Emblematic of the beleaguered state of the opposition, a forlorn group of volunteers maintains a 24-hour vigil at the spot where a prominent democracy advocate was killed in 2015.
Britain and the rest of Europe are watching natural gas prices and utility bills soar, and Russia is coming under pressure to provide more gas.
The adviser, Serhiy Shefir, was unharmed, but his driver was shot and wounded in an attack in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.
A US intelligence officer traveling in India earlier this month with CIA director William Burns reported experiencing a mysterious health incident and symptoms consistent with so-called Havana syndrome, according to a report by CNN. The officer received immediate medical care upon returning to the US.
The case raises fears that such incidents are not only increasing, but potentially escalating, unnamed officials told CNN and The New York Times. The new incident within Burns’ own team reportedly left the CIA chief “fuming” with anger.
The director’s schedule is tightly guarded, and officials do not know if the affected intelligence officer was targeted because the officer was traveling with the director. If the health incident was an attack carried out by an adversarial intelligence agency—as feared—it’s unclear how the adversarial agency learned of the trip and was able to prepare an attack. It’s also possible, however, that the officer was targeted for other reasons and without knowledge that the officer was traveling with the director.
The authorities added a suspect in the attempted assassination of Sergei V. Skripal in 2018. Separately, a European court blamed Russia for Alexander V. Litvinenko’s murder in 2006.
The European Court of Human Rights said Russia was responsible for the murder of Alexander V. Litvinenko, who was poisoned with a rare isotope.
Covid has reached even the Yamal Peninsula in the Arctic. So vaccination teams are following, and finding ways to inoculate nomadic herders.
Businesses attacked. Data stolen. Miles of pipeline shut down. The scourge of ransomware is worse than ever.
The official tally gave a strong parliamentary majority to President Vladimir V. Putin’s United Russia party. Opposition leaders cried foul, pointing to earlier signs of gains.
A mass shooting at a provincial Russian university killed at least eight people in the latest outbreak of violence at schools or universities in Russia.
The search giant agreed to Moscow’s requests to restrict access to online videos and documents being used by allies of the imprisoned opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, activists said.
The Kremlin’s propaganda system, lurid and spurious, is central to the president’s power.
Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review!
Last week, we talked about some sunglasses from a company that many people do not like very much. This week, we’re talking about Apple and the company 1,600 times smaller than it that’s facing similar product problems.
Thanks for joining in — follow my tweets @lucasmtny for more.
the big thing
When you get deep enough into the tech industry, it’s harder to look at things with a consumer’s set of eyes. I’ve felt that way more and more after six years watching Apple events as a TechCrunch reporter, but sometimes memes from random Twitter accounts help me find the consumer truth I’m looking for.
As that dumb little tweet indicates, Apple is charging toward a future where it’s becoming a little harder to distinguish new from old. The off-year “S” period of old is no more for the iPhone, which has seen tweaks and new size variations since 2017’s radical iPhone X redesign. Apple is stretching the periods between major upgrades for its entire product line and it’s also taking longer to roll out those changes.
Apple debuted the current bezel-lite iPad Pro design back in late 2018 and it’s taken three years for the design to work its way down to the iPad mini while the entry-level iPad is still lying in wait. The shift from M1 Macs will likely take years as the company has already detailed. Most of Apple’s substantial updates rely on upgrades to the chipsets that they build, something that increasingly makes them look and feel like a consumer chipset company.
This isn’t a new trend, or even a new take, it’s been written lots of times, but it’s particularly interesting as the company bulks up the number of employees dedicated to future efforts like augmented reality, which will one day soon likely replace the iPhone.
It’s an evolution that’s pushing them into a similar design territory as action camera darling GoPro, which has struggled again and again with getting their core loyalists to upgrade their hardware frequently. These are on laughably different scales, with Apple now worth some $2.41 trillion and GoPro still fighting for a $1.5 billion market cap. The situations are obviously different, and yet they are both facing similar end-of-life innovation questions for categories that they both have mastered.
This week GoPro debuted its HERO10 Black camera, which brings higher frame rates and a better performing processor as it looks to push more of its user audience to subscription services. Sound familiar? This week, Apple debuted its new flagship, the iPhone 13 Pro, with a faster processor and better frame rates (for the display not the camera here, though). They also spent a healthy amount of time pushing users to embrace new services ecosystems.
