Tech New : LinkedIn Shuts Down In China Over Censorship Row

Microsoft’s LinkedIn will be replaced with a “no social feed” version in China after criticism from the US that it has been complicit in the censorship of posts and profiles from Western journalists.

Accusations From Home

The accusations that LinkedIn appeared to be appeasing and complicit with the Chinese Communist Party and its censorship rules can be traced back to June. After Bing showed no results for a search for the key phrase “Tank Man” on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, and censorship notifications were sent to journalists, Republican Senator (Florida) Rick Scott suggested that Microsoft was actively censoring American journalists on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

Also, LinkedIn has blacklisted the accounts of several journalists, one of whom had previously written a book about China’s treatment of Tibetan refugees.

Since 2014

Microsoft launched a “localised version” of LinkedIn in China back in 2014 with the hope of getting into the vast Chinese market, which, at the time was the second-largest and one of the most important economies in the world. LinkedIn aimed to link what equated to one in five of the world’s knowledge workers with the rest of LinkedIn’s 277 million members in over 200 countries and territories, thereby enabling Microsoft to take a huge competitive leap forward.

Challenging Operating Environment

The recent accusations from the US, however, coupled with an admission by LinkedIn senior vice-president Mohak Shroff that “We’re facing a significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China” have forced a change for LinkedIn. In a blog post, Mr Shroff also alluded to the hurdles of censorship and compliance with Chinese Communist Party Rules, saying “While we’ve found success in helping Chinese members find jobs and economic opportunity, we have not found that same level of success in the more social aspects of sharing and staying informed. We’re also facing a significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China.“

LinkedIn To Be Replaced With ‘InJobs’

The replacement for the failed, localised version of LinkedIn is due to be launched later in the year. LinkedIn says that ‘InJobs’ will be a “standalone jobs application for China” that will not include a social feed or the ability to share posts or articles.

Was Censorship A Requirement From The Beginning?

When LinkedIn launched in China back in 2014, it said “As a condition for operating in the country, the government of China imposes censorship requirements on Internet platforms” and that “extending our service in China raises difficult questions”.

Punished In March

LinkedIn had its new user registration suspended back in March by the Chinese regulator, allegedly for failing to censor political content.

Other big (US based) tech companies have also encountered serious setbacks and criticism when trying to break into the Chinese market. For example, Google faced criticism after announcing that it has been developing a censored version of its search engine to run inside China.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Recent years have seen poor political and diplomatic relations between the west and China, particularly with the US restrictions on doing business with Chinese companies introduced during the Trump presidency. This has had an impact on many businesses who trade with China, and the big tech companies are finding that in order to get a piece of the vast Chinese market, they must face difficult challenges and compromises. These include pressures not to deal with a regime that has been accused of human rights abuses, the tightening grip of Chinese government and regulator rules, competition with favoured Chinese companies, challenges posed by the country’s heavily controlled internet, and perhaps being forced to censor their own platforms according to local rules in order to stay in operation within the country. For example, as well as recent accusations that LinkedIn censored journalists, Amazon’s Audible service and Apple’s China-based store have both had to remove apps in mainland China for reading the holy books of Islam and Christianity which has, of course impacted on the makers of the apps as well as generating potentially awkward publicity for Amazon and Apple. For Microsoft, however, the solution to remaining operational in China, staying on-side with authorities has simply been to chop off the worries that the social platform could cause and stay with a re-named, more government-friendly service. Clearly, while the Chinese government maintains a strong grip on the Internet and other platforms that could present conflicting views, and while relations with China and the west remain relatively poor, this is unlikely to be the last difficult decision that a big tech company will have to make about the way forward (or not) for its future in China.

Tech News : 30 Countries Pledge To Act On Ransomware

The international Counter-Ransomware members from 30 countries have issued a joint statement outlining their intent to take action to counter the growing threat posed by ransomware.

What Is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a form of malware that encrypts the important files on a computer and the user (often a business/organisation) is given a ransom demand, the payment of which should mean that the encrypted files can be released. In reality, some types of ransomware delete many important files anyway and paying the ransom does not guarantee that access to files will be returned to normal. Ransomware is primarily a profit-seeking crime which also commonly leverages money laundering networks to move ransomware proceeds.

How Big Is The Problem?

