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Russia is back, wilier than ever — and its not alone

Russian operatives are using a sneakier, more sophisticated version of their 2016 playbook to underm..



Russian operatives are using a sneakier, more sophisticated version of their 2016 playbook to undermine the November U.S. election — and this time, groups inside and outside the U.S. are furthering their goal of sowing chaos.

Kremlin-backed operatives are flooding social media with fake accounts and stoking racial divisions around topics like Black Lives Matter. Articles in state-owned Russian media with millions of U.S. readers online seek to dampen Joe Bidens appeal among progressives and echo President Donald Trumps unsupported claims about voting fraud.

At the same time, Russian state-backed hackers are waging cyberattacks against political parties, campaigns, consultants and others tied to the U.S. elections — using more elaborate deceptions than in 2016, Microsoft said last week.

So far, the 2020 race hasnt featured any obvious repeats of the mass hacking and dumping of confidential documents that undermined Hillary Clinton at key moments during the 2016 campaign. U.S. intelligence agencies later blamed that breach on a covert Kremlin effort to torpedo the Democratic nominee and help Trump win.

But security researchers, former intelligence officials and lawmakers now worry that the Russians may still have a hand they havent played.

“The scale, scope and, most importantly, the impact of domestic disinformation is far greater than any foreign government could do to the United States” — Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Councils Digital Forensic Research Lab

“One thing we know that happened in 2016 was Russia, particularly with misinformation and disinformation, tried to exacerbate those divisions that we see play out in real time in America,” Senate Intelligence Vice Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) told an audience at a cybersecurity conference last week. “Im very, very concerned in these last 50-plus days whether Russia could try to exacerbate those kinds of racial divisions again.”

In some ways, Russias job is easier than it was in 2016. American, Chinese and Iranian copycats are now pumping out falsehoods likely to seed the same divisions and doubts about the legitimacy of the election, often mimicking tactics first deployed by the Kremlin.

And the biggest threat this year may be Americans themselves. Many have embraced a deluge of fringe ideas and misinformation to a degree that may dwarf those foreign efforts. Extremists in the U.S. have adopted much of Moscows online strategy, including creating fake online personas to pump out falsehoods. Case in point: The QAnon conspiracy theory, which alleges a plot by elite pedophiles and the “deepstate” to overthrow Trump, has gone so mainstream its poised to send adherents to Congress.

“The scale, scope and, most importantly, the impact of domestic disinformation is far greater than any foreign government could do to the United States,” said Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Councils Digital Forensic Research Lab, which tracks online influence campaigns — and was itself the victim of recent Russian cyberattacks.

“Russia is continuing to evolve its tactics,” he added. “But the playing field has shifted since 2016.”

Worst-case scenarios

The question of what exactly Russia is up to has spawned a political brawl in Washington, where congressional Democrats have accused the Trump administration of failing to disclose all it knows about the Kremlins activities. They also say the president is pushing a false narrative that this years most potent election threat comes from China, which Trump contends favors Biden. Intelligence officials have told POLITICO that no evidence backs up those claims.

Still, Trumps top counterintelligence official, William Evanina, has agreed that Moscow is seeking to attack the election. He told lawmakers last month that Russia aims to “denigrate” Biden “and what it sees as an anti-Russia establishment.” Those efforts — plus influence campaigns by China and Iran — are “a direct threat to the fabric of our democracy,” he said in an earlier statement.

Last week, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on four individuals, including Andrii Derkach, a Ukrainian lawyer with ties to Trump, accusing them of being active Russian agents. In particular, the U.S. accused Derkach of leaking doctored audiotapes aimed at discrediting Biden.

“The United States will continue to use all the tools at its disposal to counter these Russian disinformation campaigns,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Still, social media posts about those recordings have drawn millions of views among mostly Trump supporters after the president and his allies promoted them, the Associated Press reported Saturday.

Ten U.S. and international national security officials, misinformation experts and tech executives who spoke to POLITICO said their major concerns include a hack of either campaign coming to light only days before November 3. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss national security matters.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has said the U.S. will continue to counter misinformation campaigns | Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

That would mirror not only the months of anti-Clinton leaks from 2016, but also the run-up to Frances 2017 presidential election, when Russian hackers released reams of internal documents from Emmanuel Macrons campaign.

No such leaks have yet been made public in this election. Senior U.S. national security and intelligence officials say they also have seen no new Russian efforts to hack the nations election infrastructure, such as voting machines, election device vendors and state voter databases.

But officials warned that Moscow is engaging in information warfare through a combination of attempted social media manipulation, old school propaganda and other dirty tricks.

Conspiracy theories like QAnon and racial divisions stoked by right-wing extremists online appear to be making it more difficult for Russias direct campaigns to gain massive followings, with recently exposed Kremlin efforts garnering limited traction with social media users.

But if Moscow still intends to try to weaken the U.S. by generating doubt around the election itself, such homegrown falsehoods would help achieve that goal, according to misinformation experts.