Apple’s devices are getting so good that they’re starting to reach a critical feature plateau. The company has still managed to churn out device after device and expand their audience to billions while greatly expanding their average revenue per user. Things are clearly going pretty well for the most valuable company on earth, but while the stock has nearly quadrupled since the iPhone X launch, the consumer iPhone experience feels pretty consistent. That’s clearly not a bad thing, but it is — for lack of a better term — boring.
The clear difference, among 2.4 trillion others, is that GoPro doesn’t seem to have a clear escape route from its action camera vertical.
But Apple has been pushing thousands of employees toward an escape route in augmented reality, even if the technology is clearly not ready for consumers and they’re forced to lead with what has been rumored to be a several-thousand-dollar AR/VR headset with plenty of limitations. One of the questions I’m most interested in is what the iPhone device category looks likes once its unwieldy successor has reared its head. Most likely is that the AR-centric devices will be shipped as wildly expensive iPhone accessories and a way to piggy back off the accessibility of the mobile category while providing access to new — and more exciting — experiences. In short, AR is the future of the iPhone until AR doesn’t need the iPhone anymore.
Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:
Everything Apple announced this week
Was it the most exciting event Apple has ever had? Nah. Are you still going to click that link to read about their new stuff? Yah.
GoPro launches the HERO10 Black
I have a very soft spot in my heart for GoPro, which has taken a niche corner of hardware and made a device and ecosystem that’s really quite good. As I mentioned above, the company has some issues making significant updates every year, but they made a fairly sizable upgrade this year with the second-generation of their customer processor and some performance bumps across the board.
Tesla will open FSD beta to drivers with good driving record
Elon Musk is pressing ahead with expanding its “Full Self-Driving” software to more Tesla drivers, saying that users who paid for the FSD system can apply to use the beta and will be analyzed by the company’s insurance calculator bot. After 7 days of good driving behavior, Musk says users will be approved.
OpenSea exec resigns after ‘insider trading’ scandal
NFTs are a curious business; there’s an intense amount of money pulsating through these markets — and little oversight. This week OpenSea, the so-called “eBay of NFTs,” detailed that its own VP of Product had been trading on insider information. He was later pushed to resign.
Apple and Google bow to the Kremlin
Apple and Google are trying to keep happy the governments of most every market in which they operate. That leads to some uncomfortable situations in markets like Russia, where both tech giants were forced by the Kremlin to remove a political app from the country’s major opposition party.
Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:
What could stop the startup boom?
“…We’ve seen record results from cities, countries and regions. There’s so much money sloshing around the venture capital and startup worlds that it’s hard to recall what they were like in leaner times. We’ve been in a bull market for tech upstarts for so long that it feels like the only possible state of affairs. It’s not…”
The value of software revenue may have finally stopped rising
“…I’ve held back from covering the value of software (SaaS, largely) revenues for a few months after spending a bit too much time on it in preceding quarters — when VCs begin to point out that you could just swap out numbers quarter to quarter and write the same post, it’s time for a break. But the value of software revenues posted a simply incredible run, and I can’t say “no” to a chart…“
Inside GitLab’s IPO filing
“…The company’s IPO has therefore been long expected. In its last primary transaction, GitLab raised $286 million at a post-money valuation of $2.75 billion, per PitchbBook data. The same information source also notes that GitLab executed a secondary transaction earlier this year worth $195 million, which gave the company a $6 billion valuation…”
Apple and Google gave a boost to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ruling party by removing a strategic voting app developed by activists who support the jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The app, called “Navalny,” was kicked off the mobile app stores ahead of this weekend’s legislative election as Apple and Google caved to pressure from the Russian government.
“Removing the Navalny app from stores is a shameful act of political censorship. Russia’s authoritarian government and propaganda will be thrilled,” Ivan Zhdanov, who is director of the Navalny-founded Anti-Corruption Foundation and a politician in the Russia of the Future opposition party, wrote on Twitter. While candidates associated with Navalny are banned from the election, the Navalny app was designed to help voters coalesce around opposition candidates who are on the ballot.
