Atlanta City Government Systems Down Due To Ransomware Attack ( 36

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The city of Atlanta government has apparently become the victim of a ransomware attack. The city's official Twitter account announced that the city government "is currently experiencing outages on various customer facing applications, including some that customers may use to pay bills or access court-related information." According to a report from Atlanta NBC affiliate WXIA, a city employee sent the station a screen shot of a ransomware message demanding a payment of $6,800 to unlock each computer or $51,000 to provide all the keys for affected systems. Employees received emails from the city's information technology department instructing them to unplug their computers if they noticed anything suspicious. An internal email shared with WXIA said that the internal systems affected include the city's payroll application. "At this time, our Atlanta Information Management team is working diligently with support from Microsoft to resolve the issue," a city spokesperson told Ars. "We are confident that our team of technology professionals will be able to restore applications soon." The city's primary website remains online, and the city government will continue to post updates there, the spokesperson added.
United States

Trump Announces $60 Billion Tariff on Chinese High-Tech and Other Goods ( 381

Following months of investigations by the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, the Trump administration announced on Thursday at a White House briefing that the administration intends to place about $60 billion of tariffs on Chinese goods, with the bulk of them likely to be focused on the high-tech industry. The White House will announce a final list of goods subject to the tariffs in the next few weeks. From a report: "We've lost over a fairly short period of time, 60,000 factories in our country. Closed, shuttered, gone. Six million jobs at least, gone. And now they are starting to come back," President Trump said during the briefing. "The word that I want to use is reciprocal -- when they charge 25 percent for a car to go in, and we charge 2 percent for their car to come into the United States, that's not good. That's how China rebuilt itself."

Online Piracy Is More Popular Than Ever, Research Suggests ( 57

An anonymous user writes: A broad and detailed report from piracy tracking outfit MUSO shows that visits to pirate sites went up last year. The company recorded more than 300 billion visits in 2017, which suggests that "piracy is more popular than ever." TV remained the most popular category and most pirates prefer streaming over torrents or direct downloading.

Facebook Gave Data About 57 Billion Friendships To Academic ( 103

Before Facebook suspended Aleksandr Kogan from its platform for the data harvesting "scam" at the centre of the unfolding Cambridge Analytica scandal, the social media company enjoyed a close enough relationship with the researcher that it provided him with an anonymised, aggregate dataset of 57bn Facebook friendships. From a report: Facebook provided the dataset of "every friendship formed in 2011 in every country in the world at the national aggregate level" to Kogan's University of Cambridge laboratory for a study on international friendships published in Personality and Individual Differences in 2015. Two Facebook employees were named as co-authors of the study, alongside researchers from Cambridge, Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley. Kogan was publishing under the name Aleksandr Spectre at the time. A University of Cambridge press release on the study's publication noted that the paper was "the first output of ongoing research collaborations between Spectre's lab in Cambridge and Facebook." Facebook did not respond to queries about whether any other collaborations occurred. "The sheer volume of the 57bn friend pairs implies a pre-existing relationship," said Jonathan Albright, research director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. "It's not common for Facebook to share that kind of data. It suggests a trusted partnership between Aleksandr Kogan/Spectre and Facebook."

UK Launches Task Force To Scrutinize Cryptocurrency Risks and Benefits ( 24

U.K. Finance Minister Philip Hammond unveiled a task force that examines the risks and benefits of cryptocurrencies on Thursday. From a report: Hammond announced Thursday that the task force includes Britain's central bank, the Bank of England (BOE), and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) watchdog. He said that the BOE and FCA would also take the "first steps" toward automating financial compliance in Britain. The cryptocurrency task force is part of a wider fintech, or financial technology, strategy laid out by Westminster. As part of its initiative, the U.K. signed an agreement dubbed a "fintech bridge" with Australia on Thursday that will enable British fintech firms to sell products and services in Australia. The deal will also look to build cooperation on policies and regulation surrounding the sector, Hammond said. Hammond said he wanted to make the U.K. the "most attractive home" for global fintech firms.

