China

China Cracks Down on VPN Vendors (bbc.com) 39

An anonymous reader shares a BBC report: China's latest crackdown on those attempting to skirt state censorship controls has seen it warn e-commerce platforms over the sale of illegal virtual private networks (VPNs). Five websites, including shopping giant Alibaba, have been asked to remove vendors that sell VPNs. It is the latest in a series of measures from the Chinese government to maintain strict control over content. Apple has previously been asked to remove VPN apps. China's cyber-regulator the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) has ordered the websites to carry out immediate "self-examination and correction." "The CAC has ordered these five sites to immediately carry out a comprehensive clean-up of harmful information, close corresponding illegal account.. and submit a rectification report by a deadline," the regulator said in a statement.
Bitcoin

Australia Joins China and Japan in Trying To Regulate Digital Currency Exchanges (cnbc.com) 61

Following moves by China and Japan to regulate digital currencies, Australia is attempting to crackdown on money laundering and terrorism financing with plans to regulate bitcoin exchanges. From a report: "The threat of serious financial crime is constantly evolving, as new technologies emerge and criminals seek to nefariously exploit them. These measures ensure there is nowhere for criminals to hide," said Australia's Minister for Justice Michael Keenan in a press release. The Australian government proposed a set of reforms on Thursday which will close a gap in regulation and bring digital currency exchange providers under the remit of the Australian Transactions and Reporting Analysis Centre. These exchanges serve as marketplaces where traders can buy and sell digital currencies, such as bitcoin, using fiat currencies, such as the dollar. The reform bill is intended to strengthen the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act and increase the powers of AUSTRAC.
The Courts

Developers File Antitrust Complaint Against Apple in China (reuters.com) 27

A Chinese law firm has filed a complaint against Apple on behalf of 28 local developers alleging the firm breached antitrust regulations. From a report: The complaint, lodged by Beijing-based Dare & Sure Law Firm, accuses Apple of charging excessive fees and removing apps from its local store without proper explanation, Lin Wei, an attorney at the firm told Reuters on Thursday. "During its localization process Apple has run into several antitrust issues ... after an initial investigation we consulted a number of enterprises and got a very strong response," said Lin. The law firm invited developers to join the complaint in April and on Tuesday filed it to China's State Administration for Industry and Commerce and the National Development and Reform Commission, which oversees antitrust matters in the country.
China

China Working On 'Repression Network' Which Lets Cameras Identify Cars With Unprecedented Accuracy (thesun.co.uk) 80

schwit1 shares a report from The Sun: Researchers at a Chinese university have revealed the results of an investigation aimed at creating a "repression network" which can identify cars from "customized paintings, decorations or even scratches" rather than by scanning its number plate. A team from Peking University said the technology they have developed to perform this task could also be used to recognize the faces of human beings. Essentially, it works by learning from what it sees, allowing it to differentiate between cars (or humans) by spotting small differences between them. "The growing explosion in the use of surveillance cameras in public security highlights the importance of vehicle search from large-scale image databases," the researcher wrote. "Precise vehicle search, aiming at finding out all instances for a given query vehicle image, is a challenging task as different vehicles will look very similar to each other if they share same visual attributes." They added: "We can extend our framework [software] into wider applications like face and person retrieval [identification] as well."
China

China's VPN Developers Face Crackdown (bbc.com) 55

China recently launched a crackdown on the use of software which allows users to get around its heavy internet censorship. Now as the BBC reports, developers are facing growing pressure. From the report: The three plain-clothes policemen tracked him down using a web address. They came to his house and demanded to see his computer. They told him to take down the app he was selling on Apple's App Store, and filmed it as it was happening. His crime was to develop and sell a piece of software that allows people to get round the tough restrictions that limit access to the internet in China. A virtual private network (VPN) uses servers abroad to provide a secure link to the internet. It's essential in China if you want to access parts of the outside world like Facebook, Gmail or YouTube, all of which are blocked on the mainland. "They insisted they needed to see my computer," the software developer, who didn't want us to use his name, told us during a phone interview. "I said this is my private stuff. How can you search as you please?" No warrant was produced and when he asked them what law he had violated they didn't say. Initially he refused to co-operate but, fearing detention, he relented. Then they told him what they wanted: "If you take the app off the shelf from Apple's App Store then this will be all over." 'Sorry, I can't help you with that'. Up until a few months ago his was a legal business. Then the government changed the regulations. VPN sellers need a licence now.
Businesses

