Russia Secretly Helped Venezuela Launch a Cryptocurrency To Evade US Sanctions ( 58

According to an exclusive report by Time, Russia helped Venezuelan officials create the world's first state-backed cryptocurrency to skirt U.S. sanctions. The cryptocurrency was launched in late February and was banned by the Trump administration earlier this week. From the report: The new cryptocurrency, a form of digital cash that is supposedly linked to the value of Venezuela's oil reserves, was launched on Feb. 20 during a ceremony in the presidential palace in Caracas. Nicolas Maduro, the socialist leader of Venezuela, declared that it would serve as a kind of "kryptonite" against the power of the U.S government, which he sarcastically referred to as "Superman." Sitting in the front row at that ceremony were two of Maduro's Russian advisers, Denis Druzhkov and Fyodor Bogorodsky, whom the President thanked for aiding his fight against American "imperialism." Both men have ties to major Russian banks and billionaires close to the Kremlin. But they were not the most senior Russians involved. According to an executive at a Russian state bank who deals with cryptocurrencies, senior advisers to the Kremlin have overseen the effort in Venezuela, and President Vladimir Putin signed off on it last year. "People close to Putin, they told him this is how to avoid the sanctions," says the executive, who spoke to TIME on condition of anonymity. "This is how the whole thing started."

AT&T Suffers Another Blow In Court Over Throttling of 'Unlimited' Data ( 32

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A federal judge has revived a lawsuit that angry customers filed against AT&T over the company's throttling of unlimited mobile data plans. The decision comes two years after the same judge decided that customers could only have their complaints heard individually in arbitration instead of in a class-action lawsuit. The 2016 ruling in AT&T's favor was affirmed by a federal appeals court. But the customers subsequently filed a motion to reconsider the arbitration decision, saying that an April 2017 decision by the California Supreme Court "constitutes a change in law occurring after the Courts arbitration order," Judge Edward Chen of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California said in the new ruling issued last week. The state Supreme Court "held that an arbitration agreement that waives the right to seek the statutory remedy of public injunctive relief in any forum is contrary to California public policy and therefore unenforceable," Chen wrote.

AT&T argued that the court shouldn't consider the new argument, saying that plaintiffs raised it too late. The plaintiffs could have made the same argument before the April 2017 Supreme Court ruling, since the ruling was based on California laws that "were enacted decades ago," according to AT&T. Chen was not persuaded, noting that "there had been no favorable court rulings" the plaintiffs could have cited earlier in the case. "The Court also finds that Plaintiffs acted with reasonable diligence once there was a ruling favorable to them," Chen wrote. As a result, the plaintiffs can now proceed with their case in U.S. District Court against AT&T. However, AT&T will appeal Chen's latest decision, presumably in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.


Senate Passes Controversial Online Sex Trafficking Bill ( 131

The Senate today gave final approval to a bill aimed at cracking down on online sex trafficking, sending the measure to the White House where President Trump is expected to sign it into law. From a report: The legislation, called the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), but also referred to as SESTA, would cut into the broad protections websites have from legal liability for content posted by their users. Those protections are codified in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act from 1996, a law that many internet companies see as vital to protecting their platforms and that SESTA would amend to create an exception for sex trafficking.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the most outspoken critic of SESTA and one of the authors of the 1996 law, said that making exceptions to Section 230 will lead to small internet companies having to face an onslaught of frivolous lawsuits.
EFF expressed its disappointment, saying, "Today is a dark day for the Internet. Congress just passed the Internet censorship bill SESTA/FOSTA. SESTA/FOSTA will silence online speech by forcing Internet platforms to censor their users. As lobbyists and members of Congress applaud themselves for enacting a law ostensibly tackling the problem of trafficking, let's be clear: Congress just made trafficking victims less safe, not more. Sex trafficking experts have tried again and again to explain to Congress how SESTA/FOSTA will put trafficking victims in danger. Sex workers have spoken out too, explaining how online platforms have literally saved their lives. Why didn't Congress consult with the people their bill would most directly affect? [...] When platforms choose to err on the side of censorship, marginalized voices are censored disproportionately. SESTA/FOSTA will make the Internet a less inclusive place, something that hurts all of us. This might just be the beginning. Some of these groups behind SESTA / FOSTA seem to see the bill as a mere stepping stone to banning pornography from the Internet."

