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AI

Facebook removes ‘deepfake’ of Ukrainian President Zelenskyy

On Wednesday, Facebook’s parent company, Meta, removed a deepfake video of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy issuing a statement that he never made, asking Ukrainians to “lay down arms.”

The deepfake appears to have been first broadcasted on a Ukrainian news website for TV24 after an alleged hack, as first reported by Sky News on Wednesday. The video shows an edited Zelenskyy speaking behind a podium declaring that Ukraine has “decided to return Donbas” to Russia and that his nation’s war efforts had failed.

In the video, Zelenskyy’s head is comically larger than in real life and is more pixelated than his surrounding body. The fake voice is much deeper than his real voice as well.

Meta’s head of security policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, put out a tweet thread on Wednesday announcing that the video had been removed from the company’s platforms. “Earlier today, our teams identified and removed a deepfake video claiming to show President Zelensky issuing a statement he never did. It appeared on a reportedly compromised website and then started showing across the internet,” Gleicher said.

Earlier this month, the Ukrainian government issued a statement warning soldiers and civilians to take pause when they encounter videos of Zelenskyy online, especially if he announces a surrender to Russian invasion. In the statement, the Ukrainian Center for Strategic Communications said that the Russian government would likely use deepfakes to convince Ukrainians to surrender.

“Videos made through such technologies are almost impossible to distinguish from the real ones. Be aware – this is a fake! His goal is to disorient, sow panic, disbelieve citizens and incite our troops to retreat,” the statement said. “Rest assured – Ukraine will not capitulate!”

After the deepfake started to circulate across the internet, Zelenskyy posted a video to his official Instagram account debunking the video. “As for the latest childish provocation with advice to lay down arms, I only advise that the troops of the Russian Federation lay down their arms and return home,” he said. “We are at home and defending Ukraine.”

Facebook banned deepfakes and other manipulated videos from its platforms in 2020 ahead of the US presidential election. The policy includes content created by artificial intelligence or machine learning algorithms that could “likely mislead” users.



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Security

Costa Rican president says country is ‘at war’ with Conti ransomware group

Ransomware — and particularly the Conti ransomware gang — has become a geopolitical force in Costa Rica. On Monday, the new Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves, who began his four-year term only 10 days ago, declared that the country was “at war” with the Conti cybercriminal gang, whose ransomware attack has disabled agencies across the government since April.

In a forceful statement made to press on May 16th, President Chaves also said that Conti was receiving help from collaborators within the country and called on international allies to help.

“We’re at war and this is not an exaggeration,” Chaves told local media. “The war is against an international terrorist group, which apparently has operatives in Costa Rica. There are very clear indications that people inside the country are collaborating with Conti.”

President Chaves’ declaration of war against Conti comes in the face of unusually belligerent rhetoric from the ransomware group, which stated its intent to “overthrow the government by means of a cyberattack.” In a message posted to the Conti website, the ransomware group urged citizens of Costa Rica to pressure their government to pay the ransom, which has been doubled from an initial $10 million to $20 million.

Over the period of the attack, the US government has also offered a bounty of up to $10 million for information that could identify or locate the main coordinators of the Conti group’s operations or $5 million for information leading to the arrest of any Conti member.

The severe impact of Conti’s attack on the Costa Rican government points to the continued ability of the largest ransomware groups to operate on a scale that can pose a threat to nation states and draw on funding reserves that allow them to buy their way into some of the most sensitive computer systems by bribing those with access.

“We’re at the point now where these ransomware groups make billions of dollars, so their ability to get access to these [networks] is only limited by their own desire,” said Jon Miller, CEO and co-founder of anti-ransomware software platform Halcyon. “Month after month, more of these groups are coming online. This is a drastically growing problem.”

As the Costa Rican crisis continues, more knock-on effects are reaching citizens of the country. Statements made by Chaves put the number of government agencies hit at 27, including the Finance Ministry and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security. One of the effects was that the government was unable to collect taxes through traditional means, Chaves said.

So far, the Costa Rican president has remained intransigent that the government will pay nothing to the ransomware gang. With neither side appearing to budge, the situation has reached a standoff — but one that will be closely watched by other governments hoping to avoid a similar fate.

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Security

The vice president should not be using Bluetooth headphones

Yesterday, Politico opened its newsletter with an article on Vice President Kamala Harris’ aversion to using Bluetooth headphones. The VP was “Bluetooth-phobic,” the story claimed, “wary” of her AirPods and cautious with her technology use to an extent former aides described as “a bit paranoid.” Proof could be seen in her televised appearances: wires dangling from her ears in an interview with MSNBC’s Joy Reid or clutched in her hand during the famous “We did it, Joe” call.