A recent White House fact sheet stated that “the global economic losses from ransomware are significant. Ransomware payments reached over $400 million globally in 2020, and topped $81 million in the first quarter of 2021, illustrating the financially driven nature of these activities.”

In March, The Palo Alto Networks, Unit 42 Ransomware Threat Report showed that the average ransom paid by a victim organisation in Europe, the US and Canada trebled from $115,123 (£83,211) in 2019 to $312,493 (£225,871) in 2020. The report showed that over the same period, the highest value ransom paid doubled from $5m (£3.6m) to $10m (£7.2m), and the highest extortion demand grew from $15m (£10.8m) to $30m (£22m).

Meeting

At the meeting of the Ministers and Representatives from the Counter Ransomware Initiative (held on October 13 and 14), it was recognised that the threat of ransomware is complex and global in nature and requires a shared response and will depend, in part, on the capacity, cooperation, and resilience of global partners, the private sector, civil society, and the general public.

Action

The joint statement outlines the following actions to be taken and to efforts to be made to tackle the ransomware threat:

– Improving network resilience to prevent incidents when possible and respond effectively when incidents do occur. This will involve the sharing of lessons learned and best practices for development of policies to address ransom payments and engaging with private sector entities to promote incident information sharing and to explore other opportunities for collective buy-down of risk.

– Addressing the abuse of financial mechanisms to launder ransom payments or conduct other activities that make ransomware profitable. This will involve using the national anti-money laundering (AML) frameworks to identify and mitigate risks associated with VASPs and related activities, and enhance the capacity of national authorities (regulators, financial intelligence units, and law enforcement) to take action.

– Disrupting the ransomware ecosystem via law enforcement collaboration to investigate and prosecute ransomware actors, addressing safe havens for ransomware criminals, and continued diplomatic engagement. This will involve cooperation between different stakeholders and international partners in the exchange of information.

– Using diplomacy to promote rules-based behaviour and encourage reasonable steps to be taken to address ransomware operations emanating from a particular territory.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Attempts to exploit the vulnerabilities created by remote working in the pandemic, businesses not having effective data backup procedures in place, the costs of downtime perceived as being greater than the cost of paying the ransom, low technical barriers to entry and a high affiliate earning potential, plus the growth of ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) have fuelled a huge rise in ransomware attacks. Ransomware poses a big risk to critical infrastructure, essential services, public safety, consumer protection and privacy, and economic prosperity, and a bigger effort to tackle the threat is long overdue. The promising aspect of the joint statement by the Ministers and Representatives from the Counter Ransomware Initiative is that they have recognised the need for collaboration and help between multiple governments, agencies and organisations and using multiple means to make a real impression on the problem. Individual businesses can play their own part in protecting themselves through basic security measures. These include keeping antivirus software and Operating Systems up to date and patched (and re-starting the computer at least once per week), using a modern and secure browser, using detection and recovery software (e.g. Microsoft 365 protection and Windows Security), and storing files on cloud services e.g. OneDrive/Google Drive, IDrive, or whatever work-based cloud file storage systems employees are required to use, and having an effective, workable backup in place. Since ransomware relies upon human error to spread, staff should be educated about how to spot and deal with potential ransomware risks e.g., suspicious emails, Organisations should also realise that prevention is better and cheaper than cure and paying a ransom will not guarantee the return of vital files and system control, and that many files are deleted anyway by the attackers.

Featured Article : How To Tell If You’re Being Spoofed

Many cybers attacks now take the form of using fake/spoof communication to trick victims into parting with personal (or company) data, or money. We take a look at some of the most popular and widely reported methods and how to avoid falling victim to them.

Phishing

This is a very common form of spoofing attack. Cyber-criminals send their victims emails which appear to be from legitimate organisations or contacts (or in some cases use fake SMS containing links or voicemails). When the victim clicks on the link of the phishing email, they are either directed to a spoof website payment page to steal their details or money, or have malicious software loaded onto their device to allow cybercriminals to take control of that device, log keystrokes, gain access to personal information and financial data (for financial theft and identity theft), or simply direct the victim to a payment page.

How To Spot Phishing Emails

There are several ways to spot phishing emails. Examples of these in which you can identify a phishing email include:

– Online requests for personal and financial information (e.g. from government agencies) are very unlikely to be sent by email from legitimate sources.