Mark Zuckerberg Apologizes For the Cambridge Analytica Scandal, Says He Isn't Opposed To Regulation ( 167

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Mark Zuckerberg apologized on Wednesday evening for his company's handling of the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal. "This was a major breach of trust and I'm really sorry this happened," he said in an interview on CNN. "Our responsibility now is to make sure this doesn't happen again." Zuckerberg's comments reflected the first time he apologized following an uproar over how Facebook allowed third-party developers to access user data. Earlier in the day, Zuckerberg wrote a Facebook post in which he said the company had made mistakes in its handling of the Cambridge Analytica data revelations. The company laid out a multipart plan designed to reduce the amount of data shared by users with outside developers, and said it would audit some developers who had access to large troves of data before earlier restrictions were implemented in 2014. Zuckerberg also told CNN that he is not totally opposed to regulation. "I'm not sure we shouldn't be regulated," he said. "There are things like ad transparency regulation that I would love to see."

Other highlights of Zuckerberg's interviews:
-He told multiple outlets that he would be willing to testify before Congress.
-He said the company would notify everyone whose data was improperly used.
-He told the New York Times that Facebook would double its security force this year, adding: "We'll have more than 20,000 people working on security and community operations by the end of the year, I think we have about 15,000 now."
-He told the Times that Facebook would investigate "thousands" of apps to determine whether they had abused their access to user data.

Regarding moderation, Zuckerberg told Recode: "[The] thing is like, 'Where's the line on hate speech?' I mean, who chose me to be the person that did that?" Zuckerberg said. "I guess I have to, because of where we are now, but I'd rather not."
United States

US Spending Bill Contains CLOUD Act, a Win For Tech and Law Enforcement ( 109

The 2,232 page spending bill released Wednesday by House and Senate leaders includes the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data [CLOUD] Act, which provides a legal framework for law enforcement to request data from overseas servers. The CLOUD Act currently sits high atop the wish list of tech firms, law enforcement and even foreign nations. Axios reports: The Supreme Court is currently mulling a case determining whether the Department of Justice had the right to force Microsoft to produce client emails stored on a server in Ireland without permission from Ireland's government. Microsoft fears the DOJ will force it to violate the laws of Ireland. The DOJ hopes to avoid the often years long process of abiding by treaties dealing with evidence. But both have publicly urged lawmakers to render the pending decision moot by passing the CLOUD act, a way to streamline the treaty process for requesting digital data.

The CLOUD Act provides a framework for reciprocal treaties for nations to request data from computers located within each other's borders. It also provides a mechanism for a Microsoft to take a law enforcement demand to court if it would force them to violate another country's rules. But when neither apply, law enforcement will be able to demand files in accordance with U.S. law.


Russia Secretly Helped Venezuela Launch a Cryptocurrency To Evade US Sanctions ( 99

According to an exclusive report by Time, Russia helped Venezuelan officials create the world's first state-backed cryptocurrency to skirt U.S. sanctions. The cryptocurrency was launched in late February and was banned by the Trump administration earlier this week. From the report: The new cryptocurrency, a form of digital cash that is supposedly linked to the value of Venezuela's oil reserves, was launched on Feb. 20 during a ceremony in the presidential palace in Caracas. Nicolas Maduro, the socialist leader of Venezuela, declared that it would serve as a kind of "kryptonite" against the power of the U.S government, which he sarcastically referred to as "Superman." Sitting in the front row at that ceremony were two of Maduro's Russian advisers, Denis Druzhkov and Fyodor Bogorodsky, whom the President thanked for aiding his fight against American "imperialism." Both men have ties to major Russian banks and billionaires close to the Kremlin. But they were not the most senior Russians involved. According to an executive at a Russian state bank who deals with cryptocurrencies, senior advisers to the Kremlin have overseen the effort in Venezuela, and President Vladimir Putin signed off on it last year. "People close to Putin, they told him this is how to avoid the sanctions," says the executive, who spoke to TIME on condition of anonymity. "This is how the whole thing started."

