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  1. Tickler

    CoronaVirus: News and Updates

    The coronavirus has infected more than 1,700 healthcare workers in China, killing 6 of them As of Friday, 1,716 healthcare workers who were treating patients in China have been infected. Six are dead, National Health Commission Vice Minister Zeng Yixin said at a news conference, according to Reuters. A nurse wrote on Weibo that she is among almost 150 people who work at Wuhan Central Hospital and have either been infected or are suspected to have the coronavirus, CNN found. The nurse added that she holds her breath when her fellow healthcare workers enter the room to check on her, saying, “I’m afraid the virus inside my body will come out and infect these colleagues who are still standing fast on the frontline.” Of the infected medical workers, 1,102 are located in Wuhan alone, and another 400 became ill elsewhere in the Hubei province. Wuhan was the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in December and the threat level skyrocketed for multiple reasons, including a shortage of medical resources to handle the deluge of highly contagious patients.
  2. Face masks are mandatory in at least two provinces in China, including the city of Wuhan. In an effort to contain the coronavirus strain that has caused nearly 500 deaths, the government is insisting that millions of residents wear protective face covering when they go out in public. As millions don masks across the country, the Chinese are discovering an unexpected consequence to covering their faces. It turns out that face masks trip up facial recognition-based functions, a technology necessary for many routine transactions in China. Suddenly, certain mobile phones, condominium doors, and bank accounts won’t unlock with a glance. Complaints are plentiful in the popular Chinese blogging platform Weibo, reports Abacus, the Hong Kong-based technology news outlet. “[I’ve] been wearing a mask everyday recently and I just want to throw away this phone with face unlock,” laments one user. “Fingerprint payment is still better,” writes another. “All I want is to pay and quickly run.” Most complaints are about unlocking mobile devices. Apple confirmed to Quartz that an unobstructed view of a user’s eyes, nose, and mouth is needed for FaceID to work properly. Similarly, Huawei says that its efforts to develop a feature that recognizes partially-covered faces has fallen short. “There are too few feature points for the eyes and the head so it’s impossible to ensure security,” explains Huawei vice president Bruce Lee, in a Jan 21 post on Weibo.”We gave up on facial unlock for mask or scarf wearing [users].” Subverting surveillance cameras Biometrics, including facial recognition, are essential to daily life in China, on a scale beyond other nations. It’s used to do everything from ordering fast food meals to scheduling medical appointments to boarding a plane in more than 200 airports across the country. Facial recognition is even used in restrooms to prevent an occupant from taking too much toilet paper. And beyond quotidian transactions, the technology is a linchpin in the Chinese government’s scheme to police its 1.4 billion citizens. Last December, the government passed a new law that forces anyone registering a new mobile phone SIM card to undergo a face scan, in the stated interest of protecting “the legitimate rights and interest of citizens in cyberspace,” as Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information puts it. The technology is also used in some schools, where a camera records student attendance and can offer predictions about behavior and level of engagement. Hong Kong’s government, incidentally, has been trying to install a “mask ban” for protestors participating in anti-government rallies. The anonymity afforded by surgical masks, gas masks, and respirators has somehow emboldened both police and demonstrators to act aggressively, without fear of being caught on camera. Facial recognition technology that can “see through” disguises already exists, but it’s far from perfect. Researchers at the University of Cambridge and India’s National Institute of Technology, for instance, demonstrated one method that could identify a person wearing a mask with around 55% accuracy. In 2018, Panasonic introduced commercially-available software that can ID people wearing surgical masks if the camera captures images at a certain angle. Despite its widespread adoption across China, it’s ironic that facial recognition technology in general has been found to be less reliable when processing non-white faces, observes Jessica Helfand, author of the new book Face: A Visual Odyssey. “The fact that surveillance is increasingly flawed with regard to facial recognition and Asian faces is a paradox made even more bizarre by the face mask thing,” Helfand says. A recent landmark study by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology revealed a racial bias in algorithms sold by Intel, Microsoft, Toshiba, Tencent, and DiDi Chuxing. It showed that that African Americans, Native Americans, and Asians were 10 to 100 times more likely to be misidentified compared to a Caucasian subject. Source
  3. Tech giants’ high-speed internet link to Hong Kong has become politically toxic Google and Facebook seem to have resigned themselves to losing part of the longest and highest profile internet cable they have invested in to date. In a filing with the Federal Communications Commission last week, the two companies requested permission to activate the Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN) between the US and the Philippines and Taiwan, leaving its controversial Hong Kong and Chinese sections dormant. Globally, around 380 submarine cables carry over 99.5 percent of all transoceanic data traffic. Every time you visit a foreign website or send an email abroad, you are using a fiber-optic cable on the seabed. Satellites, even large planned networks like SpaceX’s Starlink system, cannot move data as quickly and cheaply as underwater cables. When it was announced in 2017, the 13,000-kilometer PLCN was touted as the first subsea cable directly connecting Hong Kong and the United States, allowing Google and Facebook to connect speedily and securely with data centers in Asia and unlock new markets. The 120 terabit-per-second cable was due to begin commercial operation in the summer of 2018. “PLCN will help connect US businesses and internet users with a strong and growing internet community in Asia,” they wrote. “PLCN will interconnect … with many of the existing and planned regional and international cables, thus providing additional transmission options in the event of disruptions to other systems, whether natural or manmade.” Instead, it has been PLCN itself that has been disrupted, by an ongoing regulatory battle in the US that has become politicized by trade and technology spats with China. Team Telecom, a shadowy US national security unit comprised of representatives from the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Justice (including the FBI), is tasked with protecting America’s telecommunications systems, including international fiber optic cables. Its regulatory processes can be tortuously slow. Team Telecom took nearly seven years to decide whether to allow China Mobile, a state-owned company, access to the US telecoms market, before coming down against it in 2018 on the grounds of “substantial and serious national security and law enforcement risks.” Although subsidiaries of Google and Facebook have been the public face of PLCN in filings to the FCC, four of the six fiber-optic pairs in the cable actually belong to a company called Pacific Light Data Communication (PLDC). When the project was first planned, PLDC was controlled by Wei Junkang, a Hong Kong businessman who had made his fortune in steel and real estate. In December 2017, Wei sold most of his stake in PLDC to Dr Peng Telecom & Media Group, a private broadband provider based in Beijing. That sent alarm bells ringing in Washington, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal last year. While Dr Peng is not itself state-owned or controlled, it works closely with Huawei, a telecoms company the Trump administration has accused of espionage and trade secret theft. Dr Peng has also worked on Chinese government projects, including a surveillance network for the Beijing police. PLCN has been legal limbo ever since, with Google complaining bitterly to the FCC about the expense of the ongoing uncertainty. In 2018, it wrote, “[any further holdup] would impose significant economic costs. Depending on the length of the delay, the financial viability of the project could be at risk.” Google and Facebook finally secured special permission to lay the cable in US waters last year, and to construct, connect and temporarily test a cable landing station in Los Angeles. But while the network itself is now essentially complete, Team Telecom has yet to make a decision on whether data can start to flow through it. In the past, Team Telecom has permitted submarine cables, even from China, to land in the US, as long as the companies operating them signed what are called network security agreements. These agreements typically require network operations to be based in the US, using an approved list of equipment and staffed by security-screened personnel. Operators are obliged to block security threats from foreign powers, while complying with lawful surveillance requests from the US government. In 2017, for example, Team Telecom gave the green light to the New Cross Pacific (NCP) cable directly connecting China and the US, despite it being part-owned by China Mobile, the state-owned company it later denied US access to on national security grounds. “Normally there wouldn’t be so much fuss over a cable to China,” says Nicole Starosielski, a professor at New York University and author of The Undersea Network. “We’ve had cables to China for a long time and all of these networks interconnect, so even if they don’t land directly in China, they’re only a hop away. It is just one of those moments where it is more difficult to land a cable, no matter who the Chinese partner is, because of the political situation.” In September, Senator Rick Scott (R-FL), who sits on Senate committees for technology, communications and homeland security, sent a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai urging him to block PLCN. “[PLCN] threatens the freedom of Hong Kong and our national security,” wrote Scott. “This project is backed by a Chinese partner, Dr Peng Telecom & Media Group Co., and would ultimately provide a direct link from China into Hong Kong … China has repeatedly shown it cannot be trusted … We cannot allow China expanded access to critical American information, even if funded by US companies.” Google and Facebook saw the writing on the wall. On January 29 last week, representatives from the two companies – but not PLDC – met with FCC officials to propose a new approach. A filing, made the same day, requests permission to operate just the two PLCN fiber pairs owned by the American companies: Google’s link to Taiwan, and Facebook’s to the Philippines. “[Google] and [Facebook] are not aware of any national security issues associated with operation of US-Taiwan and US-Philippine segments,” reads the application. “For clarity, the [request] would not authorize any commercial traffic on the PLCN system to or from Hong Kong, nor any operation of the PLCN system by PLDC.” The filling goes on to describe how each fiber pair has its own terminating equipment, with Google’s and Facebook’s connections arriving at Los Angeles in cages that are inaccessible to the other companies. “PLDC is contractually prohibited from using its participation interest in the system to interfere with the ownership or rights of use of the other parties,” it notes. Neither company would comment directly on the new filing. A Google spokesperson told TechCrunch, “We have been working through established channels in order to obtain cable landing licenses for various undersea cables, and we will continue to abide by the decisions made by designated agencies in the locations where we operate.” A Facebook spokesperson said, “We are continuing to navigate through all the appropriate channels on licensing and permitting for a jointly-owned subsea cable between the US and Asia to provide fast and secure internet access to more people on both continents.” “I think stripping out the controversial [Hong Kong] link will work,” says Starosielski. “But whenever one of these projects either gets thwarted, it sends a very strong message. If even Google and Facebook can’t get a cable through, there aren’t going to be a ton of other companies advancing new cable systems between the US and China now.” Ironically, that means that US data to and from China will continue to flow over the NCP cable controlled by China Mobile – the only company that Team Telecom and the FCC have ever turned down on national security grounds. Source
  4. The U.S. Department of the Interior has confirmed it has grounded its fleet of non-emergency drones amid concerns over cybersecurity. In a brief statement, the department said the move will help to ensure that “the technology used for these operations is such that it will not compromise our national security interests.” Interior spokesperson Carol Danko said the department affirms with a formal order the “temporary cessation of non-emergency drones while we ensure that cybersecurity, technology and domestic production concerns are adequately addressed,” months after the department said it was grounding its approximately 800 drones. But the drones will still be used for emergency purposes, such as search and rescue and assisting with natural disasters, the statement said. Cyberscoop was first to report the news. The order did not specifically mention threats from China, but said that information collected during drone missions “has the potential to be valuable to foreign entities, organizations, and governments.” Danko told TechCrunch that the department currently has 121 drones made by DJI and 665 drones that Chinese-built but not made by DJI. She added that 24 drones are made in the U.S. but have Chinese components. “The review is to help us identify and assess any potential threats or risks,” said Danko. Several other government departments — including the military — have also banned or grounded their fleet of Chinese-built drones. DJI spokesperson Michael Oldenburg said the company was “extremely disappointed” in the decision. Chinese companies have faced bans and sanctions from operating in the federal government over their alleged connections to the Chinese government. Chief among the fears are that Chinese tech companies could be compelled by Beijing to spy or be used to conduct espionage against the West. Last year, the Trump administration banned federal agencies from buying networking equipment from Huawei and ZTE. Several other companies, including radio equipment maker Hytera and surveillance tech giant Hikvision, were also banned from government. DJI said last year it would look to assemble its drones in California in an effort to dispel concerns. Source
  5. During today's earnings call, Apple CEO Tim Cook commented on the coronavirus outbreak in China, which investors fear could potentially impact Apple's business, affecting production of both current iPhones and the new low-cost iPhone that's on the horizon. Cook said that Apple is donating to China to help with the outbreak and working with partner companies. We're donating to groups that are working to contain the outbreak. We're working closely with our Apple team members in the affected areas, and our thoughts are with all of those in the region. In an interview with CNBC, Cook confirmed that employee travel has been restricted to "business critical travel" only as of last week, and employees in Wuhan and across China are receiving care kits from Apple. "We're restricting travel to business critical travel. For employees that are in the Wuhan area, we are providing care kits and supplying them across our employee population in China as well. Cook said that Apple's decision to set next quarter guidance with a range of $4 billion is reflective of the coronavirus outbreak and the "uncertainty around that." Apple's guidance for Q2 2020 is $63 to $67 billion, a larger range than normal. The situation is still emerging, said Cook, and Apple is monitoring the situation closely and gathering data points. According to Cook, supplier factories in wider China are opening late after Chinese New Year, on February 10, which Apple is working to manage. Apple does have suppliers in the Wuhan area, but all of these suppliers have alternate suppliers, and Apple is working to ensure good supplies. Apple has accounted for the delayed startup with its larger range of outcomes. In its retail stores, Apple is limiting hours, checking employees, and sanitizing its stores regularly. One store has also been shut down for the time being. Apple's retail sales have slowed due to virus concerns, but this is accounted for in Apple's guidance numbers for Q2 2020. Source
  6. A SARS-like virus that has spread across China and reached three other Asian nations is contagious between humans, a government expert said Monday, and the World Health Organization announced that a key emergency committee would meet this week to discuss the infections. The new coronavirus strain, first discovered in the central city of Wuhan, has caused alarm because of its connection to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003. The total number of people diagnosed with the new virus has risen to 218. Beijing and Shanghai confirmed their first cases on Monday while more than a dozen more emerged in southern Guangdong province and 136 new ones were found over the weekend in Wuhan, according to state broadcaster CCTV. A third person died in Wuhan, the local health commission said. Scientists have scrambled to determine the mode of transmission, with a seafood market in Wuhan believed to be the centre of the outbreak. But Zhong Nanshan, a renowned scientist at the National Health Commission who helped expose the scale of the SARS outbreak, said patients could contract the new virus without having visited the city. "Currently, it can be said it is affirmative that there is the phenomenon of human-to-human transmission," he said in an interview with CCTV. In Guangdong, two patients were infected by family members who visited Wuhan, Zhong explained. Fourteen medical personnel helping with coronavirus patients have also been infected, he said, though he added that more than 95 of the total cases were related to Wuhan. Zhong predicted an increase of viral pneumonia cases during the Lunar New Year holiday - when millions travel in China - but expressed confidence in curbing the spread of the virus, China's official Xinhua news agency reported. The World Health Organization panel will meet in Geneva on Wednesday to determine whether to declare the outbreak "a public health emergency of international concern" - a rare designation only used for the gravest epidemics. WHO said earlier