As noted by NBC News, the now-removed “tactical voting app allows voters who do not want President [Vladimir] Putin’s ruling political party, United Russia, to win the election to organize around a single opposition candidate in each of the 225 electoral districts in an effort to boost the number of non-Kremlin-approved politicians in power.” Since mid-August, the Russian government has “threatened Apple and Google with fines if they didn’t remove Navalny’s tactical voting app from the App Store and Google Play store,” NBC News wrote.
Apple and Google have removed a tactical voting app created by the organization of jailed Kremlin critic, Alexei Navalny, from their respective mobile app stores in Russia.
Earlier this week Reuters reported that the Russian state had been amping up the pressure on foreign tech giants ahead of federal elections — appropriating the language of “election interference” to push US companies to censor the high profile political opponent to president Putin.
On Twitter today, a key Navalny ally, Ivan Zhdanov, tweeted that his organization is considering suing Apple and Google over removal of the apps — dubbing the act of censorship a “huge mistake”.
Zhdanov has also published what he says is Apple’s response to Team Navalny — in which the tech giant cites the Kremlin’s classification of a number of pro-Navalny organizations as “extremist” groups to justify its removal of the software.
Apple and Google routinely say they comply with ‘all local laws’ in the countries where they operate.
However in Russia that stance means they have become complicit in acts of political censorship.
“We note that the Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation and the Prosecutor’s Office of the City of Moscow have also determined that the app violates the legislation of the Russian Federation by enabling interference in elections,” Apple writes in the notification of takedown it sent to the developer of the tactical voting app.
“While your app has been removed from the Russia App Store, it is still available in the App Stores for the other territories you selected in App Store Connect,” Apple adds.
Apple and Google have been contacted for comment on the removal of Navalny’s app.
Also via Twitter, Zhdanov urged supporters to focus on the tactical voting mission — tweeting a link to a video hosted on Google-owned YouTube which contains recommendations to Russians on how to cast an anti-Putin vote in the parliamentary elections taking place today until Sunday.
Navalny’s supporters are hoping to mobilize voters across Russia to cast tactical ballots in a bid to unseat Putin by voting for whatever candidate has the best chance of defeating the ruling United Russia party.
Their tactical voting strategy has faced some criticism — given that many of the suggested alternatives are, at best, only very weakly opposed to Putin’s regime.
However Navalny’s supporters would surely point out they are having to operate within a flawed system.
After Apple and Google initially refused to remove Navalny’s ‘Smart Voting’ app, last month, the Russian state has been attempting to block access to his organization’s website.
It has even reportedly targeted Google docs — which supporters of Navalny have also been using to organize tactical voting efforts.
Earlier this month Reuters reported that Russia’s communications regulator, Roskomnadzor, had threatened Apple and Google with fines if they did not remove the Smart Voting app — warning that failure to comply could be interpreted as election meddling.
Russian press has also reported that Apple and Google were summoned to a meeting at the Federation Council on the eve of the election — as Putin’s regime sought to force them to do his anti-democratic bidding.
According to a report by Kommersant, the tech giants were warned the Russian Federation was preparing to tighten regulations on their businesses — and told to “come to their senses”, facing another warning that they were at a “red line”.
The last ditch effort to force the platforms to remove Navalny’s app did then pay off.
In recent weeks, Roskomnadzor has also been targeting VPN apps in the country for removal — making it hard for Russians to circumvent the local ban on Navalny’s app by accessing the software through the stores of other countries.
Local search giant, Yandex, has also reportedly been ordered not to display search results for the Smart Voting app.
Earlier this year, Putin’s regime also targeted Twitter — throttling the service for failing to remove content it wanted banned, although Roskomnadzor claimed the action was related to non-political content such as minors committing suicide, child sexual exploitation and drug use.
The Russian authorities have used a variety of deceitful tactics to try to manufacture a big victory in parliamentary elections this weekend. Here’s how they do it.
Racing to beat NASA, an actress and a film director will blast off next month for the International Space Station, where they will film “The Challenge.”
During the Cold War, she fought for the rights of others and waged a 16-year fight of her own for an exit visa to Israel. She finally won in 1987.
The defendant, Michael Sussmann, is accused of lying to the F.B.I. in a meeting about Trump and Russia. He denies wrongdoing.
Many in Russia say they are fed up with corruption, stagnant wages and rising prices. But they worry, as one man said, that “if things start to change, there will be blood.”