AT&T Suffers Another Blow In Court Over Throttling of 'Unlimited' Data ( 38

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A federal judge has revived a lawsuit that angry customers filed against AT&T over the company's throttling of unlimited mobile data plans. The decision comes two years after the same judge decided that customers could only have their complaints heard individually in arbitration instead of in a class-action lawsuit. The 2016 ruling in AT&T's favor was affirmed by a federal appeals court. But the customers subsequently filed a motion to reconsider the arbitration decision, saying that an April 2017 decision by the California Supreme Court "constitutes a change in law occurring after the Courts arbitration order," Judge Edward Chen of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California said in the new ruling issued last week. The state Supreme Court "held that an arbitration agreement that waives the right to seek the statutory remedy of public injunctive relief in any forum is contrary to California public policy and therefore unenforceable," Chen wrote.

AT&T argued that the court shouldn't consider the new argument, saying that plaintiffs raised it too late. The plaintiffs could have made the same argument before the April 2017 Supreme Court ruling, since the ruling was based on California laws that "were enacted decades ago," according to AT&T. Chen was not persuaded, noting that "there had been no favorable court rulings" the plaintiffs could have cited earlier in the case. "The Court also finds that Plaintiffs acted with reasonable diligence once there was a ruling favorable to them," Chen wrote. As a result, the plaintiffs can now proceed with their case in U.S. District Court against AT&T. However, AT&T will appeal Chen's latest decision, presumably in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.


Senate Passes Controversial Online Sex Trafficking Bill ( 155

The Senate today gave final approval to a bill aimed at cracking down on online sex trafficking, sending the measure to the White House where President Trump is expected to sign it into law. From a report: The legislation, called the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), but also referred to as SESTA, would cut into the broad protections websites have from legal liability for content posted by their users. Those protections are codified in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act from 1996, a law that many internet companies see as vital to protecting their platforms and that SESTA would amend to create an exception for sex trafficking.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the most outspoken critic of SESTA and one of the authors of the 1996 law, said that making exceptions to Section 230 will lead to small internet companies having to face an onslaught of frivolous lawsuits.
EFF expressed its disappointment, saying, "Today is a dark day for the Internet. Congress just passed the Internet censorship bill SESTA/FOSTA. SESTA/FOSTA will silence online speech by forcing Internet platforms to censor their users. As lobbyists and members of Congress applaud themselves for enacting a law ostensibly tackling the problem of trafficking, let's be clear: Congress just made trafficking victims less safe, not more. Sex trafficking experts have tried again and again to explain to Congress how SESTA/FOSTA will put trafficking victims in danger. Sex workers have spoken out too, explaining how online platforms have literally saved their lives. Why didn't Congress consult with the people their bill would most directly affect? [...] When platforms choose to err on the side of censorship, marginalized voices are censored disproportionately. SESTA/FOSTA will make the Internet a less inclusive place, something that hurts all of us. This might just be the beginning. Some of these groups behind SESTA / FOSTA seem to see the bill as a mere stepping stone to banning pornography from the Internet."

Mozilla Launches a Petition Asking Facebook To Do More For User Privacy ( 52

An anonymous reader shares a report: After it was revealed that the personal data of 50 million Facebook users was shared without consent, Mozilla is calling on the social network to ensure that user privacy is protected by default, particularly when it comes to apps.

Ashley Boyd, Mozilla's vice president of advocacy, says that billions of Facebook users are unknowingly at risk of having their data passed on to third parties. He says: "If you play games, read news or take quizzes on Facebook, chances are you are doing those activities through third-party apps and not through Facebook itself. The default permissions that Facebook gives to those third parties currently include data from your education and work, current city and posts on your timeline."


Kaspersky Lab Plans Swiss Data Center To Combat Spying Allegations, Report Says ( 46

An anonymous reader shares a report: Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab plans to open a data center in Switzerland to address Western government concerns that Russia exploits its anti-virus software to spy on customers, according to internal documents seen by Reuters. Kaspersky is setting up the center in response to actions in the United States, Britain and Lithuania last year to stop using the company's products, according to the documents, which were confirmed by a person with direct knowledge of the matter. The action is the latest effort by Kaspersky, a global leader in anti-virus software, to parry accusations by the U.S. government and others that the company spies on customers at the behest of Russian intelligence.

