Hackers Could Unleash Ransomware Attacks on US Health System, US Officials Warn

Cyber criminals could soon unleash a wave of ransomware attacks targeting U.S. hospitals and health care providers, according to a statement released by three federal agencies, including the FBI.In the statement, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) warned they had “credible information of an increased and imminent cybercrime threat to U.S. hospitals and healthcare providers” with the goal of “data theft, and disruption of healthcare services.”Ransomware scrambles data, and it can only be unscrambled if the target pays the attacker a sum of money.Alex Holden, CEO of Hold Security, told the AP he warned federal authorities about the impending attacks Friday after seeing “infection attempts at a number of hospitals.”He added that the hackers were demanding ransoms of over $10 million per target and that he had seen attackers discuss plans to infect “more than 400 hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities.”“One of the comments from the bad guys is that they are expecting to cause panic and, no, they are not hitting election systems,” Holden told AP. “They are hitting where it hurts even more, and they know it.”In a statement reported by AP, Charles Carmakal, chief technical officer of the cybersecurity firm Mandiant, said the U.S. is “experiencing the most significant cyber security threat we’ve ever seen.”He pointed the finger at a criminal gang called UNC1878, adding it was deliberately targeting and disrupting U.S. hospitals, forcing them to divert patients to other healthcare providers.”  He said the eastern European group is “one of most brazen, heartless, and disruptive threat actors I’ve observed over my career.”Ransomware attacks have risen 40% this year with a particular spike in September, technology website CNET reported, citing data from cybersecurity firm SonicWall.  Last month, a chain of U.S. hospitals run by Universal Health Services was attacked, resulting in doctors and nurses resorting to pencil and paper at 250 facilities, AP reported. Employees said the attacks resulted in emergency room delays and problems with wireless vital signs monitoring equipment.Brett Callow, an analyst with the cybersecurity firm Emsisoft, told the AP that “a total of 59 U.S. healthcare providers/systems have been impacted by ransomware in 2020, disrupting patient care at up to 510 facilities.” 
 

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2020 Election Puts Focus on Twitter, Facebook Content Moderation

The nation’s top technology leaders urged U.S. lawmakers Wednesday to keep content moderation protections in place, despite growing calls from Republicans to address perceived bias in the way social media companies handle free speech online.  Online companies are shielded from liability for content on their sites under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.  Those protections apply to companies of all sizes operating online that use third-party content. But some Republicans contend Section 230 is a “carve-out” for larger companies such as Facebook and Twitter, allowing them to censor content based on political viewpoints and use their considerable reach to influence public discourse.  U.S. President Donald Trump called for an end to Section 230 in a Tweet Wednesday, saying “The USA doesn’t have Freedom of the Press, we have Suppression of the Story, or just plain Fake News. So much has been learned in the last two weeks about how corrupt our Media is, and now Big Tech, maybe even worse. Repeal Section 230!”  President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at MotorSports Management Company, in West Salem, Wis., Oct. 27, 2020.At issue is whether or not a company that moderates content is a publisher instead of a platform and if the reach of companies such Facebook, Google and Twitter constitutes a monopoly.  “Companies are actively blocking and throttling the distribution of content on their own platforms and are using protections under Section 230 to do it. Is it any surprise that voices on the right are complaining about hypocrisy, or even worse?” Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker said Wednesday.  Section 230 has received renewed attention during the 2020 presidential election cycle due to online companies’ new approaches to content moderation in response to foreign interference on online platforms during the 2016 elections cycle.  Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey pushed back against that in prepared testimony Wednesday, saying, “We should remember that Section 230 has enabled new companies—small ones seeded with an idea—to build and compete with established companies globally. Eroding the foundation of Section 230 could collapse how we communicate on the Internet, leaving only a small number of giant and well-funded technology companies.”  Dorsey told lawmakers one possible approach that is “within reach” would allow users to choose between Twitter’s own algorithm that determines what content is viewable, and algorithms developed by third parties.Wicker said his staff had collected “dozens and dozens” of examples of conservative content that he says has been censored and suppressed over the past four years by Twitter. He alleged the social media company had allowed Chinese Communist propaganda about COVID-19 to remain up for two months while President Donald Trump’s claims about mail-in ballots were immediately taken down.  Earlier this month, Twitter blocked users from sharing a link to a news story on Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s son, Hunter. Twitter also locked the accounts of President Trump and White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany for sharing the story, citing its policies for how hacked materials are shared on its website. Based on these actions, Republican Senator Ted Cruz accused Twitter of attempting to influence U.S. elections.  “Your position is that that you can sit in Silicon Valley and demand of the media that you can tell them what stories they can publish; you can tell the American people what reporting they can hear,” Cruz said to Dorsey Wednesday.  The Twitter CEO has apologized for the decision, tweeting, “Straight blocking of URLs was wrong, and we updated our policy and enforcement to fix. Our goal is to attempt to add context, and now we have capabilities to do that.”  Facebook also restricted sharing of the Hunter Biden story, saying it would first need a third-party fact check.  The social media company had allowed Russian disinformation to flood the site during the 2016 election, but Facebook instituted new policies this election cycle. According to its website, Facebook’s response includes the removal of 6.5 billion fake accounts in 2019, adding third-party factcheckers to go over content posted on the site as well as removing 30 networks engaged in coordinated, inauthentic behavior.  “Without Section 230, platforms could potentially be held liable for everything people say. Platforms would likely censor more content to avoid legal risk and would be less likely to invest in technologies that enable people to express themselves in new ways,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told lawmakers Wednesday.  Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appears on a screen as he speaks remotely during a hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee on Capitol Hill, Oct. 28, 2020, in Washington.Congressional Democrats expressed concern about the growth of extremist groups online as well as continuing attempts at foreign election interference on social media platforms, questioning the timing of the hearing.“I am appalled that my Republican colleagues are holding this hearing literally days before an election, when they seem to want to bully and browbeat the platforms here to try to tilt toward President Trump’s favor. The timing seems inexplicable except to game the referee,” said Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal. “President Trump has broken all the norms. And he has put on your platforms, potentially dangerous and lethal misinformation and disinformation.”  In an earlier line of questioning, Dorsey told lawmakers Twitter does not maintain lists of accounts to watch, but bases content moderation based on algorithms and service user requests.   Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer at Google, also stated the company’s commitment toward independence, telling lawmakers, “We approach our work without political bias, full stop. To do otherwise would be contrary to both our business interests and our mission, which compels us to make information accessible to every type of person, no matter where they live or what they believe.” 

