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Dublin’s Digital Hub to be dissolved

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The Government is dissolving the Digital Hub Development Agency in a move that has been met with disappointment.

The Government has made the decision to dissolve the Digital Hub, which has provided a base for many tech companies in Dublin 8.

The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications announced today (27 April) that the Digital Hub Development Agency (DHDA) property portfolio will be handed over to the Land Development Agency for redevelopment in mid-2022.

DHDA CEO Fiach Mac Conghail said he was “disappointed” by the Government’s decision. “[I] regret that the minister and the department didn’t share our vision for creating a sustainable urban quarter in the Liberties.”

The Digital Hub has been home to many start-ups and SMEs since its launch in 2003.

The DHDA was established by the Government with a mandate to attract high-growth technology and IT companies to Dublin 8. Its city centre campus has provided a base for more than 400 companies since then, including Slack, Stripe and Havok, and has supported more than 2,000 employees.

DHDA had warned the Government last year that it may need emergency supports as clients were struggling to pay rent during the pandemic. According to DHDA, the hub will now stay open for tenants for at least another year.

“The priority now is to minimise the impact of the dissolution on our companies, local community and staff,” the DHDA said in a statement. “The department has confirmed to us that the Digital Hub will remain open for client companies and maintain its existing community programmes until at least the end of June 2022.”

There are 31 companies currently based at the hub, employing a total of 270 people on the campus.

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“The board of the Digital Hub was surprised to learn that the agency is to be dissolved, and extremely disappointed that our ambition to build an enterprise cluster focused on e-health, climate action and other significant social and economic challenges, rooted in the local community, was not shared,” said DHDA chair Paul Holden.

“We will endeavour to ensure the smooth transfer of responsibilities and the continuation of the regeneration activity in Dublin 8. Based on our discussion with the Land Development Agency, I am confident that it will work closely with the community to ensure that the DHDA property portfolio is developed for the benefit of Irish society.”

‘No longer required’

The Government’s decision came after a Grant Thornton review of the DHDA that was carried out last year.

In a statement, the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications said: “The redevelopment by the Land Development Agency of the 5.6 acres held by the DHDA will be a transformative project for Dublin, with the potential for significant housing supply in a centrally located area, as well as potential for other community uses.”

It added that Grant Thornton concluded that the digital tech sector in Dublin has “developed significantly in the past 20 years, and that the DHDA is no longer required in order to sustain the continued growth of the sector”.

It said that the agency will be wound down over the next year and permanent staff will be redeployed within the public service.

“We will continue to support our companies and our partners for the next 14 months and in the coming weeks we will agree with the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications and the Land Development Agency the schedule for an orderly transfer of ownership,” Mac Conghail added.

“Over the past five years, I witnessed how the Digital Hub supported visionary entrepreneurs and technology companies solving problems to the betterment of Irish society. The Digital Hub played a vital role in job creation and in supporting a vibrant enterprise ecosystem, while at the same time engaging with our local community and partners in providing innovative and creative learning programmes to all generations in Dublin 8.”

Disclosure: Silicon Republic is a recent tenant of the Digital Hub.

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Apple’s new lockdown mode to protect from spyware such as Pegasus

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Coming to devices this autumn, the new lockdown mode aims to make Apple devices ultra-secure at the expense of functionality.

Apple has developed a new ‘lockdown mode’ for its devices to give extra security to users who are more susceptible to targeted spyware cyberattacks.

Individuals such as journalists, lawyers, government officials and human rights activists have been reportedly targeted by authoritarian governments and criminals using spyware such Pegasus by Israel’s NSO Group or, more recently, Italian spyware Hermit.

The new lockdown mode will be made available on the iPhone, iPad and Mac devices later this year, when Apple – known to make some of the most secure devices and software in the market – is expected to release a suite of software updates.

