ordered the blocking of 35 YouTube channels and two websites which were running anti-India propaganda and spreading fake news “in a coordinated manner”.
The ministry has also issued orders for blocking of two Twitter accounts, two Instagram accounts and one Facebook account involved in spreading “coordinated anti-India disinformation”.
All these YouTube channels, websites and social media accounts were being operated from Pakistan to spread “anti-India fake news and other contents on sensitive subjects,”.
“We have used the provision of section 69 A of the IT Act to block these channels under the emergency provisions as their contents were totally toxic and against the sovereignty of India, sort of a war of misinformation against the country (India),” Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Secretary Apurva Chandra told a press conference on Friday.
To block Pakistan-based social media accounts and websites, five separate orders were issued under Rule 16 of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 to the respective intermediaries, internet service provides and the department of telecommunication.
Chandra said Indian intelligence agencies were “closely monitoring” these social media accounts and the websites, and flagged them to the ministry for immediate action.
The orders were issued on Thursday, he added.
The 35 YouTube accounts, which were being operated from Pakistan, had a total subscriber base of over 1.20 crore and their videos had over 130 crore views, the I&B secretary said.
Replying to reporters’ queries, he said Indian intelligence agencies are “now alive to this issue” and that more such channels would be blocked in coming days.
He also called upon people to bring to the notice of the government if they find any YouTube channel, website or social media account running anti-India propaganda.
“We will take action,” he said.
This comes days after 20 YouTube channels and two websites were blocked for spreading anti-India propaganda and fake news on a directive issued by the ministry in December last year.
I&B Minister Anurag Thakur had on Wednesday warned that the government would continue to take such action against those “hatching conspiracy” against the country.
The ministry said all the 35 YouTube accounts, ordered to be blocked on Thursday, were identified as being part of “four coordinated disinformation networks”.
These include the Apni Duniya Network operating 14 YouTube channels and Talha Films Network operating 13 YouTube channels.
“A set of four channels, and a set of two other channels were also found to be acting in synchronization with each other,” it said in a statement.
All these networks “appeared” to be operated with “a single goal” of spreading fake news oriented towards the Indian audience, the ministry said.
“The channels which were part of a network used common hashtags and editing styles. They were being operated by common persons who cross-promoted each others’ content. Some of the YouTube channels were being operated by anchors of Pakistani TV news channels,” it said.
The ministry said the YouTube channels, websites and social media accounts, ordered to be blocked, were used by Pakistan for spreading anti-India fake news about sensitive subjects such as the Indian Army, Jammu and Kashmir and India’s foreign relations with other countries.
“It was observed that rampant fake news was spread through the YouTube channels regarding the demise of Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat,” the ministry said.
These YouTube channels had also started posting content to undermine the democratic process of the upcoming elections in five states. it said.
“They propagated content to encourage separatism, divide India on the lines of religion, and create animosity among various sections of the Indian society.
Such information was feared to have the potential to incite the audience into the commission of crimes adversely affecting public order in the country, the ministry added.
The ministry secretary hoped that YouTube will block access to the channels across the globe as it had done last time following the ministry’s order to block 20 anti-India channels.
Replying to queries, he said that role of the intermediaries is “important” in checking the spread of fake news and misinformation on the Internet and suggested that they should create certain mechanisms to identify such accounts and block them.
“We have got a good response from the intermediary. Last time they blocked the (20) YouTube channels across the global level, taking action within 24 hours. We expect from them that they have a system in place so that such things doesn’t find way… They should have some system that red flags such channels,” he said.
Big Basket May Soon Have a New Home Delivery Rival, as Big Bazaar Partners With Ercess Live
By ANI | Updated: 12 January 2022
Ercess Live, a Bangalore-based event marketing technology startup has signed a contract with Big Bazaar to help the company to market its new home delivery services across the South Indian market.
The brand will be leveraging its huge network of influencers in India and a variety of marketing strategies to help Big Bazaar take on the likes of Big Basket, and Jio Mart.