Mozilla Launches a Petition Asking Facebook To Do More For User Privacy ( 49

An anonymous reader shares a report: After it was revealed that the personal data of 50 million Facebook users was shared without consent, Mozilla is calling on the social network to ensure that user privacy is protected by default, particularly when it comes to apps.

Ashley Boyd, Mozilla's vice president of advocacy, says that billions of Facebook users are unknowingly at risk of having their data passed on to third parties. He says: "If you play games, read news or take quizzes on Facebook, chances are you are doing those activities through third-party apps and not through Facebook itself. The default permissions that Facebook gives to those third parties currently include data from your education and work, current city and posts on your timeline."


Kaspersky Lab Plans Swiss Data Center To Combat Spying Allegations, Report Says ( 45

An anonymous reader shares a report: Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab plans to open a data center in Switzerland to address Western government concerns that Russia exploits its anti-virus software to spy on customers, according to internal documents seen by Reuters. Kaspersky is setting up the center in response to actions in the United States, Britain and Lithuania last year to stop using the company's products, according to the documents, which were confirmed by a person with direct knowledge of the matter. The action is the latest effort by Kaspersky, a global leader in anti-virus software, to parry accusations by the U.S. government and others that the company spies on customers at the behest of Russian intelligence.

WhatsApp Co-Founder Tells Everyone To Delete Facebook, Further Fueling the #DeleteFacebook Movement ( 278

"In 2014, Facebook bought WhatsApp for $16 billion, making its co-founders -- Jan Koum and Brian Acton -- very wealthy men," reports The Verge. "Koum continues to lead the company, but Acton quit earlier this year to start his own foundation." Today, Acton told his followers on Twitter to delete Facebook. From the report: "It is time," Acton wrote, adding the hashtag #deletefacebook. Acton, who is worth $6.5 billion, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Nor did Facebook and WhatsApp. It was unclear whether Acton's feelings about Facebook extend to his own app. But last month, Acton invested $50 million into Signal, an independent alternative to WhatsApp. The tweet came after a bruising five-day period for Facebook that has seen regulators swarm and its stock price plunge following concerns over data privacy in the wake of revelations about Cambridge Analytica's misuse of user data. Acton isn't the only one taking to Twitter to announce their breakup with Facebook. The #DeleteFacebook movement is gaining steam following the New York Times' report about how the data of 50 million users had been unknowingly leaked and purchased to aid President Trump's successful 2016 bid for the presidency. For many users, the news "highlighted the danger of Facebook housing the personal information of billions of users," reports SFGate. "And even before the Cambridge Analytica news, Facebook has been grappling with its waning popularity in the U.S. The company lost 1 million domestic users last quarter -- its first quarterly drop in daily users."

Telegram Loses Supreme Court Appeal In Russia, Must Hand Over Encryption Keys ( 212

Telegram has lost a bid before Russia's Supreme Court to block security services from getting access to users' data, giving President Vladimir Putin a victory in his effort to keep tabs on electronic communications. Bloomberg reports: Supreme Court Judge Alla Nazarova on Tuesday rejected Telegram's appeal against the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB spy agency which last year asked the company to share its encryption keys. Telegram declined to comply and was hit with a fine of $14,000. Communications regulator Roskomnadzor said Telegram now has 15 days to provide the encryption keys. Telegram, which is in the middle of an initial coin offering of as much as $2.55 billion, plans to appeal the ruling in a process that may last into the summer, according to the company's lawyer, Ramil Akhmetgaliev. Any decision to block the service would require a separate court ruling, the lawyer said.

Putin signed laws in 2016 on fighting terrorism, which included a requirement for messaging services to provide the authorities with means to decrypt user correspondence. Telegram challenged an auxiliary order by the Federal Security Service, claiming that the procedure doesn't involve a court order and breaches constitutional rights for privacy, according to documents. The security agency, known as the FSB, argued in court that obtaining the encryption keys doesn't violate users' privacy because the keys by themselves aren't considered information of restricted access. Collecting data on particular suspects using the encryption would still require a court order, the agency said.