– Generic greetings. Scammers are less likely to use your name to personalise the email greeting and title.

– Mistakes in spelling and grammar can be signs of scam emails.

– Check the email address by hovering your mouse (without clicking) over the link in the email. This can quickly reveal if the email isn’t genuine.

– Beware of heavy emotional appeals that urge you to act immediately. These are signs of scam emails that hope to bypass your reasoning and tap into an emotional response.

Vishing Scams

Vishing is a combination of ‘voice’ and ‘phishing’ and describes the criminal process of using internet telephone service (VoIP) calls to deceive victims into divulging personal and payment data.

Vishing scams to (domestic) homes often use recorded voice messages (e.g., claiming to be from banks and government agencies) to make victims respond in the first instance.

The technology used by scammers is now such that voice simulation may even be used in more sophisticated attacks on big businesses.

Examples of vishing include spoof calls pertaining to be from banks or credit card companies with messages asking the victim to call a certain number to reset their password, exaggerated (almost too good to be true) investment opportunities, bogus charitable requests for urgent causes and recent disasters, calls claiming to be from government agencies (e.g. the tax office), or bogus tech support calls to fix fake problems with computers.

How To Guard Against Vishing

Ways to protect you and your business from falling victim to vishing include:

– Don’t trust caller ID to be 100 per cent accurate, numbers can be faked.

– Don’t answer phone calls to unknown numbers.

– Be wary of unsolicited alleged calls from banks, credit card companies or government agencies.

– Include phishing, vishing, smishing and other variants with your security awareness training for employees.

– Avoid using a gift card or a wire/direct money transfer.

– Don’t give in to pressure.

SMS Spoofing

SMS spoofing involves changing who an SMS message appears to come from by replacing the originating mobile number (Sender ID) with alphanumeric text. Examples of this ploy include impersonating a user that has roamed onto a foreign network and is submitting messages to the home network , or impersonating a bank and including a phishing message that tricks users into clicking on a link.

How To Guard Against Spoof SMS Messages

Some key things to remember to avoid falling victim to spoof SMS messages include:

– Be very sceptical of ‘too good to be true’ offers and remember that organisations such as your bank are extremely unlikely to text you and will never ask for personal details this way.

– Avoid clicking on links in SMS messages. If you receive texts that you have any suspicion about and have questions, go to the website, call (using the number from the official website) or email instead.

– Don’t share your mobile number unless it’s really necessary.

– Beware of SMS messages about verification codes, password resets, or anything that’s asking for personal information.

– Report any SMS spoofing attempts to Action Fraud.

Smishing

Smishing is where an attacker sends a text/SMS message purporting to be from a reputable company, in this case, the Royal Mail or a parcel delivery company/courier service. The idea is that the recipient (who may be expecting a parcel delivery) is fooled into clicking on the link in the text message and this either send sends the attacker personal information (credit card number or password) or downloads a malicious program/malware to the victim’s phone. The malware can be used for snooping on the user’s smartphone data or sending sensitive data (silently) to an attacker-controlled server.

Parcel delivery scams account for more than half of all reported text phishing, or ‘smishing’ attacks in the UK. For example, new data shows that from 15 April to 14 July 2021, 53.2 per cent of reported scam text messages were from attackers posing as postal delivery firms. Also, from 14 June and 14 July, parcel and package delivery scams accounted for 67.4 per cent of all smishing attempts.

How To Protect Yourself Against Smishing Attacks

Ways that you can protect yourself and your business from smishing include.

– (Again) remember that financial institutions never send text messages asking for credentials or transfer of money and credit card numbers, ATM PINs, or banking information should never be sent to someone in text messages.

– Beware of (scam) messages offering fast money (e.g., from winning prizes or collecting cash after entering information).

– A message received from a number with only a few digits is a sign that it probably came from an email address, which is a common sign of spam/scams.

– Avoid storing any banking details on a mobile device (in case of malware).

– Be wary of any delivery-related text messages other than the standard day/time of delivery messages.

– If you receive a smishing text, to protect other users, send the message to your telecom’s number so that it can be investigated. Also, report such messages to Action Fraud (https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/).

