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Ukraine Hacks Add to Worries of Cyber Conflict With Russia

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By Associated Press | Updated: 15 January 2022

Hackers on Friday temporarily shut down dozens of Ukrainian government websites, causing no major damage but adding to simmering tensions while Russia amasses troops on the Ukrainian border. Separately, in a rare gesture to the US at a time of chilly relations, Russia said it had arrested members of a major ransomware gang that targeted US entities.

The events, though seemingly unrelated, came during a frenetic period of activity as the US publicly accused Moscow of preparing a further invasion of Ukraine and of creating a pretext to do so. They underscored how cybersecurity remains a pivotal concern — that the escalating animosity risks not only actual violence but also damaging digital attacks that could affect Ukraine or even the U.S.

The White House said Friday that President Joe Biden had been briefed on the disruptions, which targeted about 70 websites of national and regional government bodies, but it did not indicate who might be responsible.

But even without any attribution of responsibility, suspicions were cast on Russia, with its history of peppering Ukraine with damaging cyberattacks. Ukraine’s Security Service, the SBU, said preliminary results of an investigation indicated the involvement of “hacker groups linked to Russia’s intelligence services.” It said most of the websites had resumed operations, and that content was not altered and personal data not leaked. The SBU said the culprits “hacked the infrastructure of a commercial company that had access, with administrator privileges, to websites affected by the attack.”

The White House said it was still assessing the impact of the defacements but described it as “limited” so far. A senior administration official, meanwhile, said the White House welcomed news of the arrests in Russia of alleged ransomware gang members, an operation Moscow said was done at the request of US authorities.

The official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said one of those arrested was linked to the hack of Colonial Pipeline that resulted in days of gas shortages in parts of the US last year. The arrests are thought by the White House to be unrelated to the Russia-Ukraine tension, according to the official.

Russia’s past cyber operations against Ukraine include a hack of its voting system before 2014 national elections and of its power grid in 2015 and 2016. In 2017, Russia unleashed one of the most damaging cyberattacks on record with the NotPetya virus, which targeted Ukrainian businesses and caused more than $10 billion (roughly Rs.74387 crore) in damage globally. Moscow has previously denied involvement in cyberattacks against Ukraine.

Ukrainian cybersecurity professionals, aided by more than $40 million (roughly Rs. 296.625) in the US State Department assistance, have been fortifying the defenses of critical infrastructure ever since. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday the alliance will continue to provide “strong political and practical support” to Ukraine in light of the cyberattacks.

Experts say Russian President Vladimir Putin could use cyberattacks to destabilise Ukraine and other ex-Soviet countries that wish to join NATO without having to commit troops. Tensions between Ukraine and Russia are high, with Moscow amassing an estimated 100,000 troops near its extensive border with Ukraine.

“If you’re trying to use it as a stage and a deterrent to stop people from moving forward with NATO consideration or other things, cyber is perfect,” Tim Conway, a cybersecurity instructor at the SANS Institute, told the AP last week.

The main question for the website defacements is whether they’re the work of Russian freelancers or part of a larger state-backed operation, said Oleh Derevianko, a leading private sector expert and founder of the ISSP cybersecurity firm.

A message posted by the hackers in Russian, Ukrainian and Polish claimed Ukrainians’ personal data had been placed online and destroyed. It told Ukrainians to “be afraid and expect the worst.” In response, Poland’s government noted Russia has a long history of disinformation campaigns and that the Polish in the message was error-ridden and clearly not from a native speaker.

Researchers from the global risk think tank Eurasia Group said the Ukraine defacements don’t “necessarily point to an imminent escalation of hostilities by Russia” — they rank low on its ladder of cyber options. They said Friday’s attack amounts “to trolling, sending a message that Ukraine could see worse to come.”

The defacements followed a year in which cybersecurity became a top concern because of a Russian-government cyberespionage campaign targeting US government agencies and ransomware attacks launched by Russia-based criminal gangs.

On Friday, Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, announced the detention of members of the REvil ransomware gang. The group was behind last year’s Fourth of July weekend supply-chain attack targeting the software firm Kaseya, which crippled more than 1,000 businesses and public organisations globally.

