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King of Ad Fraud to reign in a US prison for years • The Register

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Aleksandr Zhukov, a Russian national and the self-proclaimed “king of fraud,” this week received a 10-year prison sentence for carrying out a $7m digital ad fraud scheme.

Zhukov was convicted in May of multiple counts of fraud and money laundering. He was arrested in Bulgaria in 2018 and extradited to America the following year.

“Sitting at his computer keyboard in Bulgaria and Russia, Zhukov boldly devised and carried out an elaborate multi-million-dollar fraud against the digital advertising industry, and victimized thousands of companies across the United States,” said Breon Peace, US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, in a statement.

Starting around 2014, according to court documents, Zhukov and co-conspirators launched a fraudulent ad business called Media Methane that took payment from ad networks to present ads online to internet users.

“Rather than place these advertisements on real publishers’ webpages as promised, however, Zhukov and others rented thousands of computer servers located at commercial data centers in the United States and elsewhere, and used those data center computer servers to simulate humans viewing ads on fabricated webpages,” the US government’s indictment [PDF] says.

Zhukov and his associates – seven individuals who are being prosecuted separately – are said to have rented more than 2,000 servers in data centers in Dallas, Texas, and in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Media Methane allegedly offered ad space on fabricated web pages to ad buyers who would bid for the space. But the company showed those ads to an audience of bots.

The bots – computer programs – are said to have been designed to interact with the fake web pages so as to simulate realistic mouse movements and webpage interactions like viewing videos on social media sites. They were trained to bypass CAPTCHA puzzles, to accept cookies, and to fake being signed-in to social media services. Their code, the indictment claims, managed to avoid the fraud detection software used by several US cybersecurity firms.

To make the fraud more believable, Zhukov is said to have leased more than 765,000 IP addresses from IP address leasing companies, which he then assigned to data-center servers and entered into a global registry of IP addresses. By falsely registering IP addresses in the names of companies like Comcast and Time Warner Cable, Zhukov made it appear that the addresses belonged to residential US internet subscribers of those services. Some 6,000 domains are said to have been spoofed in this manner.

The companies victimized by this scheme, said to have netted more than $7m, include The New York Times, The New York Post, Comcast, Nestle Purina, the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, and Time Warner Cable.

According to the government, Zhukov hired various developers to help him carry out his fraud scheme and he referred to himself as the “king of fraud.” The Feds claim he personally took in more than $4.8m through the ad fraud scheme, though Zhukov’s attorneys are currently trying to convince the judge that only about $1m should be subject to forfeiture.

Criminal ad fraud prosecutions have been relatively rare. Among the more notable cases are a 2011 click fraud case against six Estonian nationals and one Russian national, another from 2017, and a medical ad fraud case from 2019. ®

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Chinese could hack data for future quantum decryption, report warns | Hacking

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Chinese hackers could target heavily encrypted datasets such as weapon designs or details of undercover intelligence officers with a view to unlocking them at a later date when quantum computing makes decryption possible, a report warns.

Analysts at Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm, say Chinese hackers could also steal pharmaceutical, chemical and material science research that can be processed by quantum computers – machines capable of crunching through numbers at unprecedented speed.

In a report titled “Chinese threats in the quantum era”, the consultancy says encrypted data could be stolen by “Chinese threat groups”. It says quantum-assisted decryption will arrive faster than quantum-assisted encryption, giving hackers an edge.

“Encrypted data with intelligence longevity, like biometric markers, covert intelligence officer and source identities, social security numbers, and weapons’ designs, may be increasingly stolen under the expectation that they can eventually be decrypted,” the report says. It says “state-aligned cyber threat actors” will start to steal or intercept previously unusable encrypted data.

However, it adds there is a “very small” likelihood that quantum computing could break the latest encryption methods before 2030. The analysts say quantum computing’s advantages over classical computing – the computing used in everything from laptops to mobile phones – are at least a decade away.

“Although quantum computers’ current abilities are more demonstrative than immediately useful, their trajectory suggests that in the coming decades quantum computers will likely revolutionize numerous industries – from pharmaceuticals to materials science – and eventually undermine all popular current public-key encryption methods,” the report says.

Quantum computing is viewed as an exciting development. For example, experts say it could predict accurately what a complex molecule might do and thus pave the way for new drugs and materials.

China is already a strong player in the field, and Booz Allen Hamilton says it expected the country to surpass Europe and the US – where IBM recently made the most powerful quantum processor – in quantum-related research and development.