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Army of Robots Uses Light to Fight Coronavirus at Airports, Offices and Hospitals

Disinfecting public spaces is a major undertaking but it is essential for a safe return to normal activity. Now an army of robots that uses ultra-violet light to disinfect surfaces and the air, as Matt Dibble reports.
Camera, Producer: Matt Dibble

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US Judge Denies New Government Bid to Remove China’s WeChat From App Stores

A U.S. judge in San Francisco on Friday rejected a Justice Department request to reverse a decision that allowed Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google to continue to offer Chinese-owned WeChat for download in U.S. app stores.U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler said the government’s new evidence did not change her opinion about the Tencent app. As it has with Chinese video app TikTok, the Justice Department has argued WeChat threatens national security.WeChat has an average of 19 million daily active users in the United States. It is popular among Chinese students, Americans living in China and Americans who have personal or business relationships in China.WeChat is an all-in-one mobile app that combines services similar to Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Venmo. The app is an essential part of daily life for many in China and boasts more than 1 billion users.The Justice Department has appealed Beeler’s decision permitting the continued use of the Chinese mobile app to the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, but no ruling is likely before December.In a suit brought by WeChat users, Beeler last month blocked a U.S. Commerce Department order set to take effect September 20 that would have required the app to be removed from U.S. app stores.The Commerce Department order would also bar other U.S. transactions with WeChat, potentially making the app unusable in the United States.”The record does not support the conclusion that the government has ‘narrowly tailored’ the prohibited transactions to protect its national-security interests,” Beeler wrote on Friday.She said the evidence “supports the conclusion that the restrictions ‘burden substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government’s legitimate interests.'”WeChat users argued the government sought “an unprecedented ban of an entire medium of communication” and offered only “speculation” of harm from Americans’ use of WeChat.In a similar case, a U.S. appeals court agreed to fast-track a government appeal of a ruling blocking the government from banning new downloads from U.S. app stores of Chinese-owned short video-sharing app TikTok.