that an animal source seemed to be "the most likely primary source" with "some limited human-to-human transmission occurring between close contacts." Wuhan has 11 million inhabitants and serves as a major transport hub, including during the annual Lunar New Year holiday, which begins later this week and sees hundreds of millions of Chinese people travel across the country to visit family. Weighing in on the matter for the first time, President Xi Jinping said Monday that safeguarding people's lives should be given "top priority" and that the spread of the epidemic "should be resolutely contained," according to CCTV. Xi said it was necessary to "release information on the epidemic in a timely manner and deepen international cooperation," and ensure people have a "stable and peaceful Spring Festival," the broadcaster said. Five cases were reported in Beijing, while in Shanghai a 56-year-old woman who had come from Wuhan was hospitalised and in stable condition, local health authorities said. South Korea on Monday also reported its first case - a 35-year-old woman who flew in from Wuhan. Thailand and Japan have previously confirmed a total of three cases - all of whom had visited the Chinese city. There are also six suspected cases in Shanghai and in four provinces and regions in the east, south and southwest of the country. The virus did not slow down the annual holiday travel rush, though some travellers wore masks at crowded railway stations in Beijing and Shanghai. "Watching the news, I do feel a little worried. But I haven't taken precautionary measures beyond wearing regular masks," said Li Yang, a 28-year-old account manager who was heading home to the northern region of Inner Mongolia for the Lunar New Year. Detection measures The WHO said the new cases in China were the result of "increased searching and testing for (the virus) among people sick with respiratory illness." Scientists with the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College in London warned in a paper published Friday that the number of cases in Wuhan was likely to be closer to 1,700, much higher than the official figure. Wuhan authorities said they have installed infrared thermometers at airports and railway and coach stations across the city. Passengers with fever were being registered, given masks and taken to medical institutions. State TV footage showed medical staff working inside an isolation ward at a Wuhan hospital in hazmat suits. In Hong Kong, health officials said they were expanding enhanced checks on arrivals to include anyone coming in from Hubei province, not just its capital Wuhan. More than 100 people are being monitored in the city. Passengers are also being screened at some airports in Thailand and the United States. In Wuhan, 170 people are still being treated at hospital, including nine in critical condition, the city's health commission said. source
  7. Every few days, China finds a new way to introduce facial recognition in people’s daily lives. According to a report from the South China Morning Post, Shanghai is testing face recognition terminals at pharmacies to catch folks attempting to buy controlled substances in substantial quantities, likely for resale. The report noted buyers of drugs containing sedatives and psychotropic substances will have to verify themselves through the terminal. The system will scan both pharmacists and buyers to prevent any misdoings. The move is also to prevent people from obtaining medicines that contain raw materials for illegal drugs. For instance, ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, found in drugs for the common colds, is a key element to produce crystal meth. The system has been adopted by 31 healthcare institutions and has performed over 300 scans. Shanghai city administration aims to cover the whole city with these terminals by the first half of 2021. Previously, China has experimented with facial recognition with subway rides, payments, catching criminals, and buying SIM cards. While some solutions may sound dystopian, this new system is relatively more well-intentioned, as it could help curb drug abuse. Source
  8. An anonymous Microsoft contractor who worked grading audio snippets from Skype conversations and Cortana recordings revealed to the Guardian that "no security measures" were taken to protect the audio clips. The contractor, who worked out of Beijing, had access to the recordings through a Chrome web app through a Microsoft account login. He said that all the contractors' accounts shared the same password. Last year a series of reports provoked public outcry after big tech companies including Microsoft, Amazon, and Google were revealed to be giving customers' audio recordings to human contractors for grading. Microsoft contractors working in China were able to listen to people's Skype conversations and Cortana recordings through a system woefully lacking in cybersecurity, the Guardian reports. An anonymous Microsoft contractor who worked out of Beijing for years told the Guardian that he was able to listen to recordings of users with practically "no security measures." The contractor's work involved listening to short audio clips from Skype conversations and instructions given to Cortana (Microsoft's voice-assistant) to grade them for quality. The contractor accessed the recordings which were selected to help grade and improve Microsoft's services through a Google Chrome web app on his personal laptop. "They just give me a login over email and I will then have access to Cortana recordings," he told the Guardian. "I could then hypothetically share this login with anyone." He said that he and other contractors were instructed to access the clips through company-issued accounts which all shared the same password. He added that employee vetting was practically nonexistent. The contractor was able to listen to incredibly sensitive audio recording through this system. "I heard all kinds of unusual conversations, including what could have been domestic violence," he said, according to the Guardian. "It sounds a bit crazy now, after educating myself on computer security, that they gave me the URL, a username and password sent over email." On top of the usual security risks associated with such low cybersecurity, the employee noted that his location in China made the recordings especially vulnerable. "Living in China, working in China, you're already compromised with nearly everything," he said. Last year Vice revealed that Microsoft had employed contractors to listen to clips of recordings from users' Skype conversations and instructions given to Cortana, Microsoft's voice assistant. The story was part of a slew of reports revealing big tech companies including Amazon, Apple, and Google were sending private recordings from their voice-assistants to human contractors for grading. The reason given for allowing contractors to listen to these clips was to grade the audio and improve the services, although all the companies subsequently changed their policies after the reports sparked a privacy outrage. A Microsoft spokesperson told the Guardian the company ended its grading programmes for Skype, Cortana, and Xbox, and that the remainder of its human grading takes place in "secure facilities," none of which are in China. A Microsoft spokeswoman told Business Insider: "We review short snippets of de-identified voice data from a small percentage of customers to help improve voice-enabled features, and we sometimes engage partner companies in this work. Review snippets are typically fewer than ten seconds long and no one reviewing these snippets would have access to longer conversations. "We've always disclosed this to customers and operate to the highest privacy standards set out in laws like Europe's GDPR. This past summer we carefully reviewed both the process we use and the communications with customers. As a result we updated our privacy statement to be even more clear about this work, and since then we've significantly enhanced the process including by moving these reviews to secure facilities in a small number of countries. We will continue to take steps to give customers greater transparency and control over how we manage their data." You can read the full Guardian report here. Source
