US Judge Denies New Government Bid to Remove China’s WeChat From App Stores

A U.S. judge in San Francisco on Friday rejected a Justice Department request to reverse a decision that allowed Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google to continue to offer Chinese-owned WeChat for download in U.S. app stores.U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler said the government’s new evidence did not change her opinion about the Tencent app. As it has with Chinese video app TikTok, the Justice Department has argued WeChat threatens national security.WeChat has an average of 19 million daily active users in the United States. It is popular among Chinese students, Americans living in China and Americans who have personal or business relationships in China.WeChat is an all-in-one mobile app that combines services similar to Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Venmo. The app is an essential part of daily life for many in China and boasts more than 1 billion users.The Justice Department has appealed Beeler’s decision permitting the continued use of the Chinese mobile app to the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, but no ruling is likely before December.In a suit brought by WeChat users, Beeler last month blocked a U.S. Commerce Department order set to take effect September 20 that would have required the app to be removed from U.S. app stores.The Commerce Department order would also bar other U.S. transactions with WeChat, potentially making the app unusable in the United States.”The record does not support the conclusion that the government has ‘narrowly tailored’ the prohibited transactions to protect its national-security interests,” Beeler wrote on Friday.She said the evidence “supports the conclusion that the restrictions ‘burden substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government’s legitimate interests.'”WeChat users argued the government sought “an unprecedented ban of an entire medium of communication” and offered only “speculation” of harm from Americans’ use of WeChat.In a similar case, a U.S. appeals court agreed to fast-track a government appeal of a ruling blocking the government from banning new downloads from U.S. app stores of Chinese-owned short video-sharing app TikTok.

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New Huawei Phone Comes at Crucial Time for Chinese Company

Huawei’s new smartphone has an upgraded camera, its latest advanced chipset and a better battery. What it may not have outside the Chinese tech giant’s home market is very many buyers.
Huawei, which recently became the world’s No. 1 smartphone maker, on Thursday unveiled its Mate 40 line of premium phones, a product release that comes at a crucial moment for the company as it runs out of room to maneuver around U.S. sanctions squeezing its ability to source components and software.
The Mate 40 could be the last one powered by the company’s homegrown Kirin chipsets because of U.S. restrictions in May barring non-American companies from using U.S. technology in manufacturing without a license.
Analysts say the company had been stockpiling chips before the ban but its supply won’t last forever.
“This is a major challenge to Huawei and it’s really losing its market outside of China,” said Mo Jia, an analyst at independent research firm Canalys. The latest U.S. restrictions mean it “100% has closed doors for Huawei to secure its future components.”
Executives said this summer that production of Kirin chips would end in mid-September because they’re made by contractors that need U.S. manufacturing technology. In a press preview this week ahead of the Mate 40’s launch, staff declined to answer questions on Huawei’s ability to source chips. The head of Huawei’s consumer business, Richard Yu, referred only briefly to the issue at the end of  a virtual launch event Thursday.
“For Huawei, nowadays we are in a very difficult time. We are suffering from the U.S.
government’s third round ban. It’s an unfair ban. It makes (the situation) extremely difficult,” Yu said.
Huawei, which is also a major supplier of wireless network gear, is facing pressure in a wider global battle waged between the U.S. and China over trade and technological supremacy. The U.S. government’s efforts to lobby allies in Europe to not give it a role in new high-speed 5G wireless networks over cybersecurity concerns has been paying off, with countries including Sweden and Britain blocking its gear.
Huawei phones are not widely available in the U.S., but they’re sold in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The company climbed to the top of the global smartphone rankings this summer, knocking Samsung off top spot by shipping 55.8 million devices in the second quarter to gain a 20% share of the market, according to research firms Canalys and International Data Corp. But the performance was driven by strong growth in China while smartphone sales in the rest of the world tumbled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Analysts say it will be hard for Huawei to remain No. 1.
“Huawei’s in a tight spot,” said Ben Wood, chief of research at CCS Insight. Along with the U.S. sanctions, it’s also hurt by slumping confidence in the brand that makes retailers less keen to stock its phones. “And sadly, I don’t think you’re going to see the Mate 40 performing particularly well outside of China.”
Huawei has a small but enthusiastic fan base in Europe, its biggest market outside China. But some users are turned off by the idea of sticking with the brand because of a related problem: recent models like the Mate 40, priced at 899 euros ($1,070) and up, can’t run Google’s full Android operating system because of an earlier round of U.S. sanctions.
Instead, they come with a stripped down open source version of Android, which doesn’t have Google’s Play Store and can’t run popular apps like Chrome, YouTube and Search.
Mark Osten, a 29-year-old architect in Preston, England, bought a Huawei P30 last year when the contract on his previous Samsung phone ended.
He says the camera is great but hesitates to recommend the brand to others because of the uncertainty.
“I just can’t imagine life without YouTube or Google,” said Osten.
To make up for losing Google services, Huawei has built its own app store and has been paying developers to create apps for it. Users can request apps that aren’t yet available, but it’s not something that appeals to Chloe Hetelle, a 35-year-old events organizer in Toulouse, France, who bought a Huawei P20 model two years ago after switching from an iPhone.
“I don’t want to request apps, I just want to have YouTube,” said Hetelle. “I’m not really keen on struggling to get something that I would have easily with another phone.”