Deepfake Videos and Audio

Deepfake videos use deep learning technology and manipulated images of target individuals (found online), often celebrities, politicians, and other well-known people to create an embarrassing or scandalous video e.g., pornography, violent behaviour, or of the victim saying something they would not normally say but could be very damaging to their reputation if believed. The AI aspect of the technology makes the spoof videos very convincing. Deepfake videos are used by criminals to cause damage the reputations of victims and/or to extract ransoms from their target victims.

Deepfake Audio

Deepfake ‘ransomware’ can also involve using AI to manipulate audio in order to create a damaging or embarrassing recording of someone, or to mimic someone for fraud or extortion purposes. For example, in March 2019, a group of hackers were able to use AI software to mimic (create a deep fake) of an energy company CEO’s voice in order to successfully steal £201,000.

Other Spoofing Attacks & Scams

Some other popular spoofing attacks and methods include:

Man-in-the-Middle Attacks

If cyber-criminals are able to gain access to a person’s communications accounts e.g., your email (perhaps using stolen credentials, spyware, malware), they can intercept web traffic between two parties and the communication between the parties to re-route funds or solicit sensitive personal information like credit card numbers or logins.

Extension spoofing

This is where cybercriminals disguise executable malware files to make victims feel as though they can safely click on them (e.g. if received in an email). For example, a .exe file, which would normally be a security red flag, can be made to appear as a .txt (Notepad) file.

Checking If Your Details Have Been Stolen

Some attacks happen because a user’s personal data has been stolen in other attacks and/or traded online. One way to check whether your details have been stolen is to visit https://haveibeenpwned.com/.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The message here is that today’s cybercriminals would much rather rely upon human error and spoof scams than go to the time and trouble of trying to hack into secure systems. Human error can be relied upon to be ever-present to a degree, which is why spoofing is so effective. It appears that almost anything can now be faked, and it is up to businesses not just to take the necessary cyber protection measures (anti-virus, 2FA etc) but to educate staff in what spoofing scams they may encounter, how to spot them, and to have policies and procedures in place for dealing with and checking certain types of approaches, messages, and enquiries. It is important that all staff are particularly aware of email threats and can exercise a healthy degree of scepticism and judgement. New staff, staff in new roles, temporary staff, or staff with a known aversion to IT may be particularly vulnerable to these attacks and should receive extra attention in terms of cyber security education and training.

Tech Tip – How To Turn On WhatsApp Encrypted Backups

Facebook has just enabled encrypted backups for WhatsApp messages to Google Drive or Apple’s iCloud. The feature, however, is not enabled by default so, if you’d like to backup your important WhatsApp messages, here’s how to turn the feature on:

– In the latest version of WhatsApp, go to ‘Settings’.

– Tap on ‘Chats’ > ‘Chat Backup’ > ‘End-to-end Encrypted Backup’.

– Tap on ‘Continue’ and follow the prompts to create your password or 64-digit encryption key.

– Tap ‘Done’.

Tech Insight : What (Actually) Is The ICO?

In this tech-insight, we look at the role of the Information Commissioner’s Office, and how it can be a source of valuable compliance information and help to businesses.

What Is It?

The Information Commissioner’s Office is the UK’s independent, non-departmental public body set up to uphold information rights in the public interest. The ICO also promotes openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals and is the regulator for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, with key responsibilities under the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA) and Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), as well UK GDPR, and other acts. The ICO gives help and advice to individuals and businesses.

Who It Reports To

The ICO reports directly to the Parliament of the United Kingdom and is sponsored by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sports, and has physical offices in Wilmslow, Cheshire, Cardiff, Edinburgh, and Belfast.

Who?

The current (although outgoing) Information Commissioner is Elizabeth Denham CBE, who was appointed UK Information Commissioner in July 2016. Her previous roles included Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia, Canada, and Assistant Privacy Commissioner of Canada. In March 2018, she was named as the most influential person in data-driven business in the updated DataIQ 100 list and, In March 2019, Elizabeth was appointed chair of the Governance Working Group of the International Conference of Information Commissioners (ICIC), a global forum for information commissioners and ombudspersons with 45 members across all continents.

In August this year, it was announced the preferred new UK Information Commissioner is John Edwards who has been New Zealand’s Privacy Commissioner since February 2014, and who has practiced law in Wellington, New Zealand, for more than 20 years (specialising in information law).

Like What?

The ICO is the body/regulator responsible for Data protection law advice and information-giving, enforcement, monitoring/audits/studies, recommendations, decisions, and somewhere to complain to for matters like:

– Political campaigning practices (data analytics) e.g., transparency, ethics.