But for a high-profile public official, this is a lot more reasonable than you might think. As security researchers were quick to point out, Bluetooth has a number of well-documented vulnerabilities that could be exploited if a bad actor wanted to hack, say, the second most powerful person in the US government.

Some of these attacks come down to the basic mechanics of how the Bluetooth protocol works. With Bluetooth switched on, a phone, laptop or other smart device is constantly broadcasting a signal that can be detected by other devices in range — which provides an unnecessary vector for attack that can easily be eliminated by simply keeping Bluetooth off. Assuming Bluetooth is enabled, a smartphone user generally gets a prompt from any unknown device trying to connect. But in certain cases this can be skirted, as with one exploit that impersonates a trusted Bluetooth device already known to the user in order to connect to the phone, at which point the attacker can request or send data via Bluetooth.

(The complexity of this attack makes it unlikely to affect regular people, but for a figure like the VP — who is undeniably a high-value target for foreign surveillance attempts — there’s a non-zero chance of falling victim. It also affects both Android and Apple devices, the latter of which Harris appears to use.)

Other less severe Bluetooth attacks would let an attacker crash devices through denial of service, essentially overwhelming a phone with connection requests until the processor is unable to respond. Again, such attacks have previously affected both Android and Apple devices, although iPhones are considered to have a more secure implementation of Bluetooth.

In total, the CVE Program, which tracks cybersecurity vulnerabilities, lists 459 current and historic vulnerabilities that mention Bluetooth, suggesting that Kamala Harris is right to be wary. There’s a simple way to mitigate all of these attacks — disabling Bluetooth, sticking to wired headphones — but doing so means swimming against the technological current, and maybe looking like you can’t afford AirPods.

Still, Harris’ justified distaste for Bluetooth is a win for anyone who’s been met with skepticism for suggesting that hey, perhaps they want to carry around a ball of tangled headphone wires instead of connecting wirelessly via a decades-old protocol. If anyone should be shunning the latest technology in favor of the secure option, it’s the vice president.



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Game

Blizzard president ‘steps down’ amid sexual discrimination and harassment lawsuit

Blizzard Entertainment’s leadership is in upheaval following a California lawsuit over sexual discrimination and harassment. Studio president J. Allen Brack, who was named in the lawsuit, is “stepping down” from his role. Executive development VP Jen Oneal and GM Mike Ybarra (also a former Xbox executive) will take his place as co-leaders.

The company didn’t formally explain the exit, but indicated a desire to change company culture. It said that Oneal and Ybarra would strive to make Blizzard the “most welcoming workplace possible” and help with “rebuilding your trust.”

Brack previously said in a company email (shared by Bloomberg‘s Jason Schreier) that he was against harassment and “bro culture.” As Massively Overpowered noted, though, California accused Brack of taking “no effective remedial measures” to curb sexual harassment at the company. The executive allegedly held multiple conversations with employee Alex Afrasiabi about his drinking and harassment of women, but didn’t offer much more than counselling in an attempt to correct the behavior.

There was certainly pressure on Blizzard to change leadership. Workers balked at the developer’s dismissive initial response to the lawsuit, prompting a walkout protest. Activision Blizzard chief Bobby Kotick even labeled the early reaction as “tone deaf” and promised quick action to improve company culture. In that light, Brack’s departure isn’t surprising at all — it’s one of the fastest and easiest actions the company could take.

Update 5:05PM ET: Activision Blizzard’s top HR executive, Jesse Meschuk, also left the company this week, as first reported by Bloomberg.

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Tech News

President Biden Drives 2022 Ford F-150 Electric Prototype

Ford isn’t quite ready to reveal the 2022 F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck, but when the president of the United States wants a test drive, how do you say no?

President Joe Biden visited Ford’s Rouge Electric Vehicle Center, the Detroit-area factory that will build the Lightning, yesterday and got behind the wheel of a camouflaged prototype of the new truck. He’s likely the first person outside of Ford to drive the Lightning and gave it a positive review.

“This sucker’s quick,” Biden said after pulling up to a gaggle of media, as documented by C-SPAN cameras. The president even tried to time acceleration, saying his stopwatch showed zero to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds. What appears to be an un-camouflaged Lightning can also be seen in the background of photos taken during Biden’s factory visit. That’s not something Ford wants the general public to know just yet, as truck’s official reveal is tonight, but it’s hard to argue with that kind of publicity.