Moscow forced to evolve

Another change from 2016: Tougher oversight by social media companies and increased awareness from U.S. security agencies about Russias tactics have forced the Kremlins operatives to step up their game.

Before the 2016 election, the Internet Research Agency — a St. Petersburg-based propaganda outfit with ties to the Russian government — was able to buy political ads on Facebook, some of them in rubles, and create fake social media profiles that drew widespread followings around posts on both sides of issues like Americas racial divisions and the countrys treatment of immigrants.

But some of those doors have closed.

After receiving widespread criticism for their 2016 failings, Facebook, Twitter and Googles YouTube have spent the past two years removing millions of misleading posts and so-called bot networks of fake accounts controlled by Russian operatives. They have also limited the ways Kremlin-owned media outlets can spread their messages online.

On September 1, Facebook and Twitter announced their latest attempts at curbing Russias influence by removing a handful of accounts and social media pages linked to an Internet Research Agency campaign to target progressive voters with a fake news website that pumped out left-leaning articles.

Seeking to evade the hunt for fake accounts, the IRA used artificial intelligence to create photos of non-existent people, then built social media personas with those images to push news articles to left-minded online groups, the two companies said. Most strikingly, the IRA also hired freelance journalists to write for a bogus online news outlet called PeaceData that promoted causes favored by Russia, such as attacks on Belarus opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, and U.S. foreign policy toward Venezuela.

The elaborate tactics highlight how much harder it has become for Russias misinformation campaigns to reach Americans on social media, said Ben Nimmo, director of investigations at Graphika, an analytics firm that worked with Facebook on the recent takedown.

But even the new methods did not guarantee success. PeaceDatas English-language social media presence, for instance, failed to gain traction in the U.S. before it was outed as a Kremlin front, garnering just 200 followers after creating its Facebook page in mid-May.

“If youre running a fake operation, trying to achieve success when you dont have any real friends is tough,” said Nimmo, who has tracked the IRAs activities for years. “The underlying reality is that its harder to conduct a successful campaign than you may think.”

Russias U.S. targets

Still, misinformation experts and national security officials say Moscow is again targeting the same voters as in both the 2016 presidential race and 2018 midterm elections.

The goal: to suppress turnout among disaffected Democratic voters and galvanize Trump supporters to head to the polls.

Last October, for instance, Facebook removed 50 IRA-linked Read More – Source

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Apple shares drop on iPhone 13 production fears



bbc– Apple’s shares dropped on Tuesday following reports it could slash its iPhone 13 production targets due to the ongoing global computer chip shortage.

The electronic giant had expected to make 90 million iPhones in the last quarter of 2021, reported Bloomberg.

However, Apple was now having to tell its partners that the total will be lower by as many as 10 million units, sources told the business magazine.

Apple shares fell 1.2% in after-hours trading on the news.

Semiconductor manufacturers Broadcom and Texas Instruments were also down 1%, as sources said they were struggling to deliver enough chips to Apple in time.

The BBC has approached Apple, Broadcom and Texas Instruments for comment.

In September, Apple launched four new iPhone 13 models: iPhone 13, iPhone 13 mini, iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max. Pre-orders started on 17 September and started shipping on 24 September.

Widespread chip shortage

Millions of products across multiple industries today rely on computer chips to run and semiconductor makers’ plants are currently working flat-out to meet demand.

Smartphone makers like Apple – some of the biggest chip purchasers in the world – have been severely impacted, but also other sectors like the car industry and the makers of video game consoles.

In July, Apple chief executive Tim Cook warned investors that the semiconductor shortage could affect sales of the iPhone and the iPad.

Investment firm Wedbush estimates that Apple will be running a shortage of more than five million iPhone 13 units for the holiday season, if consumer demand continues to keep pace with the number of iPhones being shipped for the rest of this year.

However, Wedbush analysts Daniel Ives and John Katsingris stressed that the chip shortage was a “not a worry” as they expected the smartphones to be available in the early part of 2022.

“Taking a step back, 5 million to 10 million units moving out of the December quarter into the March quarter due to well-understood supply chain issues is not a worry for us and ultimately speaks to a stronger demand trajectory than Wall Street had been anticipating,” they said.

“We view today’s news as nothing more than a speed bump on a multi-year supercycle iPhone 12/13 that continues to play out.”

Their views are shared by several other analysts, who have forecast that the new iPhone 13 models will have a strong sales year as consumers look to upgrade devices for 5G networks.

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Twitter Blue subscription service launches in Australia and Canada



Twitter is launching its new subscription service, Twitter Blue, in Australia and Canada on Thursday.

The paid-for extra service will add features such as an “undo tweet” button, bookmarks, and a reader mode, Twitter said.

The limited launch is designed to “gain a deeper understanding” of what customers are looking for.

But the company also said the free-to-use version of the platform would also remain.

