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SolarWinds backdoor gang pwned Microsoft support agent to turn sights on customers • The Register

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In Brief The spies who backdoored SolarWinds’ Orion software infiltrated Microsoft’s support desk systems last month and obtained information to use in cyber-attacks on some of the Windows giant’s customers, it was reported.

Redmond said it traced this latest intrusion to a member of a team it calls Nobelium, the suspected Kremlin-run crew that used tainted Orion updates to snoop on organizations around the world. Russia insists it had nothing to do with the supply-chain attack on SolarWinds.

Microsoft customers targeted by the support desk intruder have been alerted. The caper was detected during what sounds like an investigation into a wider phishing campaign that, as it turned out, hooked a Microsoft support agent, who had access to customers’ contact information, lists of their cloud subscriptions, and other records.

“A sophisticated nation-state associated actor that Microsoft identifies as NOBELLIUM accessed Microsoft customer support tools to review information regarding your Microsoft Services subscriptions,” the IT giant told those clients, Reuters reported first on Friday.

“The actor used this information in some cases to launch highly-targeted attacks as part of their broader campaign.”

Mercedes-Benz USA this week said 1,000 or so customers’ sensitive personal information – such as credit card, driving license, and social security numbers, and dates of birth – were accidentally left out in the open on an insecure cloud storage system that has since been fixed. The data was collected from its website between January 2014 and June 2017.

It seems the exposed database had as many as 1.6 million unique records in it, and the majority of those were slightly less sensitive: names, home and email addresses, phone numbers, and some purchased vehicle info.

Earlier this month, Volkswagen and its subsidiary Audi told 3.3m people their personal info had been obtained by miscreants after a third-party supplier left the data facing the public internet. Again, most of the records were contact information and details of purchased vehicles, and for 90,000 folks, more sensitive info.

AWS buys Wickr

Amazon Web Services announced on Friday it has bought Wickr, the popular encrypted messaging system, for an undisclosed sum.

Wickr started out as a secure smartphone chat app for NGOs, with end-to-end encrypted messages that could be auto-deleted. Then it branched out to the desktop, and enterprise versions appeared for on-prem and cloud servers. It’s also used by the US military and law enforcement, not to mention an Australian Prime Minister.

“The need for this type of secure communications is accelerating,” said AWS chief information security officer Stephen Schmidt. “With the move to hybrid work environments, due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, enterprises and government agencies have a growing desire to protect their communications across many remote locations.

“Wickr’s secure communications solutions help enterprises and government organizations adapt to this change in their workforces and is a welcome addition to the growing set of collaboration and productivity services that AWS offers customers and partners.”

Wickr is also popular with some journalists, though one wonders if they’ll keep using the software seeing as it’s now owned by a corporation that seems to relish badgering and nitpicking reporters and editors. The accountants at Juniper Networks may be happy: the Silicon Valley biz was a seed funder for Wickr, and one assumes it got a good return on its investment from this acquisition.

Mozilla starts Rally for privacy

In a somewhat quixotic move, Mozilla is asking its users to send their data to third parties in the hope that it’ll one day be better protected.

The scheme, dubbed Rally, will let Firefox users install a plugin that lets them share some of their user data and personal information with academics researching how people use the internet and what data they are actually having to share to do so. Users choose how much info they send and to which project, with teams at Princeton and Stanford are already signed up to participate.

“Quantitative research is essential for understanding tech policy problems and for holding platforms accountable. Here’s the problem: methods and data often aren’t adequate,” said Jonathan Mayer, a professor of computer science at Princeton.

“Platforms could help with these research barriers. But platforms, unsurprisingly, haven’t been very interested in enabling research that examines their own problems and misconduct. Rally doesn’t depend on platform gatekeepers — it’s entirely independent, powered by users.”

Moz also released a tool called WebScience for other academics that want to get involved. Now we may actually get some realistic data, if enough people take part.

Cryptomining malware Crackonosh targets gamers

The perils of piracy were highlighted yet again this week, this time in a report on Crackonosh, a malware outbreak among gamers that netted millions in Monero.