WhatsApp Co-Founder Tells Everyone To Delete Facebook, Further Fueling the #DeleteFacebook Movement ( 304

"In 2014, Facebook bought WhatsApp for $16 billion, making its co-founders -- Jan Koum and Brian Acton -- very wealthy men," reports The Verge. "Koum continues to lead the company, but Acton quit earlier this year to start his own foundation." Today, Acton told his followers on Twitter to delete Facebook. From the report: "It is time," Acton wrote, adding the hashtag #deletefacebook. Acton, who is worth $6.5 billion, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Nor did Facebook and WhatsApp. It was unclear whether Acton's feelings about Facebook extend to his own app. But last month, Acton invested $50 million into Signal, an independent alternative to WhatsApp. The tweet came after a bruising five-day period for Facebook that has seen regulators swarm and its stock price plunge following concerns over data privacy in the wake of revelations about Cambridge Analytica's misuse of user data. Acton isn't the only one taking to Twitter to announce their breakup with Facebook. The #DeleteFacebook movement is gaining steam following the New York Times' report about how the data of 50 million users had been unknowingly leaked and purchased to aid President Trump's successful 2016 bid for the presidency. For many users, the news "highlighted the danger of Facebook housing the personal information of billions of users," reports SFGate. "And even before the Cambridge Analytica news, Facebook has been grappling with its waning popularity in the U.S. The company lost 1 million domestic users last quarter -- its first quarterly drop in daily users."

Telegram Loses Supreme Court Appeal In Russia, Must Hand Over Encryption Keys ( 216

Telegram has lost a bid before Russia's Supreme Court to block security services from getting access to users' data, giving President Vladimir Putin a victory in his effort to keep tabs on electronic communications. Bloomberg reports: Supreme Court Judge Alla Nazarova on Tuesday rejected Telegram's appeal against the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB spy agency which last year asked the company to share its encryption keys. Telegram declined to comply and was hit with a fine of $14,000. Communications regulator Roskomnadzor said Telegram now has 15 days to provide the encryption keys. Telegram, which is in the middle of an initial coin offering of as much as $2.55 billion, plans to appeal the ruling in a process that may last into the summer, according to the company's lawyer, Ramil Akhmetgaliev. Any decision to block the service would require a separate court ruling, the lawyer said.

Putin signed laws in 2016 on fighting terrorism, which included a requirement for messaging services to provide the authorities with means to decrypt user correspondence. Telegram challenged an auxiliary order by the Federal Security Service, claiming that the procedure doesn't involve a court order and breaches constitutional rights for privacy, according to documents. The security agency, known as the FSB, argued in court that obtaining the encryption keys doesn't violate users' privacy because the keys by themselves aren't considered information of restricted access. Collecting data on particular suspects using the encryption would still require a court order, the agency said.


Orbitz Says Legacy Travel Site Likely Hacked, Affecting 880,000 Credit Cards ( 29

hyperclocker shares a report from U.S. News & World Report: Orbitz says a legacy travel booking platform may have been hacked, possibly exposing the personal information of people that made certain purchases between January 1, 2016 and December 22, 2017. Orbitz said Tuesday about 880,000 payment cards were impacted. Data that was likely exposed includes name, payment card information, date of birth, phone number, email address, physical and/or billing address and gender. The company said evidence suggests an attacker may have accessed information stored on the platform -- which was for both consumers and business partners -- between Oct. 1, 2017 and Dec. 22, 2017. "Orbitz said it worked with a forensic investigation firm, cybersecurity experts, and law enforcement once the breach was discovered in order to 'eliminate and prevent unauthorized access to the platform,'" reports The Verge. "The company also notes that its current site,, wasn't affected. It is notifying customers who may have been impacted and is offering a year of free credit monitoring."

The NSA Worked To 'Track Down' Bitcoin Users, Snowden Documents Reveal ( 60

An anonymous reader shares a report: Classified documents provided by the whistleblower Edward Snowden show the National Security Agency worked urgently to target Bitcoin users around the world -- and wielded at least one mysterious source of information to "help track down senders and receivers of Bitcoins," according to a top-secret passage in an internal NSA report dating to March 2013. The data source appears to have leveraged NSA's ability to harvest and analyze raw, global internet traffic while also exploiting an unnamed software program that purported to offer anonymity to users, according to other documents.