“Chinese threat groups will likely soon collect encrypted data with long-term utility, expecting to eventually decrypt it with quantum computers,” the report says. “By the end of the 2020s, Chinese threat groups will likely collect data that enables quantum simulators to discover new economically valuable materials, pharmaceuticals and chemicals.”

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UK Space Agency asks kids to make a logo for first launches • The Register

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Good news for those in the UK with primary school-aged kids and wondering what to do when the next bout of home-schooling hits: design a logo for the first UK satellite launches.

2022 could be a big year for launching satellites from Blighty’s shores as the first launchers gear up for a historic blast-off. Assuming the facilities have been built and all the necessary consents given and boxes ticked.

There are currently seven possible spaceport sites across the UK, from Cornwall in England through Llanbedr in Wales and up to the Western Isles in Scotland. Cash has been lobbed Cornwall’s way to support a horizontal launch by Virgin Orbit from Spaceport Cornwall and more toward Scotland for Orbex’s ambitions to launch vertically from Sutherland.

Should all the approvals happen and construction be completed, there is every chance the UK might host its first launch at some point in 2022.

Hence the need for a logo and thus a competition aimed at inspiring kids to consider a career in the space industry. And, of course, it is all worthy stuff: “Logo designs,” intoned the UK Space Agency, “should reflect how data from small satellites can help inform solutions to climate change as well as generate a source of pride in the UK’s space ambitions.”

What, we wondered, could possibly go wrong?

We put this question to Rob Manuel, one of those behind web stalwart b3ta.com. B3ta has a long history of (among other things) image challenges, the results of which tend to pop up, often unattributed, in timelines around the world. Now heading into its third decade, the site continues to push out a weekly Friday newsletter to email subscribers.

In terms of how to engage participants, Manuel said: “If anyone asks me, and they rarely do, I encourage competitions to be as open as possible – publish the results as they’re coming in. Try and create a buzz that something is happening rather than everything going in the bin.”

“As for things going wrong,” he went on, “well, there’s always an element who’ll want to subvert it.”

The competition is open to children aged 4-11 and will run until 11 March 2022. There are two age categories (4-7 and 7-11) over 12 regions in the UK. Designs can be drawn, painted, or created on a computer and either submitted on the logoliftoff.org.uk site or via post. Some basic questions also need to be answered, and children can work on their own or in a team of up to four.

We asked the UK Space Agency if it would take Manuel’s advice and post entries ahead of the competition close. We will update should it respond. ®

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Video analytics platform RugbySmarts named ‘most investable’ at SportX

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The Galway tech start-up was one of two winners at the sport-focused pre-accelerator programme.

A start-up developing real-time video analytics for sports has been named ‘most investable’ at SportX, a new pre-accelerator in Ireland for founders with sports and wellness business ideas.

RugbySmarts took the title at the inaugural SportX showcase last week, securing a cash prize.

The Galway-based start-up aims to automate and simplify sports analytics using AI,  machine learning and computer vision, helping coaches to improve player and team performance with a platform that could also be transferred to other sports.

RugbySmarts was founded last year by CTO William Johnstone, who has previously worked with Connacht Rugby, and CEO Yvonne Comer, who is a former Ireland international rugby player.

Meanwhile, the award of ‘best impact on sport’ was given to TrojanTrack. This start-up, founded in 2021 by Dublin-based Stephen O’Dwyer, is looking to combine quantitative biomechanical analysis with deep neural network tech in the equine industry.

The aim is to gain feedback on a horse’s injury or gait imbalance without using invasive technology, such as motion-tracking software that requires markers to be attached to the animal’s skin.

‘Next-gen sports-tech entrepreneurs’

SportX was launched earlier this year by advisory firm Resolve Partners, Sport Ireland and ArcLabs – the research and innovation centre at Waterford Institute of Technology.

The aim of the pre-accelerator programme was to build on tech and business ideas for the sport and wellness industries, giving founders access to academic, clinical and commercial resources.

The six-week programme involved workshops and engagement with advisers, entrepreneurs, subject experts and investors. Participants also had the opportunity to pitch to the US-based Techstars Sports Accelerator.

At the SportX showcase last week, nine teams had five minutes each to pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges.

The two winners were selected by the panel, which featured Gary Leyden of the ArcLabs Fund 1 GP, Sport Ireland’s Benny Cullen and Niall McEvoy of Enterprise Ireland.

At the launch of SportX earlier this year, Leyden said the goal of the programme was to find “the next generation of sports-tech entrepreneurs who can leverage the amazing enterprise and sports-related supports within the south-east of Ireland”.

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