Apple describes lockdown mode as “an extreme, optional protection for the very small number of users who face grave, targeted threats to their digital security”. Turning it on secures the device’s defences, but comes at the cost of functionality.

Once turned on, lockdown mode blocks most message attachment types other than images and disables features such as link previews. Web browsing technologies such as just-in-time JavaScript compilation are disabled except for sites trusted by the user.

Incoming invitations and service requests, including FaceTime calls, are also blocked if the user has not previously interacted with the person initiating the call or request. Wired connections with a computer or accessory are also blocked when the iPhone is locked.

Lockdown mode is not compatible with the kinds of device management software often used by larger organisations.

“Lockdown mode is a groundbreaking capability that reflects our unwavering commitment to protecting users from even the rarest, most sophisticated attacks,” said Ivan Krstić, Apple’s head of security engineering and architecture.

Krstić noted that the “vast majority of users” will never be victims of highly targeted cyberattacks. But for the ones who may be at risk, Apple will work “tirelessly” to protect them.

“That includes continuing to design defences specifically for these users, as well as supporting researchers and organisations around the world doing critically important work in exposing mercenary companies that create these digital attacks.”

Last November, Apple sued the NSO Group behind Pegasus spyware in a bid to “hold it accountable for the surveillance and targeting of Apple users”, two months after it had to issue an urgent security patch for a Pegasus backdoor on all devices.

NSO Group develops surveillance technology that can be used to track targeted iOS and Android users. It claims its products are only used by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to prevent and investigate serious crime and terror incidents.

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Bridie Connell: the 10 funniest things I have ever seen (on the internet) | Comedy

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Ah, the internet. My reliable friend. I turn to it when I need to smile (cute pet videos), when I need to cry (war veterans being reunited with their kids), and when I need to destroy what’s left of my self-esteem (Instagram). There are plenty of arguments about why life would be better without it, and honestly? It probably would be. But it also wouldn’t be as funny. Here’s a bunch of things from the world wide web that never fail to make me laugh.

There’s nothing I enjoy more than people trying to make the world a better place. Particularly when they make the world better in a way they’d never intended. I can just imagine the conversations that took place in the drafting process for this campaign:

“We need a catchy and educational campaign to tackle the horrors of addiction.”

“Yes, one that shows we’re in this together, as a community.”

“One that doesn’t stereotype addicts.”

“I’ve got it!”

The result is what I believe they call a “swing and a miss.” A+ for effort, though.

If there was an award for best award acceptance speech, this would win. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is brilliantly funny (while accepting an award for being brilliantly funny) and she remains my hero.

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Here’s one for my fellow theatre kids. This pitch perfect sketch is from comedian and writer Jacob Kaplan. Does it make me laugh? Yes. Does it make me tense every single muscle in my body and hold my breath while I try not to think about the time that 14-year-old Bridie wrote a play about the dangers of DRINK-DRIVING and also DRUGS, which inexplicably culminated in a peppy dance routine? … No comment.

Amber Ruffin is one of the most versatile and talented comedians around. I love a lot of what she does, but this song is a special favourite. Hilarious, a little creepy and downright catchy: a winning combo!

This sketch from the late 1990s sketch group Big Train still delights me. Short, sharp, silly. Please and thank you!

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Adrian Bliss, Certified Internet Star™, is a go-to for inventive sketches (and a seemingly endless supply of costumes). Many of his skits feature historical characters, like this one about a Greek soldier inside the Trojan horse. That layer of awkwardness that the Brits do well drives this skit, and now that I’ve seen it I can only hear The Aeneid being read in Bliss’s voice: “I sing of arms and a man, innit.”

Now this, THIS is some relatable content. Don’t pretend you’ve never tied one on and woken up on a golf course/boat/gold lame suit, because I won’t believe you. Perfectly encapsulating the delight of a great night-turned great story, I give you this hungover Scotsman who woke up in the wrong house. Of course, it’s made all the better by the Glaswegian accent.