China Built the World's Largest Telescope, But Has No One To Run It (arstechnica.com) 122

An anonymous reader shares a report: China has built a staggeringly large instrument in the remote southern, mountainous region of the country called the Five hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, or FAST. The telescope measures nearly twice as large as the closest comparable facility in the world, the US-operated Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. According to the South China Morning Post, the country is looking for a foreigner to run the observatory because no Chinese astronomer has the experience of running a facility of such size and complexity. The Chinese Academy of Sciences began advertising the position in western journals and job postings in May, but so far there have been no qualified applicants. One reason is that the requirements are fairly strict: The candidate must have at least 20 years of previous experience in the field, and he or she must have taken a leading role in large-scale radio telescope project with extensive managerial experience. The candidate must also hold a professorship, or equally senior position, in a world-class research institute or university. Nick Suntzeff, an astronomer at Texas A&M University who helped lead the discovery of dark energy and is involved with construction of the optical Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile, said there are probably about 40 or so astronomers in the world who would qualify for such a job. Compared to other astronomy disciplines, radio astronomy is a relatively small field. "I am sure they will find someone," he said. "But most astronomers in the United States do not like to work abroad. It was hard to get people to apply to work in La Serena, something I could never understand, considering how beautiful it is and how nice the Chilean people are." Among the western community of astronomers there are also questions about the scientific purpose of the FAST telescope. As part of a recent National Science Foundation review of its facilities, US officials placed the similar Arecibo radio telescope near the bottom of its priorities list.
Android

BLU Claims Innocence, Gets Phones Reinstated On Amazon (slashgear.com) 43

Earlier this week, Amazon suspended budget phone maker BLU from selling its phones on the site, citing a "potential security issue." A few days have passed and BLU has made its defense. SlashGear reports: AdUps, the Chinese company that provides affordable firmware update software to countless budget Android phones, is not spyware and not even Kryptowire, the security firm that broke the news last year, called it that, insists BLU. To be fair, Kryptowire really didn't. In its 2016 report, it simply described AdUps' OTA software as "FIRMWARE THAT TRANSMITTED PERSONALLY IDENTIFIABLE INFORMATION (PII) WITHOUT USER CONSENT OR DISCLOSURE." Curiously, that is more or less how the FTC defines spyware (PDF). In its 2017 follow-up, it did drop the second part of that phrase and simply reported on "mobile devices for Personally Identifiable Information (PII) collection and transmission to third parties." While BLU, and a few other OEMs, was caught unaware by the first report, it's insisting on its innocence in this second instance. Its defense stems from the argument that it is doing nothing that violates its Privacy Policy and, therefore, doesn't constitute any wrongdoing. Yes, that privacy policy that barely anyone reads, which can't legally be blamed on manufacturers anyway.

In other words, when you agreed to use BLU's devices, you basically agreed that such PII could possibly be transmitted to a third party outside the US. In this particular case, that does apply to the situation with AdUps. Interestingly, the policy's copyright dates back to 2016, when the AdUps issue first came up. The Internet Archives doesn't seem to have any version of that page before April this year. And so we come to BLU's second arguments: everybody's doing it. The data that AdUps collects is the same or even just a fraction of what other OEMs are collecting. Google is hardly the bastion of privacy and other OEMs are also collecting such data and sending it to servers in China, as is the case with Huawei and ZTE. Finally, BLU says that Kryptowire's new report really only identifies the Cubot X16S, from a Chinese OEM, as the only smartphone really spying on its users.
UPDATE: BLU has confirmed that its devices "are now back up for sale on Amazon."
Government

Apple Owns $52.6 Billion In US Treasury Securities, More Than Mexico, Turkey or Norway (cnbc.com) 93

randomErr shares a report from CNBC: If Apple were a foreign country, CEO Tim Cook might have considerable political clout in the United States. That's because the tech giant owns $52.6 billion in U.S. Treasury securities, which would rank it among the top 25 major foreign holders, according to estimates from the Treasury Department and Apple's SEC filings released Wednesday. Apple's stake in U.S. government securities as of June, up from $41.7 billion as of last September, puts it ahead of Israel, Mexico and the Netherlands, according to Treasury data released last month, which tracks up to May of this year. With $20.1 billion in short-term Treasury securities and $31.35 billion in long-term marketable Treasury securities, Apple still falls far below countries like China and Japan, which hold over a trillion dollars in U.S. government debt each -- which has caused considerable hand-wringing in Washington. Still, Apple is way above other big companies like Amazon, which owns less than $5 billion in U.S. government or agency securities combined, according to regulatory filings.
The Military