The FSB claimed to have dismantled the gang, but REvil effectively disbanded in July. Cybersecurity experts say its members largely moved to other ransomware syndicates. They cast doubt Friday on whether the arrests would significantly affect ransomware gangs, whose activities have only moderately eased after high-profile attacks on critical US infrastructure last year, including the Colonial Pipeline.

The FSB said it raided the homes of 14 group members and seized over RUB 426 million (roughly Rs. 41.66 crore), including in cryptocurrency, as well as computers, crypto wallets and 20 elite cars “bought with money obtained by criminal means.” All those detained have been charged with “illegal circulation of means of payment,” a criminal offense punishable by up to six years in prison. The suspects weren’t named.

According to the FSB, the operation was conducted at the request of the US authorities, who had identified the group’s leader. It’s the first significant public action by Russian authorities since Biden warned Putin last summer that he needed to crack down on ransomware gangs.

Experts said it was too early to know if the arrests signal a major Kremlin crackdown on ransomware criminals — or if they may just have been a piecemeal effort to appease the White House.

“The follow-through on sentencing will send the strongest signal one way or another as to IF there has truly been a change in how tolerant Russia will be in the future to cyber criminals,” Bill Siegel, CEO of the ransomware response firm Coveware, said in an email.

Yelisey Boguslavskiy, research director at Advanced Intelligence, said those arrested are likely low-level affiliates — not the people who ran the ransomware-as-a-service, which disbanded in July. REvil also apparently ripped off some affiliates so it had enemies in the underground, he said.

REvil’s attacks crippled tens of thousands of computers worldwide and yielded at least $200 million (roughly Rs. 1487.73 crore) in ransom payments, Attorney General Merrick Garland said in November when announcing charges against two hackers affiliated with the gang.

Such attacks drew significant attention from law enforcement officials around the world. Hours before the US announced its arrests, European law enforcement officials revealed the results of a months-long, 17-nation operation that yielded the arrests of seven hackers linked to REvil and another ransomware family.

The AP reported last year that US officials, meanwhile, shared a small number of names of suspected ransomware operators with Russian officials.

Brett Callow, a ransomware analyst with the cybersecurity firm Emsisoft, said whatever Russia’s motivations may be, the arrests would “certainly send shockwaves through the cybercrime community. The gang’s former affiliates and business associates will invariably be concerned about the implications.”

Mobiles

US, EU Said to Halt Subsidy Race to Encourage Chips Production, Move to Be Announced Soon

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By Reuters | Updated: 16 May 2022

The United States and European Union will announce a joint effort to avert a “subsidy race” as they scramble to boost production of scarce semiconductor chips, a senior Biden administration official said.

The move will be unveiled at the second meeting of the US-EU Trade and Technology Council (TTC), taking place on Sunday and Monday in Paris.

The TTC pledged at an inauguration conference last year in Pittsburgh to deepen transatlantic cooperation to strengthen chip supply chains, curb China’s non-market trade practices, and take a more unified approach to regulating big, global technology firms.

“You’ll see us announce… a transatlantic approach to semiconductor investments aimed at ensuring security of supply,” a senior administration official told reporters in a call Friday previewing the meeting.

Both Washington and Brussels want to encourage chip investment, and to “do so in a coordinated fashion and don’t simply encourage a subsidy race,” the official added.

A persistent industry-wide shortage of chips has disrupted production in the automotive and electronics industries, forcing some firms to scale back production. But US legislation that would grant chipmakers $52 billion (roughly Rs. 4,03,970 crore) in funding to expand output has been stuck in Congress.

The official said an early warning system to pinpoint and address semiconductor supply chain disruptions would also be announced as part of the meeting, which will be headlined by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Commerce Department Secretary Gina Raimondo, and US Trade Representative Katherine Tai.

EU trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis and EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager will also participate, the official said.

The Council will also announce a new cooperation scheme which the official said was intended to combat disinformation online, such as false Russian claims related to its invasion of Ukraine. Moscow calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation.”

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Social Networking

Elon Musk Says Twitter’s Legal Team Accused Him of NDA Violation for Revealing Company’s Sample Size

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By Reuters | Updated: 16 May 2022

Elon Musk on Saturday tweeted that Twitter’s legal team accused him of violating a nondisclosure agreement by revealing that the sample size for the social media platform’s checks on automated users was 100.