The contract was signed in December 2021 and is planned to bring into action around the middle of January 2022. Under this collaboration, Big Bazaar is preparing to provide its customers with exceptional shopping offers, benefits of which can be redeemed at the time of checkout.
Ercess Live will be handling the overall aspect of Influencer Marketing for this collaboration. The marketing technology startup is targeting a variety of influencers ranging from micro to macro including a lot of mompreneurs, mom-bloggers, and food bloggers especially as they are very relevant to the segment.
Talking about the current market situation, the founder of Ercess Live Vishal Jaiswal says, “we are seeing a rapid increase and adaption of influencer marketing among many big brands across the world. The entire industry is effectively making its transition from the processes of traditional marketing to influencer marketing to reach a larger and much broader audience. I believe that within this decade, influencer marketing will surpass the paid advertisement segment completely.” “We are glad to collaborate with Big Bazaar to launch their Q-commerce segment”, he added.
In an attempt to use their resources in helping to safeguard mother nature, Ercess Live is also working on their initiative where they are planting a tree for every subscription they sell.
Prior to this collaboration, Ercess Live has already worked with a large number of big companies across India and had even manifested a strong foothold in the International markets. According to their reports, they have worked with 700 brands and managed campaigns worth millions of dollars to date. It also has a wide range of marketing products that can be used by event organizers to promote and sell their event tickets. As a leading MarTech startup, Ercess Live is bringing very creative marketing strategies to the table to help brands and businesses manage their event marketing from a central system effectively.
Apple Plans to Allow Third-Party Payment Systems in South Korea’s App Store, Regulator Says
By Reuters | Updated: 11 January 2022
South Korea’s telecommunications regulator said on Tuesday that Apple had submitted plans to allow third-party payment systems on its app store, to comply with a law banning major app store operators from forcing software developers to use their payments systems.
The Korea Communications Commission (KCC) had requested Apple and Alphabet’s Google to submit compliance plans after the bill was passed in August last year. The law went into effect in September.
Google announced its plans to allow alternative payment systems in South Korea in November to comply with the amended Telecommunication Business Act, dubbed the “anti-Google law”.
“Apple has a great deal of respect for Korea’s laws and a strong history of collaboration with the country’s talented app developers … We look forward to working with the KCC and our developer community on a solution that benefits our Korean users,” Apple said in a statement.
The KCC said Apple plans to allow alternative payment systems for a lower service fee versus the current 30 percent commissions.
Apple did not provide details, such as timeline of when the change will take effect or commission fee rates, but it plans to discuss further details with the KCC, the regulator said.
© Thomson Reuters 2022
China’s Chang’e 5 Lunar Lander Finds First On-Site Evidence of Water on Moon
By Press Trust of India | Updated: 11 January 2022
China’s Chang’e 5 lunar lander has found the first-ever on-site evidence of water on the surface of the moon, lending new evidence to the dryness of the satellite.
The study published on Saturday in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances revealed that the lunar soil at the landing site contains less than 120 parts-per-million (ppm) water or 120 grams water per ton, and a light, vesicular rock carries 180ppm, which are much drier than that on Earth.
The presence of water had been confirmed by remote observation but the lander has now detected signs of water in rocks and soil.
A device on-board the lunar lander measured the spectral reflectance of the regolith and the rock and detected water on the spot for the first time.
The water content can be estimated since the water molecule or hydroxyl absorbs at a frequency of about three micrometers, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported, citing researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).
It was the solar wind that contributed to the most humidity of lunar soil as it brought hydrogen that makes up the water, the researchers said.
The additional 60ppm water in the rock may originate from the lunar interior, according to the researchers.
Therefore, the rock is estimated to hail from an older, more humid basaltic unit before being ejected onto the landing site to be picked up by the lunar lander.
The study revealed that the moon had turned drier within a certain period, owing probably to the degassing of its mantle reservoir.
The Chang’e-5 spacecraft landed on one of the youngest mare basalts located at a mid-high latitude on the moon. It measured water on the spot and retrieved samples weighing 1,731 grams.
