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Australian cops, FBI created backdoored chat app, told crims it was secure — then listened to 9,000 users’ plots • The Register

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The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has revealed it was able to decrypt messages sent on a supposedly secure messaging app that was seeded into the organised crime community and promoted as providing snoop-proof comms.

The app was secretly built by the FBI, allowing law enforcement authorities to tune into conversations between about 9,000 users scattered around Earth.

Results in Australia alone have included over 500 warrants executed, 200-plus arrests, the seizure of AU$45m and 3.7 tonnes of drugs, and the prevention of a credible threat to murder a family of five. Over 4,000 AFP officers were involved in raids overnight, Australian time. Europol and the FBI will detail their use of the app in the coming hours.

The existence of the app — part of Operation Ironside — was revealed at a press conference in Australia today, where AFP commissioner Reece Kershaw detailed that informal beer-based meetings between members of the AFP and the FBI cooked up the idea of creating a backdoored app. The idea built on previous such efforts such as the Phantom Secure platform.

The app, called AN0M, was seeded into the organised crime community. The app could only run on mobile phones that could not make calls or send emails and could only communicate with other AN0M-equipped phones. The app required payment of a monthly fee.

“We were able to see every handset that was handed out and attribute it to individuals,” Kershaw said.

“Criminals needed to know a criminal to get a device,” said the AFP’s announcement of the operation. “The devices organically circulated and grew in popularity among criminals, who were confident of the legitimacy of the app because high-profile organised crime figures vouched for its integrity.”

But the software had a backdoor. Commissioner Kershaw said the organisation he leads “provided a technical capability to decrypt the messages,” and that as a result the force, the FBI, and Europol were able to observe communications among criminals in plain text.

“All they talk about is drugs and violence,” Kershaw said. “There was no attempt to hide behind any kind of codified information.” Intercepts included comments about planned murders and information about where and when speedboats would appear to shift contraband.

Kershaw said the surveillance enabled by the app is legal under the terms of Australia’s Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018. Law enforcement agencies in other jurisdictions also had legal cover for their use of the software.

However, some of those authorities were set to expire. That, and an operational decision to end the operation due to the opportunity to act on intelligence gathered using AN0M, led to today’s disclosures.

AN0M gave us insights we never had before

“The use of encrypted apps represents significant challenges,” Kershaw said. “AN0M gave us insights we never had before.”

The commissioner acknowledged that criminals will now adjust their behaviour as a result of this news, but suggested the AFP is working to develop similar capabilities. “This was a small platform. We know there are bigger ones. We will ensure we have the technology to disrupt criminals.”

FBI International Operations Division legal attaché for Australia, Anthony Russo, offered similar comments, saying “Criminals should be on notice that law enforcement are resolute to continue to evolve our capabilities.”

Kershaw somewhat smugly suggested that organised crime will take a while to bounce back from this operation, as intercepts of AN0M messages and conversations suggest that arrests made before the app was revealed have sparked internecine warfare and revenge plots. ®

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Elon Musk sells Tesla shares worth $6.9bn as Twitter trial looms | Elon Musk

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Elon Musk has sold $6.9bn (£5.7bn) worth of shares in Tesla after admitting that he could need the funds if he loses a legal battle with Twitter and is forced to buy the social media platform.

The Tesla CEO walked away from a $44bn deal to buy Twitter in July but the company has launched a lawsuit demanding that he complete the deal. A trial will take place in Delaware in October.

“In the (hopefully unlikely) event that Twitter forces this deal to close *and* some equity partners don’t come through, it is important to avoid an emergency sale of Tesla stock,” Musk said in a tweet late on Tuesday.

In other comments on Twitter on Tuesday, Musk said “yes” when asked if he was finished selling Tesla stock. He also said he would buy Tesla stock again if the Twitter deal does not close.

Musk has committed more than $30bn of his own money to the financing of the deal, with more than $7bn of that total provided by a coterie of associates including tech tycoon Larry Ellison, the Qatar state investment fund and the world’s biggest cryptocurrency exchange, Binance.

Musk, the world’s richest person, sold $8.5bn worth of Tesla shares in April and had said at the time there were no further sales planned. But since then, legal experts had suggested that if Musk is forced to complete the acquisition or settle the dispute with a stiff penalty, he was likely to sell more Tesla shares.

Last week Musk launched a countersuit against Twitter, accusing the platform of deliberately miscounting the number of spam accounts on the platform. Twitter has consistently stated that the number of spam accounts on its service is less than 5% of its user base, which currently stands at just under 238 million. Legal experts have said that Musk will find it hard to convince a judge that Twitter’s spam issue represents a “company material adverse effect” that substantially alters the company’s value – and therefore voids the deal.

