Google cyber-threat arm exposes Tehran’s online espionage

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Updated 16 October 2021

Google cyber-threat arm exposes Tehran’s online espionage

  • An Iranian-government aligned group has tried to steal personal information and passwords of notable individuals across Europe and the US through 2021
  • Iran set to continue on the same cyber-espionage path despite the exposure of their tactics, expert tells Arab News

Tech giant Google has exposed how Iranian-backed groups attempt to use its platforms to carry out espionage on behalf of the government in Tehran.

In a blog post released on Thursday, Google’s Threat Analysis Group exposed the work of APT35, a shady hacking group that Google said is linked to the Iranian government.

Ajax Bash, of TAG, said: “This is the one of the groups we disrupted during the 2020 US election cycle for its targeting of campaign staffers. For years, this group has hijacked accounts, deployed malware, and used novel techniques to conduct espionage aligned with the interests of the Iranian government.”

APT35 “regularly conducts phishing campaigns targeting high risk users,” Bash said.

In one instance, he said, Iranian hackers targeted lecturers from a British university — the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London — and impersonated them in an attempt to trick others in the academic community into divulging their personal information and passwords. This form of cyber espionage is called credential phishing.

“APT35 has relied on this technique since 2017 — targeting high-value accounts in government, academia, journalism, NGOs, foreign policy, and national security,” said Bash.

“Credential phishing through a compromised website demonstrates these attackers will go to great lengths to appear legitimate — as they know it’s difficult for users to detect this kind of attack.

“One of the most notable characteristics of APT35 is their impersonation of conference officials to conduct phishing attacks,” said Bash. He explained that Iranian-backed operatives impersonated officials from the Munich Security Conference and an Italian think-tank to steal passwords and information.

Amin Sabeti, the founder of Digital Impact Lab and an Iran-focused cyber security professional, told Arab News that Google’s blog exposes how Iran continues to build on its national cyber security strategy.

“This report shows again that Iranian state-backed hackers are very good in social engineering and they have improved their technique,” he said.

“For example, using a legitimate website to convince the target to enter the credential details of their online account is something new that we didn’t see a few years ago.”

Sabeti also said that, despite Google unmasking Iran’s cyber-espionage activity, it is unlikely that they will change their strategy entirely.

“I think we will see the same techniques but with new ideas.”

Google’s Bash said: “We warn users when we suspect a government-backed threat like APT35 is targeting them. Thousands of these warnings are sent every month, even in cases where the corresponding attack is blocked.  

“Threat Analysis Group will continue to identify bad actors and share relevant information with others in the industry, with the goal of bringing awareness to these issues, protecting you and fighting bad actors to prevent future attacks.”


Credential phishing

It is a form of cyber attack in which hackers impersonate a reputable entity or person to steal user ID or email addresses and password combinations, then use the victim's credentials to carry out attacks on other targets.

Saudi’s Alamiya to acquire Lyra Pictures in cinema industry push

Updated 02 October 2023

Saudi’s Alamiya to acquire Lyra Pictures in cinema industry push

  • ‘Transformative’ deal goes beyond business, Alamiya CEO says
  • Acquisition represents a return to the film industry for Alamiya after 40 years

LONDON: Alamiya has announced the acquisition of Lyra Pictures in the latest expansion into the cinema and media industry by the Saudi entertainment company.

The newly formed partnership, which has been labeled as “transformative,” marks a significant step toward the development of film production in the region.

Sultan Al-Muheisen, chairman and CEO of Alamiya, said that the acquisition was more than just a business deal as it allowed Alamiya to combine its resources and long-standing expertise with Lyra Pictures’ innovative film development strategies.

“It is about setting a precedent in the regional and local film industry,” Al-Muheisen said.

“With Lyra Pictures under our wing, we combine traditional and modern film approaches to create something new and different.”

As part of the deal, Alamiya will seek to implement Lyra Pictures’s expertise in storytelling and data-driven insights “to deliver unprecedented cinematic experiences to audiences.”

Founded in the 1970’s, Alamiya was the first cinema and television studio to be established in the Kingdom to meet the needs of the growing population and economy.

Following a change of business direction due to the ban on cinema, the acquisition of Lyra Pictures by the iconic entertainment giant reflects Saudi Arabia’s growing entertainment industry.

The strategic acquisition indicates a desire by Alamiya to reestablish itself in the film industry and signifies not only a merger of businesses, but also a combination of expertise and vision.

