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‘Whiteboards and textas’: Nine reverts to old technology as cyber-attack hits TV and papers | Nine Entertainment

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Mike Sneesby’s first day as Nine Entertainment’s chief executive was spent managing the biggest cyber-attack to hit an Australian media company, affecting TV programming and newspaper print production across the country.

The source of the suspected ransomware attack has not yet been identified and sources say the disruption could extend into the Easter long weekend.

Sneesby, the former CEO of streaming service Stan, had been learning the ropes from his predecessor, Hugh Marks, before beginning his first solo day on Monday in a near-empty building. Staff had been told to work from home due to the cyber-attack, which affected email systems and meant journalists had to rely on Slack to communicate.

Nine was hit by a cyber-attack on Sunday morning which knocked out the Weekend Today show and some news bulletins. TV news production normally done in Sydney had to be switched to Melbourne.

Nine’s Melbourne news director, Hugh Nailon, said he was forced to revert to whiteboards and textas to plan bulletins when the technical broadcast tools they usually relied on failed.

“Basically the Ferrari wouldn’t start and we had to fire up the Datsun 180B,” Nailon told Nine radio. “No emails, no internet. We had to take it back to TV in 1986 and do it manually.”

The editor-in-chief of the Australian Financial Review, Michael Stutchbury, said the outage had disrupted the production of the newspaper.

It had limited editors’ access to the print production system and they were unable to upload new photographs or create graphics to illustrate articles. Sources said Nine, which also publishes the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age, was forced to fill papers on Monday and also Tuesday with generic photographs.

“To minimise disruption for subscribers while we work to restore our systems, all of our articles have been made available to read without logging in,” Stutchbury said on Monday.

“However, some features are unavailable to subscribers who can’t log in. These include today’s paper, newsfeed, recently read, saved articles, markets data and company pages.”

Nailon said the news bulletins out of Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth also had to be produced as they would have been in the 1980s. An “army of support”, including technicians and producers, had flown into Melbourne to help out and the “place is absolutely humming”, he said.

“A good newsroom thrives on adversity,” Nailon told TV Tonight. “Today demonstrated that the Nine newsroom in Melbourne was able to take up the challenge and produce a bulletin for Sydney and Melbourne under as difficult circumstances as we’ve ever had.”

Nine management has not publicly commented since the director of people and culture, Vanessa Morley, said on Sunday that the attack had disrupted live broadcasts out of the network’s state-of-the-art office tower in Denison Street, North Sydney.

“Our IT teams are working around the clock to fully restore our systems, which have primarily affected our broadcast and corporate business units,” Morley said. “Publishing and radio systems continue to be operational. While our IT teams work through this issue, we ask that all employees, in all markets, work from home until further notice.”

Nailon said none of the computers were working so they used Notes on a mobile phone and a Word document to build a bulletin.

Forensic and recovery firms have been engaged and Nine now believes the attacker used Nine systems to send fraudulent updates to workers’ computers, the Herald has reported.

The media company has made contingency plans including flying producers to Melbourne and sending an NRL commentary panel to Newcastle to broadcast the football.

Monday’s flagship evening bulletin was interrupted when veteran Melbourne newsreader Peter Hitchener struggled to read the autocue and left the studio halfway through the broadcast.

But a Nine spokesperson blamed a migraine for the incident, rather than a technical issue related to the cyber-attack.

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US offers $10m reward for info on five Conti ransomware members

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Rewards for Justice shared a photo of someone it claims to be an associate of the ransomware gang and is offering a reward to identify him and four others.

The US Department of State is offering a $10m reward for any information on five malicious cyber actors who are believed to be high-ranking members of the Conti ransomware gang.

The US has been offering rewards for information on this ransomware gang since May, including a $5m reward for any intel that leads to the arrest of anyone conspiring or attempting to participate in a Conti attack.

Yesterday (11 August), the department’s Rewards for Justice programme shared an alleged photo of an associate of the ransomware gang. The department said on Twitter that it is “trying to put a name to the face” and believes the individual is the hacker known as “Target”.

Illustration showing an image of a man with four figures next to it. A reward offer for information on the Conti ransomware gang.

A request for information by the Rewards for Justice programme. Image: US Department of State/Rewards for Justice

Conti, also known as Wizard Spider, has been linked to a group believed to be based near St Petersburg, Russia. The US has labelled it a “Russian government-linked ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) group”.

The group’s malware is believed to be responsible for more than 1,000 ransomware operations targeting critical infrastructure around the world, from law enforcement agencies to emergency medical services and dispatch centres.

In May 2021, the Conti group was behind the HSE ransomware incident that saw more than 80pc of the IT infrastructure of healthcare services across Ireland impacted. It was said to be the most serious cyberattack ever to hit the State’s critical infrastructure.