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New Huawei Phone Comes at Crucial Time for Chinese Company

Huawei’s new smartphone has an upgraded camera, its latest advanced chipset and a better battery. What it may not have outside the Chinese tech giant’s home market is very many buyers.
Huawei, which recently became the world’s No. 1 smartphone maker, on Thursday unveiled its Mate 40 line of premium phones, a product release that comes at a crucial moment for the company as it runs out of room to maneuver around U.S. sanctions squeezing its ability to source components and software.
The Mate 40 could be the last one powered by the company’s homegrown Kirin chipsets because of U.S. restrictions in May barring non-American companies from using U.S. technology in manufacturing without a license.
Analysts say the company had been stockpiling chips before the ban but its supply won’t last forever.
“This is a major challenge to Huawei and it’s really losing its market outside of China,” said Mo Jia, an analyst at independent research firm Canalys. The latest U.S. restrictions mean it “100% has closed doors for Huawei to secure its future components.”
Executives said this summer that production of Kirin chips would end in mid-September because they’re made by contractors that need U.S. manufacturing technology. In a press preview this week ahead of the Mate 40’s launch, staff declined to answer questions on Huawei’s ability to source chips. The head of Huawei’s consumer business, Richard Yu, referred only briefly to the issue at the end of  a virtual launch event Thursday.
“For Huawei, nowadays we are in a very difficult time. We are suffering from the U.S.
government’s third round ban. It’s an unfair ban. It makes (the situation) extremely difficult,” Yu said.
Huawei, which is also a major supplier of wireless network gear, is facing pressure in a wider global battle waged between the U.S. and China over trade and technological supremacy. The U.S. government’s efforts to lobby allies in Europe to not give it a role in new high-speed 5G wireless networks over cybersecurity concerns has been paying off, with countries including Sweden and Britain blocking its gear.
Huawei phones are not widely available in the U.S., but they’re sold in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The company climbed to the top of the global smartphone rankings this summer, knocking Samsung off top spot by shipping 55.8 million devices in the second quarter to gain a 20% share of the market, according to research firms Canalys and International Data Corp. But the performance was driven by strong growth in China while smartphone sales in the rest of the world tumbled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Analysts say it will be hard for Huawei to remain No. 1.
“Huawei’s in a tight spot,” said Ben Wood, chief of research at CCS Insight. Along with the U.S. sanctions, it’s also hurt by slumping confidence in the brand that makes retailers less keen to stock its phones. “And sadly, I don’t think you’re going to see the Mate 40 performing particularly well outside of China.”
Huawei has a small but enthusiastic fan base in Europe, its biggest market outside China. But some users are turned off by the idea of sticking with the brand because of a related problem: recent models like the Mate 40, priced at 899 euros ($1,070) and up, can’t run Google’s full Android operating system because of an earlier round of U.S. sanctions.
Instead, they come with a stripped down open source version of Android, which doesn’t have Google’s Play Store and can’t run popular apps like Chrome, YouTube and Search.
Mark Osten, a 29-year-old architect in Preston, England, bought a Huawei P30 last year when the contract on his previous Samsung phone ended.
He says the camera is great but hesitates to recommend the brand to others because of the uncertainty.
“I just can’t imagine life without YouTube or Google,” said Osten.
To make up for losing Google services, Huawei has built its own app store and has been paying developers to create apps for it. Users can request apps that aren’t yet available, but it’s not something that appeals to Chloe Hetelle, a 35-year-old events organizer in Toulouse, France, who bought a Huawei P20 model two years ago after switching from an iPhone.
“I don’t want to request apps, I just want to have YouTube,” said Hetelle. “I’m not really keen on struggling to get something that I would have easily with another phone.”

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Facebook Launches Dating Service in Europe

Facebook Inc said on Wednesday it is launching its dating service in 32 European countries after the rollout was delayed earlier this year due to regulatory concerns.The social media company had postponed the rollout of Facebook Dating in Europe in February after concerns were raised by Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner (DPC), the main regulator in the European Union for a number of the world’s biggest technology firms, including Facebook.The DPC had said it was told about the Feb. 13 launch date on Feb. 3 and was very concerned about being given such short notice.It also said it was not given documentation regarding data protection impact assessments or decision-making processes that had been undertaken by Facebook.Facebook Dating, a dedicated, opt-in space within the Facebook app, was launched in the United States in September last year. It is currently available in 20 other countries.In a blog post on Wednesday, Kate Orseth, Facebook Dating’s product manager, said users can choose to create a dating profile, and can delete it at any time without deleting their Facebook accounts.The first names and ages of users in their dating profiles will be taken from their Facebook profiles and cannot be edited in the dating service, Orseth said, adding that users’ last names will not be displayed and that they can choose whether to share other personal information on their profiles.