The move is set to give rise to a film studio located in the heart of the Kingdom, supporting the attraction of local talent and IP, while also facilitating opportunities for international films to be produced in Saudi Arabia.

“Alamiya’s scale and reach, paired with our story-first approach, will create a synergy that promises to introduce innovative strategies to storytelling in the Middle East,” Wesam Kattan, co-founder of Lyra Pictures said.

“We’re excited about what the future holds.”

Arabsat launches new platform for global content delivery

Updated 02 October 2023

Arabsat launches new platform for global content delivery

  • ‘Contribution Platform’ will make it easier for TV channels to share content globally
  • Arabsat also partnered with TVU Networks and Zixi to improve content distribution

LONDON: Arab Satellite Communications Organization, or Arabsat, has launched a new platform to make it easier for TV channels to share their content with people all over the world.

The platform, called the Contribution Platform, is compatible with all video formats and networks, meaning that TV channels and groups of channels can use it to broadcast from their studios to anywhere in the world.

In a statement, the Riyadh-based satellite services provider said the newly launched platform is poised to “revolutionize the broadcasting landscape” thanks to its greater compatibility, which enables “stakeholders to overcome traditional barriers and bring their content to global audiences seamlessly.”

Al-Hamedi Al-Anezi, CEO of Arabsat, said: “The launch of the new service is in line with our steadfast commitment to delivering cutting-edge technology to our customers.”

Arabsat also announced two new partnerships with American cloud-based workflow solutions provider TVU Networks, and Zixi, a company that focuses on live broadcast-quality video delivery over IP networks.

These partnerships will help Arabsat to provide its customers with a “seamless and high-quality content distribution experience.”

Al-Anezi added: “Our partnerships with TVU Networks and Zixi will enable us to utilize their cutting-edge solutions to improve the features of our platform.”

Netflix set to release new collection of Saudi short films

Updated 02 October 2023

Netflix set to release new collection of Saudi short films

  • Offering includes productions shown at Red Sea International Film Festival

RIYADH: Netflix’s second volume of its “New Saudi Voices” film collection will be released on Friday.

The collection comprises 14 short films that featured at the Red Sea International Film Festival, including the winners of the 48-hour Filmmaking Challenge.

These include the dramas “Old Phone Number” by Ali Saeed and “Zabarjad” by Hussain Almutliq, which explore the themes of character growth while clinging to one’s past.

“Last Chance to Fall in Love” by award-winning writer Faisal Buhaishi follows the story of an old man reuniting with his first love after 50 years.

Movies from the fantasy genre include “A Swing” by Raneem and Dana Almohandes, which follows a 10-year-old girl’s journey through the woods to find a magical swing her father used to tell her about.

“Lucky You’re Mine” by Nora Abu Shusha reveals the unspoken challenges of married life, while “Tea Leaf” by Mohammed Baqer looks at the pain and regret that come with failed relationships.

Other films in the collection include “Requiem for Silence” by Majed Z. Samman, “Forward” by Fahad Alotaibi and “Othman” by Khaled Zeidan.

“The second volume is not just a collection of short films, it is a celebration of untold stories and a testament to the creative prowess of the emerging filmmakers,” said Nuha El-Tayeb, Netflix’s content director for Turkey, the Middle East and Africa.

The films “transcend borders and allow viewers to experience the beauty and dynamism of Saudi culture. We believe great stories can come from anywhere and be loved by anyone,” she said.

Apple says it will fix software problems blamed for making iPhone 15 models too hot to handle

Updated 01 October 2023

Apple says it will fix software problems blamed for making iPhone 15 models too hot to handle

  • Says it is working on an update to the iOS17 system that powers the iPhone 15 lineup to prevent the devices from becoming uncomfortably hot
  • Dismisses speculation that the overheating problem might be tied to a shift from its Lightning charging cable to the more widely used USB-C port

Apple is blaming a software bug and other issues tied to popular apps such as Instagram and Uber for causing its recently released iPhone 15 models to heat up and spark complaints about becoming too hot to handle.