The episodes, known as Havana syndrome, have left spies, diplomats, soldiers and others with brain injuries.
Five of the opposition leader’s exiled allies are engineering an election campaign that they hope will put dozens of Kremlin opponents into Parliament.
Middle-aged women are part of the core base of Russia’s ruling party. Can its refusal to help domestic violence victims harm its support in this weekend’s elections?
Berlin has protested to Moscow after identifying repeated attempts to steal politicians’ private information before the election this month that will decide Angela Merkel’s successor.
In their sixth meeting in less than a year, the countries’ presidents agreed to deepen economic ties, leaving tougher political questions for later.
The arrangement allows the Russian government some plausible deniability for attacks, researchers found.
The government said Yevgeny Zinichev, a longtime Putin aide responsible for emergency situations, dived off a cliff to save a film director who fell into the water.
The government said Yevgeny Zinichev, a longtime Putin aide responsible for emergency situations, dived off a cliff to save a film director who fell into the water.
The remains of a Napoleonic general who died on a Russian battlefield came home in July. But the chance for rapprochement collapsed over concerns about Moscow’s policies.
The messy ending to the war has underscored President Biden’s discomfort with prolonged military engagements, even as the United States faces complex new threats.
Intelligence files suggest an aide to a top Catalan separatist sought help from Russia in the struggle to break with Spain. A fierce new protest group emerged shortly afterward.
The Ukrainian president got the Oval Office reception he had long been seeking, after earlier efforts led to his becoming entangled in former President Donald J. Trump’s first impeachment trial.
President Volodymyr Zelensky is expected to emphasize the important role Ukraine plays in containing Russia, aides to the Ukrainian leader said.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russia failed to investigate the abduction and murder of Natalya Estemirova, a human rights researcher, but did not directly implicate the state in her killing.
“The Gambler Wife,” by Andrew D. Kaufman, recounts the life of Anna Dostoyevskaya, the Russian writer’s second wife, who took dictation of his books, endured his gambling addiction and eventually published his work herself.
Experts say the current exodus of journalists and dissidents is the biggest wave of political emigration in the country’s post-Soviet history.
Nord Stream 2 would be catastrophic for all of Europe.
A milestone for Jolla, the Finnish startup behind the Sailfish OS — which formed, almost a decade ago, when a band of Nokia staffers left to keep the torch burning for a mobile linux-based alternative to Google’s Android — today it’s announcing hitting profitability.
The mobile OS licensing startup describes 2020 as a “turning point” for the business — reporting revenues that grew 53% YoY, and EBITDA (which provides a snapshot of operational efficiency) standing at 34%.
It has a new iron in the fire too now — having recently started offering a new licensing product (called AppSupport for Linux Platforms) which, as the name suggests, can provide linux platforms with standalone compatibility with general Android applications — without a customer needing to licence the full Sailfish OS (the latter has of course baked in Android app compatibility since 2013).
Jolla says AppSupport has had some “strong” early interest from automotive companies looking for solutions to develop their in-case infotainment systems — as it offers a way for embedded Linux-compatible platform the capability to run Android apps without needing to opt for Google’s automotive offerings. And while plenty of car makers have opted for Android, there are still players Jolla could net for its ‘Google-free’ alternative.
Embedded linux systems also run in plenty of other places, too, so it’s hopeful of wider demand. The software could be used to enable an IoT device to run a particularly popular app, for example, as a value add for customers.
“Jolla is doing fine,” says CEO and co-founder Sami Pienimäki. “I’m happy to see the company turning profitable last year officially.
“In general it’s the overall maturity of the asset and the company that we start to have customers here and there — and it’s been honestly a while that we’ve been pushing this,” he goes, fleshing out the reasons behind the positive numbers with trademark understatement. “The company is turning ten years in October so it’s been a long journey. And because of that we’ve been steadily improving our efficiency and our revenue.
“Our revenue grew over 50% since 2019 to 2020 and we made €5.4M revenue. At the same time the cost base of the operation has stablized quite well so the sum of those resulted to nice profitability.”
While the consumer mobile OS market has — for years — been almost entirely sewn up by Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS, Jolla licenses its open source Sailfish OS to governments and business as an alternative platform they can shape to their needs — without requiring any involvement of Google.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Russia was one of the early markets that tapped in.