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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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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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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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Anti-Migrant Sentiment Fanned on Facebook in Malaysia

As coronavirus infections surged in Malaysia this year, a wave of hate speech and misinformation aimed at Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar began appearing on Facebook.   Alarmed rights groups reported the material to Facebook. But six months later, many posts targeting the Rohingya in Malaysia remain on the platform, including pages such as “Anti Rohingya Club” and “Foreigners Mar Malaysia’s Image,” although those two pages were removed after Reuters flagged them to Facebook recently.   Comments still online in one private group with nearly 100,000 members included “Hope they all die, this cursed pig ethnic group.”   Facebook acknowledged in 2018 that its platform was used to incite violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar, and last year spent more than $3.7 billion on safety and security on its platform. But the surge of anti-Rohingya comment in Malaysia shows how xenophobic speech nonetheless persists.   “Assertions that Facebook is uncommitted to addressing safety and security are inaccurate and do not reflect the significant investment we’ve made to address harmful content on our platform,” a company spokeswoman told Reuters.   Reuters found more than three dozen pages and groups, including accounts run by former and serving Malaysian security officials, that featured discriminatory language about Rohingya refugees and undocumented migrants.   Dozens of comments encouraged violence.   Reuters found some of the strongest comments in closed private groups, which people have to ask to join. Such groups have been a hotbed for hate speech and misinformation in other parts of the world. Facebook removed 12 of the 36 pages and groups flagged by Reuters, and several posts. Five other pages with anti-migrant content seen by Reuters in the last month were removed before Reuters queries.   “We do not allow people to post hate speech or threats of violence on Facebook and we will remove this content as soon as we become aware of it,” Facebook said. Some of the pages that remain online contain comments comparing Rohingya to dogs and parasites. Some disclosed where Rohingya had been spotted and encouraged authorities and the public to take action against them. Widespread hate speech   “This kind of hate speech can lead to physical violence and persecution of a whole group. We saw this in Myanmar,” said John Quinley, senior human rights specialist at Fortify Rights, an independent group focused on Southeast Asia.   “It would be irresponsible to not actively take down anti-refugee and anti-Rohingya Facebook groups and pages.”   Muslim-majority Malaysia was long friendly to the Rohingya, a minority fleeing persecution in largely Buddhist Myanmar, and more than 100,000 Rohingya refugees live in Malaysia, even though it doesn’t officially recognize them as refugees. But sentiment turned in April, with the Rohingya being accused of spreading the coronavirus. Hate speech circulated widely, including on Facebook – a platform used by nearly 70% of Malaysia’s 32 million people.   Rights groups and refugees said comments on Facebook helped escalate xenophobia in Malaysia.   “Malaysians who have lived with Rohingya refugees for years have started calling the cops on us, some have lost jobs. We are in fear all the time,” said Abu, a Rohingya refugee who did not want to give his full name fearing repercussions. Another refugee who declined to be identified said he deactivated his Facebook account after his details were posted and Malaysians messaged him telling him to go back to Myanmar – from where he fled five years ago. “Facebook has failed, they don’t understand how dangerous such comments can be,” he said, referring to posts he had seen supporting action in Myanmar against Rohingya.   ‘Absent’ Rights groups said the government of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin had failed to do enough to curb xenophobia as it rounded up thousands of undocumented migrants and said it would no longer accept Rohingya refugees.   “The Malaysian government was completely absent from any sort of effort to try to curtail this wave of hate speech,” said Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson. Muhyiddin’s office did not respond to requests for comment.   Reuters found four pages with links to security and enforcement agencies voicing anti-immigrant sentiment. “Let us not suffer the cancer of this ethnic (group),” administrators of a group called “Friends of Immigration” posted. The group says it is run by current and former immigration officials. That post from April was removed this month after Reuters queries to Facebook. The immigration department did not respond to Reuters queries. The communications and home ministries also did not respond to queries on hate speech in social media.   Among the earliest posts to draw comments calling for Rohingya to be shot was one from the Malaysian Armed Forces Headquarters asking the public to be its “ears and eyes” and report undocumented migrants. A military spokesman confirmed the authenticity of the page.   Another post that was shared more than 26,000 times was from a page calling itself the Military Royal Intelligence Corps that said undocumented migrants “will bring problems to all of us.”   Reuters was unable to contact the administrator of the page. The military said it had nothing to do with the page and it was run by a former member of the intelligence unit.   Facebook removed both posts after Reuters queries. The Intelligence Corps page was also taken down. 

