COVID-19 Started in China. To Change the Narrative, China Started to Tweet

Jeff Kao is a ProPublica reporter who FILE – In this Feb. 16, 2020, photo, a policeman stands guard at Tiananmen Gate following the coronavirus outbreak, in Beijing.Twitter continued, “Based on our intensive investigations, we have reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation. As Twitter is blocked in PRC, many of these accounts accessed Twitter using VPNs.”The accounts belonged to a “larger, spammy network of approximately 200,00 accounts” that the platform suspended for violating a range of rules covering all users.“I think when social media was created, people in general hoped that it would encourage a more open civil society, discussion of opinion would be easier,” said Vincent Wang, dean pf the College of Arts and Sciences and political science professor at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York.“But the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took advantage of the open society and freedom of speech in the West and made it a tool for its own propaganda against democracy,” he said.Kao told VOA Mandarin that he noticed the accounts tweeting about Hong Kong changed.  As the coronavirus spread, the accounts focusing on Hong Kong changed to focus on the epidemic initially covered up by Beijing after it was linked to a market in Wuhan selling wildlife, such as bats, for human consumption. Many coronaviruses, such as COVID-19, start out in animals and jump to humans.As the epidemic raged through China, many of the accounts “became cheerleaders for the government, calling on citizens to unite in support of efforts to fight the epidemic and urging them to ‘dispel online rumors,’” wrote Kao. As the epidemic spread worldwide and became a pandemic, the accounts pointed out China’s response at home.FILE PHOTO: Employees wearing face masks work on a car seat assembly line at Yanfeng Adient factory in Shanghai, China, as the country is hit by an outbreak of a new coronavirus, February 24, 2020.“We were not scared during the outbreak because our country was our rearguard. Many disease fighting warriors were thrust to the front lines” said one. Others pointed out Beijing’s aid to countries such as Italy to ensure Staff members move barriers in front of a railway station of Wuhan on the first day of inbound train services resumed following the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Wuhan, China, March 28, 2020.“So, it’s a pretty vast effort, and it really makes it pretty difficult for people to understand what’s the truth, particularly if the whole thing is just designed to create one narrative.”Calls to the Chinese Embassy in Washington for comment Friday evening were directed automatically to an operator, then went to music before cutting off.Wang called for congressional hearings on nations’ use of Twitter and other platforms to spread disinformation. He wants lawmakers to find a way to protect the principle of freedom of speech while stopping the Chinese Communist Party from “making negative use of the technology for its own propaganda.”He said he believes it would be futile to block China’s accounts.“If you do that, China would have a lot of ways to cope with it by setting up even more new accounts.Wang told VOA Mandarin the best way to combat China’s disinformation efforts is “to raise (the) public’s awareness, so that people using social media can understand that if a so-called news (item) is bad quality information, a lie or disinformation, no matter how many times it is repeated, even if thousands times, it still will not become truth.”Yuwen Cheng and Zhan Qiao of VOA Mandarin contributed to this report.   
    

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US Cybersecurity Experts See Recent Spike in Chinese Digital Espionage

A U.S. cybersecurity firm said Wednesday it has detected a surge in new cyberspying by a suspected Chinese group dating back to late January, when coronavirus was starting to spread outside China.
FireEye Inc. said in a report it had spotted a spike in activity from a hacking group it dubs “APT41” that began on Jan. 20 and targeted more than 75 of its customers, from manufacturers and media companies to healthcare organizations and nonprofits.
There were “multiple possible explanations” for the spike in activity, said FireEye Security Architect Christopher Glyer, pointing to long-simmering tensions between Washington and Beijing over trade and more recent clashes over the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed more than 17,000 people since late last year.
The report said it was “one of the broadest campaigns by a Chinese cyber espionage actor we have observed in recent years.”
FireEye declined to identify the affected customers. The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not directly address FireEye’s allegations but said in a statement that China was “a victim of cybercrime and cyberattack.” The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined comment.
FireEye said in its report that APT41 abused recently disclosed flaws in software developed by Cisco, Citrix and others to try to break into scores of companies’ networks in the United States, Canada, Britain, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and more than a dozen other countries.
Cisco said in an email it had fixed the vulnerability and it was aware of attempts to exploit it, a sentiment echoed by Citrix, which said it had worked with FireEye to help identify “potential compromises.”
Others have also spotted a recent uptick in cyber-espionage activity linked to Beijing.
Matt Webster, a researcher with Secureworks – Dell Technologies’ cybersecurity arm – said in an email that his team had also seen evidence of increased activity from Chinese hacking groups “over the last few weeks.”
In particular, he said his team had recently spotted new digital infrastructure associated with APT41 – which Secureworks dubs “Bronze Atlas.”
Tying hacking campaigns to any specific country or entity is often fraught with uncertainty, but FireEye said it had assessed “with moderate confidence” that APT41 was composed of Chinese government contractors.
FireEye’s head of analysis, John Hultquist, said the surge was surprising because hacking activity attributed to China has generally become more focused.
“This broad action is a departure from that norm,” he said.

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Robots Rise to Battle Against Coronavirus

They are known as “Little White Snails,” self-driving street sweepers that for several years cleaned up parks and other public places across China. Kids liked them. Now the 4-foot-high sweepers are keeping humans safe. After the outbreak in China, over 200 Little White Snails were enlisted to fight the spread of the virus. They have been deployed to hospitals in China to clean and disinfect, said Mike Jellen, chief commercial officer, at Velodyne Lidar, the U.S. company that works with Idriverplus, the maker of the sweepers. “They’re spraying vast amounts of disinfectant,” said Jellen. An army of snailsBefore the coronavirus outbreak, Idriverplus was working to get autonomous vehicles into Chinese daily life. They saw the pint-sized sweepers and their delivery robots as an inroad to gaining acceptance in the society, said Shuhao Huo, a vice president at Idriverplus, at an event in California last year. “Because autonomous driving technology is a new technology, in this size, maybe people can accept it easier,” he said. The machines navigate using a combination of pre-programmed maps and real-time sensing including Lidar, which sends and receives light pulses to create a 3-D scan of the ever-changing surroundings.Protecting health care workersIdriverplus robots also deliver meals and medical supplies, reducing human interaction and the risk of exposure.Throughout the world, robots, easily disinfected and virus-free, are being prepared to take on some of the tasks of health care workers. Idriverplus is helping to develop a mobile robotic arm that can take throat cultures and check respiration. As the world fights the pandemic, the quest to save lives is increasingly bringing robots and humans in closer contact. 

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EU Commission Warns of Increased Cybercrime During Coronavirus Crisis 

The president of the European Commission is warning EU citizens to beware of on-line scams, particularly for counterfeit medical products and medicines during the coronavirus crisis. In a video message released Tuesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said with more people working from home and spending time online, they have become more susceptible to cyber criminals, particularly those exploiting fears about the virus. She says European law-enforcement agencies have seized 4.4 million units of illicit pharmaceuticals in recent weeks, seven organized crime groups were dismantled, and 121 arrests were made. Von der Leyen said that 2,500 fake links, websites and social media profiles have also been taken down. She urged citizens to double check all websites they visit are maintained by a trusted entity.  Von der Leyen said that if and when actual vaccines or other medicines are proven effective in treating the coronavirus, official government and public institutions will announce it.  

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