Apple to add ‘lockdown’ safeguard on iPhones, iPads, Macs

The lockdown measure is considered a last resort for people targeted by spyware, since activating lockdown will disable many popular features. (Shutterstock image)
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Updated 11 July 2022

Apple to add ‘lockdown’ safeguard on iPhones, iPads, Macs

  • Apple adds 'lockdown' features for iPhones, iPads and Mac computers intended to protect against spyware

CUPERTINO, California: Apple said it will roll out a “lockdown” option for iPhones, iPads and Mac computers intended to protect against spyware unleashed by state-sponsored hackers — although enabling that protection will also make these devices less useful.
The safeguard announced Wednesday is a tacit acknowledgement that not even Apple — the world’s most valuable company — has been able to adequately shield the iPhone and its other products against intrusions from state-backed hackers and commercial spyware. Governments have used these tools to violate the privacy of journalists, political dissidents and human rights activists.
The new feature, called “lockdown mode,” will initially be offered as a test version so that security researchers can help Apple identify any bugs or weaknesses. Apple usually releases its major updates to its device operating systems in late September.
While only a handful of countries appear to have the resources to develop in-house mobile phone hacking tools, private companies like Israel’s NSO Group have been selling phone hacking software to government agencies around the world for years.
The growing hacker-for-hire problem prompted Apple to file a federal lawsuit late last year against NSO Group for breaking into iPhones and other Apple products. In its complaint, Apple accused NSO Group employees of being “amoral 21st century mercenaries who have created highly sophisticated cyber-surveillance machinery that invites routine and flagrant abuse.”
NSO, which has been blacklisted by the US Commerce Department, has denied any wrongdoing and said its products have been used to thwart child abusers and terrorists.
Unlike the security features that Apple builds into most of its software, the company’s lockdown feature is meant to serve as an emergency button that Apple expects will only be needed by a small number of its users.
The lockdown measure is considered a last resort for people targeted by spyware, since activating lockdown will disable many popular features. That includes sending attachments and links in texts, as well as the ability to receive FaceTime calls from new numbers. Web browsing will also be limited.
But Apple believes the extra layer of protection will be valuable to activists, journalists and other targets of hacking attacks launched by well-funded groups. Users will be able to activate and deactivate lockdown mode at will.
The growing use of encrypted communications through phone apps like WhatsApp and Signal have prompted governments to turn to commercial spyware vendors to gather information on targets.
Such mobile phone spyware vacuums up text messages, emails and photos while secretly controlling a smartphone’s microphones and cameras. Some of the more advanced tools can infect a phone using so-called “zero click” exploits that don’t depend on the user inadvertently activating them, such as by clicking on a malicious link.
Google, whose Android mobile phone platform is used by iPhone competitors, has also been targeted by commercial spyware vendors. The company’s Threat Analysis Group says it’s tracking more than 30 such companies and routinely publishes reports on exploits used to hack into phones, making them far less effective.
Google also offers an “Advanced Protection Program” that uses a special security key hardware to make user accounts harder to hack. The company said it strongly recommends the program for “journalists, activists, business executives, and people involved in elections.”
Separately, Apple also provided more details about a $10 million grant it pledged last November to help counter large-scale hacking attacks. The money will go to the Dignity and Justice Fund, a philanthropic arm of the Ford Foundation.


Latvia revokes license of independent Russian TV channel

Updated 06 December 2022

Latvia revokes license of independent Russian TV channel

  • The decision by the Latvian National Electronic Mass Media Council was based on number of recent violations by TV Rain
  • The license was revoked on the grounds of a threat to national security and public order