The Windows software nasty, Avast said, was hidden in cracked versions of popular games like Far Cry 5, NBA 2K19 and, somewhat ironically, Grand Theft Auto V. Once installed, the code shut down any security software it could find, and installed a Monero miner called XMRig, which takes advantage of gamers’ rigs.

“Crackonosh has been circulating since at least June 2018 and has yielded over $2,000,000 USD for its authors in Monero from over 222,000 infected systems worldwide,” Avast claimed.

“As long as people continue to download cracked software, attacks like these will continue to be profitable for attackers. The key take-away from this is that you really can’t get something for nothing and when you try to steal software, odds are someone is trying to steal from you.”

Oklahoma! where the data goes blowing on the web

The City of Tulsa, Oklahoma, has admitted that files snatched from its police department computers have been released onto the web by extortionists.

Over 18,000 police citations and internal department files were leaked, it said, and “out of an abundance of caution, anyone who has filed a police report, received a police citation, made a payment with the City, or interacted with the City in any way where PII was shared,” should check their bank accounts.

Tulsa got hit by a major ransomware infection on May 6. Mayor G.T. Bynum refused to pay up, saying: “Know that your tax dollars are not going to go into the hands of criminals,” and vowed the city wouldn’t pay “a nickel.”

Canadian Navy bests the rest in military cyber contest

US Cyber Command’s annual war games were held this week and, despite America fielding the majority of the players, it was its upstairs neighbor who scooped the top prize.

This year’s Cyber Flag 21-2, or “Big Flag,” contest saw a simulated computer attack on a major logistics facility (sound familiar?) by two adversaries. The 430 military and civilian keyboard warriors from the US, Canada, and UK scored points for thwarting these infections, defending against threats, and shoring up unsafe systems.

“Cyber Flag 21-2 tested the best and brightest cyber protection teams. This exercise assessed their tactical cyber skills while collectively improving our cyber resiliency. I’d also like to congratulate the Royal Canadian Navy’s Cyber Protection Team, the winner of this year’s event,” said General Paul Nakasone, US Cyber Command commander, presumably through slightly gritted teeth. ®



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South Korea sets reliability standards for Big Tech • The Register

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South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT has offered Big Tech some advice on how to make their services suitably resilient, and added an obligation to notify users – in Korean – when they fail.

The guidelines apply to Google, Meta (parent company of Facebook), Netflix, Naver, Kakao and Wavve. All have been told to improve their response to faults by beefing up preemptive error detection and verification systems, and create back up storage systems that enable quick content recovery.

The guidelines offer methods Big Tech can use to measure user loads, then plan accordingly to ensure their services remain available. Uptime requirements are not spelled out.

Big techs is already rather good at resilience. Google literally wrote the book on site reliability engineering.

The guidelines refer to legislation colloquially known as the “Netflix law” which requires major service outages be reported to the Ministry.

That law builds on another enacted in 2020 that made online content service providers responsible for the quality of their streaming services. It was put in place after a number of outages, including one where notifications of the problem were made on the offending company’s social media site – but only in English.

The new regulations follow South Korean telcos’ recent attempts to have platforms that guzzle their bandwidth pay for the privilege. Mobile carrier SK Broadband took legal action in October of this year, demanding Netflix pitch in some cash for the amount of bandwidth that streaming shows – such as Squid Game – consume.

In response, Netflix pointed at its own free content delivery network, Open Connect, which helps carriers to reduce traffic. Netflix then accused SK Broadband of trying to double up on profits by collecting fees from consumers and content providers at the same time.

For the record, Naver and Kakao pay carriers, while Apple TV+ and Disney+ have at the very least given lip service to the idea.

Korea isn’t the only place where telcos have noticed Big Tech taking up more than its fair share of bandwidth. The European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) published a letter from ten telco CEOs asking that larger platforms “contribute fairly to network costs”. ®

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Twitter acquires Slack competitor Quill to improve its messaging services

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As part of the acquisition, Quill will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company.

Twitter has acquired the messaging platform Quill, seen as a potential competitor to Slack, in order to improve its messaging tools and services.

Quill announced that it will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company to continue its original goal “to make online communication more thoughtful, and more effective, for everyone”.

The purchase of Quill could be linked to Twitter’s new strategy to reduce its reliance on ad revenue and attract paying subscribers.