The Cupertino, California, company said Saturday that it is working on an update to the iOS17 system that powers the iPhone 15 lineup to prevent the devices from becoming uncomfortably hot and is working with apps that are running in ways “causing them to overload the system.”
Instagram, owned by Meta Platforms, modified its social media app earlier this week to prevent it from heating up the device on the latest iPhone operating system.
Uber and other apps such as the video game Asphalt 9 are still in the process of rolling out their updates, Apple said. It didn’t specify a timeline for when its own software fix would be issued but said no safety issues should prevent iPhone 15 owners from using their devices while awaiting the update.
“We have identified a few conditions which can cause iPhone to run warmer than expected,” Apple in a short statement provided to The Associated Press after media reports detailed overheating complaints that are peppering online message boards.
The Wall Street Journal amplified the worries in a story citing the overheating problem in its own testing of the new iPhones, which went on sale a week ago.
It’s not unusual for new iPhones to get uncomfortably warm during the first few days of use or when they are being restored with backup information stored in the cloud — issues that Apple already flags for users. The devices also can get hot when using apps such as video games and augmented reality technology that require a lot of processing power, but the heating issues with the iPhone 15 models have gone beyond those typical situations.
In its acknowledgement, Apple stressed that the trouble isn’t related to the sleek titanium casing that houses the high-end iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max instead of the stainless steel used on older smartphones.
Apple also dismissed speculation that the overheating problem in the new models might be tied to a shift from its proprietary Lightning charging cable to the more widely used USB-C port that allowed it to comply with a mandate issued by European regulators.
Although Apple expressed confidence that the overheating issue can be quickly fixed with the upcoming software updates, the problem still could dampen sales of its marquee product at time when the company has faced three consecutive quarters of year-over-year declines in overall sales.
The downturn has affected iPhone sales, which fell by a combined 4 percent in the nine months covered by Apple’s past three fiscal quarters compared with a year earlier.
Apple is trying to pump up its sales in part by raising the starting price for its top-of-the-line iPhone 15 Pro Max to $1,200, an increase of $100, or 9 percent, from last year’s comparable model.
Investor worries about Apple’s uncharacteristic sales funk already have wiped out more than $300 billion in shareholder wealth since the company’s market value closed at $3 trillion for the first time in late June.

French-Lebanese author Amin Maalouf appointed head of Académie Française language watchdog

Updated 29 September 2023

French-Lebanese author Amin Maalouf appointed head of Académie Française language watchdog

  • Maalouf becomes the 33rd person to occupy the prestigious post of “perpetual secretary”

PARIS: “The Immortals” have spoken: the 388-year-old Academie Francaise, custodian and promoter of the French language, has a new leader in the form of author Amin Maalouf.
The French-Lebanese writer, 74, becomes only the 33rd person to occupy the post of “perpetual secretary” since the body’s founding under King Louis XIII in 1635.
He takes over from Helene Carrere d’Encausse, who died last month having held the post since 1999.
She did not designate a clear successor but Maalouf, who won France’s most prestigious literary prize, the Prix Goncourt, in 1993 for “The Rock of Tanios,” was considered the obvious choice due to his highly active engagement in the institution since being elected in 2011.
There was one other candidate, his close friend Jean-Christophe Rufin, though he only threw his hat in the ring at the last minute, fearing there was not enough of a democratic process, joking to one magazine this weekend that it was “like North Korea.”
The academy is charged with setting the rules of the language to ensure it remains “pure, eloquent and capable of dealing with the arts and sciences.”
Lately, it most often gains notice as the bulwark against the entry of English words into French usage.
Last year it railed against the common practice of using English-sounding terms in French ads and branding — such as train operator SNCF’s low-cost “Ouigo” (pronounced “we go“) service — or simple imports from English like “big data” and “drive-in.”
It became more assertive under Carrere d’Encausse, even threatening legal action against the government for including English translations on national identity cards.
There are currently 35 members of the Academy — known as “Immortals” in reference to their motto “A l’immortalite” (“To immortality“).
Past members include such luminaries as Montesquieu, Voltaire and Victor Hugo.
One of Maalouf’s priorities will be to complete its ninth dictionary, which the academy has been working on since 1986, and is reportedly close to completion.
After centuries of opposition, it agreed in 2019 to allow feminine versions of certain professions, including railway worker, member of parliament and doctor.
The first female member of the Academie, Marguerite Yourcenar, was only admitted in 1980 and there are currently six.
Novelist and essayist Maalouf started his career as a journalist, working as a foreign correspondent.
As well as “The Rock of Tanios,” his novels include “Leo Africanus” and “Samarkand.” Among his best known non-fiction is “The Crusades Through Arab Eyes.”