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Facebook Launches Dating Service in Europe

Facebook Inc said on Wednesday it is launching its dating service in 32 European countries after the rollout was delayed earlier this year due to regulatory concerns.The social media company had postponed the rollout of Facebook Dating in Europe in February after concerns were raised by Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner (DPC), the main regulator in the European Union for a number of the world’s biggest technology firms, including Facebook.The DPC had said it was told about the Feb. 13 launch date on Feb. 3 and was very concerned about being given such short notice.It also said it was not given documentation regarding data protection impact assessments or decision-making processes that had been undertaken by Facebook.Facebook Dating, a dedicated, opt-in space within the Facebook app, was launched in the United States in September last year. It is currently available in 20 other countries.In a blog post on Wednesday, Kate Orseth, Facebook Dating’s product manager, said users can choose to create a dating profile, and can delete it at any time without deleting their Facebook accounts.The first names and ages of users in their dating profiles will be taken from their Facebook profiles and cannot be edited in the dating service, Orseth said, adding that users’ last names will not be displayed and that they can choose whether to share other personal information on their profiles.

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Microsoft Disables Most of Cybercriminals’ Control Over Massive Computer Network

Microsoft Corp said Tuesday it had disabled more than 90% of the machines used by a gang of Russian-speaking cyber criminals to control a massive network of computers with a potential to disrupt the U.S. election. Aided by a series of U.S. court orders and relationships with technology providers in other countries, Microsoft said its weeklong campaign against the gang running the Trickbot network was heading off a possible source of disruption to the November 3 U.S. vote. “We’ve taken down most of their infrastructure,” corporate Vice President Tom Burt said in an interview. “Their ability to go and infect targets has been significantly reduced.” The criminals in charge of Trickbot have infected more than 1 million personal computers, including many inside local governments, according to cybersecurity professionals. They then make deals with other gangs to install ransomware and other malicious programs on the infected machines, security professionals say. Although there is no evidence that the gang has worked with foreign governments, Burt said he wanted to disrupt Trickbot before the election in case Russian agencies attempted to use it to interfere with voting or cast doubt on the results by manipulating data. Some security experts who had seen little impact from Microsoft’s initial efforts to combat Trickbot said this week that new control servers being brought online by the gang were getting cut off, making it harder for the group to install new programs on infected computers. “Disruption operations against Trickbot are currently global in nature and have had success against Trickbot infrastructure,” said Intel 471 Chief Executive Mark Arena. “Regardless, there still is a small number of working controllers based in Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia and Kyrgyzstan that still are able to respond.” The Trickbot gang is now asking other malware groups to install its software, Arena and others said, and it is expected to rebuild its infrastructure in other ways. Burt said such efforts to adapt would at least distract the gang from bringing chaos to voting or other local government activity if it had been so inclined. 
 

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US Justice Department Files Antitrust Lawsuit Against Google

The U.S. Justice Department has filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google for allegedly violating federal law by using its dominant market position to stifle competition.The agency alleged in its long-awaited lawsuit Tuesday that Google abused its dominant market position to maintain monopolies in online search and search advertising.Google did not immediately comment on the lawsuit, the most significant legal challenge to the U.S. technology sector in more than two decades.Consumer advocates and legislators have long accused Google of abusing its dominant market position to suppress competition, increase profits and hurt consumers. The suit, filed in federal court in Washington, could be the first of many other significant government antitrust actions against Silicon Valley. The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission also are currently investigating Apple, Amazon and Facebook.A senior economic adviser to President Donald Trump said two years ago that the administration was considering whether Google searches should be regulated by the government. Trump has frequently criticized Google and promoted unsubstantiated claims by conservatives that the company suppresses conservative viewpoints, meddles in U.S. elections and favors collaborating with the Chinese military over the U.S. Defense Department.Google has captured about 90% of the world’s internet search market, the result of offering a product that is preferred by billions of users daily, the company has said.The California-based corporation has been preparing for the lawsuit and is expected to aggressively oppose any efforts to force it to spin off its services into individual businesses. A recent House Judiciary subcommittee report concluded after a yearlong investigation into Silicon Valley’s market dominance that Google has monopolized the search market. The report said Google established its dominant position through acquisition in several markets, buying about 260 companies that other businesses had developed over a 20-year span. Google was fined $1.7 billion by the European Union in 2019 for preventing websites from using the tech giant’s rivals from locating advertisers. The EU also fined Google $2.6 billion in 2017 for favoring its own online shopping venues over its rivals, and $4.9 billion in 2018 for blocking competitors from its Android operating system.

