#Cyber Risk

German domestic spy agency hits out at Silicon Valley

Reuters Staff

 

BERLIN (Reuters) - The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency accused U.S. tech giants like Facebook (FB.O) on Monday of failing to take enough responsibility for content on their sites, undermining democracy by not distinguishing between fact and opinion.

 

The Facebook application is seen on a phone screen August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas White

“Today we are discovering a ‘fifth estate’ that makes claims but up until now does not want to take any social responsibility,” Hans-Georg Maassen told a conference on cybersecurity organized by Germany’s Handelsblatt daily.

“These are huge digital companies that only see themselves as conveyors of information and hide behind the legal privileges enjoyed by platforms because they do not want to take over editorial verification of their content.”

Germany has been a leading proponent of stricter regulation of social media networks, passing a law in June to introduce fines of up to 50 million euros ($59.67 million) if they fail to remove hateful postings promptly.

Facebook has responded to tighter regulation in Germany and elsewhere by announcing plans to add thousands of extra workers to monitor reports of inappropriate material and review ads.

Maassen said it was significant that Facebook had admitted that millions of users had seen politically divisive ads on the site that it said were purchased in Russia before and after last year’s U.S. presidential election.

“Democratic pluralism loses its foundations if it is no longer based on facts and reality is reduced to opinions,” he said.

Maassen said he was pleased that there had been no major hacking or suspicious news leaks ahead of Germany’s election in September despite months of warnings, but he added that was partly due to his agency’s work and not a cause for complacency.

Facebook has said it took steps ahead of the German election to ensure the social media network was not used as a platform to manipulate public opinion, including taking down tens of thousands of fake accounts.

Reporting by Emma Thomasson and Sabine Siebold; Editing by Peter Graff

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

#Technology News

November 27, 2017 / 12:20 AM / Updated 14 hours ago

Google seeks to defuse row with Russia over website rankings

Reuters Staff

2 Min Read

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Google does not change its search algorithm to re-rank individual websites, it said in a letter to Russia’s communications watchdog, after Moscow expressed concerns the search engine might discriminate against Russian media.

 

The Google logo is pictured atop an office building in Irvine, California, U.S. August 7, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

The Roskomnadzor watchdog said earlier this month it would seek clarification from Alphabet Inc’s Google over whether it intentionally placed articles from Russian news websites Sputnik and Russia Today lower in search results.

Responding to a question about Sputnik articles at a conference earlier in November, Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said Google was working to give less prominence to “those kinds of websites” as opposed to delisting them.

That prompted complaints from Russian authorities, with Roskomnadzor saying last week it would take action against Google if it discriminated against Russian media.

“We’d like to inform you that by speaking about ranking of web-sources, including the websites of Russia Today and Sputnik, Dr. Eric Schmidt was referring to Google’s ongoing efforts to improve search quality,” Google said in a letter posted on Roskomnadzor’s website.

“We don’t change our algorithm to re-rank,” it added.

A Google spokeswoman confirmed the letter had been sent by the company but provided no further comment.

The Russian government funds Sputnik and Russia Today.

U.S. intelligence agencies have said both websites spread misinformation and published stories that were negative towards Hillary Clinton during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Maria Tsvetkova and Jack Stubbs; Editing by Mark Potter

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#Sponsored Content

October 31, 2017 / 5:44 AM / 24 days ago

Tech Startups Learn to Soar in Buenos Aires

Reuters Staff

8 Min Read

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Buenos Aires, the riverside metropolis where the tango is danced and the passion for soccer overflows on the weekends, is also gaining global recognition as a launch pad for high-tech companies.

The Argentinian capital of 3 million has been dubbed Latin America’s Silicon Valley, a place where many promising startups are born and where some have transformed into successful “unicorns”— companies whose valuation exceeds $1 billion.

One such unicorn is Globant, a software and data services provider based in La Plata, just south of Buenos Aires. With just $5,000 and a borrowed office, co-founder Martin Migoya and three partners opened for business in 2003 when Argentina was just emerging from a severe financial crisis. Fourteen years later, Globant has grown into a truly global giant with offices in 17 countries and total annual revenues of $400 million.

Migoya says Globant’s digital transformation business has helped its clients, which include Google, Coca Cola, banks and major airlines, attract millions of customers. “We give equal importance to engineering, design and innovation, everything is part of the same culture, exactly the same as it happens in successful companies of Silicon Valley,” he explains.

From his office overlooking the Rio de la Plata, Migoya says he and his partners chose the Buenos Aires area because the city is vibrant, cosmopolitan and has the best tech talent pool.

Buenos Aires’ skill as a tech incubator appears unmatched in the region: four out of 10 companies considered unicorns in Latin America are centered in or near the city. Besides Globant, there are e-commerce sites MercadoLibre and OLX, and virtual travel agency Despegar.com. About 150,000 people now work at entrepreneurial companies throughout the city, according to the Government of Buenos Aires.