Musk sold about 7.92m Tesla shares between 5 August and 9 August, according to multiple filings. He now owns 155m Tesla shares or just under 15% of the electric carmaker.

The latest sales bring total Tesla stock sales by Musk to about $32bn in less than one year. However, Musk remains comfortably ahead of Jeff Bezos as the world’s richest man with an estimated $250bn fortune, according to the Bloomberg billionaires index.

Tesla shares have risen nearly 15% since the automaker reported better-than-expected earnings on 20 July, also helped by the Biden administration’s climate bill that, if passed, would lift the cap on tax credits for electric vehicles.

Musk also teased on Tuesday that he could start his own social media platform. When asked by a Twitter user if he had thought about creating his own platform if the deal didn’t close, he replied: “X.com”.

With Reuters



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Iran reveals use of cryptocurrency to pay for imports • The Register

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Iran has announced it used cryptocurrency to pay for imports, raising the prospect that the nation is using digital assets to evade sanctions.

Trade minister Alireza Peyman Pak revealed the transaction with the tweet below, which translates as “This week, the first official import order was successfully placed with cryptocurrency worth ten million dollars. By the end of September, the use of cryptocurrencies and smart contracts will be widespread in foreign trade with target countries.”

It is unclear what Peman Pak referred to with his mention of widespread use of crypto for foreign trade, and the identity of the foreign countries he mentioned is also obscure.

But the intent of the announcement appears clear: Iran will use cryptocurrency to settle cross-border trades.

That’s very significant because Iran is subject to extensive sanctions aimed at preventing its ability to acquire nuclear weapons and reduce its ability to sponsor terrorism. Sanctions prevent the sale of many commodities and technologies to Iran, and financial institutions aren’t allowed to deal with their Iranian counterparts, who are mostly shunned around the world.

As explained in this advisory [PDF] issued by the US Treasury, Iran has developed numerous practices to evade sanctions, including payment offsetting schemes that let it sell oil in contravention of sanctions. Proceeds of such sales are alleged to have been funnelled to terrorist groups.

While cryptocurrency’s anonymity has been largely disproved, trades in digital assets aren’t regulated so sanctions enforcement will be more complex if Iran and its trading partners use crypto instead of fiat currencies.

Which perhaps adds more weight to the argument that cryptocurrency has few proven uses beyond speculative trading, making the ransomware industry possible, and helping authoritarian states like Iran and North Korea to acquire materiel for weapons.

Peyman Pak’s mention of “widespread” cross-border crypto deals, facilitated by automated smart contracts, therefore represents a challenge to those who monitor and enforce sanctions – and something new to worry about for the rest of us. ®



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Edwards Lifesciences is hiring at its ‘key’ Shannon and Limerick facilities

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The medtech company is hiring for a variety of roles at both its Limerick and Shannon sites, the latter of which is being transformed into a specialised manufacturing facility.

Medical devices giant Edwards Lifesciences began renovations to convert its existing Shannon facility into a specialised manufacturing centre at the end of July.

The expansion will allow the company to produce components that are an integral part of its transcatheter heart valves. The conversion is part of Edwards Lifesciences’ expansion plan that will see it hire for hundreds of new roles in the coming years.

“The expanded capability at our Shannon facility demonstrates that our operations in Ireland are a key enabler for Edwards to continue helping patients across the globe,” said Andrew Walls, general manager for the company’s manufacturing facilities in Ireland.

According to Walls, hiring is currently underway at the company’s Shannon and Limerick facilities for a variety of functions such as assembly and inspection roles, manufacturing and quality engineering, supply chain, warehouse operations and project management.

Why Ireland?

Headquartered in Irvine, California, Edwards Lifesciences established its operations in Shannon in 2018 and announced 600 new jobs for the mid-west region. This number was then doubled a year later when it revealed increased investment in Limerick.

When the Limerick plant was officially opened in October 2021, the medtech company added another 250 roles onto the previously announced 600, promising 850 new jobs by 2025.

“As the company grows and serves even more patients around the world, Edwards conducted a thorough review of its global valve manufacturing network to ensure we have the right facilities and talent to address our future needs,” Walls told SiliconRepublic.com

“We consider multiple factors when determining where we decide to manufacture – for example, a location that will allow us to produce close to where products are utilised, a location that offers advantages for our supply chain, excellent local talent pool for an engaged workforce, an interest in education and good academic infrastructure, and other characteristics that will be good for business and, ultimately, good for patients.

“Both our Shannon and Limerick sites are key enablers for Edwards Lifesciences to continue helping patients across the globe.”

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