US Army Calls Halt On Use of Chinese-Made Drones By DJI (theverge.com) 45

Due to "an increased awareness of cyber vulnerabilities with DJI products," the U.S. Army is asking all units to discontinue the use of DJI drones. The news comes from an internal memo obtained by the editor of SUAS News. It notes that the Army had issued over 300 separate releases authorizing the use of DJI products for Army missions, meaning a lot of hardware may have been in active use prior to the memo, which is dated August 2nd, 2017. The Verge reports: SUAS News published a piece back in May of this year that made a number of serious accusations about data gathered by DJI drones. Author Kevin Pomaski starts out writing, "Using a simple Google search the data mined by DJI from your provided flights (imagery, position and flight logs) and your audio can be accessed without your knowing consent." However, he never follows up with evidence to demonstrate how this data becomes public or can be found through a Google search. Pomaski also point out, correctly, that when DJI users elect to upload data to their SkyPixel accounts through the DJI app, this data can be stored on servers in the U.S., Hong Kong, and China. This data can include videos, photos, and audio recorded by your phone's microphone, and telemetry data detailing the height, distance, and position of your recent flights. DJI provided the following statement to The Verge: "People, businesses and governments around the world rely on DJI's products and technology for a variety of uses including sensitive and mission critical operations. The Department of the Army memo even reports that they have 'issued over 300 separate Airworthiness Releases for DJI products in support of multiple organizations with a variety of mission sets.' We are surprised and disappointed to read reports of the U.S. Army's unprompted restriction on DJI drones as we were not consulted during their decision. We are happy to work directly with any organization, including the U.S. Army, that has concerns about our management of cyber issues. We'll be reaching out to the U.S. Army to confirm the memo and to understand what is specifically meant by 'cyber vulnerabilities.' Until then, we ask everyone to refrain from undue speculation."
AI

Chinese Chatbots Apparently Re-educated After Political Faux Pas (reuters.com) 80

A pair of 'chatbots' in China have been taken offline after appearing to stray off-script. In response to users' questions, one said its dream was to travel to the United States, while the other said it wasn't a huge fan of the Chinese Communist Party. From a report: The two chatbots, BabyQ and XiaoBing, are designed to use machine learning artificial intelligence (AI) to carry out conversations with humans online. Both had been installed onto Tencent Holdings Ltd's popular messaging service QQ. The indiscretions are similar to ones suffered by Facebook and Twitter, where chatbots used expletives and even created their own language. But they also highlight the pitfalls for nascent AI in China, where censors control online content seen as politically incorrect or harmful. Tencent confirmed it had taken the two robots offline from its QQ messaging service, but declined to elaborate on reasons.
China

China Is Perfecting a New Method For Suppressing Dissent On the Internet (vox.com) 151

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Vox: The art of suppressing dissent has been perfected over the years by authoritarian governments. For most of human history, the solution was simple: force. Punish people severely enough when they step out of line and you deter potential protesters. But in the age of the internet and "fake news," there are easier ways to tame dissent. A new study by Gary King of Harvard University, Jennifer Pan of Stanford University, and Margaret Roberts of the University of California San Diego suggests that China is the leading innovator on this front. Their paper, titled "How the Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, Not Engaged Argument," shows how Beijing, with the help of a massive army of government-backed internet commentators, floods the web in China with pro-regime propaganda. What's different about China's approach is the content of the propaganda. The government doesn't refute critics or defend policies; instead, it overwhelms the population with positive news (what the researchers call "cheerleading" content) in order to eclipse bad news and divert attention away from actual problems. This has allowed the Chinese government to manipulate citizens without appearing to do so. It permits just enough criticism to maintain the illusion of dissent and only acts overtly when fears of mass protest or collective action arise.
Censorship

