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Ransomware attacks 'global epidemic', says Europol
by Staff Writers
The Hague (AFP) Sept 27, 2017

WH lawyers demand Facebook info linked to anti-Trump protests
Washington (AFP) Sept 29, 2017 - A civil rights group on Thursday launched a bid to prevent White House lawyers from obtaining private data of possibly thousands of Facebook users via search warrants linked to anti-Trump protests.

The government-issued warrants, initially served to the social media giant in February just after US President Donald Trump's inauguration, pinpoint three specific users whose lawyers say are considered activists critical of the current administration.

One of the users operated a "DisruptJ20" Facebook page for discussion of Inauguration Day protests that was visited by some 6,000 users -- whose identities would be available to the government if Facebook abides by the warrants.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed in a Washington court a motion to quash or narrow the warrants, holds that the demand to obtain the trove of Facebook data is "overbroad" and violates the constitutional amendment that prohibits "exploratory rummaging."

According to the filing "the warrants' broad sweep" would allow the government full access to information connected to the three account owners' profiles as well as some information from third parties -- including private messages, choices to associate and views expressed on a wide range of political and social issues.

At first the three users did not know of the search warrants, the ACLU says, because of a gag order preventing Facebook from informing them.

The ACLU says Facebook challenged that gag order and lost, but amid an appeal of that ruling the government agreed this month to lift it.

The information sought would date back to November 1, 2016 -- a week prior to the presidential vote -- until February 9, 2017, according to the filing.

US government attorneys have also slapped the web hosting firm DreamHost with a similar warrant, which sought data on visitors to a DisruptJ20 site organizing a protest during Trump's inauguration -- a demand also tied up in court.

An "epidemic" has erupted in global ransomware attacks, taking over computers as well as internet-linked devices like routers and CCTV cameras to turn them into tools for criminals, Europe's police agency said Wednesday.

"Ransomware attacks have eclipsed most other global cybercrime threats, with the first half of 2017 witnessing ransomware attacks on a scale previously unseen," Europol said, as it released its latest annual report on internet organised crime.

This included the WannaCry ransomware attack in May, believed to have rapidly infected as many as 300,000 targets in 150 countries including some high-profile ones such as Britain's National Health Service, Spanish telecoms company Telefonica, and logistics company Fed-Ex.

"The global impact of huge cyber security events such as the WannaCry ransomware epidemic has taken the threat from cybercrime to another level," Europol's chief Rob Wainwright said.

"Banks and other major businesses are now targeted on a scale not seen before," he said at the launch of the 80-page report.

At the same time, late 2016 saw the first "massive attacks" on insecure devices connected to the so-called internet of things.

In one case the notorious Mirai malware hacked into about 150,000 internet-linked devices like cellphones, routers, printers and security cameras to mount a "complex... sophisticated" attack.

The malware transformed them into botnets capable of launching a so-called distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, Europol said.

They were responsible for a number of high profile attacks, including one which severely disrupted internet infrastructure on the West Coast of the United States.

Europol warned that the "collective response to cyber-criminals is still not good enough."

"In particular people and companies everywhere must do more to better protect themselves," it said.

The report also said that last year saw an unprecedented increase in data breaches with vast amounts of data being stolen, including over two billion records related to EU citizens reportedly leaked over a 12-month period.

European safety commissioner Julian King said Europol's latest report "shows online crime is the new frontier of law enforcement."

"We've all seen the impact of events like WannaCry. Whether attacks are carried out for financial or political reasons, we need to improve our resilience," King said.

China's Baidu, police crack down on 'rumours'
Beijing (AFP) Sept 28, 2017 - Chinese internet giant Baidu has teamed up with the country's cyber police to control the spread of rumors and fake news, the company said Thursday, as authorities continue to tighten censorship ahead a major Communist Party congress next month.

Baidu, known as China's answer to Google, said artificial intelligence tools would monitor and identify "rumours" on its services -- search engine, forums and blogs -- on a system linked to around 370 registered police agencies around the country.

Suspicious content will be sent to the police for review and to reference organisations, such as State agencies, science academies or media, who will then be able to produce articles refuting the rumors, the official Xinhua news agency said.

"Rumors" are to be labelled as such in search engine results or on forums, accompanied by the articles offering corrections. Baidu will also build a database with recurring rumors along with the verified information.

The "cooperation between Baidu and Public Security agencies" will "encourage the sharing of information between cyberpolice and Internet companies across the country, and improve the reliability of online content" the Baidu announcement quoted a senior official of the Ministry of Public Security as saying.

Chinese authorities closely monitor and restrict cyberspace through their "Great Firewall", while websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest have been blocked for years.

But it has tightened online policing even further this year, enacting new rules that require tech companies to store user data inside the country as well as imposing restrictions on what is permissible content.

The move comes ahead of the Communist Party congress on October 18, when President Xi Jinping is expected to be given a second five-year term as the party's general secretary.

Earlier this week reports emerged of disruption to the WhatsApp messaging service -- which provides message encryption technology.

Chinese cyberspace regulators also this week slapped "maximum" fines on Baidu and another tech heavyweight Tencent for allowing the publication of pornographic, violent and other sorts of banned material on their social media platforms.

Equifax CEO steps down in wake of massive hack
New York (AFP) Sept 26, 2017
Equifax chief executive and chairman Richard Smith stepped down Tuesday in the wake of a massive hack of the consumer credit rating service. The company tapped longtime Equifax executive Paulino do Rego Barros as interim chief executive while it undertakes a search for a new leader following the massive data breach from mid-May through July that was disclosed earlier this month. The hack ... read more

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