“We’ve heard from the people that use Twitter a lot, and we mean a lot, that we don’t always build power features that meet their needs,” the company said in a statement.

“We took this feedback to heart, and are developing and iterating upon a solution that will give the people who use Twitter the most what they are looking for: access to exclusive features and perks that will take their experience on Twitter to the next level.”

Twitter said the new subscription was not designed to undermine the free experience, but to offer “enhanced and complementary” features “for those who want it”.

It will cost $3.49 in Canadian dollars and $4.49 in Australian dollars per month, Twitter said.

No date has been announced for other countries, but previous listings in mobile app stores have suggested it will eventually cost $2.99 in the US and £2.49 in the UK.

Blue perks

Twitter said subscribers will get “perks” – giving examples such as customisable app icons for phone home screens and what it calls “fun colour themes” for the app.

But they will also have access to a “dedicated” customer support, the company says.

The additional features that Twitter says were inspired by user requests include:

  • Bookmark folders, designed to help users organise saved tweets more easily
  • Undo tweet, which will let users set a timer of up to 30 seconds after posting before it appears publicly – to allow quick correction of obvious mistakes
  • Reader mode, which turns long threads of tweets into easier-to-read text

“We will be listening to feedback and building out even more features and perks for our subscribers over time,” it said.

It does not, however, include verification in the form of a “blue tick” on a user profile, which cannot be bought.

Twitter recently re-opened its verification applications for the fist time in years, but was forced to shutter the programme for a few days after just a week of accepting them, because it was inundated with requests.

Twitter made no secret of plans to charge its top users a small fee for some extra perks – but it’s only dipping its wing in the water for now.

The much-asked-for undo tweet button is undoubtedly top of the list, for all of us who’ve ever had a screamer of a typo, or – even worse – accidentally tweeted something we meant to search for.

But other features are squarely targeted at the Twitterati elite.

When Twitter bought web reader firm Scroll in May, it made a big deal about Twitter being for news and discussion. Bookmarks and the reader feature for long threads are firmly targeted there.

And for good reason.

Twitter’s growth in active users has slowed in recent years – a potential problem for any social network, where perceived value is often based on numbers. Twitter has never had the users that Facebook has – it boasts hundreds of millions, but not billions.

But many of its biggest users are media personalities, politicians, and business leaders – the type of people for whom a small monthly fee might not be too much to ask.

This is new territory. Unfounded rumours that Facebook might one day ask for a fee have led to digital panic in the past – so Twitter’s two-country opener is a test to see if the idea will fly.

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Flubot: Warning over major Android ‘package delivery’ scam



A text-message scam that infects Android phones is spreading across the UK, experts have warned.

The message – which pretends to be from a package delivery firm, prompts users to install a tracking app – but is actually a malicious piece of spyware.

Called Flubot, it can take over devices and spy on phones to gather sensitive data, including online banking details.

Network operator Vodafone said millions of the text messages were already being sent, across all networks.

“We believe this current wave of Flubot malware SMS attacks will gain serious traction very quickly, and it’s something that needs awareness to stop the spread,” a spokesman said.

Customers should “be especially vigilant with this particular piece of malware”, he said, and be very careful about clicking on any links in a text message.

The malware also has the ability to send more text messages to an infected user’s contacts, helping it spread.

“The seriousness of these malicious text messages is underlined by Vodafone making the decision to alert its customers,” said Ben Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight.

“This has the potential to become a denial-of-service attack on mobile networks, given the clear risk that a rogue application can be installed on users’ smartphones and start spewing out endless text messages.

“The broader risk for users is a loss of highly sensitive personal data from their phones,” he added.

While text message scams claiming to be about a package delivery firm are common, they have mostly focused on phishing – trying to trick the user into filling in a form with bank details and other information.

This newest wave differs because it tries to install malicious software on the phone itself – and because of the scale of its spread.

One version of the scam reported online pretends to be a text message from DHL, with a link to a website for parcel tracking.

If someone using an Android phone clicks on the link, they will be taken to a page “explaining” how to install the parcel tracking app using something called an APK.

APK files are a way of installing Android apps outside of the secure Google Play store. By default, such applications will be blocked for security reasons, but the scam page includes instructions on how to allow the installation.

That can be confusing, as there are some niche genuine cases for installing those kind of apps – such as downloading the Fortnite video game, which was removed from the official app store amid a major legal row between its owner and Google.

Apple iPhone users are not affected as those phones cannot install Android APKs.

In a blog post detailing the scam, security expert Paul Morrison wrote that he expects the “success rate would be low” due to the hurdles involved.

But he said: “With the number of SMS being sent out, just a 0.1% success rate could be very profitable.”

The Flubot malware has also spread in other countries in recent months – notably Spain, Germany and Poland.

Industry body Mobile UK said it was “pro-actively co-ordinating its response with the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to minimise any potential damage”.

Users who receive a suspicious message should forward it to 7726 to report it, a spokesman said – and then delete the message.

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