  9. Never-before-seen virus may be behind mystery outbreak in China Investigators have already ruled out SARS and other obvious culprits, officials say. Enlarge / Colored image of coronaviruses made from a transmission electron microscopy. Getty | BSIP A mysterious outbreak of viral pneumonia linked to a wild-animal market in the Chinese city of Wuhan may be caused by a never-before-seen virus, according to preliminary reports. Officials in neighboring areas, meanwhile, are screening travelers for symptoms and planning quarantine zones to try to prevent any potential spread of the mystery disease. As of Sunday, January 5, Wuhan Municipal Health Commission reported a total of 59 cases, including seven critically ill patients. There have been no reported deaths. Those sickened are being held in isolation in medical facilities in Wuhan. Their main symptom is fever, according to the World Health Organization. But some patients have also experienced trouble breathing, and chest X-rays have shown invasive lesions in both lungs. Though Wuhan health officials are closely monitoring 163 people who had close contact with those sickened, there's no evidence so far that the illness is spreading from person-to-person. No medical staff members have become ill in the outbreak, either. Those are both promising signs for containing the outbreak and stamping out the disease. Wuhan officials report that the outbreak erupted in the latter half of December. Among the cases identified so far, the earliest onset of symptoms was pinned to December 12 and the latest illness began December 29. Survey data collected during that window indicated that some patients with the mysterious pneumonia were working at the Wuhan South China Seafood City. The market sold seafood, but also chickens, bats, marmots, and other wild animals. According to The Washington Post, it was a 1,000-booth bazaar that state media reports labeled as "filthy and messy." Officials shut down the market on January 1 and reported that it has been thoroughly sanitized. Shadow of SARS Such markets are notorious for helping spawn and spread disease. They often cram humans together with a variety of live animals, which may tote their own menageries of pathogens. Such close quarters, meat preparation, and poor hygienic conditions in the markets offer viruses an inordinate number of opportunities to recombine with each other, mutate, and leap to new species, including humans. After the 2003 SARS outbreak, for instance, SARS-like viruses were found in masked palm civets and raccoon dogs sold for food in live-animal street markets in southern China, where the virus first emerged. Later, researchers also found the viruses circulating in China's horseshoe bat populations. The outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in humans sparked panic as it spread to more than two dozen countries. It ultimately sickened over 8,000 people worldwide, killing 774. Determined to keep such an outbreak from spreading like that again, regions near Wuhan are stepping up precautions amid the mystery illnesses. Hong Kong, for instance, has granted authorities quarantine powers for suspected cases, and residents there are stocking up on protective face masks and gowns. Thailand is screening airline passengers arriving from Wuhan, and authorities in Vietnam are tightening health checks at border gates. Meanwhile, experts in Wuhan are working to figure out exactly what is causing the outbreak. Officials on Sunday said that "respiratory pathogens such as influenza, avian influenza, adenovirus, infectious atypical pneumonia (SARS), and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) have been excluded. Pathogen identification and cause tracing are still underway." Virus más fina This morning, January 8, The Wall Street Journal reported that Chinese scientists had identified a novel coronavirus in samples taken from one patient. The virus subsequently matched samples taken from some—but not all—other cases. The report was based on unnamed sources said to be familiar with the health investigation. Coronaviruses are a species of virus named for the halo-like (corona) appearance they have under a microscope. Species members are known to cause common, mild-to-moderate respiratory infections in humans as well as rare, severe infections. SARS and MERS are both caused by coronaviruses. The species also causes respiratory, gastrointestinal, liver, and neurologic disease in animals, such as cats, dogs, mice, and birds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the WSJ, the coronavirus found during the current outbreak was similar to SARS-precursor viruses found in bats. But the report notes that Wuhan investigators haven't concluded that the novel virus is behind the outbreak. Regardless of the cause, health experts in China are optimistic that the outbreak will be contained and that response efforts will be better than they were during the SARS outbreak. Xu Jianguo, a former top Chinese public health official, noted to The Washington Post in a report today, "More than a decade has passed. It's impossible for something like SARS to happen again." Source: Never-before-seen virus may be behind mystery outbreak in China (Ars Technica)
  10. China’s lander releases data, high-resolution images of the Moon The data was collected over a period of 12 lunar "days." First image of article image gallery. Please visit the source link to see all images. A little more than one year ago, China's Chang'e 4 spacecraft landed on the far side of the Moon. In doing so, it became the first-ever vehicle to make a soft landing on the side of the Moon facing away from Earth. To mark the one-year anniversary, China released a batch of scientific data and images captured by five scientific payloads aboard the 1.2-ton spacecraft and its small Yutu 2 rover. Since the landing, the rover has driven a little more than 350 meters across the Moon's surface, studying rock formations and taking additional photos. The data was collected over a period of 12 lunar "days," or most of the last year. The lander itself carried an excellent camera to image its surroundings. Extra sharp with a good color balance, the Terrain Camera was mounted at the top of the lander, with the ability to rotate 360 degrees. Before it died at the end of the first lunar day, this TCAM returned detailed images of the Moon. A helpful Twitter user in France, Techniques Spatiales, converted the camera's imagery into .png files, which can be found here. The Chang'e 4 spacecraft landed in the South Pole-Aitken basin in the southern hemisphere of the far side of the Moon. The lander and rover have produced the best in situ data of the unexplored far side of the Moon to date, including radar and radiation measurements of the largely unexplored environment. After this success, China intends to launch the Chang'e 5 mission late this year. It has the ambitious goal of returning as much as 2kg of lunar regolith to Earth, and is scheduled to launch on a Long March 5 rocket near the end of this year. It would be by far the most complicated robotic mission China has ever attempted and if successful would return the first lunar samples to Earth since the Soviet Luna 24 mission in 1976. Listing image by CNSA Source: China’s lander releases data, high-resolution images of the Moon (To view the article's image gallery, please visit the above link)
  11. Microsoft said it got a court order to seize 50 websites used by a hacker group with ties to North Korea that targeted government employees, universities, human rights organizations and nuclear proliferation groups in the U.S., Japan and South Korea. The group, known as Thallium, uses the network of websites, domains and connected computers to send out “spear phising” emails. Hackers gather as much information on targets as they can to personalize messages and make them appear legitimate. When the target clicks on a link in the email, hackers are then able to “compromise their online accounts, infect their computers, compromise the security of their networks and steal sensitive information,” Microsoft wrote in a blog post. Microsoft showed an example of one of Thallium’s spear phishing messages. It looks very much like a standard notification that comes with signing into a Microsoft account in a new location. One big difference, Microsoft says, is the group combined the letters “r” and “n” in the domain name to look like the first letter “m” in “microsoft.com.” Microsoft, through its Digital Crimes Unit and Threat Intelligence Center, has positioned itself as an important line of defense against so-called “nation state” hacking organizations. Microsoft has in recent years taken on hacking groups with ties to China, Iran and Russia. The tech giant uses the information it gathers from tracking these hackers to beef up its security products. Microsoft recommended a number of actions organizations can take to better protect themselves, including enabling two-factor authentication on business and personal email accounts, training people to spot phising attempts and enabling security alerts about links and files from suspicious websites. Source: MSN
  12. The US Army has banned the use of popular Chinese social media video app TikTok, with Military.com first reporting it was due to security concerns. "It is considered a cyber threat," a US Army spokesperson told Military.com. "We do not allow it on government phones." The ban comes in the wake of Democrat Senator Charles Schumer and Republican Senator Tom Cotton writing a letter to US Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire insisting an investigation into TikTok would be necessary to determine whether the Chinese-owned social media video app poses a risk to national security. "Given these concerns, we ask that the Intelligence Community conduct an assessment of the national security risks posed by TikTok and other China-based content platforms operating in the US and brief Congress on these findings," the letter said. The social media video app, known as Douyin in China and TikTok outside its home market, is owned by Beijing-based unicorn ByteDance. Senator Marco Rubio had previously claimed that the popular app has been trying to censor content in US in order to be in line with the interests of the Chinese government. "[Chinese apps] are increasingly being used to censor content and silence open discussion on topics deemed sensitive by the Chinese Government and Communist Party," Rubio said at the time. On the same day of the US Army announcing its ban, TikTok released its first transparency report that showed how many requests the company received from government bodies and law enforcement in markets in which the application operates. This first report covered the first half of 2019 calendar year. "We take any request from government bodies extremely seriously, and closely review each such request we receive to determine whether, for example, the request adheres to the required legal process