“Twitter legal just called to complain that I violated their NDA by revealing the bot check sample size is 100!” tweeted Musk, chief executive of electric car maker Tesla.

Musk on Friday tweeted that his $44-billion (roughly Rs. 3,41,910 crore) cash deal to take the company private was “temporarily on hold” while he awaited data on the proportion of its fake accounts.

He said his team would test “a random sample of 100 followers” on Twitter to identify the bots. His response to a question prompted Twitter’s accusation.

When a user asked Musk to “elaborate on process of filtering bot accounts,” he replied: “I picked 100 as the sample size number, because that is what Twitter uses to calculate <5 percent fake/spam/duplicate.”

Musk tweeted during the early hours of Sunday that he is yet to see “any” analysis that shows that the social media company has fake accounts less than 5 percent.

He later said that “There is some chance it might be over 90 percent of daily active users.”

Meanwhile, Musk, who has made weeding out fake Twitter accounts and spam bots the central theme of his takeover plan, said if he buys the social-media platform he “will defeat the spam bots or die trying”. He has constantly blamed the company’s over-reliance on advertising for the relentless spread of spam bots.

Twitter, like other social media companies, has been battling spam bots over the past few years through software that spots and blocks them. Spam bots or fake accounts are designed to manipulate or artificially boost activity on social media platforms such as Twitter.

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Science

Elon Musk’s SpaceX Launches 53 Starlink Satellites From California

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A SpaceX Falcon 9, with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken in the Dragon crew capsule, lifts off from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Saturday. David J. Phillip/AP
By Associated Press | Updated: 14 May 2022

A SpaceX rocket carried 53 satellites for the Starlink internet constellation into orbit Friday after blasting off from California.

The Falcon 9 booster lifted off from Vandenberg Space Force Base at 3:07pm., and minutes later the first stage landed on a droneship in the Pacific Ocean while the second stage continued toward low Earth orbit.

SpaceX later tweeted that the satellites were successfully deployed.

Starlink is a space-based system that SpaceX has been building for years to bring internet access to underserved areas of the world.

Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX has hundreds of Starlink satellites orbiting Earth at an altitude of 340 miles (550 kilometers).

SpaceX recently announced that its Starlink Internet service will now be available in 32 new countries. It shared an availability map for the service, which showed countries marked under different segments such as Available, Waitlist, and Coming Soon. Most countries in Europe and North America are listed under Available, while some regions in South America are under waitlist, which means that the Starlink service is read to ship in these regions. Most of the newly added countries fall under the coming soon category, including all of Africa, South America, and South and Southeast Asia.

The Starlink Internet service will expand to more countries, including India. However, in India, the service still hasn’t received commercial licences. SpaceX had originally planned to launch the service in India and provide full coverage by the end of 2021. The new availability map does not reveal any timelines for the countries where the Internet service is said to launch.

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Technology

Delhi Government Approves 1,500 Electric Buses for Public Transport Fleet

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By Press Trust of India | Updated: 14 May 2022

The Delhi government on Friday approved the induction of 1,500 low-floor electric buses in its public transportation fleet, an official statement said. The Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) also decided to allocate 10 sites to various agencies for setting up Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations and battery swapping stations under Delhi EV Policy 2020, it said.

The city government also gave its approval to run 75 inter-state buses along 11 routes across five states and a Union Territory.

The DTC board also decided to enhance the stipend paid to women during training for engagement to the post of drivers on contract basis from Rs 6,000 to Rs 12,000 per month with HMV driving licence.

The board had already dropped the condition of holding an HMV driving licence for at least three years for women seeking employment as bus drivers in its fleet, the statement said.

The 10 sites which have been allocated to various service providers for establishing EV charging and battery swapping stations are Ambedkar Nagar Depot, Jal Vihar Terminal, Dilshad Garden Terminal, Karawal Nagar Terminal, Shadipur Depot, Mayapuri Depot, Bindpur Terminal, East Vinod Nagar, Punjabi Bagh, and Rohini Depot-I. Delhi Transco Limited (DTL) has identified four service providers through a competitive bidding process who will soon sign an agreement with DTC for setting up the EV charging/battery swapping stations in these locations. The DTC Board also resolved to provide in-principle approval for procurement of 75 (38 non-AC and 37 AC) CNG standard floor buses for inter-state operations, it said.