Biden is a genuine car enthusiast. He owns a 1967 Chevrolet Corvette convertible, which was a wedding gift from his father. As president, he has also become an advocate of electric vehicles, pushing for measures to boost sales, as well as more domestic battery production, and the electrification of government vehicle fleets. Still, as a Chevy owner, Biden might be a little disappointed that arch-rival Ford is launching its electric truck first.

The Lightning follows the Mustang Mach-E SUV and E-Transit van as Ford’s third mass-market electric vehicle. It may not be first, but it might be the most important. The internal combustion F-150 has been America’s bestselling vehicle for decades, so making it electric opens up a massive new market to EVs.

While Ford has never built an electric F-150 before, the name is familiar. The original Ford Lightning was a performance version of the F-150 sold in the 1990s and early 2000s. Boasting a powerful V8 engine, it was once crowned world’s fastest production pickup truck by Guinness World Records.

The 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning reveal streams at 9:30 p.m. ET tonight on Ford’s YouTube and social media channels. We’ll also have full coverage here at Digital Trends. The truck starts production in spring 2022.

Editors’ Choice




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Computing

IBM President Says Chip Shortage Will Last a Few Years

IBM

In an interview with the BBC, IBM president Jim Whitehurst warned that the chip shortage could last “a few years” longer. The quote echoes similar claims made by Nvidia and Intel, which have seen firsthand the disruption of supply chains brought on by COVID-19.

Even with an uptick in vaccinations and a sense of normalcy returning to parts of the world, things will remain in flux for the semiconductor industry for at least a few years. “There’s just a big lag between from when a technology is developed and when [a fabrication plant] goes into construction and when chips come out,” Whitehurst explained.

IBM just recently unveiled the world’s first 2nm chip, setting a new bar for the semiconductor industry. It doesn’t look like manufacturers will be using that technology soon, however. Whitehurst said that the industry will need to look at ways of reusing and extending the life of computing technologies to overcome the shortage.

Interrupted supply chains are one cause of the semiconductor shortage, but they’re not the only one. A surge in demand has also contributed. The Semiconductor Industry Association continues to see market growth in the semiconductor industry, with revenue in the first quarter of 2021 exceeding that of the same quarter in 2020 by 17.8%.

The biggest driver of demand is semiconductors in computing systems, according to IDC, a market research company, followed closely by smartphones. This has caused shortages of graphics cards, game consoles, laptops, and even cars.

Apple, which has long been able to secure chips for its products, has felt the squeeze, too. A report from April claims that Apple was delaying manufacturing of the MacBook Pro and the iPad due to a lack of components. Samsung is experiencing similar problems, citing “a serious imbalance in supply and demand.”

It may take a few years, but the semiconductor industry is building back up. Last month, President Joe Biden announced a $50 billion investment in the industry as part of the American Jobs Plan, and semiconductor giants like TSMC are already in talks to take advantage of the funding to boslter domestic production.

Editors’ Choice




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Tech News

President Biden to take steps to ease semiconductor shortage in the US

Currently, there’s a global shortage of semiconductors used in many industries that has seen some major industries in the US grind to a halt. The semiconductor shortage has particularly hit automakers in America hard, causing several major companies to cease production. The Biden administration has promised to make aggressive moves to address the global semiconductor shortage.

Part of the administration’s plan is to identify bottlenecks in supply chains and develop an immediate path forward for businesses and trading partners. Policymakers are also looking for long-term solutions with a comprehensive strategy meant to avoid bottlenecks and other issues that have significantly impacted the semiconductor industry over several years. One step Biden is expected to take is the signing of an executive order instigating a government-wide supply-chain review for critical goods.

The chip shortage is reportedly the main concern behind instigating the probe. It’s unclear when the supply chain review will commence, but it’s said to begin in the coming weeks. Biden’s executive order also compel a 100-day review led by the National Economic Council and National Security Council that is focused on advanced packaging and semiconductor manufacturing. The review will also focus on critical minerals, medical supplies, and high-capacity batteries for EVs.

Information on what exactly the review will encompass hasn’t been made public at this time, but details have surfaced from people claiming to be familiar with the draft. More assessments on the supply chain will be made within a year focused on key products, materials, technology, and infrastructure. Other materials required for defense, public health, telecommunications, energy, and transportation will be focused on in the assessments as well.