TALLINN, Estonia: Latvia has revoked the license of an independent Russian TV channel exiled in the Baltic country for, among other things, voicing support for the Russian military and including Crimea in its map of Russia, media authorities said on Tuesday.
The decision by the Latvian National Electronic Mass Media Council was based on number of recent violations by TV Rain and the license was revoked on the grounds of a threat to national security and public order.
The region’s main news agency, Baltic News Service, said the decision will take effect on Thursday when not only TV Rain’s broadcasts but also its programs on YouTube will be blocked in Latvia.aTV Rain was earlier fined by the Latvian media watchdog for failing to ensure proper translation of its broadcasts into Latvian, the Baltic country’s only official language.
On Friday, Latvia’s state security service started a probe into statements made by TV Rain on suspicion that it was supporting Russia and its military currently waging a war in Ukraine.
Latvia’s decision was triggered by a TV Rain program in which the anchor invited Russian soldiers and their families watching it to share their stories with the channel and promised to offer help. The host offered an apology, saying he wasn’t promising material assistance to Russian troops on the front line in Ukraine, but the channel quickly fired him and apologized.
The incident came on top of earlier tensions with the Latvian authorities, who issued a reprimand over the channel depicting the Moscow-annexed Crimea as part of Russia on maps and referring to the Russian military as “our army.”
TV Rain owner Natalya Sindeyeva said in an interview that she hasn’t decided on the next steps yet. “I wasn’t prepared for that, I was sure they wouldn’t do that,” Sindeyeva told Meduza, an independent Russian news outlet also based in Latvia.
Since its creation in 2010, TV Rain has been the most visible independent TV station in Russia, criticizing the Kremlin’s policies, offering airtime to government critics and extensively covering opposition protests.
It has faced continuous official intimidation and pressure from the Russian authorities in the past. In August 2021, it was branded a “foreign agent,” a label that implied closer government scrutiny and carried a strong pejorative connotation that could discourage potential viewers.
TV Rain suspended operations in Russia earlier this year after authorities blocked its broadcasts allegedly due to the channel’s critical coverage of Russia’s war in Ukraine. The channel restarted broadcasting in the summer from Latvia’s capital, Riga, where several other independent Russian media outlets are based.
The Latvian media watchdog’s ruling can be appealed. Its chairman, Ivars Abolins, said that all media outlets working in Latvia should follow and respect Latvia’s legislation but TV Rain — known in Russia as “Dozhd” — has refused to do it.
“I believe that this decision demonstrates that Latvia is open also for the Russian media because all Russian media who respect the law are welcome and may work in Latvia,” said Abolins as quoted by the Baltic News Service. “Those who are not ready to follow the rules, cross the red lines, may not work here. The rules are fair.”


Facebook owner Meta may remove news from platform if US Congress passes media bill

Updated 06 December 2022

Facebook owner Meta may remove news from platform if US Congress passes media bill

WASHINGTON: Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc. on Monday threatened to remove news from its platform if the US Congress passes a proposal aimed at making it easier for news organizations to negotiate collectively with companies like Alphabet Inc’s Google and Facebook.
Sources briefed on the matter said lawmakers are considering adding the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act to a must-pass annual defense bill as way to help the struggling local news industry.
Meta spokesperson Andy Stone in a tweet said the company would be forced to consider removing news if the law was passed “rather than submit to government-mandated negotiations that unfairly disregard any value we provide to news outlets through increased traffic and subscriptions.”
He added the proposal fails to recognize that publishers and broadcasters put content on the platform because “it benefits their bottom line — not the other way around.”
The News Media Alliance, a trade group representing newspaper publishers, is urging Congress to add the bill to the defense bill, arguing that “local papers cannot afford to endure several more years of Big Tech’s use and abuse, and time to take action is dwindling. If Congress does not act soon, we risk allowing social media to become America’s de facto local newspaper.”
More than two dozen groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, Public Knowledge and the Computer & Communications Industry Association on Monday urged Congress not to approve the local news bill saying it would “create an ill-advised antitrust exemption for publishers and broadcasters” and argued the bill does not require “funds gained through negotiation or arbitration will even be paid to journalists.”
A similar Australian law, which took effect in March 2021 after talks with the big tech firms led to a brief shutdown of Facebook news feeds in the country, has largely worked, a government report said.
Since the News Media Bargaining Code took effect, various tech firms including Meta and Alphabet have signed more than 30 deals with media outlets, compensating them for content that generated clicks and advertising dollars, the report added.