These buses will ply on 11 routes across five states (Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab) and Chandigarh — between Delhi-Rishikesh, Delhi-Haridwar, Delhi-Dehradun, Delhi-Haldwani, Delhi-Agra, Delhi-Bareilly, Delhi-Lucknow, Delhi-Jaipur, Delhi-Chandigarh, Delhi-Panipat, and Delhi-Patiala, the statement said.

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Internet

Facebook, Twitter, Google, Other Tech Firms Ask US Supreme Court to Block Texas Social Media Law

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By Reuters | Updated: 14 May 2022

Lobbying groups representing Facebook, Twitter, Google and other tech companies filed an emergency request with the US Supreme Court on Friday, seeking to block a Texas law that prohibits large social media platforms from banning users based on their political views.

The Texas law went into effect on Wednesday when the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals granted the state’s request for a stay of a district judge’s injunction blocking the law.

The law forbids social media companies with more than 50 million active users per month from banning members based on their political views and requires them to publicly disclose how they moderate content.

It was signed into law by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, in September.

Internet lobbying groups NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association filed a lawsuit against the measure, and US District Judge Robert Pitman in Austin, Texas, issued a preliminary injunction in December.

Pitman had found that the law would harm social media companies’ free speech rights under the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

The tech groups, in their emergency request, asked the Supreme Court to “allow the District Court’s careful reasoning to remain in effect while an orderly appellate process plays out.”

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Social Networking

Musk-Twitter Deal Expected to Close, but Prepared for All Scenarios, Says CEO Parag Agrawal

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By ANI | Updated: 14 May 2022

Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal on Saturday said that the deal with Elon Musk is expected to be closed, however, the deal does not become an excuse to avoid making important decisions for the health of the company, adding that Twitter needs to be prepared for all scenarios and always do what’s right for it.

This is a significant update as Elon Musk earlier declared that the $44 billion (roughly Rs. 3,40,800 crore) takeover bid of the micro-blogging site is on hold.

Agrawal said that though some have been asking why a “lame-duck” CEO would make these changes if Twitter is getting acquired anyway. In a response to these comments, the CEO said that while he expects the deal to close, Twitter needs to be prepared for all scenarios and always do what’s right for it.

“We announced changes to our leadership team and operations yesterday. Changes impacting people are always hard,” the CEO tweeted adding, “I won’t use the deal as an excuse to avoid making important decisions for the health of the company, nor will any leader at Twitter.”

He said that he is accountable for leading and operating Twitter. The CEO also noted that it is their job to build a stronger Twitter every day.

Agrawal continued by saying that regardless of the company’s future ownership, Twitter will be improved as a product and business for customers, partners, shareholders, and all of the users.

“No one at Twitter is working just to keep the lights on. We take pride in our work,” the CEO wrote in a tweet. He said that he is still focused on doing his job, and that includes making hard decisions as needed.

“I will continue to embrace the deep complexities of our service and our business. And you can expect more change for the better,” the CEO added.

“I will also try to bring more transparency to the work that we do. You won’t see tweets from me on the ‘topic of the day’ or the loudest sound bite, but rather on the ongoing, continuous, and challenging work our teams are doing to improve the public conversation on Twitter,” he continued.

He also expressed gratitude to the whole Twitter team. “They have stood strong and focused, sharp and agile. They’ve been doing the work, as they always have,” he wrote while praising the team at Twitter.

Twitter recently agreed to an acquisition by Tesla CEO Elon Musk in a deal worth $44 billion, although it is still subject to shareholder approval. However, Elon Musk declared that the $44 billion takeover bid of the micro-blogging site is on hold.

Twitter shares tumbled around 20 percent in the pre-market trading on Friday after Musk’s announcement over hold on the Twitter deal.

Musk said earlier this week that Twitter’s decision to ban former US President Donald Trump was a mistake and he would reverse it if his acquisition of the social media company is successful.

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