This week multiple CEOs of chip manufacturing companies like Intel, Qualcomm, and AMD wrote letters to Biden urging him to support domestic production to stop the US from losing out when it comes to innovation. The executives are asking for incentives for semiconductor manufacturing in the US with grants or tax credits.

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Tech News

White House plans podcast-like weekly chats with President Biden

The Biden administration is bringing back weekly addresses from the president, but with a twist that may appeal to modern, younger audiences. According to the White House, the new weekly chats will have an informal podcast-like style, mimicking the sort of casual chats the public is used to hearing in popular audio shows.

On Saturday, the White House published the first of Biden’s planned weekly chats, which was shared in a video on its YouTube channel. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that these chats will include ‘a variety of formats,’ some of them a traditional presidential address, others more casual with everyday Americans who were selected ahead of time.

In the first weekly chat (above), President Biden spoke with Californian Michele Voelkert about her struggles to get unemployment after getting laid off last year, as well as the effort to find a new job. The conversation also included talk about online school, which has replaced traditional schooling during the pandemic.

The idea behind these new digital, online weekly chats is that the average person will be able to engage with the content using the platforms they’re used to. The Biden team embraced digital and alternative formats over traditional methods due to the pandemic; it makes sense that the administration would continue with this more modern alternative.

Weekly presidential addresses have been something of a traditional, but an inconsistent one, with some presidents regularly engaging with the populace in this way and others abandoning it. President Obama was the most recent president to regularly conduct weekly addresses, a practice that persisted for only a short time during Trump’s term.

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Security

Microsoft president sounds alarm on ‘ongoing’ SolarWinds hack, identifies 40 more precise targets

Microsoft president Brad Smith warned that the wide-ranging hack of the SolarWinds’ Orion IT software is “ongoing,” and that investigations reveal “an attack that is remarkable for its scope, sophistication and impact.” The breach targeted several US government agencies and is believed to have been carried out by Russian nation-state hackers.

Smith characterized the hack as “a moment of reckoning” and laid out in no uncertain terms just how large and how dangerous Microsoft believes the hack to be. It “represents an act of recklessness that created a serious technological vulnerability for the United States and the world,” Smith argues.

He believes that it “is not just an attack on specific targets, but on the trust and reliability of the world’s critical infrastructure in order to advance one nation’s intelligence agency.” Though the post stops short of explicitly accusing Russia, the implication is very clear. “The weeks ahead will provide mounting and we believe indisputable evidence about the source of these recent attacks,” according to Smith.

To illustrate just how far-reaching the hack was, Smith included a map that used telemetry taken from Microsoft’s Defender Anti-Virus software to show people who had installed versions of the Orion software that contained malware from the hackers.

A map showing customers affected by the malware in SolarWinds’ Orion.
Image: Microsoft

Microsoft has also been working this week to notify “more than 40 customers that the attackers targeted more precisely and compromised through additional and sophisticated measures,” according to Smith. Approximately 80 percent of those customers are located in the US, but Microsoft also identified victims in Canada, Mexico, Belgium, Spain, the UK, Israel, and the UAE. “It’s certain that the number and location of victims will keep growing,” Smith said.

Investigations into the hack are ongoing. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) issued a joint statement on Wednesday to say that they were coordinating a “whole-of-government response to this significant cyber incident.” And Smith warned that “we should all be prepared for stories about additional victims in the public sector and other enterprises and organizations.”

Earlier on Thursday, Reuters reported that Microsoft had been hacked as part of the breach and that “it also had its own products leveraged to further the attacks on others.” But Microsoft denied that claim in a statement to The Verge:

Like other SolarWinds customers, we have been actively looking for indicators of this actor and can confirm that we detected malicious Solar Winds binaries in our environment, which we isolated and removed. We have not found evidence of access to production services or customer data. Our investigations, which are ongoing, have found absolutely no indications that our systems were used to attack others.

Microsoft has been responding to the hack since December 13th, including blocking versions of SolarWinds Orion that contained the malware. Microsoft and a coalition of tech companies also seized control a domain that played a key role in the SolarWinds breach, ZDNet reported.

SolarWinds has also taken the step of hiding a list of high-profile clients from its website, perhaps to protect them from negative publicity. The list included more than 425 of the companies on the Fortune 500.

As for Microsoft, Smith used his post to call for a more organized, communal response against cyberattacks, both at a government level and amongst private institutions. “We need a more effective national and global strategy to protect against cyberattacks,” he writes. Microsoft is also looking for “stronger steps to hold nation-states accountable for cyberattacks.”

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