Although the agency was interested in surveilling some competing cryptocurrencies, "Bitcoin is #1 priority," a March 15, 2013 internal NSA report stated. The documents indicate that "tracking down" Bitcoin users went well beyond closely examining Bitcoin's public transaction ledger, known as the Blockchain, where users are typically referred to through anonymous identifiers; the tracking may also have involved gathering intimate details of these users' computers. The NSA collected some Bitcoin users' password information, internet activity, and a type of unique device identification number known as a MAC address, a March 29, 2013 NSA memo suggested. In the same document, analysts also discussed tracking internet users' internet addresses, network ports, and timestamps to identify "BITCOIN Targets."


FTC Probing Facebook For Use of Personal Data: Bloomberg ( 78

An anonymous reader shares a report: Facebook is under investigation by a U.S. privacy watchdog over the use of personal data of 50 million users by a data analytics firm to help elect President Donald Trump. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is probing whether Facebook violated terms of a 2011 consent decree of its handing of user data that was transferred to Cambridge Analytica without their knowledge, according to a person familiar with the matter. Under the 2011 settlement, Facebook agreed to get user consent for certain changes to privacy settings as part of a settlement of federal charges that it deceived consumers and forced them to share more personal information than they intended. That complaint arose after the company changed some user settings without notifying its customers, according to an FTC statement at the time. If the FTC finds Facebook violated terms of the consent decree, it has the power to fine the company thousands of dollars a day per violation.

China Approves Giant Propaganda Machine To Improve Global Image ( 154

China has approved the creation of one of the world's largest propaganda machines as it looks to improve its global image, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday, citing a person familiar with the matter. From the report: The new broadcaster will be called "Voice of China," the person said, mimicking the U.S. government-funded Voice of America that started up during World War II to advance American interests. Bloomberg News had previously reported the new entity would be created through merging China Central Television, China Radio International and China National Radio. The combined group was designed to strengthen the party's ability to shape public opinion and would serve as a key vehicle for China to project its image to the world.

Sierra Leone Government Denies the Role of Blockchain In Its Recent Election ( 20

The National Electoral Commission Sierra Leone is denying the news that theirs was one of the first elections recorded to the blockchain. "While the blockchain voting company Agora claimed to have run the first blockchain-based election, it appears that the company did little more than observe the voting and store some of the results," reports TechCrunch. From the report: "The NEC [National Electoral Commission] has not used and is not using blockchain technology in any part of the electoral process," said NEC head Mohamed Conteh. Why he is adamant about this fact is unclear -- questions I asked went unanswered -- but he and his team have created a set of machine readable election results and posted [a] clarification. "Anonymized votes/ballots are being recorded on Agora's blockchain, which will be publicly available for any interested party to review, count and validate," said Agora's Leonardo Gammar. "This is the first time a government election is using blockchain technology." In Africa the reactions were mixed. "It would be like me showing up to the UK election with my computer and saying, 'let me enter your counting room, let me plug-in and count your results,'" said Morris Marah to RFI. "Agora's results for the two districts they tallied differed considerably from the official results, according to an analysis of the two sets of statistics carried out by RFI," wrote RFI's Daniel Finnan.

Facebook Security Chief Said To Leave After Clashes Over Disinformation ( 45

Facebook's chief information security officer, Alex Stamos, will leave the company after internal disagreements over how the social network should deal with its role in spreading disinformation. The New York Times reports (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): Mr. Stamos had been a strong advocate inside the company for investigating and disclosing Russian activity on Facebook, often to the consternation of other top executives, including Sheryl Sandberg, the social network's chief operating officer, according to the current and former employees, who asked not to be identified discussing internal matters. After his day-to-day responsibilities were reassigned to others in December, Mr. Stamos said he would leave the company. He was persuaded to stay through August to oversee the transition of his duties because executives thought his departure would look bad, the current and former employees said. He has been overseeing the transfer of his security team to Facebook's product and infrastructure divisions. His group, which once had 120 people, now has three, the current and former employees said. Mr. Stamos would be the first high-ranking employee to leave Facebook since controversy erupted over disinformation on its site. His departure is a sign of heightened leadership tensions at the company.

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