The case for digital sovereignty in general — and an independent (non-US-based) mobile OS platform provider, specifically — has been strengthened in recent years as geopolitical tensions have played out via the medium of tech platforms; leading to, in some cases, infamous bans on foreign companies being able to access US-based technologies.
In a related development this summer, China’s Huawei launched its own Android alternative for smartphones, which it’s called HarmonyOS.
Pienimäki is welcoming of that specific development — couching it as a validation of the market in which Sailfish plays.
“I wouldn’t necessarily see Huawei coming out with the HarmonyOS value proposition and the technology as a competitor to us — I think it’s more proving the point that there is appetite in the market for something else than Android itself,” he says when we ask whether HarmonyOS risks eating Sailfish’s lunch.
“They are tapping into that market and we are tapping into that market. And I think both of our strategies and messages support each other very firmly.”
Jolla has been working on selling Sailfish into the Chinese market for several years — and that sought for business remains a work in progress at this stage. But, again, Pienimäki says Jolla doesn’t see Huawei’s move as any kind of blocker to its ambitions of licensing its Android alternative in the Far East.
“The way we see the Chinese market in general is that it’s been always open to healthy competition and there is always competing solutions — actually heavily competing solutions — in the Chinese market. And Huawei’s offering one and we are happy to offer Sailfish OS for this very big, challenging market as well.”
“We do have good relationships there and we are building a case together with our local partners also to access the China market,” he adds. “I think in general it’s also very good that big corporations like Huawei really recognize this opportunity in general — and this shapes the overall industry so that you don’t need to, by default, opt into Android always. There are other alternatives around.”
On AppSupport, Jolla says the automative sector is “actively looking for such solutions”, noting that the “digital cockpit is a key differentiator for car markers — and arguing that makes it a strategically important piece for them to own and control.
“There’s been a lot of, let’s say, positive vibes in that sector in the past few years — new comers on the block like Tesla have really shaken the industry so that the traditional vendors need to think differently about how and what kind of user experience they provide in the cockpit,” he suggests.
“That’s been heavily invested and rapidly developing in the past years but I’m going to emphasize that at the same time, with our limited resources, we’re just learning where the opportunities for this technology are. Automative seems to have a lot of appetite but then [we also see potential in] other sectors — IoT… heavy industry as well… we are openly exploring opportunities… but as we know automotive is very hot at the moment.”
“There is plenty of general linux OS base in the world for which we are offering a good additional piece of technology so that those operating solutions can actually also tap into — for example — selected applications. You can think of like running the likes of Spotify or Netflix or some communications solutions specific for a certain sector,” he goes on.
“Most of those applications are naturally available both for iOS and Android platforms. And those applications as they simply exist the capability to run those applications independently on top of a linux platform — that creates a lot of interest.”
In another development, Jolla is in the process of raising a new growth financing round — it’s targeting €20M — to support its push to market AppSupport and also to put towards further growing its Sailfish licensing business.
It sees growth potential for Sailfish in Europe, which remains the biggest market for licensing the mobile OS. Pienimäki also says it’s seeing “good development” in certain parts of Africa. Nor has it given up on its ambitions to crack into China.
The growth round was opened to investors in the summer and hasn’t yet closed — but Jolla is confident of nailing the raise.
“We are really turning a next chapter in the Jolla story so exploring to new emerging opportunities — that requires capital and that’s what are looking for. There’s plenty of money available these days, in the investor front, and we are seeing good traction there together with the investment bank with whom we are working,” says Pienimäki.
“There’s definitely an appetite for this and that will definitely put us in a better position to invest further — both to Sailfish OS and the AppSupport technology. And in particular to the go-to market operation — to make this technology available for more people out there in the market.”
Aleksei A. Navalny, the Russian opposition leader, lays out his case — by turns funny, sarcastic and ironic — for the inevitability of democracy in his country.
Russian political prisoners today are subjected to “psychological” pressure, said the opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, who is forced to watch state TV for more than eight hours a day.
Facing growing uncertainties, the Dukha people are being forced to make difficult decisions about their traditions and their future.
Sports fans and officials in the country have no trouble seeing through the thin fiction of a doping-related ban on their national symbols at the Tokyo Olympics.