or the content violates a local law," the company wrote in its transparency report. "TikTok is committed to assisting law enforcement in appropriate circumstances while respecting the privacy and rights of our users." The report revealed that law enforcement in India made the most total requests during the period with 107. Of those, 99 were legal requests and the remaining eight were for emergencies. However, of the information that was requested by the Indian government, TikTok only provided 47% of it. Meanwhile, the percentage of information produced to US law enforcement reached 86%, based on 79 total requests and 255 total accounts specified. For Japan, the country with the third most total requests at 35, 21% of requested information was produced. Of the total, 28 were legal requests. Countries where law enforcement agencies saw 100% of information produced based on their requests included Canada, Iceland, Israel, Singapore, and Turkey. When it came to requests by government bodies to remove content deemed as a violation of local laws, India topped the chart with 11 requests, while Japan had three, and both Australia and France had two. For the United States, there were six government requests, although a total of seven accounts were removed or restricted. There were, however, no take-down requests by the Chinese government or law enforcement. The transparency report also revealed that 3,345 copyright content take-down notices were issued and of those 85% saw some content removed. "Upon receiving an effective notice from a rights holder of potential intellectual property infringement, TikTok will remove the infringing content in a timely manner," TikTok said in its report. In October, the company hired global law firm K&L Gates LLP, including two former US congressmen Bart Gordon and Jeff Denham, to review its content moderation policies in a bid to further strengthen the platform's moderation policies and overall transparency. TikTok made the external hires to "further increase transparency around our content moderation policies and the practices we employ to protect our community," Vanessa Pappas, TikTok's US general manager, said at the time. Source
  13. The Chinese tech giant Huawei attacked The Wall Street Journal for a report detailing $75 billion in state aid that the outlet said underpinned its explosive growth. The Journal said that loans, grants, tax breaks, and discounted land sales had put the company in a stronger position than its rivals. In response, Huawei denied that state support for its work amounted to special or unfair treatment. It posted a long rebuttal accusing The Journal of using "false information" and a pattern of biased reporting, though it did not substantiate those allegations. Huawei has had a rocky 2019, which saw it blacklisted by the US government. Its chief financial officer spent the whole year under house arrest. It maintained a dominant market position nonetheless. A representative for The Wall Street Journal told Business Insider it stood by its reporting. Huawei launched an angry attack on The Wall Street Journal the day after it published an article laying out what it said was $75 billion in state support from China that helped fuel its growth. The article, published on December 25, ran under the headline "State Support Helped Fuel Huawei's Global Rise." It gave figures for four different ways the Chinese state helped Huawei in its explosive growth to become the largest telecom-equipment firm, which manufactures smartphones and is vying to build 5G networks around the world. Here are the numbers, according to The Journal's research (which it described in a separate article $46 billion in loans, lines of credit, and other financing from state lenders $25 billion in tax breaks for tech companies $2 billion in discounts on land purchases $1.6 billion in grants The total is $74.6 billion. Huawei said in a statement that The Journal relied on "false information" for its reporting and characterized it as part of a pattern of "disingenuous" reporting on the company. Huawei did not specify the information it alleged to be false or provide details to substantiate its claim of an ulterior motive behind The Journal's work. Huawei did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for more information. A representative for The Wall Street Journal told Business Insider that it stood by its reporting. Huawei's status as one of the most visible Chinese companies, and its relationship with the Chinese government, has plagued its role on the world stage. The company was in May placed on a US government blacklist, prohibiting most companies from doing business with it because of national-security concerns. The concerns are based on fears that Huawei could hand over network data to the Chinese government. The company has repeatedly denied that it would do that. The US government has also sought to persuade allied governments from freezing Huawei out of any role developing 5G data networks. On a more personal level, Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, also the daughter of CEO Ren Zhengfei, has spent all of 2019 under house arrest in Canada, where she was detained in December 2018 at the request of US authorities. Despite this, Huawei has maintained its dominant market position. In its rebuttal of The Journal's reporting, Huawei downplayed the significance of state support in its success. It instead cited very large expenditure on research and development, which it said far outstripped its rivals. While it did not deny receiving help from the Chinese state, Huawei said it got no "additional or special treatment" that other companies could not also have accessed. Source
  14. SHENZHEN, China (Reuters) - An art exhibition exploring the impact of facial recognition technology has opened in China, offering a rare public space for reflection on increasingly pervasive surveillance by tech companies and the government. A security personnel stands next to information on artists who applied for the "Eyes of the City" exhibition, as the part of a joint Hong Kong/Shenzhen Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture, at Futian train station in Shenzhen, China December 23, 2019 Hosted jointly by the southern mainland city of Shenzhen and its neighbour Hong Kong, the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture features more than 60 installations from Chinese and foreign artists exploring the loss of urban anonymity brought about by technological change. The “Eyes of the City” exhibition is being held at Shenzhen’s Futian station, the first mainland stop on a high-speed rail link that opened in 2018 amid apprehension in Hong Kong about its deepening integration with mainland China. “Stations have traditionally been a place of anonymity, but they’re becoming places where actually everything is known,” the show’s chief curator, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Carlo Ratti told Reuters. “This is one of the things we want to discuss.” The exhibition comes at a sensitive time in China. Protests against China’s influence have rocked the former British colony of Hong Kong for months and the rapid spread of facial recognition technology has triggered debate about privacy. The New York Times reported in November that a Beijing arts centre cancelled Chinese-American artist Hung Liu’s show of antiwar paintings for no clear reason though she believed it was related to Hong Kong. Asked if he was surprised the exhibition had been allowed to open given the unrest in Hong Kong, Ratti said he “found an openness for discussion” in Shenzhen. “There’s probably not a better place to discuss these issues ... this is a global issue and the best way to deal with it is to open up these technologies and put them in the hands of the public,” he said. Reuters was unable to contact the event’s organisers and foreign media were not invited to an opening news conference amid concern they would ask about Hong Kong, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The exhibition features a facial recognition system that visitors can opt out of, to draw attention to the inability to opt out in public, Ratti said. Other works include facial monitors that track visitors’ emotional engagement with the exhibits and digitalized images of fishing boats in one of Shenzhen’s older harbours using advanced sensing technologies developed by artists Ai Deng and Li Lipeng and by architects INTACT Studio. Source