Ariel Arrieta is one of five founders of Buenos Aires’ NXTP Labs, an early-stage tech investment fund with an acceleration program and investments in more than 174 companies in 15 countries. Arrieta is confident that Buenos Aires will continue to incubate major technology companies. “Three characteristics create the ideal environment for the creative force to be transformed into a company: the talent and the good level of education together with the Argentine capacity of [overcoming] the crises we have endured,” he says.

If one were to enter "startups,""creativity" or "innovation" into Google Maps, the app would show two areas in Buenos Aires. One is the riverfront Palermo neighborhood. The other, Parque Patricios, is to the south. In that former factory area stands the Metropolitan Design Center, a cradle for design and social-media based startups, and the Technology District, where 250 companies have already settled in.

One of the biggest co-working spaces in Latin America is Areatres, in Palermo’s El Salvador street, which has 15,000 square feet of space. Martin Frankel, its U.S.-born founder, explains that ”Buenos Aires is the tech capital of the region because there is a born entrepreneurial energy that did not come with the entrepreneurial tendency of the last years, it is part of the Argentine DNA.”

He’s not the only American attracted by this city’s entrepreneurial energy. Lisa Besserman quit her job in New York five years ago and invested her savings in founding Startup Buenos Aires (SUBA), a company where entrepreneurs find tools, resources and networking to expand their businesses globally. "When I arrived I could see the potential to become the startup pole it is today," says Besserman.

Both Besserman and Arrieta see finance, technology services, content, entertainment and agriculture as the most likely to produce the next big unicorns.

One innovative technology startups was created by 22-year-old Gino Tubaro, who was 16 when he built a 3D printer and became the protagonist of a story that changed the lives of hundreds of people. Tubaro posted information on his project to Facebook, which was shared with a mother whose 11-year-old son was born without fingers. She contacted Tubaro in 2014.  “She asked me to make a hand for her son,” says Tubaro. “I did it and it worked.”

Orders poured in, and in 2015, Tubaro created Atomic Lab, a startup in Parque Patricios. Seven people, all under the age of 25, now work there to coordinate a cross-border volunteer phenomenon. Together with 7,000 volunteers from 30 countries, and supported by donations through his website, atomiclab.org, they manufacture hands and mechanical arms that are delivered anywhere in the world free of charge.

While a standard orthopedic hand costs about $27,500 and takes six months of work, an Atomic Lab mechanical hand cost of less than $25 to make and is finished in minutes. The firm has already delivered 600 units, and is working on 3,000 more orders.

“They ask me why it happened in Buenos Aires and not somewhere else if the technology is available. The difference here is that the needs of some people are combined with the desire of some others to solve them,” says Tubaro.

"The new entrepreneurs of Buenos Aires have a more comprehensive vision that we had when we started," says Globant’s Migoya. "They use money as fuel. Their mission is to impact on their communities and this is connected to the idea that entrepreneurship is transformative for a city or a country. Every kid out there is a powerful resource to create value."

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#Cyber Risk

November 27, 2017 / 9:31 AM / Updated 34 minutes ago

Siemens, Trimble, Moody's breached by Chinese hackers, U.S. charges

Nick Keppler, Karen Freifeld, John Walcott

5 Min Read

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PITTSBURGH, Pa./NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors have charged three Chinese nationals affiliated with a cyber security company in China with hacking into Siemens AG, Trimble Inc and Moody’s Analytics to steal business secrets.

An indictment unsealed on Monday in federal court in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, charged the three with launching “coordinated and unauthorized” cyber attacks between 2011 and 2017.

The defendants were identified as Wu Yingzhuo, Dong Hao and Xia Lei. The indictment said they were owners, employees and associates of Guangzhou Bo Yu Information Technology Company Ltd, a firm located in Guangzhou, in southern China, that offers cyber security services.

Two U.S. government officials told Reuters that Guangzhou Bo Yu, also known as Boyusec, is affiliated with China’s People’s Liberation Army Unit 61398, and that most if not all its hacking operations are state-sponsored and directed.

U.S. prosecutors in Pittsburgh in May 2014 indicted five officers from the secretive unit 61398 with hacking into U.S. nuclear, metal and solar firms to steal trade secrets. The indictments prompted warnings from Beijing that it would retaliate if Washington followed through with the charges.

The acting U.S. attorney for Western Pennsylvania, Soo C. Song, said arrest warrants had been issued for the three men, but the case was not being prosecuted as state-sponsored hacking.

“It is not an element or subject of this indictment that there is state sponsorship,” Song said. However, the Justice Department’s National Security Division participated in the case, according to the indictment.

The hackers monitored email correspondence of an unidentified Moody’s economist; stole data from transportation, technology and energy units at Siemens; and targeted Trimble as it developed a new and more precise global navigation satellite system, the indictment said.

Siemens, based in Munich, Germany, is a technology company with interests in electrification, automation and digitalization. Trimble, based in Sunnyvale, California, provides technology for a range of industries.