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US Charges Six Russian Military Officers in Global Cyberattacks

U.S. prosecutors on Monday announced charges against six Russian military intelligence officers in connection with a global computer hacking campaign that targeted the 2017 French presidential election and the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, and carried out other high-profile cyberattacks.   The campaign, spanning from 2015 to 2020, was the “most disruptive and destructive” carried out by a single group of cyber intruders, law enforcement officials said.  The six hackers, all officers of the Russian military intelligence service known as GRU, “engaged in computer intrusions and attacks intended to support Russian government efforts to undermine, retaliate against, or otherwise destabilize” entities and institutions seen as anti-Russia, the Justice Department said.  The same unit, known to cybersecurity researchers as the “Sandworm” team, was allegedly behind the hacking of Democratic computer networks as part of Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.  FILE – Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, visits the new GRU military intelligence headquarters building in Moscow, Nov. 8, 2006.One of the six hackers charged in a new 50-page indictment, Anatoliy Sergeyevich Kovalev, had been indicted along with 11 other GRU officers in 2018 in connection with the 2016 election interference.  Russian President Vladimir Putin recently called for a cyber reset between Russia and the United States.  John Demers, head of the Justice Department’s national security division, said the indictment underscores why Russia’s proposed reset “is nothing more than dishonest rhetoric and cynical and cheap propaganda.”  The indictment “lays bare Russia’s use of its cyber capabilities to destabilize and interfere with the domestic political and economic systems of other countries,” Demers said at a virtual press conference at the Justice Department.  The five others were identified as Yuriy Sergeyevich Andrienko, Sergey Vladimirovich Detistov, Pavel Valeryevich Frolov, Pavel Valeryevich Frolov and Petr Nikolayevich Pliskin. They face charges of conspiracy, computer hacking, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and false registration of a domain name. All six remain at large. The Russian Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment. The charges, which come two weeks before another contentious U.S. presidential election, do not allege election interference, Demers said. “Rather, today’s charges illustrate how Unit 74455’s election activities were but one part of the work of a persistent, sophisticated hacking group busy sabotaging perceived enemies or detractors of the Russian Federation, regardless of the consequences to innocent bystanders or their destabilizing effect,” Demers said.  In recent months, the Justice Department has announced a series of indictments charging hackers working for China, Iran and North Korea.     Asked if the indictment was meant to be a warning to U.S. adversaries seeking to disrupt the U.S. elections, a Justice Department official said, “I would say that generally, it is a warning, a warning to these countries and the actors that are working for them, these activities are not quite as deniable as they might have hoped they were originally.” The official spoke during a press call and asked not to be identified. Cyberattack targetsThe GRU hackers’ targets included Ukrainian government and critical infrastructure; Georgian companies and government entities; the elections in France; an investigation into Russia’s poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal in Britain; the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang; and several U.S. corporations. FILE – Flag bearers from various nations attend the closing ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Feb. 25, 2018.During their yearslong campaign, the hackers used “some of the world’s most destructive malware” to strike targets on three continents, according to the Justice Department.   In Ukraine, using malware known as BlackEnergy, Industroyer, and KillDisk, the hackers attacked the country’s electric power grid, Ministry of Finance, and State Treasury Service from December 2015 through December 2016.Ahead of the 2017 presidential election in France, the GRU officers allegedly carried out spear-phishing and hack-and-leak operations targeting President Emmanuel Macron’s party, French politicians and local French governments.In June 2017, the hackers deployed malware known as NotPetya to infect computers around the world, targeting the networks of hospitals and medical facilities in the Heritage Valley Health System in Pennsylvania; a FedEx subsidiary; and an unidentified U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturer. Masquerading as ransomware, NotPetya was capable of bringing down entire computer networks within seconds, officials said. At Heritage, patient lists, patient history, physical examination files, and laboratory records were wiped out. In all, the attacks resulted in losses of nearly $1 billion to the companies.    During the Winter Olympic Games, the hackers used malware known as Olympic Destroyer to knock the games’ official website offline and prevented attendees from gaining their tickets. The attack came within hours of the Olympic Committee’s decision to disqualify Russian athletes over doping.In Georgia, with which Russia has tense relations, the hackers targeted a major media company in 2018 and defaced about 15,000 websites in 2019. “They replaced the homepages of those websites with an image of a former Georgian president known for his efforts to counter Russian influence in Georgia with the caption, ‘I’ll be back,'” said a Justice Department official. John Hultquist, senior director of analysis for cybersecurity firm FireEye, said the indictment “reads like a laundry list of many of the most important cyberattack incidents we have ever witnessed.” “Sandworm has been involved in many of the most aggressive cyberattacks and information operations ever seen,” Hultquist said in a statement. Smuggling ring Separately, the Justice Department unsealed charges against 10 alleged members of an international smuggling ring for trafficking more than $50 million worth of electronic devices, from the United States to Russia. The defendants, eight of whom have been arrested, allegedly used employees of Russia’s Aeroflot Airlines as couriers to smuggle Apple products and other electronics to Russia.   
  

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