  15. WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration is finalizing a set of narrow rules to limit exports of sophisticated technology to adversaries like China, a document seen by Reuters shows, in a boon to U.S. industry that feared a much tougher crackdown on sales abroad. The Commerce Department is putting the finishing touches on five rules covering products like quantum computing and 3-D printing technologies that were mandated by a 2018 law to keep sensitive technologies out of the hands of rival powers. Before drafting the rules, Commerce sought industry comment last year on a raft of high-tech sectors that it could cover under the law, from artificial intelligence technology to robotics. That fueled concerns among U.S. businesses the department would craft broad, tough regulations that would stymy a host of exports to key customers. But the internal status update seen by Reuters shows for the first time that Commerce is finishing a first batch of rules that touch on just a few technologies that will be proposed to international bodies before taking effect, a reprieve for U.S. companies. “Based on their titles, the rules appear to be narrowly tailored to address specific national security issues, which should go a long way to calming the nerves of those in industry concerned that the administration would impose controls over broad categories of widely available technologies,” said Kevin Wolf, former assistant secretary of commerce for export administration. Commerce declined to confirm any details but said it has a number of proposed rules in the review process. Despite the apparent reprieve, Commerce could issue more rules in the future regulating sales abroad of cutting-edge items. The document failed to outline when the rule proposals would be made public or what the controls would look like for specific countries, buyers and uses. In a move that should appeal to U.S. firms, the rules will be submitted to international bodies for approval so that they may be implemented overseas, not just by the United States. That would establish a level playing field for U.S. companies abroad, but would also take much longer to review and go into effect, likely until mid-2021 at the earliest. Commerce is expected to seek industry comment on the rules before submitting them to the groups, a source said, adding that a sixth rule, covering artificial intelligence, will go into effect in the United States without a comment period. The revelations come amid growing frustration from Republican and Democratic lawmakers over the slow pace of the rule roll-out, with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer urging the Commerce Department to speed up the process. In a statement to Reuters, Republican Senator Tom Cotton said he was “disappointed at the lack of political will” at the Commerce department, accusing it of a “troubling” lack of urgency. “While bureaucrats and industry shills twiddle their thumbs, the Chinese Communist Party continues to purchase sensitive U.S. technologies with clear military applications,” he said. “I will be digging deep into the Commerce Department’s actions.” “China firmly opposes the U.S.’ generalization of the concept of national security and abuse of export control measures to interfere with and restrict the normal communications and cooperation between businesses,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular briefing in Beijing on Wednesday, when asked about the rules. Limiting tech exports will not disrupt China’s innovation or development, said Geng. According to the status update, the agency plans to regulate exports of quantum diluted refrigerators, which are used to keep qubits cold in some quantum machines. Qubits are used in quantum computers to perform calculations that would take conventional computers thousands of years. Major makers of the refrigeration devices include U.K.-based ICE Oxford, Finland-based Bluefors and U.S.-based Janis Research. The rules would apply to exports of goods from the United States as well as shipments of items made abroad that contain a significant amount of U.S. technology or components. That rule was sent to the Commerce Department’s Office of Policy and Strategic Planning on Nov. 19, along with another rule regulating 3-D printing for explosives, the document shows. Another regulation on exports of the so called “Gate-All-Around Field Effect transistor technology, which is used to manufacture semiconductors, was awaiting comments from other agencies on Dec. 5. The transistors are expected to play a major role in newer, faster semiconductors that are under development by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and Intel Corp Two other rules would regulate chemicals used to make Russian nerve agent Novichok and single-use chambers for chemical reactions. Source
  16. (Reuters) - U.S. stocks hit fresh record levels on Friday after China said first phase trade talks with the United States have achieved major progress and that Beijing would cancel tariffs scheduled to take effect on Sunday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was up 107.74 points, or 0.38%, at 28,239.79, the S&P 500 .SPX 8.97 points, or 0.28%, at 3,177.54. The Nasdaq Composite .IXIC was up 41.69 points, or 0.48%, at 8,759.01. Wall Street opened lower after President Donald Trump said a report about a trade deal with China was completely wrong. The U.S. will phase out China tariffs, Beijing officials say BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has agreed to phase out tariffs on Chinese goods, Chinese officials said at a press conference in Beijing Friday evening. Trump: U.S. to suspend scheduled tariffs after reaching deal with China WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday said the United States had reached a so-called Phase One trade deal with China in which Washington would suspend tariffs on Chinese imports scheduled for Sunday, while Beijing would step up purchases of U.S. agricultural products. “We have agreed to a very large Phase One Deal with China. They have agreed to many structural changes and massive purchases of Agricultural Product, Energy, and Manufactured Goods, plus much more,” Trump said on Twitter. Trump also said the United States would curb some tariffs on Chinese goods that had already been imposed. Sources: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-stocks/wall-st-rises-as-china-u-s-agree-on-context-of-trade-deal-idUSKBN1YH1D1 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-china/the-u-s-will-phase-out-china-tariffs-beijing-officials-say-idUSKBN1YH1SA https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-china-trump/trump-u-s-to-suspend-scheduled-tariffs-after-reaching-deal-with-china-idUSKBN1YH1T3
  17. BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese police on Friday detained the chairman and chief executive officer of New York-listed Fincera Inc (YUANF.PK) for suspected financial crime. FILE PHOTO: Li Yonghui, chairman of Hebei province's largest peer-to-peer (P2P) lender Fincera, speaks to members of the media following a promotional event in Beijing, China August 21, 2019. Li Yonghui, a Canadian national, is suspected of illegal acceptance of public funds, Shijiazhuang police in northern Hebei said in a post on its official social media account. Police said they also detained Fincera’s legal representative Shen Hui and several other people. The company did not answer phone calls from Reuters seeking comment. Fincera, once the largest peer-to-peer lending platform in Hebei province by loans, was caught in a regulatory crackdown of the country’s P2P firms and forced to close, according to documents acquired by Reuters in August. Source
  18. CS2C and Tianjin Kylin announce plans to develop a new Chinese operating system. The two biggest OS (operating system) makers in China announced plans last week to unite and jointly build a new "domestic operating system." The two companies are China Standard Software (CS2C) and Tianjin Kylin Information (TKC), two of China's largest software firms, with known ties to the Beijing government. Both companies are known on the local Chinese OS market. CS2C created "China's Windows XP clone," known as the NeoKylin OS, and TKC is the current steward of Kylin, China's first-ever homegrown operating system. CS2C and TKC plan to set up a new company in which they'll become investors, and through which the new joint OS will be developed. The new company will handle the new operating system's development, technological decisions, marketing, branding, financials, and sales. CS2C and TKC have a verbal agreement on a planned investment plan, and a formal deal is to be signed in the future, the two companies said in a joint press conference held last Friday, December 6. The current Kylin and NeoKylin operating systems will serve as a base for the new OS, the two said. As a sign of the merger between the two, the new "domestic OS" will combine the current Kylin OS logo (a blue qilin, a Chinese mythical beast) and the NeoKylin OS logo (a red qilin). The new joint "domestic OS" has no name yet. A history of China's homemade operating systems The roots of both operating systems reside in the original Kylin operating system, created in 2001 by academics at the National University of Defense Technology. The original Kylin OS was based on FreeBSD and was developed via the popular 863 Program, a government fund set up in the 80s to stimulate the development of local tech to help China reach independence from foreign technologies. The FreeBSD version of Kylin OS was never truly successful. It was deployed on some Chinese military networks, but not all, and was never adopted beyond academia and research projects. The OS took a big image hit in 2016, when a Chinese student going by the nickname of Dancefire revealed that the Kylin creators copied large chunks of code from FreeBSD v5.3, with little to no modifications, with code similarities reaching a whopping 99.45% between the two projects. A new version, developed on top of the Linux kernel, was released in 2009, and in 2014, development passed from the National University of Defense Technology to the newly-founded TKC. TKC broadened Kylin's development, and there are now Kylin versions for desktops, servers, and embedded devices, under both commercial and free licenses. These Linux-based versions of Kylin were far more successful than the FreeBSD versions, and they've also been used to power the Tianhe-1 and Tianhe-2, the fastest supercomputers in the world at the time of their launch in 2010 and 2013, respectively. Currently, both supercomputers run a Kylin OS version known as Galaxy Kylin. The community version of Kylin OS is still free, and TCK claims it's downloaded more than 24 million times each year. However, while