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Apple and Amazon resume advertising on Twitter — reports

Updated 05 December 2022

Apple and Amazon resume advertising on Twitter — reports

Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc. are planning to resume advertising on Twitter, according to media reports on Saturday.
The developments follow an email sent by Twitter on Thursday to advertising agencies offering advertisers incentives to increase their spending on the platform, an effort to jump-start its business after Elon Musk’s takeover prompted many companies to pull back.
Twitter billed the offer as the “biggest advertiser incentive ever on Twitter,” according to the email reviewed by Reuters. US advertisers who book $500,000 in incremental spending will qualify to have their spending matched with a “100 percent value add,” up to a $1 million cap, the email said.
On Saturday, a Platformer News reporter tweeted that Amazon is planning to resume advertising on Twitter at about $100 million a year, pending some security tweaks to the company’s ads platform.
However, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters that Amazon had never stopped advertising on Twitter.
Separately, during a Twitter Spaces conversation, Musk announced that Apple is the largest advertiser on Twitter and has “fully resumed” advertising on the platform, according to a Bloomberg report.
Musk’s first month as Twitter’s owner has included a slashing of staff including employees who work on content moderation and incidents of spammers impersonating major public companies, which has spooked the advertising industry.
Many companies from General Mills Inc. to luxury automaker Audi of America stopped or paused advertising on Twitter since the acquisition, and Musk said in November that the company had seen a “massive” drop in revenue.
Apple and Twitter did not immediately respond to Reuters request for comment on the matter.

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Twitter suspends Kanye’s account again on violating rules

Updated 03 December 2022

Twitter suspends Kanye’s account again on violating rules

  • Twitter owner Elon Musk had welcomed the return of the rapper, now known as Ye, to the platform in October

DUBAI: Twitter Inc. on Friday suspended Kanye West’s account again, just two months after it was reinstated, after its owner Elon Musk said he had violated the platform’s rules prohibiting incitement to violence.
Musk, who calls himself a free speech absolutist, had welcomed the return of the rapper, now known as Ye, to the platform in October.
“I tried my best. Despite that, he again violated our rule against incitement to violence. Account will be suspended,” Musk tweeted late on Thursday.
West’s account was suspended within an hour of Musk’s post, made in a reply to a Twitter user who had said “Elon Fix Kanye Please.” Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Before suspending Ye’s account, which had over 30 million followers, Twitter had restricted one of his tweets. Reuters could not independently verify the contents of the post.
The social media platform restored the rapper’s account before the completion of its $44 billion takeover by Musk. Musk later clarified that he had had no role in bringing Ye back on Twitter.
Ye on Thursday tweeted a photo of Hollywood mogul Ari Emanuel spraying water at the back of Musk’s head with a hose. He captioned the picture “Let’s always remember this as my final tweet #ye24,” before the account was suspended.
Musk responded that Ye’s account was suspended for incitement to violence, and not for posting “an unflattering pic of me being hosed by Ari.”
In November, Twitter reinstated some controversial accounts that had been banned or suspended, including satirical website Babylon Bee and comedian Kathy Griffin.
Musk also decided to reinstate former US President Donald Trump’s account after a majority of Twitter users voted in favor in a poll to bring back Trump.

 

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Social app Parler says sale to Kanye West called off

Updated 02 December 2022

Social app Parler says sale to Kanye West called off

  • Owners said the decision was made “in the interest of both parties in mid-November.”

NEW YORK: Social network Parler announced Thursday that its planned sale to Kanye West has been called off, as the rapper-businessman now known as Ye continues to alienate fans and commercial partners with anti-Semitic comments.
“Parlement Technologies would like to confirm that the company has mutually agreed with Ye to terminate the intent of sale of Parler,” the network — seen as a home for online extremist rhetoric — said in a tweet.
It said the decision was made “in the interest of both parties in mid-November.”
Parler had announced a deal for West to buy the platform popular with conservatives in mid-October — just over a week after the rapper’s Twitter and Instagram accounts were restricted over anti-Semitic posts he made.
But the rapper, who has spoken openly about his struggles with mental illness, has seen his business relationships crumble in recent weeks as his erratic behavior and extreme speech continue to raise concerns.
In perhaps his most provocative outburst to date, West on Thursday declared his “love” of Nazis and admiration for Adolf Hitler during a rambling livestream with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
The 45-year-old’s restrictions on Twitter and Instagram last month were not the first time his posts prompted punitive action from major social media platforms.
Earlier this year, West was banned from posting on Instagram for 24 hours after violating the social network’s harassment policy amid his acrimonious divorce from reality star Kim Kardashian.
Launched in 2018, Parler became a haven for Donald Trump supporters and far-right users who say they have been censored on mainstream social media platforms. It has since signed up many more traditional Republican voices.
Parler was temporarily removed from Apple and Google app stores last year for failing to moderate calls for violence after the attack on the US Capitol by supporters of the former president.
It has since been allowed back in the both stores, ostensibly after improving its content moderation systems.