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App Allowing Chinese Citizens Access to Global Internet Quickly Disappears

A mobile app launched last week in China that many there hoped would allow access to long banned Western social media sites abruptly disappeared from Chinese app stores a day after its unveiling.Tuber, an Andriod app backed by Chinese cyber security software giant Qihoo 360, first appeared to be officially available last Friday. It offered Chinese citizens limited access to websites such as YouTube, Facebook and Google, and it facilitated some 5 million downloads following its debut.Yet a day later, the Tuber app disappeared from mobile app stores, including one run by Huawei Technologies Co. A search for the app’s website yielded no results when VOA checked Monday. It’s unclear whether the government ordered the takedown of the app.Experts told VOA that such ventures are sometimes designed to create the illusion of choice to users eager to gain access to the global internet, but these circumvention tools are sometimes deleted if they are deemed by the Chinese government to be too popular with consumers.FILE PHOTO: The messenger app WeChat is seen next to its logo in this illustration picture taken Aug. 7, 2020.Short-lived frenzyChinese users hailed their newfound ability to visit long banned websites before the app was removed last Saturday.Several now banned articles introducing Tuber went viral Friday on China’s super app WeChat and seem to have contributed to Tuber’s overnight success.Sporting a logo similar to that of YouTube, Tuber’s main page offered a feed of YouTube videos, while another tab allowed users go to Western websites banned in China.A reporter at Chinese state media Global Times tweeted that the move is “good for China’s stability and it’s a great step for China’s opening up.”Exciting news!! #China launched a new web browser Tuber that can connect to FB, Twitter, Google, etc, without using VPN!! It’s still censoring fake news or propaganda like Epoch Times, but I think it’s good for China’s stability and it’s a great step for China’s opening up! pic.twitter.com/03fyJAo6U8— Rita Bai Yunyi (@RitaBai) October 9, 2020Users noticed, though, that the browser came with its own censorship already included. References to sensitive political issues, such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown and the more recent Hong Kong protests, were omitted, according to a Reuters check. YouTube queries for politically sensitive keywords such as “Tiananmen” and “Xi Jinping” returned no results on the app, according to TechCrunch.Some terms in the users’ agreement also raised concerns among observers. According to the app’s terms of service, the platform could suspend users’ accounts and share their data “with the relevant authorities” if they “actively browse or disseminate” content that breaches the constitution, endangers national security and sovereignty, spreads rumors, disrupts social orders or violates other local laws.Additionally, the terms of service stated the collection of personal information about users related to national security, public safety and public health does not require user authorization.Meanwhile, users of the app had to register through a Chinese phone number, which is tied to a person’s real identity, and allows GPS location tracking.Since its removal last Saturday, those who downloaded the app received a message that Tuber is “undergoing a system upgrade,” according to TechCrunch.Not the first attemptSarah Cook, a senior research analyst for China, Hong Kong and Taiwan at Freedom House, a watchdog organization, told VOA the brief availability of the new app might be a way for the Chinese government to create the “illusion of choice” to users who want to use the global internet, especially for communications that are not sensitive.“By facilitating and controlling the access, the Chinese Communist Party is able to ensure that their browsing indeed stays within approved limits,” she said.Cook added that by contrast, when a Chinese internet user jumps the Great Firewall with an independent VPN, then even if they were looking for entertainment content, they are likely to come across more politically sensitive information.Tuber is not the first browser in China that attempted to provide Chinese citizens with some access to the Western internet, although few have drawn as much attention.About a year ago, there was a similar effort made with a mobile browser called Kuniao that was approved by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. It purported to allow users to bypass internet censorship, though critics also suggested that it simply reduced the scope of censorship, rather than allowing people to fully circumvent controls.“But within two days of its launch, Kuniao’s website crashed from the high demand and it was soon blocked entirely. The official position on it seemed to sour quickly and online references to the browser were also deleted,” Cook said.A Chinese blogger who has been following China’s Great Fire Wall and who requested anonymity for fear of government retaliation told VOA the latest moves are telling. The blogger said the fate of both Tuber and Kuniao shows the government is increasingly unable to control sophisticated circumvention tools, including commercially available VPN (virtual private network) services and tools developed by tech-savvy amateurs.“The government has actually allowed a considerable number of these web browsers,” the blogger said. “It helps the government to achieve some level of monitoring over these Internet users compared to those who use VPN services.“These browsers are remarkably reliable when used within limited groups. But when they’ve become overly popular, the government will inevitably intervene,” the blogger said, adding it wouldn’t be surprising to see similar circumvention tools coming out soon. 