the original Kylin is still around, it is not the most popular. CS2C forked the original Kylin codebase in 2010 and created a more user-friendly version known as NeoKylin. CS2C, through its subsidiary Winning Software, developed NeoKylin into a powerhouse. The NeoKylin variant is currently compatible with more than 4,000 software and hardware products, ships pre-installed on most computers sold in China, and has wrestled the desktop market away from TKC. Neither Kylin or NeoKylin are in a position to give Apple or Microsoft a run for the top OS in the home PC market, but CS2C claims they and TKC have a 90% joint market share in the government sector, where they've been aided by a 2014 push from the Beijing government to replace foreign operating systems with homegrown alternatives, and primarily NeoKylin. A new push to replace foreign software is underway News about the new jointly-developed "domestic OS" comes just as the Financial Times reported over the weekend that the Beijing government is currently executing a second push to get rid of foreign tech, amidst an ever-escalating trade war with the United States. The FT reported that Beijing had ordered all government offices and public institutions to replace foreign-made hardware and software with Chinese alternatives by 2022 as part of a new national policy named "3-5-2." A source at a Chinese software company has told ZDNet that Beijing's 2014 push to replace Windows with local operating systems has had side effects when local governments choose different operating systems, fracturing a previously Windows-only ecosystem. While Kylin and NeoKylin have a common codebase, they are different from one another. Kylin is focused primarily on servers and cloud deployments, while NeoKylin has historically focused on supporting as many platforms as possible. For example, NeoKylin is the only Chinese-made OS to support all six major "domestic CPUs" -- namely Feiteng, Godson, Zhaoxin, Shenwei, Haiguang, and Kunpeng. Currently, many apps that run on Kylin won't run on NeoKylin, and vice-versa, creating problems with managing a nation-wide IT system without unwanted friction and incompatibilities. With a plan to rip out all foreign hardware and software from government systems within three years, orders likely came down from Beijing to unite the two OSes into a common platform. The Beijing government is well known for its heavy-handed approach to controlling the local tech market, primarily through state-owned companies and generous government subsidies [1, 2]. CS2C, the company behind NeoKylin, is a subsidiary of China Electronics Corporation (CEC), China's largest state-owned tech company. The joint press conference to announce the new joint CS2C and TKC "domestic OS" was held at CEC's headquarters in Beijing. China's two top OS makers and competitors don't just join hands out of the blue. The Sino-US trade war forced China's hand In an interview with CNBC in September, David Roche, the president of Independent Strategy, said the Sino-US trade war is what's forcing China's hand to act and wean itself off American technologies, such as semiconductors, hardware, and software. "China will never trust the United States again, and it will achieve its technology independence within seven years," Roche told CNBC. He also predicted that China would win the trade war. "It is a conflict between a rising global power and a declining global power ... It's not just about trade," Roche said. And it's clear that China's has a long term plan with dealing with the current trade war. The new "domestic OS" will most likely play a minor role, but it was the Chinese who invented the "death by a thousand cuts" form of torture, known as lingchi. Source
  19. SAN JOSE, California (Reuters) - Apple Inc on Monday told a federal court it has “deep concerns” that two Chinese-born former employees accused of stealing trade secrets from the company will try to flee before their trials if their locations are not monitored. At a hearing in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, prosecutors argued that Xiaolang Zhang and Jizhong Chen should continue to be monitored because they present flight risks. Federal prosecutors alleged Zhang worked on Apple’s secretive self-driving car program and took files related to the project before disclosing that he was going to work for a Chinese competitor. Federal agents arrested Zhang last year at the San Jose airport as he was about to board a flight for China. Prosecutors allege Chen took from Apple more than 2,000 files containing “manuals, schematics, diagrams and photographs of computer screens showing pages in Apple’s secure databases” with intent to share them. Agents arrested him in January at a train station on his way to San Francisco International Airport for a trip to China. The men were each charged with one count of criminal trade secrets theft and pleaded not guilty. They were released on bail shortly after their arrests and have been monitored since then. Attorney Daniel Olmos, who represents the men, said Monday that both had family reasons to visit China and had shown no signs of violating their pre-trial conditions so far. Assistant U.S. Attorney Marissa Harris argued that if either man fled to China, it would be difficult if not impossible for federal officials to secure their extradition for a trial. Three Apple employees sat in the courtroom to support prosecutors, including Anthony DeMario, a strategic adviser to Apple’s global security group and veteran of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Harris read Apple’s statement to U.S. District Judge Edward J. Davila in San Jose, California. “Apple’s intellectual property is at the core of our innovation and growth,” the statement said. “The defendants’ continued participation in these proceedings is necessary to ensure a final determination of the facts, and we have deep concerns the defendants will not see this through if given the opportunity. Zhan stood listening through an interpreter and was dressed in a white and blue dress shirt, black jeans and Nike sneakers. Olmos told Davila GPS monitoring was unnecessary to secure Zhang’s appearance at trial. “This is not an espionage case,” Olmos said. The government “is not requesting detention, but they are requesting essentially indefinitely location monitoring.” Harris said Zhang’s wife told federal agents that Zhang, who is a permanent U.S. resident, attempted to flee to Canada when agents searched his home. During that search, agents found a laptop at the bottom of a laundry hamper that they allege contained trade secrets about Ethernet technology from Zhang’s prior employer, chip supplier Marvell Technology Group Ltd, according to court documents. Chen, a U.S. citizen who emigrated from China in 1991, listened to the proceedings through an interpreter and wore a dark blue hoodie. He has been under radiofrequency monitoring, which is less precise than GPS tracking. CONFIDENTIAL MISSILE DOCUMENT Prosecutors allege that Chen is a flight risk in part because they found documents from several other former employers - including General Electric Co and Raytheon Co - at Chen’s second residence in Maryland, where his wife and son live. Prosecutors said in court papers they found a 2011 document from Raytheon that they later determined was classified as “confidential,” the lowest level of sensitivity in the U.S. government system. “This document contains information relating to Raytheon’s work on the Patriot Missile program and was not (and is not) permitted to be maintained outside of Department of Defense secured locations,” prosecutors wrote. Olmos, the defense attorney, said it was not a file, but a single paper document “sitting in a box somewhere” in Chen’s home. Trial dates have not been scheduled. A hearing is scheduled for February. Source
  20. China’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) has announced that a national 6G research and development working group and general expert group to promote 6G’s development has been set up. Last year, it was announced that the country would begin R&D work in 2020 with a commercial launch taking place in 2030 so it seems as though development is at least a few months ahead of schedule. The launch of the work was announced at a recent meeting hosted by MOST and brought together several organisations including the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The country is not delaying in its work, most countries around the world, including China, are only just launching 5G networks and devices that operate on 5G are still a bit thin on the ground. The Vice Minister of Science and Technology, Wang Xi, said that the country is still in the initial stages of the R&D process where it is exploring solutions, key indicators, and what role the technology will fill. As this initial work progresses, new definitions and specifications will be defined for firms to work to. He also said that the country “will promote the development of 6G with efficiency and openness.” This could be in response to doubts cast on Huawei equipment being used in other countries' 5G networks. We’re still in the initial steps on the road to 6G but as time goes on the applications which 6G can be used for will be made more clear. 5G is already expected to create highly connected cities so it’ll be very interesting to see what 6G unlocks. Source: China begins research and development work on 6G months ahead than originally planned (via Neowin) p/s: This news is suited to be posted under Technology News section, even though this news has something to do under mobile networks.
