Category Archives: Technology

silicon valley & technology news

Twitter Vows New Crackdown on Hateful, Abusive Tweets

Twitter vowed to crack down further on hate speech and sexual harassment, days after CEO Jack Dorsey said in a tweet-storm that the company was “still” not doing enough to protect its users.

The policy changes were specifically aimed at protecting women who unknowingly or unwillingly had nude pictures of themselves distributed online or were subject to unwanted sexual advances. They would also aim to shield groups subject to hateful imagery, symbols and threats of violence.

In an email Twitter shared with The Associated Press Tuesday, Twitter’s head of safety policy outlined the new guidelines to the company’s Trust and Safety Council, a group of outside organizations that advises the company on its policies against abuse.

The company said it would enact the changes in the weeks ahead. News of the policy changes was first reported by Wired.

Among the changes, Twitter said it would immediately and permanently suspend any account it identifies as being the original poster of “non-consensual nudity,” including so-called “creep shots” of a sexual nature taken surreptitiously. Previously, the company treated the original poster of the content the same as those who re-tweeted it, and it resulted only in a temporary suspension.

It said it would also develop a system allowing bystanders to report unwanted exchanges of sexually charged content, whereas in the past it relied on one of the parties involved in the conversation to come forward before taking action.

Twitter also said it would take new action on hate symbols and imagery and “take enforcement action against organizations that use/have historically used violence as a means to advance their cause,” though it said more details were to come.

While it already takes action against direct threats of violence, the company said it would also act against tweets that glorify or condone violence.

On Friday, Dorsey foreshadowed the coming policy changes in a series of tweets, saying the company’s efforts over the last two years were inadequate.

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Telegram CEO’s Court Appeal Tests Russia Eavesdropping Laws, Technical Acumen

Telegram founder Pavel Durov has announced plans to appeal a Moscow court’s decision Monday to fine the encrypted messaging service some $14,000 (800 thousand rubles) for failing to provide law enforcement agencies with user information and access to private correspondences.

Providing security services with encryption keys to read users’ messaging data violates Russia’s constitution, he said in a post on Vkontakte, Russia’s version of Facebook, which he co-founded in 2007.

“Everyone has the right to privacy of correspondence, telephone conversations, postal, telegraphic and other communications,” Durov said, quoting constitutional excerpts.

Russian special services need decryption keys to “expand their influence at the expense of the constitutional right of citizens,” he said, building on similar comments Durov made in September, when he announced that FSB officials had requested backdoor access to Telegram.

Russian security officials have said encryption codes are vital to protecting citizens against terror attacks such as those earlier this year in St. Petersburg, in which perpetrators, Kremlin officials says, communicated via Telegram.

According to Pavel Chikov, a prominent Russian human rights lawyer, the FSB state security organization (formerly KGB) is trying to gain technical access by announcing ultimatums and making threats. While fines levied aren’t too burdensome for a company of Telegram’s size, they do indicate an FSB willingness to block Telegram from continuing to operate in the country.

Third-party hackers

The situation, Chikov said, is similar to legal proceedings that resulted from FBI requests for encryption access to Apple iPhones — a request that ultimately was dropped, leaving federal investigators to rely on third-party hackers.

Secrecy, anonymity and “the ability to communicate in such a way that representatives of the state do not hear these conversations,” should also be respected in Russia, Chikov told VOA Russian.

“Generally speaking, if we are talking on [a conventional] telephone, the conversation is protected by constitutional guarantees,” Chikov said. However, Russian police and various state security agencies can obtain court-ordered warrants to tap the phone of specific individuals suspected of a plotting criminal activities — and they have the technical acumen required to do it.

Although privacy laws are generally the same for peer-to-peer text-messaging devices, Russian security agencies lack the technical sophistication to hack Telegram’s encrypted conversations.

Durov ‘most likely right’

Professor Ilya Shablinsky, a constitutional law expert with Moscow’s National Research University, says Durov is “most likely right” that FSB demands represent a constitutional violation, as allowing FSB access to Telegram would allow for users’ correspondence to be read.

“When that constitutional norm was drafted, correspondence was typically drafted on paper,” he said.

“And the Russian Constitution’s authors never envisaged a technological variant [such as Telegram]. In this case, we do not know exactly what kind of information the FSB requested, and what it means for Telegram to provide that information.”

According to Shablinsky, although a Russian court can demand access to correspondences of a specific individual who is suspected of committing a crime, it is not known whether the provision covers access to the decryption devices for an entire network of users.

The free instant-messaging app, which lets people exchange messages, photos and videos in groups of up to 5,000 people, has attracted about 100 million users since its launch in 2013.

Telegram threatened

In June, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s state communications watchdog, threatened to ban Telegram for failing to provide user registration documents, which were requested as part of a push to increase surveillance of internet activities.

Although Telegram later registered, it stopped short of agreeing to Roskomnadzor’s data storage demands. Companies on the register must provide the FSB with information on user interactions; starting from 2018, they also must store all of the data of Russian users inside the country, according to controversial anti-terror legislation passed last year, which was decried by internet companies and the opposition.

Telegram has 10 days to appeal Monday’s decision.

‘No planned block’

Asked about a potential block of the service, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday said, “As far as I know … there is no discussion of a block at this time.”

But observers like Chikov say the risk is quite high.

“It is not necessarily going to happen right after the decision on the penalty comes into effect, as I believe that the authorities will still take a pause and try to negotiate with the company’s management,” he said. “However, with its refusal to provide access to correspondence, Telegram entered into direct conflict with the interests of the special services. Consequently, the political weight of people who decide to block is significantly higher than that of the same Roskomnadzor.”