Orbitz Says Legacy Travel Site Likely Hacked, Affecting 880,000 Credit Cards ( 29

hyperclocker shares a report from U.S. News & World Report: Orbitz says a legacy travel booking platform may have been hacked, possibly exposing the personal information of people that made certain purchases between January 1, 2016 and December 22, 2017. Orbitz said Tuesday about 880,000 payment cards were impacted. Data that was likely exposed includes name, payment card information, date of birth, phone number, email address, physical and/or billing address and gender. The company said evidence suggests an attacker may have accessed information stored on the platform -- which was for both consumers and business partners -- between Oct. 1, 2017 and Dec. 22, 2017. "Orbitz said it worked with a forensic investigation firm, cybersecurity experts, and law enforcement once the breach was discovered in order to 'eliminate and prevent unauthorized access to the platform,'" reports The Verge. "The company also notes that its current site,, wasn't affected. It is notifying customers who may have been impacted and is offering a year of free credit monitoring."

The NSA Worked To 'Track Down' Bitcoin Users, Snowden Documents Reveal ( 60

An anonymous reader shares a report: Classified documents provided by the whistleblower Edward Snowden show the National Security Agency worked urgently to target Bitcoin users around the world -- and wielded at least one mysterious source of information to "help track down senders and receivers of Bitcoins," according to a top-secret passage in an internal NSA report dating to March 2013. The data source appears to have leveraged NSA's ability to harvest and analyze raw, global internet traffic while also exploiting an unnamed software program that purported to offer anonymity to users, according to other documents.

Although the agency was interested in surveilling some competing cryptocurrencies, "Bitcoin is #1 priority," a March 15, 2013 internal NSA report stated. The documents indicate that "tracking down" Bitcoin users went well beyond closely examining Bitcoin's public transaction ledger, known as the Blockchain, where users are typically referred to through anonymous identifiers; the tracking may also have involved gathering intimate details of these users' computers. The NSA collected some Bitcoin users' password information, internet activity, and a type of unique device identification number known as a MAC address, a March 29, 2013 NSA memo suggested. In the same document, analysts also discussed tracking internet users' internet addresses, network ports, and timestamps to identify "BITCOIN Targets."


FTC Probing Facebook For Use of Personal Data: Bloomberg ( 78

An anonymous reader shares a report: Facebook is under investigation by a U.S. privacy watchdog over the use of personal data of 50 million users by a data analytics firm to help elect President Donald Trump. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is probing whether Facebook violated terms of a 2011 consent decree of its handing of user data that was transferred to Cambridge Analytica without their knowledge, according to a person familiar with the matter. Under the 2011 settlement, Facebook agreed to get user consent for certain changes to privacy settings as part of a settlement of federal charges that it deceived consumers and forced them to share more personal information than they intended. That complaint arose after the company changed some user settings without notifying its customers, according to an FTC statement at the time. If the FTC finds Facebook violated terms of the consent decree, it has the power to fine the company thousands of dollars a day per violation.

China Approves Giant Propaganda Machine To Improve Global Image ( 154

China has approved the creation of one of the world's largest propaganda machines as it looks to improve its global image, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday, citing a person familiar with the matter. From the report: The new broadcaster will be called "Voice of China," the person said, mimicking the U.S. government-funded Voice of America that started up during World War II to advance American interests. Bloomberg News had previously reported the new entity would be created through merging China Central Television, China Radio International and China National Radio. The combined group was designed to strengthen the party's ability to shape public opinion and would serve as a key vehicle for China to project its image to the world.

Sierra Leone Government Denies the Role of Blockchain In Its Recent Election ( 20

The National Electoral Commission Sierra Leone is denying the news that theirs was one of the first elections recorded to the blockchain. "While the blockchain voting company Agora claimed to have run the first blockchain-based election, it appears that the company did little more than observe the voting and store some of the results," reports TechCrunch. From the report: "The NEC [National Electoral Commission] has not used and is not using blockchain technology in any part of the electoral process," said NEC head Mohamed Conteh. Why he is adamant about this fact is unclear -- questions I asked went unanswered -- but he and his team have created a set of machine readable election results and posted [a] clarification. "Anonymized votes/ballots are being recorded on Agora's blockchain, which will be publicly available for any interested party to review, count and validate," said Agora's Leonardo Gammar. "This is the first time a government election is using blockchain technology." In Africa the reactions were mixed. "It would be like me showing up to the UK election with my computer and saying, 'let me enter your counting room, let me plug-in and count your results,'" said Morris Marah to RFI. "Agora's results for the two districts they tallied differed considerably from the official results, according to an analysis of the two sets of statistics carried out by RFI," wrote RFI's Daniel Finnan.