  21. It's meant to enforce rules, but it's also another blow to privacy. China is as determined as ever to link real identities to the digital world. As of December 1st, anyone signing up for a new cellphone or cellular data contract is required to not only show their national ID card, but submit to a face scan to verify that identity. It's ostensibly meant to reduce fraud, but it also reduces your ability to use phone services in an anonymous way -- it'll be that much easier for the Chinese government to silence dissenters. There are privacy issues beyond that, too. China is known to use facial recognition to track and suppress ethnic minorities, and also uses it against virtually everyone to spot travelers and cars that are on a state-run blacklist. It's not clear that China will get rid of face scans after the verification process, potentially adding more sensitive data to the mix. Whether or not the scans are immediately useful for surveillance, they might also represent prime targets for hackers who want photos to help commit fraud. There is evidence of mounting opposition to widespread facial recognition in China, whether it's on social networks or lawsuits against companies that try to make it mandatory. Even the government promised to tone things down after a university tested facial recognition to monitor student attendance. However, it's doubtful the Chinese government will back down on face scans that help stifle political opposition. Source: China now requires face scans to sign up for phone service (via Engadget)
  22. Topline: One of the deadliest pandemics in human history, the Black Death plague, has cropped up again with two cases recently reported in China—although chances of another global pandemic are slim to none, according to medical experts. The plague is still around, but chances of another outbreak are slim. Two people from the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia are reportedly being treated for the plague—the same disease that caused the Black Death, which wiped out around 50 million people in Europe during the 14th century—according to state officials. It’s not the first time the disease has been reported this year: Earlier in 2019, a Mongolian couple died from bubonic plague after eating a raw marmot kidney, while over the summer, plague-infested prairie dogs shut down parts of a Denver suburb in Colorado. Human infections continue to occur primarily in rural areas, sometimes in the western U.S., but more frequently in parts of Asia, South America and primarily Africa, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In recent decades, an average of seven human plague cases in the U.S. have been reported each year, with the last deaths occurring in 2015, according to CDC data. Plague can be transmitted through flea bites and infected animals, primarily wild rodents like rats, prairie dogs, squirrels and rabbits—although human pets like cats and dogs can also get infected. While today we have modern antibiotics to effectively treat infections and prevent death if caught early enough, there is currently no vaccine to protect individuals from the plague. Crucial quote: “The risks of a global plague pandemic such as the 14th century Black Death are close to nil,” says Dr. James Shepherd, an associate professor of internal medicine (infectious diseases) at the Yale School of Medicine. “It is a zoonosis—an infection with a wild animal reservoir—transmitted by flea bites and so it doesn’t have the capacity to rapidly spread from person to person. … There are sporadic cases in the U.S. annually, often in hunters, so we see it occasionally.” Key background: During the Middle Ages, the Black Death plague wiped out around 50 million people. Plague is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, and can arise in three forms: Bubonic plague is most common, marked by swollen lymph nodes on the body. If not treated early enough, that can cause septicemic plague, which infects the blood, and worse yet, pneumonic plague, which infects the lungs. What to watch for: Despite its associations with historical pandemics, the disease is still around today. More than 3,248 cases were reported worldwide from 2010 to 2015, including 584 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. With close to 50,000 human cases of the plague in the last two decades, according to CNN, the WHO now classifies it as a reemerging disease. The three countries where the plague is most endemic are Peru, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Madagascar—where a 2017 outbreak saw 2,348 reported cases and 202 deaths. Source
  23. Companies are afraid that future GitLab support staff in China and Russia might steal their data, or be coerced by foreign intelligence services to pass on trade secrets. Code hosting platform GitLab is considering blocking new hires from countries such as China and Russia. Eric Johnson, VP of Engineering at GitLab, said discussions on banning new hires from the two countries began after enterprise customers expressed concerns about the geopolitical climate of the two countries. GitLab is a service akin to GitHub, where companies can host source code projects and have their employees work on the code, synchroonizing it to a cloud-hosted server. Companies can also host their own version of GitLab locally, using an eponymously named platform. Companies pay GitLab for access to various enterprise features, and if something goes wrong, GitLab staff provide support. If approved, the hiring ban will apply to two positions; namely Site Reliability Engineer and Support Engineer, the two positions that handle providing tech support to GitLab's enterprise customers. Johnson said these two support staff positions have full access to customers' data, something that companies had an issue with, especially if tech support staff was to be located in countries like China and Russia, where they could be compromised or coerced by local intelligence services. Johnson said GitLab does not have "a technical way" to support a data access permission systems for employees based on their country of origin. "Doing so would also force us to confront the possibility of creating a 'second class of citizens' on certain teams who cannot take part in 100% of their responsibilities," Johnson said. Fears of malicious insiders The new "hiring ban" is not yet final. Open conversations on the topic started last month, and are scheduled to end November 6. The discussions began a day after CrowdStrike published a report detailing how China's cyber-espionage agents recruited insiders at western companies to help hackers steal intellectual property (IP) to help state-owned companies build the Comac C919 airplane, a Boeing competitor. There is a general train of thought that both Russian and Chinese intelligence agencies might use the same blueprint and plant agents or coerce GitLab staff into handing over data belonging to western companies. GitLab was not immediately available for additional comments. In a HackerNews post, GitLab CEO Sid Sijbrandij said the company currently does not employ any support staff from China or Russia, so the future ban won't lead to anyone losing their jobs. Based on opinions shared by GitLab staff in the open discussions, the ban is most likely to be approved when the public consultation period ends on Wednesday. Once the new hiring ban is approved, GitLab support staff members would also not be allowed to move to China or Russia. GitLab said the ban wouldn't apply to other job roles or activities, such as accepting code contributions to its open-source code from Chinese or Russian developers. Both Johnson and Sijbrandij said that all contributions to the site's open-source products are vetted by employees, so any malicious code would be detected. Source
  24. It's a ban in everything but name. E-cigarette sales bans are quickly becoming an international phenomenon. China's tobacco regulators have asked online shopping companies to "temporarily" close online stores that sell e-cigarettes -- effectively, it's banning e-cig sales on the internet. Officials argued in the notice that this was to protect the "physical and mental health of minors," echoing concerns in the US. It's not certain if or when the ban will end. This isn't the first time Chinese retailers have pulled e-cigs, but it's considerably broader than before. In September, Juul's e-cigarettes disappeared from shelves just a week after they became available in China. This will be a serious blow to e-cig makers in China if it holds. The nation has over 300 million smokers of various kinds, and that could threaten both manufacturers and those online shops that depend heavily on e-cig sales. It might hurt China as well, with state-owned China Tobacco producing almost six percent of the nation's tax revenue. It's not surprising that China would act, though. There are concerns around the world that e-cigarette companies are targeting teens, and that's not helped by reports of illnesses. China might be willing to sacrifice some of that tax money if it can prevent teen use and health problems. More at: Reuters Source
  25. BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s three state telecoms on Thursday announced the roll-out 5G mobile phone services, marking a key step in Beijing’s ambitions to become a technology superpower at a time when it remains locked in trade tensions with Washington. China Mobile’s, China Unicom and China Telecom’s said on their websites and online stores that 5G plans, which start from as low as 128 yuan a month, will be available from Friday, allowing Chinese consumers nationwide to use the ultra-fast mobile internet service. Beijing had originally said it would launch the ultra-fast mobile internet service, which promises to support new features such as autonomous driving, early next year. But it accelerated its plans as tensions with the United States, especially over its boycott of telecoms giant Huawei Technologies, heated up. “China will have the largest commercial operating 5G network in the world on Friday, and the scale of its network and the price of its 5G services will have a pivotal impact throughout the supply chain,” Bernstein said in a report this week. Authorities have said that they plan to install over 50,000 5G base stations across 50 Chinese cities in the country by the end of this year, and that big cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Hangzhou, are already covered by the 5G network. Chinese companies from Xiaomi to Huawei have also unveiled new products in anticipation of the 5G roll out, with Huawei saying that it anticipates to start seeing a revenue uplift from the sector next year. Smartphone marker Xiaomi said earlier this month that it plans to launch more than 10 5G phones next year and that there was a fear in the industry that consumers would stop buying 4G models. Source
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