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Microsoft Attempts Takedown of Global Criminal Botnet

Microsoft announced legal action Monday seeking to disrupt a major cybercrime digital network that uses more than 1 million zombie computers to loot bank accounts and spread ransomware, which experts consider a major threat to the U.S. presidential election. The operation to knock offline command-and-control servers for a global botnet that uses an infrastructure known as Trickbot to infect computers with malware was initiated with an order that Microsoft obtained in Virginia federal court on Oct. 6.  Microsoft argued that the crime network is abusing its trademark. “It is very hard to tell how effective it will be, but we are confident it will have a very long-lasting effect,” said Jean-Ian Boutin, head of threat research at ESET, one of several cybersecurity firms that partnered with Microsoft to map the command-and-control servers. “We’re sure that they are going to notice and it will be hard for them to get back to the state that the botnet was in.” Cybersecurity experts said that Microsoft’s use of a U.S. court order to persuade internet providers to take down the botnet servers is laudable. But they add that it’s not apt to be successful because too many won’t comply and because Trickbot’s operators have a decentralized fall-back system and employ encrypted routing. Paul Vixie of Farsight Security said via email “experience tells me it won’t scale — there are too many IP’s behind uncooperative national borders.” And the cybersecurity firm Intel 471 reported no significant hit on Trickbot operations Monday and predicted “little medium- to long-term impact” in a report shared with The Associated Press.  But ransomware expert Brett Callow of the cybersecurity firm Emsisoft said that a temporary Trickbot disruption could, at least during the election, limit attacks and prevent the activation of ransomware on systems already infected.  The announcement follows a Washington Post report Friday of a major — but ultimately unsuccessful — effort by the U.S. military’s Cyber Command to dismantle Trickbot beginning last month with direct attacks rather than asking providers to deny hosting to domains used by command-and-control servers.  A U.S. policy called “persistent engagement” authorizes U.S. cyberwarriors to engage hostile hackers in cyberspace and disrupt their operations with code, something Cybercom did against Russian misinformation jockeys during U.S. midterm elections in 2018. Created in 2016 and used by a loose consortium of Russian-speaking cybercriminals, Trickbot is a digital superstructure for sowing malware in the computers of unwitting individuals and websites. In recent months, its operators have been increasingly renting it out to other criminals who have used it to sow ransomware, which encrypts data on target networks, crippling them until the victims pay up. One of the biggest reported victims of a ransomware variety sowed by Trickbot called Ryuk was the hospital chain Universal Health Services, which said all 250 of its U.S. facilities were hobbled in an attack last month that forced doctors and nurses to resort to paper and pencil.  U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials list ransomware as a major threat to the Nov. 3 presidential election. They fear an attack could freeze up state or local voter registration systems, disrupting voting, or knock out result-reporting websites.  While cybersecurity experts say the operators of Trickbot and affiliated digital crime syndicates are Russian speakers mostly based in eastern Europe, they caution that they are motivated by profit, not politics. They do, however, operate with impunity with no Kremlin interference as long as their targets are abroad.  “In today’s world, Trickbot is a type of a plague,” said Alex Holden, founder of Milwaukee-based Hold Security, which tracks its activity closely on the dark web, “and a government that ignores a global plague is more than complacent.” Trickbot is “malware-as-a-service,” its modular architecture lets it be used as a delivery mechanism for a wide array of criminal activity. It began mostly as a so-called banking Trojan that attempts to steal credentials from online bank account so criminals can fraudulently transfer cash. But recently, researchers have noted a rise in Trickbot’s use in ransomware attacks targeting everything from municipal and state governments to school districts and hospitals. Ryuk and another type of ransomware called Conti — also distributed via Trickbot — dominated attacks on the U.S. public sector in September, said Callow of Emsisoft.  Holden said the reported Cybercom disruption — involving efforts to confuse its configuration through code injections — succeeded in temporarily breaking down communications between command-and-control servers and most of the bots. “But that’s hardly a decisive victory,” he said, adding that the botnet rebounded with new victims and ransomware. The disruption — in two waves that began Sept. 22 — was first reported by cybersecurity journalist Brian Krebs. The AP could not immediately confirm the reported Cybercom involvement. 

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