The Nauka module met up with the orbiting outpost on Thursday morning, and later unexpectedly fired its thrusters.
Zebulon Scoville and others at NASA’s mission control in Houston spent Thursday righting the International Space Station after a new Russian module unexpectedly fired its thrusters.
A doping punishment changes a country’s official name but little else about its Olympic experience.
President Joe Biden has warned that cyberattacks could escalate into a full-blown war as tensions with Russia and China mounted over a series of hacking incidents targeting US government agencies, companies, and infrastructure.
Biden said on Tuesday that cyber threats including ransomware attacks “increasingly are able to cause damage and disruption in the real world.”
“If we end up in a war, a real shooting war with a major power, it’s going to be as a consequence of a cyber breach,” the president said in a speech at the Office for the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees 18 US intelligence agencies.
His “Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears” was named best foreign-language film in 1980, beating Truffaut and Kurosawa. U.S. critics demurred.
Sorry Mr. Putin, but there’s a race on for Russian and Eastern European founders. And right now, those awful capitalists in the corrupt West are starting to out-gun the opposition! But seriously… only the other day a $100 million fund aimed at Russian speaking entrepreneurs appeared, and others are proliferating.
Now, London-based Untitled Ventures plans to join their fray with a €100 million / $118M for its second fund to invest in “ambitious deep tech startups with eastern European founders.”
Untitled says it is aiming at entrepreneurs who are looking to relocate their business or have already HQ’ed in Western Europe and the USA. That’s alongside all the other existing Western VCs who are – in my experience – always ready and willing to listen to Russian and Eastern European founders, who are often known for their technical prowess.
Untitled is going to be aiming at B2B, AI, agritech, medtech, robotics, and data management startups with proven traction emerging from the Baltics, CEE, and CIS, or those already established in Western Europe
LPs in the fund include Vladimir Vedeenev, a founder of Global Network Management>. Untitled also claims to have Google, Telegram Messenger, Facebook, Twitch, DigitalOcean, IP-Only, CenturyLinks, Vodafone and TelecomItaly as partners.
Oskar Stachowiak, Untitled Ventures Managing Partner, said: “With over 10 unicorns, €1Bn venture funding in 2020 alone, and success stories like Veeam, Semrush, and Wrike, startups emerging from the fast-growing regions are the best choice to focus on early-stage investment for us. Thanks to the strong STEM focus in the education system and about one million high-skilled developers, we have an ample opportunity to find and support the rising stars in the region.”
Konstantin Siniushin, the Untitled Ventures MP said: “We believe in economic efficiency and at the same time we fulfill a social mission of bringing technological projects with a large scientific component from the economically unstable countries of the former USSR, such as, first of all, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, but not only in terms of bringing sales to the world market and not only helping them to HQ in Europe so they can get next rounds of investments.”
He added: “We have a great experience accumulated earlier in the first portfolio of the first fund, not just structuring business in such European countries as, for example, Luxembourg, Germany, Great Britain, Portugal, Cyprus and Latvia, but also physically relocating startup teams so that they are perceived already as fully resident in Europe and globally.”
To be fair, it is still harder than it needs to be to create large startups from Eastern Europe, mainly because there is often very little local capital. However, that is changing, with the launch recently of CEE funds such as Vitosha Venture Partners and Launchub Ventures, and the breakout hit from Romania that was UIPath.
The Untitled Ventures team:
• Konstantin Siniushin, a serial tech entrepreneur
• Oskar Stachowiak, experienced fund manager
• Mary Glazkova, PR & Comms veteran
• Anton Antich, early stage investor and an ex VP of Veeam, a Swiss cloud data management company
acquired by Insight Venture Partners for $5bln
• Yulia Druzhnikova, experienced in taking tech companies international
• Mark Cowley, who has worked on private and listed investments within CEE/Russia for over 20 years
Untitled Ventures portfolio highlights – Fund I
• Sizolution: AI-driven size prediction engine, based in Germany
• Pure app – spontaneous and impersonal dating app, based in Portugal
• Fixar Global – efficient drones for commercial use-cases, based in Latvia,
• E-contenta – based in Poland
• SuitApp – AI based mix-and-match suggestions for fashion retail, based in Singapore
• Sarafan.tech, AI-driven recognition, based in the USA
• Hello, baby – parental assistant, based in the USA
• Voximplant – voice, video and messaging cloud communication platform, based in the USA (exited)
An undercover Central Intelligence Agency officer who helped hunt down Osama bin Laden will now lead the agency task force charged with investigating the mysterious health incidents that continue to plague US personnel, according to a report Wednesday from The Wall Street Journal.