Joining Apple, Amazon's China Cloud Service Bows To Censors (nytimes.com) 51

Days after Apple yanked anti-censorship tools off its app store in China, another major American technology company is moving to implement the country's tough restrictions on online content. From a report: A Chinese company that operates Amazon's cloud-computing and online services business there said on Tuesday that it told local customers to cease using any software that would allow Chinese to circumvent the country's extensive system of internet blocks (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source). The company, called Beijing Sinnet Technology and operator of the American company's Amazon Web Services operations in China, sent one round of emails to customers on Friday and another on Monday. "If users don't comply with the guidance, the offered services and their websites can be shut down," said a woman surnamed Wang who answered a Sinnet service hotline. "We the operators also check routinely if any of our users use these softwares or store illegal content." Ms. Wang said the letter was sent according to recent guidance from China's Ministry of Public Security and the country's telecom regulator. Amazon did not respond to emails and phone calls requesting comment. The emails are the latest sign of a widening push by China's government to block access to software that gets over the Great Firewall -- the nickname for the sophisticated internet filters that China uses to stop its people from gaining access to Facebook, Google and Twitter, as well as foreign news media outlets.
Android

Amazon Suspends Sales of Blu Android Phones Due To Privacy Concerns (cnet.com) 66

CNET reports: Amazon just put budget phone maker Blu in the penalty box. The online retailing giant told CNET that it was suspending sales of phones from Blu, known for making ultra-cheap Android handsets, due to a "potential security issue." The move comes after security firm Kryptowire demonstrated last week how software in Blu's phones collected data and sent it to servers in China without alerting people. Blu defended the software, created by a Chinese company called Shanghai Adups Technology, and denied any wrongdoing. A company spokeswoman said at the time it "has several policies in place which take customer privacy and security seriously." She added there had been no breaches. Blu said it was in a process of review to reinstate the phones at Amazon.
China

Apple Pulls Anti-Censorship Apps from China's App Store (fortune.com) 108

An anonymous reader quotes Fortune:Services helping Chinese users circumvent the "Great Firewall of China" have been pulled from Apple's Chinese App Store en masse. On Saturday morning, at least some software makers affected by the sweep received notification from Apple that their tools were removed for violating Chinese law. Internet censorship in China restricts communications about topics including democracy, Tibetan freedom, and the 1989 Tienanmen Square protests. The culling primarily seems to have affected virtual private networks, or VPNs, which mask users' Internet activity and data from outside monitoring. According to a report by the New York Times, many of the most popular such apps are now missing from the Chinese App Store.
United States

First Human Embryos Edited In US (technologyreview.com) 140

randomErr shares a report from MIT Technology Review: The first known attempt at creating genetically modified human embryos in the United States has been carried out by a team of researchers in Portland, Oregon, MIT Technology Review has learned. The effort, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University, involved changing the DNA of a large number of one-cell embryos with the gene-editing technique CRISPR. Until now, American scientists have watched as scientists elsewhere were first to explore the controversial practice. To date, three previous reports of editing human embryos were all published by scientists in China. Now Mitalipov is believed to have broken new ground both in the number of embryos experimented upon and by demonstrating that it is possible to safely and efficiently correct defective genes that cause inherited diseases. In altering the DNA code of human embryos, the objective of scientists is to show that they can eradicate or correct genes that cause inherited disease, like the blood condition beta-thalassemia. The process is termed "germline engineering" because any genetically modified child would then pass the changes on to subsequent generations via their own germ cells -- the egg and sperm. Reached by Skype, Mitalipov declined to comment on the results, which he said are pending publication. But other scientists confirmed the editing of embryos using CRISPR.
Businesses

Not Made in America, Wal-Mart Looks Overseas For Online Vendors (reuters.com) 111

Walmart.com, trailing Amazon.com in the number of goods for sale on its website, is recruiting vendors in China and other countries to boost its online offerings in a pivot away from Wal-Mart's Made-in-America campaign. From a report: While there is a financial incentive behind the move, Wal-Mart's decision comes out of necessity: not all the goods its customers want -- ranging from jeans to bicycles to beauty products -- are manufactured within the United States. That reality pits Wal-Mart against President Donald Trump's "Made in America" push. It also risks alienating some of Wal-Mart's existing U.S. vendors since it runs counter to the American-made pledge the retailer made in 2013 in a bid to win customers, and satisfy unions and other critics who said its drive for low cost goods was undermining American jobs. According to two sources with knowledge of the matter, Wal-Mart Stores in February began inviting sellers from China, the United Kingdom and Canada to list on the marketplace section of Walmart.com, where it earns a share of revenue from goods sold and delivered to customers by third-party vendors.
Security