The US Department of State previously said the Conti ransomware variant is the “costliest strain of ransomware” ever documented. The FBI estimates that, as of January 2022, there had been more than 1,000 victims of attacks associated with Conti ransomware, with victim payouts exceeding $150m.

When Russia began its invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, the Conti group declared its allegiance to the Russian government. Shortly after, a Ukrainian researcher took the cybersecurity world by storm after publishing more than 60,000 internal messages of the ransomware gang.

Raj Samani, chief scientist at cybersecurity firm Rapid7, said the latest reward offer is just “the tip of the iceberg as enforcement agencies make “considerable strides” through public-private collaboration to hold cybercriminals to account.

“Announcing a reward and revealing the details of Conti members sends a message to would-be criminals that cybercrime is anything but risk-free,” said Samani.

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Meditation app Calm sacks one-fifth of staff | Meditation

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The US-based meditation app Calm has laid off 20% of its workforce, becoming the latest US tech startup to announce job cuts.

The firm’s boss, David Ko, said the company, which has now axed about 90 people from its 400-person staff, was “not immune” to the economic climate. “In building out our strategic and financial plan, we revisited the investment thesis behind every project and it became clear that we need to make changes,” he said in a memo to staff.

“I can assure you that this was not an easy decision, but it is especially difficult for a company like ours whose mission is focused on workplace mental health and wellness.”

The Calm app, founded in 2012, offers guided meditation and bedtime stories for people of all ages. It received a surge of downloads triggered by the 2020 Covid lockdowns. By the end of that year, the software company said the app had been downloaded more than 100 million times globally and had amassed over 4 million paying subscribers.

Investors valued the firm, which said it had been profitable since 2016, at $2bn.

In the memo, Ko went on: “We did not come to this decision lightly, but are confident that these changes will help us prioritize the future, focus on growth and become a more efficient organization.”

More than 500 startups have laid off staff this year, according to, a website that tracks such announcements.

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Let there be ambient light sensing, without data theft • The Register

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Six years after web security and privacy concerns surfaced about ambient light sensors in mobile phones and notebooks, browser boffins have finally implemented defenses.

The W3C, everyone’s favorite web standards body, began formulating an Ambient Light Events API specification back in 2012 to define how web browsers should handle data and events from ambient light sensors (ALS). Section 4 of the draft spec, “Security and privacy considerations,” was blank. It was a more carefree time.

Come 2015, the spec evolved to include acknowledgement of the possibility that ALS might allow data correlation and device fingerprinting, to the detriment of people’s privacy. And it suggested that browser makers might consider event rate limiting as a potential mitigation.

By 2016, it became clear that allowing web code to interact with device light sensors entailed privacy and security risks beyond fingerprinting. Dr Lukasz Olejnik, an independent privacy researcher and consultant, explored the possibilities in a 2016 blog post.

Olejnik cited a number of ways in which ambient light sensor readings might be abused, including data leakage, profiling, behavioral analysis, and various forms of cross-device communication.

He described a few proof-of-concept attacks, devised with the help of security researcher Artur Janc, in a 2017 post and delved into more detail in a 2020 paper [PDF].

“The attack we devised was a side-channel leak, conceptually very simple, taking advantage of the optical properties of human skin and its reflective properties,” Olejnik explained in his paper.

“Skin reflectance only accounts for the 4-7 percent emitted light but modern display screens emit light with significant luminance. We exploited these facts of nature to craft an attack that reasoned about the website content via information encoded in the light level and conveyed via the user skin, back to the browsing context tracking the light sensor readings.”

It was this technique that enabled the proof-of-concept attacks like stealing web history through inferences made from CSS changes and stealing cross origin resources, such as images or the contents of iframes.

Snail-like speed

Browser vendors responded in various ways. In May 2018, with the release of Firefox 60, Mozilla moved access to the W3C proximity and ambient light APIs behind flags, and applied further limitations in subsequent Firefox releases.

Apple simply declined to implement the API in WebKit, along with a number of other capabilities. Both Apple and Mozilla currently oppose a proposal for a generic sensor API.

Google took what Olejnik described his paper as a “more nuanced” approach, limiting the precision of sensor data.

But those working on the W3C specification and on the browsers implementing the spec recognized that such privacy protections should be formalized, to increase the likelihood the API will be widely adopted and used.

So they voted to make the imprecision of ALS data normative (standard for browsers) and to require the camera access permission as part of the ALS spec.

Those changes finally landed in the ALS spec this week. As a result, Google and perhaps other browser makers may choose to make the ALS API available by default rather than hiding it behind a flag or ignoring it entirely. ®

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