At a glance.
- US FCC will entertain comment on the Administration's petition for social media content moderation transparency rules.
- NSO Group spyware found deployed in Togo.
- China reacts to Microsoft's possible acquisition of TikTok.
- US blames China's government for the Taidoor remote access Trojan.
- NSA offers advice on protecting geolocation data.
- Possible source of documents used in UK election influence campaign identified.
Federal Communications Commission open for comment on social media transparency.
The US FCC will entertain comments on the Administration's petition for rules that would mandate greater transparency in social media with respect to platforms' content moderation rules, Reuters reports. FCC chair Ajit Pai yesterday said that the Commission would accept comments for the next forty-five days.
Pegasus spyware found deployed in Togo.
NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware is said, by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, to have been deployed against a Roman Catholic bishop and a priest who had advocated human rights reforms in the West African country of Togo, as well as against two members of the political opposition. Pegasus is believed to have been installed through a WhatsApp exploit.
This is the most recent case in which NSO Group tools have been found in use by governments for domestic surveillance that appears to go beyond law enforcement or counter-terrorism investigations. No government is flawless, of course, and an argument could be made that the sale of Pegasus to Togo is a legitimate case of lawful intercept technology being delivered to a legitimate customer (NSO Group has declined to comment), but Citizen Lab thinks that’s a tough case to make.
Togo’s not the worst regime on the planet, to be sure, but if your standard is, say, North Korea, you’re probably missing the mark. Citizen Lab describes Togo as “a flawed democracy ruled by a single family for fifty-seven years with a long track record of human rights abuses (including reports that torture is routine in the country’s prisons).” And they go on to say that “the four individuals targeted are clearly neither ‘criminals’ nor ‘terrorists’ by any international human rights-respecting standards.”
NSO Group emailed a statement to Vice. The vendor said, “as NSO has now stated on several occasions, due to strict contractual and legal confidentiality requirements we cannot confirm or deny who our customers are. As we have also made clear before, we are not privy to who our authorised and verified sovereign government clients target using our technology, though they are contractually obliged to only do so against terrorists and criminals.”
Citizen Lab says it doesn’t have conclusive evidence that the spyware was deployed by Togo’s security forces, but it does believe the timing and target selection amount to a strong circumstantial case that it was.
China reacts to Microsoft's possible acquisition of TikTok.
China Daily, an outlet for the Chinese Communist Party, has announced the party line on Microsoft’s interest in buying TikTok’s operations in the US, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. The “US administration's smash and grab of TikTok will not be taken lying down,” the paper’s headline declared, although what the implied retaliation might be is left unspecified. It’s a lot of “shilly-shallying” out of the Art of the Deal, the same stuff Beijing says it endured during trade negotiations with the US. And indeed the US Government has encouraged Microsoft to think about acquiring TikTok.
But Forbes thinks this is more smoke-blowing than fire-breathing. TikTok isn’t Huawei, and reading between the tough lines are avowals of determination to be measured and responsible, which suggest that China is signalling that it doesn’t intend to retaliate against US software shops. There are, after all, companies and there are companies, and TikTok, while splashy, isn’t Huawei.
US officially blames China's government for the Taidoor RAT.
The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has published a Malware Analysis Report on “Taidoor,” a remote access Trojan that Chinese intelligence services have deployed against collection targets since 2008. The FBI and the Department of Defense concurred in the analysis, and US Cyber Command has uploaded samples of Taidoor’s code to VirusTotal. It’s been used against government agencies, corporations, and think tanks, mostly organizations with an interest in Taiwan. The FBI says it “has high confidence that Chinese government actors are using malware variants in conjunction with proxy servers to maintain a presence on victim networks and to further network exploitation.”
Both FireEye and CrowdStrike have tracked Taidoor for some time, with FireEye publishing a study in 2013 and CrowdStrike in 2014, so Taidoor hasn’t suddenly emerged from nowhere. But the news in this latest Report is its formal, explicit attribution of the RAT to the Chinese government, and the urgency with which the US Government urges organizations to apply against Taidoor.
NSA offers advice on protecting mobile data, especially geolocation.
The US is showing increased concern over the risk to mobile data, especially geolocation information, the Wall Street Journal reports. The National Security Agency has issued guidance for limiting location data exposure, and notes in doing so that protecting data, mission, and privacy can be accomplished through many of the same measures. "While it may not always be possible to completely prevent the exposure of location information, it is possible—through careful configuration and use—to reduce the amount of location data shared. Awareness of the ways in which such information is available is the first step."
Documents used during the last UK general election may have come from an email hack.
Reuters reports that papers related to UK-US trade negotiations that were leaked to the Labour Party and others during the last British general election were taken from the email account of former Conservative trade minister Liam Fox. The documents were represented as evidence of plans the Tory government had to “privatise” the National Health Service and turn it over to American for-profit control. This story was far-fetched and implausible even by the standards of electoral politics, and, while the leaked documents were waived by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on camera in a campaign photo op, the narrative gained little traction.
The theft has been widely attributed to Russian intelligence services. British foreign minister Dominic Raab last month said “Russian actors” had sought to interfere in the election “through the online amplification of illicitly acquired and leaked Government documents.” An investigation into how the documents were taken is still in progress.