Some Low-Cost Android Phones Come at a Price -- Your Privacy (cnet.com) 89

Cheap phones are coming at the price of your privacy, security analysts discovered. From a report: At $60, the BLU R1 HD is the top-selling phone on Amazon. Last November, researchers caught it secretly sending private data to China. Shanghai Adups Technology, the group behind the spying software on the BLU R1 HD, called it a mistake. But analysts at Kryptowire found the software provider is still making the same "mistake" on other phones. At the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday, researchers from Kryptowire, a security firm, revealed that Adups' software is still sending a device's data to the company's server in Shanghai without alerting people. But now, it's being more secretive about it. "They replaced them with nicer versions," Ryan Johnson, a research engineer and co-founder at Kryptowire, said. "I have captured the network traffic of them using the Command and Control channel when they did it." An Adups spokeswoman said that it had resolved the issues in 2016 and that the issues "are not existing anymore." Kryptowire said it has observed the company sending data without telling users on at least three different phones.
Businesses

Kaspersky Launches Its Free Antivirus Software Worldwide (engadget.com) 142

Kaspersky has finally launched its free antivirus software after a year-and-a-half of testing it in select regions. From a report: While the software was only available in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, China and in Nordic countries during its trial run, Kaspersky is releasing it worldwide. The free antivirus doesn't have VPN, Parental Controls and Online Payment Protection its paid counterpart offers, but it has all the essential features you need to protect your PC. It can scan files and emails, protect your PC while you use the web and quarantine malware that infects your system. The company says the software isn't riddled with advertisements like other free antivirus offerings. Instead of trying to make ad money off your patronage, Kaspersky will use the data you contribute to improve machine learning across its products. The free antivirus will be available in the US, Canada and most Asia-Pacific countries over the next couple of days, if it isn't yet. After this initial release, the company will roll it out in other regions from September to November.
China

China Forces Muslim Minority To Install Spyware On Their Phones (bleepingcomputer.com) 389

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bleeping Computer: Chinese authorities in the province of Xinjiang are forcing locals of the Uyghur Muslim minority to install an app on their phones that will allow the government to scan their device for "terrorist propaganda," local media reports. In reality, the app creates MD5 hashes for the user's files and matches them against a database of known terrorist content. The app also makes copies of the user's Weibo and WeChat databases and uploads it to a government server, along with the user's IMEI, IMSI, and WiFi login information. The app is called Jingwang (Citizen Safety) and was developed by police forces from Urumqi, Xinjiang's capital. Authorities launched the app in April, and also included the ability to report suspicious activity to the police. At the start of July, Xinjiang officials started sending WeChat messages in Uyghur and Chinese to locals, asking them to install the app or face detainment of up to 10 days. Police have also stopped people on the street to check if they installed the app. Several were detained for refusing to install it. Locals are now sharing the locations of checkpoints online, so others can avoid getting arrested.
The Military

The US And Australia Are Testing Hypersonic Missiles (engadget.com) 100

schwit1 quotes Engadget: Both the U.S. and Australia have confirmed that they recently completed a series of mysterious hypersonic missile tests. All the countries will say is that the flights were successful, and that they represented "significant milestones" in testing everything from the design assembly to the control mechanisms. They won't even say which vehicles were used or how quickly they traveled, although past tests have usually relied on Terrier Orion rockets and have reached speeds as high as Mach 8.

The tests are part of the long-running HIFiRE (Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation) program, whose first launch took place way back in 2009. They should help bring hypersonic flight to a "range of applications," according to HIFiRE partner BAE. That could easily include ultra-fast aircraft, but it's widely believed the focus here is on missiles and similar unmanned weapons. A hypersonic missile would fulfill the US military's goal of building a conventional weapon that can strike anywhere within an hour, and it would be virtually impossible to stop using existing missile defenses. In theory, enemy nations wouldn't dare attack if they knew they'd face certain retaliation within minutes.

Originally NASA was involved in the project, which has been ongoing for more than eight years. But it's timeline may have shortened after reports that foreign powers including Russia and China are already building their own hypersonic missiles.

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