Facebook Security Chief Said To Leave After Clashes Over Disinformation ( 45

Facebook's chief information security officer, Alex Stamos, will leave the company after internal disagreements over how the social network should deal with its role in spreading disinformation. The New York Times reports (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): Mr. Stamos had been a strong advocate inside the company for investigating and disclosing Russian activity on Facebook, often to the consternation of other top executives, including Sheryl Sandberg, the social network's chief operating officer, according to the current and former employees, who asked not to be identified discussing internal matters. After his day-to-day responsibilities were reassigned to others in December, Mr. Stamos said he would leave the company. He was persuaded to stay through August to oversee the transition of his duties because executives thought his departure would look bad, the current and former employees said. He has been overseeing the transfer of his security team to Facebook's product and infrastructure divisions. His group, which once had 120 people, now has three, the current and former employees said. Mr. Stamos would be the first high-ranking employee to leave Facebook since controversy erupted over disinformation on its site. His departure is a sign of heightened leadership tensions at the company.

Ajit Pai Celebrates After Court Strikes Down Obama-Era Robocall Rule ( 182

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Federal judges have struck down an anti-robocall rule, saying that the Federal Communications Commission improperly treated every American who owns a smartphone as a potential robocaller. The FCC won't be appealing the court decision, as Chairman Ajit Pai opposed the rule changes when they were implemented by the commission's then-Democratic majority in 2015. Pai issued a statement praising the judges for the decision Friday, calling the now-vacated rule "yet another example of the prior FCC's disregard for the law and regulatory overreach." The FCC's 2015 decision said that a device meets the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) definition of an "autodialer" if it can be modified to make robocalls, even if the smartphone user hasn't actually downloaded an autodialing app. That interpretation treats all smartphones as autodialers because any smartphone has the capability of downloading an autodialing app, judges ruled. Since any call made by an autodialer could violate anti-robocall rules, this led to a troubling conclusion: judges said that an unwanted call from a smartphone could violate anti-robocall rules even if the smartphone user hasn't downloaded an autodialing app.

"The Commission's understanding would appear to subject ordinary calls from any conventional smartphone to the Act's coverage, an unreasonably expansive interpretation of the statute," a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said in a unanimous ruling Friday. The ruling came in a case filed against the FCC by the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals, which says it represents "third-party collection agencies, law firms, asset buying companies, creditors, and vendor affiliates." Judges also invalidated an FCC rule that helped protect consumers from robocalls to reassigned phone numbers.


Facebook Hires Firm To Conduct Forensic Audit of Cambridge Analytica Data ( 135

After it was revealed that political data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, harvested personal data from more than 50 million Facebook users, the social media company has been scrutinized for not better protecting its users. Today, CBS News reports that Facebook has recently hired Stroz Friedberg, a digital forensics firm, to conduct an audit of Cambridge Analytica. According to a press release issued by Facebook on Monday, Cambridge Analytica has agreed to "comply and afford the firm complete access to their servers and systems." From the report: The social network said it asked Christopher Wylie and University of Cambridge professor Aleksandr Kogan to submit to an audit. Facebook says Kogan has verbally agreed to participate, but Wylie has declined. Wylie is a former employee of Cambridge Analytica who described the company's use of illicit data in interviews late last week. Cambridge Analytica, Kogan and Wylie were banned from Facebook on Friday. Cambridge Analytica did not immediately confirm that it had agreed to comply with the audit. The firm has denied the allegations that it improperly collected and used the data. A spokeswoman for Stroz Friedberg declined to comment on the firm's involvement with an audit.

"We are moving aggressively to determine the accuracy of these claims," Facebook officials said in a statement. "We remain committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people's information. We also want to be clear that today when developers create apps that ask for certain information from people, we conduct a robust review to identify potential policy violations and to assess whether the app has a legitimate use for the data. We actually reject a significant number of apps through this process. This is part of a comprehensive internal and external review that we are conducting to determine the accuracy of the claims that the Facebook data in question still exists. If this data still exists, it would be a grave violation of Facebook's policies and an unacceptable violation of trust and the commitments these groups made."

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