The incidents, first reported in 2016 among US diplomats stationed in Havana, Cuba, tend to involve bizarre episodes of sonic and sensory experiences that are often described as directional. Afflicted diplomats develop symptoms including headaches, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), nosebleeds, difficulty concentrating and recalling words, permanent hearing loss, and speech problems. Medical experts examining some of the cases have found evidence of “injury to widespread brain networks without an associated history of head trauma.” That is, sufferers appear to a have a concussion without a blow to the head.
Despite years of alarming reports and investigations into the cases, the cause of the incidents and who may be behind them remain a mystery—and cases continue to mount. News of the new task-force chief comes on the heels of a report from NBC News that the latest case count may be as high as 200. And though the incidents tend to be linked to Cuba—the condition is often referred to as “Havana Syndrome”—they have now been reported from every continent except Antarctica.
The Biden administration has formally accused China of the mass-hacking of Microsoft Exchange servers earlier this year, which prompted the FBI to intervene as concerns rose that the hacks could lead to widespread destruction.
The mass-hacking campaign targeted Microsoft Exchange email servers with four previously undiscovered vulnerabilities that allowed the hackers — which Microsoft already attributed to a China-backed group of hackers called Hafnium — to steal email mailboxes and address books from tens of thousands of organizations around the United States.
Microsoft released patches to fix the vulnerabilities, but the patches did not remove any backdoor code left behind by the hackers that might be used again for easy access to a hacked server. That prompted the FBI to secure a first-of-its-kind court order to effectively hack into the remaining hundreds of U.S.-based Exchange servers to remove the backdoor code. Computer incident response teams in countries around the world responded similarly by trying to notify organizations in their countries that were also affected by the attack.
In a statement out Monday, the Biden administration said the attack, launched by hackers backed by China’s Ministry of State Security, resulted in “significant remediation costs for its mostly private sector victims.”
“We have raised our concerns about both this incident and the [People’s Republic of China’s] broader malicious cyber activity with senior PRC Government officials, making clear that the PRC’s actions threaten security, confidence, and stability in cyberspace,” the statement read.
The National Security Agency also released details of the attacks to help network defenders identify potential routes of compromise. The Chinese government has repeatedly denied claims of state-backed or sponsored hacking.
The Biden administration also blamed China’s Ministry of State Security for contracting with criminal hackers to conduct unsanctioned operations, like ransomware attacks, “for their own personal profit.” The government said it was aware that China-backed hackers have demanded millions of dollars in ransom demands against hacked companies. Last year, the Justice Department charged two Chinese spies for their role in a global hacking campaign that saw prosecutors accuse the hackers of operating for personal gain.
Although the U.S. has publicly engaged the Kremlin to try to stop giving ransomware gangs safe harbor from operating from within Russia’s borders, the U.S. has not previously accused Beijing of launching or being involved with ransomware attacks.
“The PRC’s unwillingness to address criminal activity by contract hackers harms governments, businesses, and critical infrastructure operators through billions of dollars in lost intellectual property, proprietary information, ransom payments, and mitigation efforts,” said Monday’s statement.
The statement also said that the China-backed hackers engaged in extortion and cryptojacking, a way of forcing a computer to run code that uses its computing resources to mine cryptocurrency, for financial gain.
The Justice Department also announced fresh charges against four China-backed hackers working for the Ministry of State Security, which U.S. prosecutors said were engaged in efforts to steal intellectual property and infectious disease research into Ebola, HIV and AIDS, and MERS against victims based in the U.S., Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom by using a front company to hide their operations.
“The breadth and duration of China’s hacking campaigns, including these efforts targeting a dozen countries across sectors ranging from healthcare and biomedical research to aviation and defense, remind us that no country or industry is safe. Today’s international condemnation shows that the world wants fair rules, where countries invest in innovation, not theft,” said deputy attorney general Lisa Monaco.