Moody’s Analytics, part of New York-based Moody’s Corp, provides products and services for financial analysis and risk management.

VALUABLE INTELLIGENCE

 

FILE PHOTO: The headquarters of Siemens AG is seen before the company's annual news conference in Munich, Germany, November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Michael Dalder/File Photo

Trimble’s advances in geolocation and Siemens’ work in guidance and navigation are of interest to the Chinese for internal security and military purposes, as well as commercial, ones, according to one of the officials, who declined to be named because some details of the case remain classified.

“Gleaning precise locations from mobile phones and other devices is valuable to the Ministry of State Security for monitoring dissidents as well as foreigners,” the official said. “Overseas, it can be valuable to keep track of where your own people are going, as well as keeping track of foreigners’ movements, whether they’re government or commercial.”

The official said that data collected by Moody’s could be used to help identify businesses and people that might be vulnerable to commercial or government exploitation, blackmail or bribery.

Representatives for the three defendants and the Chinese company could not immediately be identified to seek comment on the charges.

 

FILE PHOTO - Siemens AG logo is seen during official opening of headquarters in Munich, Germany, June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

The indictment was filed in September, and the Chinese government has been aware of it, prosecutors said.

In 2015, then-U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping reached an agreement prohibiting both countries from stealing intellectual property for the benefit of domestic firms. The U.S. officials said classified intelligence indicates that Chinese hackers recently have begun violating the deal more frequently.

The hacking group described in the indictment has been active since 2007, said Adam Meyers, a researcher with cyber firm CrowdStrike.

The group, known to some cyber researchers as “Gothic Panda,” was active as of September, Meyers said. It has targeted aerospace and defense, chemical, energy, financial, healthcare, industrial and transportation firms in Britain, France, Hong Kong, the United States and other western nations, he said.

Trimble said no client data was breached in the hack.

“Trimble responded to the incident and concluded that there is no meaningful impact on its business,” the company said in a statement.

A Siemens representative declined comment on the details of the hack, saying the company does not discuss “internal security matters.”

A Moody’s spokesman said the firm worked closely with investigators, and “to our knowledge, no confidential customer data or other personal employee information was compromised.”

Reporting Nick Keppler in Pittsburgh and Karen Freifeld in New York; Additional reporting by David Alexander in Washington, Georgina Prodhan in London; Writing by Jim Finkle in Toronto; editing by Grant McCool

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

#Technology News

November 27, 2017 / 8:05 AM / Updated 9 hours ago

Facebook to expand artificial intelligence to help prevent suicide

David Ingram

3 Min Read

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Facebook Inc will expand its pattern recognition software to other countries after successful tests in the U.S. to detect users with suicidal intent, the world’s largest social media network said on Monday.

 

FILE PHOTO: A 3D plastic representation of the Facebook logo is seen in this photo illustration May 13, 2015. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

Facebook began testing the software in the United States in March, when the company started scanning the text of Facebook posts and comments for phrases that could be signals of an impending suicide. [nL3N1GE48W]

Facebook has not disclosed many technical details of the program, but the company said its software searches for certain phrases that could be clues, such as the questions “Are you ok?” and “Can I help?”

If the software detects a potential suicide, it alerts a team of Facebook workers who specialize in handling such reports. The system suggests resources to the user or to friends of the person such as a telephone help line. Facebook workers sometimes call local authorities to intervene.

Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president for product management, said the company was beginning to roll out the software outside the United States because the tests have been successful. During the past month, he said, first responders checked on people more than 100 times after Facebook software detected suicidal intent.

Facebook said it tries to have specialist employees available at any hour to call authorities in local languages.

“Speed really matters. We have to get help to people in real time,” Rosen said.

Last year, when Facebook launched live video broadcasting, videos proliferated of violent acts including suicides and murders, presenting a threat to the company’s image. In May Facebook said it would hire 3,000 more people to monitor videos and other content. [nL1N1I50V2]

Rosen did not name the countries where Facebook was deploying the software, but he said it would eventually be used worldwide except in the European Union due to sensitivities, which he declined to discuss.

Other tech firms also try to prevent suicides. Google’s search engine displays the phone number for a suicide hot line in response to certain searches.

Facebook knows lots about its 2.1 billion users - data that it uses for targeted advertising - but in general the company has not been known previously to systematically scan conversations for patterns of harmful behavior.

One exception is its efforts to spot suspicious conversations between children and adult sexual predators. Facebook sometimes contacts authorities when its automated screens pick up inappropriate language.

But it may be more difficult for tech firms to justify scanning conversations in other situations, said Ryan Calo, a University of Washington law professor who writes about tech.

“Once you open the door, you might wonder what other kinds of things we would be looking for,” Calo said.

Rosen declined to say if Facebook was considering pattern recognition software in other areas, such as non-sex crimes.

Reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Susan Thomas

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