*Assumes elderly wizard voice* I have been studying and performing improv since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, so the Whose Line crew are some of my longtime heroes. This game is one of my faves, not just because it’s so funny and clever, but because the “mistake” that happens around the 2:20 mark encapsulates the joy and collaboration that good improv is all about. Oh dear, this got more earnest than I intended. Just watch it!

A masterclass in physical comedy, from one of the greats.

Last but not least, here’s a video to save for a day where you need a bit of a pick-me-up. This is my favourite of all “laughing baby” videos, a classic in a crowded genre. And sure, if we’re measuring “funny” by incisive satirical commentary or well crafted punchlines, then this is a fail – but no other video fires up my mirror neurons and makes me laugh as much as this one.

Seriously, if you watch this and don’t feel at least a little bit better, then call a cardiologist because you have NO HEART.



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North Korean ransomware dubbed Maui active since May 2021 • The Register

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For the past year, state-sponsored hackers operating on behalf of North Korea have been using ransomware called Maui to attack healthcare organizations, US cybersecurity authorities said on Wednesday.

Uncle Sam’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the FBI, and the Treasury Department issued a joint advisory outlining a Pyongyang-orchestrated ransomware campaign that has been underway at least since May, 2021.

The initial access vector – the way these threat actors break into organizations – is not known. Even so, the FBI says it has worked with multiple organizations in the healthcare and public health (HPH) sector infected by Maui ransomware.

“North Korean state-sponsored cyber actors used Maui ransomware in these incidents to encrypt servers responsible for healthcare services – including electronic health records services, diagnostics services, imaging services, and intranet services,” the joint security advisory [PDF] reads. “In some cases, these incidents disrupted the services provided by the targeted HPH Sector organizations for prolonged periods.”

The Feds assume the reason HPH sector organizations have been targeted is that they will pay ransoms rather than risk being locked out of systems, being denied data, or having critical services interrupted.

Maui, according to Silas Cutler, principal reverse engineer at security outfit Stairwell, is one of the lesser known families of ransomware. He says it stands out for its lack of service-oriented tooling, such as an embedded ransom note with recovery instructions. That leads him to believe Maui is operated manually by individuals who specify which files should be encrypted and exfiltrated.

The advisory, based on Stairwell’s research [PDF], indicates that the Maui ransomware is an encryption binary that a remote operator manually executes through command line interaction. The ransomware deploys AES, RSA, and XOR encryption to lock up target files. Thereafter, the victim can expect a ransom payment demand.

According to SonicWall, there were 304.7 million ransomware attacks in 2021, an increase of 151 percent. In healthcare, the percentage increase was 594 percent.

CrowdStrike, another security firm, in its 2022 Global Threat Report said North Korea has shifted its focus to cryptocurrency entities “in an effort to maintain illicit revenue generation during economic disruptions caused by the pandemic.” For example, consider the recent theft of $100 million of cryptocurrency assets from Harmony by the North Korea-based cybercrime group Lazarus. But organizations that typically transact with fiat currencies aren’t off the hook.

Sophos, yet another security firm, said in its State of Ransomware Report 2022 that the average ransom payment last year was $812,360, a 4.8X increase from the 2020 when the average payment was $170,000. The company also said more victims are paying ransoms: 11 percent in 2021 compared to 4 percent in 2020.

The advisory discourages the payment of ransoms. Nonetheless, the FBI is asking any affected organization to share information related to ransomware attacks, such as communication with foreign IP addresses, Bitcoin wallet details, and file samples. The advisory goes on to suggest ways to mitigate ransomware attacks and minimize damage.

Last month, the US Justice Department outlined its Strategic Plan for the next four years and cited enhancing cybersecurity and fighting cybercrime among its objectives. One of its key metrics for success will be the “percent of reported ransomware incidents from which cases are opened, added to existing cases, or resolved or investigative actions are conducted within 72 hours.” ®

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