Twitter’s general manager for core tech, Nick Caldwell, described Quill as a “fresher, more deliberate way to communicate. We’re bringing their experience and creativity to Twitter as we work to make messaging tools like DMs a more useful and expressive way people can have conversations on the service”.

Users of Quill have until 11 December to export their team message history before the servers are fully shut down at 1pm PST (9pm Irish time). The announcement has instructions for users who wish to import their chat history into Slack and states that all active teams will be issued full refunds.

The team thanked its users and said: “We can’t wait to show you what we’ll be working on next.”

Quill was launched in February with the goal to remove the overwhelming aspects of other messaging services and give users a more deliberate and focused form of online chat.

In an online post, Quill creator Ludwig Pettersson said: “We started Quill to increase the quality of human communication. Excited to keep doing just that, at Twitter.”

The company became a potential competitor for Slack, which was bought by Salesforce at the end of 2020 for $27.7bn. The goal of that acquisition was to combine Salesforce’s CRM platform with Slack’s communications tools to create a unified service tailored to digital-led teams around the world.

Last week, Salesforce announced the promotion of Bret Taylor to vice-chair and co-CEO, just days after he was appointed independent chair of Twitter after CEO Jack Dorsey stepped down.

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Australians’ 2021 Google searches: Covid comes out on top with sport our favoured non-pandemic distraction | Google

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The Covid-19 pandemic once again dominated internet searches in Australia this year, as lockdowns gripped the two largest states, and people sought vaccines.

Google has compiled data on the most popular search terms from the previous 12 months, which showed Covid’s dominance in Australia was challenged by people looking for an escape in sports. The NBA, AFL, cricket, NRL, football, Wimbledon and the Olympics took out the top spots for most searched sport in Australia in 2021.

The Covid situation in New South Wales dominated news-related searches, with the Delta outbreak forcing the state into the longest continuous lockdown in 2021. Victorians, having endured the most number of days in lockdown since the pandemic started, did not appear to seek out information about the Covid situation in their own state nearly as much, with “coronavirus Victoria” coming in fifth in news-related searches, even behind Queensland at number three.

For the second year in a row, people Googled “how to make face masks” more than any other DIY-related search. As residents in NSW, Victoria and the ACT endured extended lockdowns, at-home activities like making your own candles, playdough, paper planes, and chatterboxes soared.

As Australia’s vaccination “strollout” gathered pace in the second half of 2021, people searched how to get their vaccination certificates, how to book their Covid vaccination, how to link their Medicare to myGov, and how to enter the Million Dollar Vax campaign.

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The shocking disappearance of West Australian four-year-old Cleo Smith and the dramatic rescue over two weeks later was the second biggest news event searched on Google by Australians. The ongoing search for missing toddler William Tyrrell came in sixth.

The former federal attorney general Christian Porter’s name dominated Google search trends in the days leading up to a press conference where he outed himself as the unnamed minister in an ABC report about an alleged historical rape. He vehemently denies the allegations. In his now-settled defamation suit against the ABC, lawyers for Porter raised that after the report searches of his name “increased significantly and much more so than any other senior male cabinet members”.

The former minister, who announced last week he would not recontest his WA seat of Pearce at the 2022 federal election, appears eighth in the 2021 list of news-related searches.

Porter was the fourth most-searched person overall in Australia, behind Cleo Smith, Ash Barty, and William Tyrell. The new NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, came in sixth.

Bringing up the rear of news searches was the moment that shook Melbourne – literally – the 5.9 magnitude earthquake that hit Victoria in September.

Interest in all things cryptocurrency was also reflected in Australian searches with cryptocurrency exchange Coinspot the ninth most searched term, and people searched how to buy Dogecoin.

Prince Philip was the most searched among those who died in 2021, followed by US woman Gabby Petito, and Australian entertainment giant Bert Newton.

Thanks to Jaden Smith and Britney Spears, people were searching for the meaning of the word “emancipated” more than any other word in 2021, followed by “insurrection” after the events at the US Capitol on 6 January, then it was “gaslighting”, Naidoc and NFT.

Despite emerging late in the year, Omicron came in sixth as people looked up the meaning of the latest Covid-19 variant of concern.

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