– Charity fundraising practices e.g., compliance laws that protect privacy and prevent nuisance phone calls.

– CCTV systems and facial recognition systems, matters of privacy and compliance with data protection laws.

– Credit and the uses of personal information e.g., by credit reference agencies (CRAs).

– Electoral registration.

– Nuisance marketing calls (enforcing the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 20030). Nuisance calls can be reported to the ICO.

– Spam emails and texts (which can be reported to the ICO).

– Cookies.

– Data protection and journalism.

– Data held by the Police.

– Data protection matters for schools, universities, and colleges.

– Public data access rights.

Advice and Help For Businesses

The ICO provides guides to the legislation, resources, and support for businesses about obligations and how to comply under the Acts. Much of it can be found on the ICO website here: https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/.

Examples of Action Taken

Part of the role of the ICO is to take action to ensure organisations meet their information rights obligations. Examples of action taken by the ICO can be found on their website here: https://ico.org.uk/action-weve-taken/.

Staying Independent Is Important

The outgoing Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham CBE, has warned (in a recent statement) that in order for the ICO to be able to hold the government to account, it is important that it preserves its independence in a way that is workable, within the context of the framework set by Parliament.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Businesses and organisations must comply with often complicated and changing data protection laws. Although the ICO is responsible for enforcing those laws, its primary role is really to help by giving advice and information, and the website is a useful resource and signposting place for businesses to use and to stay up to date with the latest developments and news. The ICO is also a place for individuals and businesses to complain (perhaps resulting in action with enough complaints) about practices such as spamming (calls, emails, and texts) or not responding to data requests.

Tech News : Proposed Ban For Mass Facial Recognition & ‘Predictive’ Policing

The European Parliament has adopted a resolution calling for a ban on the use of AI-based predictive policing systems and the processing of biometric data that leads to mass surveillance.

Areas

The resolution seeks to ban the use of facial recognition technology and AI in several key areas:

– Police use of facial recognition technology in public places.

– Private facial recognition databases (e.g. Clearview AI)

– Predictive policing and social scoring systems.

What Is Clearwater AI?

Clearwater AI is a US-based facial-recognition company started by Australian Hoan Ton-That and a former aide of ex-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The AI-software system, which is used by hundreds of law enforcement agencies, has been criticised for using a database that includes billions of photos scraped from social media websites (possibly in violation of social media platform rules). Concerns have also been voiced that, like other systems, it may have a racial bias.

What Is Predictive Policing?

So-called ‘predictive policing’ tools use algorithms and historic data to predict where certain types of crime (e.g. burglaries and street violence) are likely to occur and to predict the likelihood of known individuals exhibiting certain behaviours or characteristics in the future.

What Are Social Scoring Systems?

An example of a social scoring system can be found in China where the Chinese Communist Party operate a “social credit system” for individuals and organisations. A person’s/organisation’s social score can move up and down depending on their behaviour. Bad behaviour, for example, could include questionable shopping habits, buying too many video games, bad driving, posting on social media, or smoking in non-smoking zones. It has been reported that bad behaviour online, for example, could lead to the punishment of throttling a person’s Internet speed.

What Happens Now?

The European Parliament resolution gives an overview of the argument and indicates the way that voting may go for what will become the AI Act. It is thought that since the AI Act’s lead negotiator, Brando Benifei, and co-negotiators are known to support a blanket ban on facial recognition, there is a strong chance that AI in criminal law and its usage by the police and judicial authorities in criminal matters will have bans and regulations in place soon in the EU.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The case for AI-based facial recognition systems being used in mass surveillance and predictive policing is supposed to help tackle crime in an intelligent, targeted way. The reality (to date) however, has been cases of misidentification, examples of racial bias, strong resistance from freedom groups on matters of privacy, questions about value for money, and questions about ethics. Also, there is a strong feeling that the use and rollout of this technology has happened before the issues have been studied properly and legislation/regulations put in place to offer protection to citizens. Allegations about how Clearwater AI’s database was scraped from social media, as well as worries about the idea of predictive policing and big brother-like social-scoring-systems have all been factors in prompting the need to slow things down and get some rules in place.

Each week we bring you the latest tech news and tips that may relate to your business, re-written in an techy free style. 

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