“The returned samples are a mixture of granules both on the surface and beneath. But an in-situ probe can measure the outermost layer of the lunar surface,” Lin Honglei, a researcher with the Institute of Geology and Geophysics under CAS, told Xinhua.
Lin also said that to simulate authentic lunar surface conditions on Earth is challenging, thus making the in-situ measurement so essential.
The results are consistent with a preliminary analysis of the returned Chang’e-5 samples, according to the study.
The findings provide more clues to China’s Chang’e-6 and Chang’e-7 missions. The investigations of lunar water reserves come into the limelight as the building of manned lunar stations are in the pipeline in the next decades, the report said.
GTA Maker Take-Two Buys Zynga of Farmville Fame in $12.7 Billion Deal
By Associated Press | Updated: 10 January 2022
Take-Two Interactive, maker of Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption, is buying Zynga, maker of FarmVille and Words With Friends, in a cash-and-stock deal with an enterprise value of about $12.7 billion (roughly Rs. 94,030 crore).
Zynga shareholders will receive $3.50 (roughly Rs. 260) in cash and $6.36 (roughly Rs. 470) in shares of Take-Two common stock for each share of Zynga outstanding stock at closing.
Take-Two said Monday it anticipates $100 million (roughly Rs. 740 crore) in annual cost savings.
The deal is expected to close during the first quarter of Take-Two’s fiscal 2023, ending June 30. It still needs approval of both Take-Two and Zynga stockholders.
Shares of Zynga, based in San Francisco, jumped 52 percent to $9.14 (roughly Rs. 680). Shares of Take-Two Interactive Software, based in New York City, fell more than 8 percent to $150.66 (roughly Rs. 11,160).
“Combining Zynga’s expertise in mobile and next-generation platforms with Take-Two’s best-in-class capabilities and intellectual property will enable us to further advance our mission to connect the world through games while achieving significant growth and synergies together,” said a statement from Take-Two Interactive on the announcement.
The company said the transaction is expected to establish Take-Two as a leader in mobile gaming, with mobile expected to comprise over 50 percent of its net bookings in FY 2023 (as compared to an estimated 12 percent in Fiscal Year 2022).
5G Buffer Zones Will Be Set Up in 50 US Airports: Federal Aviation Administration
By Reuters | Updated: 8 January 2022
The FAA said it does not “not necessarily” mean that low-visibility flights cannot occur at airports that are not among the 50.
AT&T and Verizon, which won nearly all of the C-Band spectrum in an $80 billion (roughly Rs. 5,93,850 crore) auction last year, declined comment.
On Thursday, the FAA renewed warnings that despite the agreement 5G wireless service could still disrupt flights, saying “even with the temporary buffer around 50 airports, 5G deployment will increase the risk of disruption during low visibility” including “flight cancellations, diverted flights, and delays during periods of low visibility.”
Some major airports such as Denver, Atlanta, and Ronald Reagan Washington National are not on the list because 5G is not yet being deployed, while others are not on the list because “5G towers are far enough away that a natural buffer exists.”
Other airports not listed do not currently have the ability to allow low-visibility landings, the FAA said. It said the delay would allow it to evaluate ways to minimise disruptions, and also gives companies more time to prepare.
“If there’s the possibility of a risk to the flying public, we are obligated to pause the activity, until we can prove it is safe,” the FAA said.
ACI-NA President and CEO Kevin Burke, who heads the association representing US and Canadian airports, said on Friday the FAA list “is largely irrelevant because the entire aviation system is about to be adversely impacted by this poorly planned and coordinated expansion of 5G service in and around airports.” He said the “so-called fix will create winners and losers within the airport community, and the entire aviation system will suffer under the terms of this deal.”
Airlines for America, a trade group representing US passenger and cargo carriers, said it appreciated the “FAA’s efforts to implement mitigations for airports that may be most impacted by disruptions generated by the deployment of new 5G service.”
© Thomson Reuters 2021
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