Telegram, one-tenth the size of Facebook-owned rival WhatsApp, has caught on in many corners of the globe, including for a while with Islamic State as an ultra-secure way to quickly upload and share videos, texts and voice messages.

Durov, who has been described as “the Russian Mark Zuckerberg,” spent years fending off intrusions into his users’ communications, forging an uncompromising stance on privacy after founding VKontakte, only to lose control of that social media company for refusing Russian government demands to block dissidents.

Since leaving Russia in 2014 to set up Telegram in self-exile, Durov and his core team of 15 developers have become perpetual migrants, living only a few months at a time in any one location, starting in Berlin, then London, Silicon Valley, Finland, Spain and elsewhere. The company is incorporated in multiple jurisdictions, including Britain.

This story originated in VOA’s Russian Service. Some information for this report provided by AFP.

 

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Microsoft Rolls out new Windows 10 Update and Laptops

Microsoft has begun rolling out an update to its Windows 10 operating system, hoping to spark enthusiasm for its virtual- and augmented-reality ambitions.

 

The Windows 10 update became available Tuesday.

 

Several of Microsoft’s partners — Acer, Dell, HP and Lenovo — are simultaneously launching their first “Windows Mixed Reality” headsets Tuesday. Samsung is also releasing one early next month.

 

Microsoft is also announcing a new generation of laptops in its Surface line. Two versions of the new Surface Book 2 — one 13.5 inches and the other 15 inches — will go on sale next month.

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Cybersecurity Firm: North Korea Likely Behind Taiwan SWIFT Cyber Heist

Cybersecurity firm BAE Systems Plc said on Monday it believes the North Korean Lazarus hacking group is likely responsible for a recent cyber heist in Taiwan, the latest in a string of hacks targeting the global SWIFT messaging system.

“The likely culprit is Lazarus,” BAE cyber-intelligence chief Adrian Nish told Reuters by telephone.

The British firm has previously linked Lazarus to last year’s $81 million cyber heist at Bangladesh’s central bank, as have other cyber firms including Russia’s Kaspersky Lab and California-based Symantec Corp.

BAE’s claim that Lazarus is likely responsible for the hack on Taiwan’s Far Eastern International Bank demonstrates that North Korea continues to seek to generate cash through hacking.

Nish said he expects the group to continue to target banks.

“They are not just going to go away. They’ve built the tools. They are going to keep going back,” he said.

Still, he noted that the group appears to have had difficulty in pulling funds out of the banking system, after the massive Bangladesh heist, which prompted SWIFT and banks to boost security controls.

Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported last week that while hackers sought to steal some $60 million from Far Eastern Bank, all but $500,000 had been recovered by the bank.

BAE previously disclosed that Lazarus attempted to steal money from banks in Mexico and Poland, though there is no evidence the effort succeeded.

A security executive with SWIFT, a Belgium-based co-operative owned by banks, last week told Reuters that hackers have continued to target the message system this year, though many attempts have been thwarted by the new security controls.

SWIFT declined comment on the findings, which BAE detailed in a report on its website.

The report provides technical details on malware samples that BAE believes were likely used to target the Taiwan bank.

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US Top Court to Intervene in Government’s Email Dispute With Microsoft

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Monday to hear an appeal from the Justice Department on whether U.S. investigators can obtain emails stored overseas if they have a search warrant.

Since 2013, Microsoft has defied U.S. authorities in turning over emails that were stored on a data center in Ireland. While the investigators had a search warrant to obtain private records – in this case, emails – regarding a drug-trafficking case, Microsoft argued the warrant was valid under U. S. law but did not apply to other countries.

Microsoft’s lawyers maintained that the Stored Communications Act of 1986, the federal law that regulates electronic records, does not extend beyond the United States. Under the same logic, the tech company argued foreign governments could cause Microsoft to turn over data stored on U.S. servers.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit Court in New York overruled the Justice Department in favor of Microsoft. The Microsoft-Ireland decision, as it has come to be known, set a precedent for tech companies on U.S. soil. Essentially, tech companies can withhold digital evidence of crimes in the United States if the data is on a foreign server.

“Hundreds, if not thousands, of investigations of crimes – ranging from terrorism to child pornography to fraud – are being or will be hampered by the government’s inability to obtain electronic evidence,” Jeffrey Wall, Deputy Attorney General, said in the appeal, which was made in June. “The decision protects only criminals whose communications are placed out of reach of law enforcement officials because of the business decisions of private providers.”

The Supreme Court will hear the case early next year. Unlike most cases regarding privacy, the case does not hinge on Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure, but the Stored Communications Act of 1986 on electronic records and privacy.

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Tesla Fires Hundreds of Workers After Annual Reviews

Tesla Motors fired hundreds of workers after completing its annual performance reviews, even though the electric automaker is trying to ramp up production to meet the demand for its new Model 3 sedan.

The Palo Alto, California-based company confirmed the cuts in a Saturday statement, but didn’t disclose how many of its 33,000 workers were jettisoned. The San Jose Mercury News interviewed multiple former and current Tesla employees who estimated 400 to 700 workers lost their jobs.

The housecleaning swept out workers in administrative and sales jobs, in addition to Tesla’s manufacturing operations.

An unspecified number of workers received bonuses and promotions following their reviews, according to the company.

Tesla is under pressure to deliver its Model 3 sedan to a waiting list of more than 450,000 customers. The company so far has been lagging its own production targets after making just 260 of the vehicles in its last quarter.

Including other models, Tesla expects to make about 100,000 cars this year. CEO Elon Musk is aiming to increase production by five-fold next year, a goal that probably will have to be met to support Tesla’s market value of $59 billion, more than Ford Motor Co.

Unlike Ford, Tesla hasn’t posted an annual profit yet.

Despite the mass firings, Tesla is still looking to hire hundreds more workers.

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