Month: May 2017

16 May

WannaCry: How to protect yourself, what’s happened so far​ and what could happen next

have found evidence they said could link North Korea with WannaCry. Symantec and Kaspersky Lab say that some code in an earlier version of the ransomware had also appeared in programs used by another group that several companies have identified as a North Korea-run hacking operation.
  • Canada was largely spared from the first wave of WannaCry, and Bell Canada said Monday that the ransomware was unrelated to a recent security breach of its customer records. The telecom company apologized to customers after 1.9 million of its customer e-mail addresses were accessed illegally.
  • a patch for the EternalBlue vulnerability in March.

  • Windows XP and Windows Server 2003: Microsoft didn’t issue a set of patches for some of its older, unsupported operating systems until May 12.
  • Don’t open that attachment: To avoid infection from ransomware e-mails, be careful about clicking on links or attachments in e-mails, especially if the sender is someone you don’t know. Look carefully to see if the e-mail is worded suspiciously, or if it comes from an address that seems to be imitating a sender that you trust; malware senders sometimes try to fool you. And to make sure your important files are safe if you do get infected, back them up on a secure device. Here are some more pointers from Microsoft on how to avoid ransomware infection.
  • A screenshot, provided by cybersecurity firm Symantec on May 15, 2017, shows a WannaCry ransomware demand.

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    data breach at telecom giant Bell Canada was not related to the WannaCry attack, the company said Monday after 1.9 million customer e-mail addresses were illegally accessed. “There is no indication that any financial, password or other sensitive personal information was accessed,” Bell said in a statement about the breach.

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    How this man stopped WannaCry, for now

    British IT expert Marcus Hutchins has been branded a hero for slowing down the WannaCry global cyber attack. He gave his first face-to-face interview with Associated Press in Ilfracombe, England, on May 15, 2017.

    The defeat of WannaCry is widely credited to a 22-year-old British computer expert, Marcus Hutchins, who works for Los Angeles-based Kryptos Logic. He’s the one who discovered a so-called kill switch that slowed the unprecedented outbreak on Friday.

    In his first face-to-face interview, Mr. Hutchins told Associated Press Monday that he stumbled across the solution when he was analyzing a sample of the malicious code and noticed it was linked to an unregistered web address. He promptly registered the domain, something he regularly does to discover ways to track or stop cyber threats, and found that stopped the worm from spreading.

    Salim Neino, CEO of Kryptos Logic, said Mr. Hutchins took over the kill switch on Friday afternoon European time, and that doing so protected the United States from the worst of the ransomware:

    Marcus, with the program he runs at Kryptos Logic, not only saved the United States but also prevented further damage to the rest of the world. Within a few moments, we were able to validate that there was indeed a kill switch. It was a very exciting moment. This is something that Marcus validated himself.

    Mr. Neino said the company was not able to identify “patient zero,” the first system infected, which would give researchers more information about who was behind the attack. Nevertheless, he said the worm was “poorly designed” – patched together and a “sum of different parts” with an unsophisticated payment system.

    Mr. Hutchins has long tweeted under the handle MalwareTech, which features a profile photo of a pouty-faced cat wearing enormous sunglasses. But he realizes his newfound fame will mean an end to the anonymity. After all, now he’s a computer celebrity; he’s been in touch with the FBI, as well as British national cyber-security officials.

    It is likely to be a big adjustment. Mr. Hutchins lives with his family in the seaside town of Ilfracombe, where he works out of his bedroom on a sophisticated computer setup with three enormous screens. He will soon become a local hero – but if you ask him, his life of celebrity will be short lived. “I felt like I should agree to one interview,” he said. But even that made the fame-averse Mr. Hutchins so nervous that he initially misspelled his last name, leaving out the letter “n” when doing a sound-level for the cameras.

    His mother Janet, a nurse, couldn’t be prouder – and was happy to have the veil of anonymity lifted:

    I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t.

    Mr. Hutchins told Associated Press that he doesn’t consider himself a hero but fights malware because “it’s the right thing to do”:

    I’m definitely not a hero. I’m just someone doing my bit to stop botnets.

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    Staff monitor the spread of ransomware cyberattacks at the Korea Internet and Security Agency in Seoul on May 15, 2017.

    What we still don’t know

    While security experts figured out fairly quickly how to slow down WannaCry, several mysteries remain about who started it and why it spread the way it did.

    Who was behind it?

    Some researchers have found evidence they say could link North Korea with the attack. A senior researcher from South Korea’s Hauri Labs, Simon Choi, told Reuters on Tuesday that the reclusive state had been developing and testing ransomware programs only since August. In one case, the hackers demanded bitcoin in exchange for client information they had stolen from a South Korean shopping mall.

    Mr. Choi, who has done extensive research into North Korea’s hacking capabilities, said his findings matched those of Symantec and Kaspersky Lab, who say some code in an earlier version of the WannaCry software had also appeared in programs used by the Lazarus Group, identified by some researchers as a North Korea-run hacking operation. The Lazarus hackers have however been more brazen in their pursuit of financial gain than others, and have been blamed for the theft of $81-million from the Bangladesh central bank, according to some cybersecurity firms. The United States accused it of being behind a cyber attack on Sony Pictures in 2014.

    How did it spread?

    Researchers are still unsure exactly how the malware spread in the first place, IBM Security’s Caleb Barlow told Reuters. Most cybersecurity companies have blamed phishing e-mails – e-mails containing malicious attachments or links to files – that download the ransomware. The problem in the WannaCry case is that despite digging through the company’s database of more than one billion e-mails dating back to March 1, Mr. Barlow’s team could find none linked to the attack.

    The NSA used the Microsoft flaw to build a hacking tool codenamed EternalBlue that ended up in the hands of a mysterious group called the Shadow Brokers, which then published that and other such tools online. But the puzzle is how the first person in each network was infected with the worm, Mr. Barlow said.

    Some cybersecurity companies, however, say they’ve found a few samples of the phishing e-mails. FireEye told Reuters it was aware customers had used its reports to successfully identify some associated with the attack. But the company agrees that the malware relied less on phishing e-mails than other attacks. Once a certain number of infections was established, it was able to use the Microsoft vulnerability to propagate without their help.

    Why didn’t the hackers make more money?

    Only paltry sums were collected by the hackers, according to available evidence, mostly in the bitcoin cryptocurrency. There were only three bitcoin wallets and the campaign has far earned only $50,000 or so, despite the widespread infections. IBM Security’s Mr. Barlow said that single payments in some other ransomware cases were more than that, depending on the victim.

    Jonathan Levin of Chainalysis, which monitors bitcoin payments, told Reuters there were other differences compared to most ransomware campaigns: for instance, the lack of sophisticated methods used in previous cases to convince victims to pay up. In the past, this has included hot lines in various languages. And so far, Mr. Levin said, the bitcoin that had been paid into the attackers’ wallets remained there – compared to another campaign, known as Locky, which made $15-million while regularly emptying the bitcoin wallets.

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    With reports from Josh O’Kane and Shane Dingman


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    14 May

    Stingray buys four specialty music TV channels from Bell Media

    Stingray Digital Group Inc. is buying four specialty music television channels from Bell Media, with a plan to revamp them for distribution outside Canada while also appealing to the largest Canadian TV distributors.

    The deal, announced Tuesday, will see Stingray acquire niche offerings in MuchLoud, MuchRetro and MuchVibe, as well as Juicebox, a music video channel aimed at kids. Bell Media, a division of BCE Inc., will keep ownership of the flagship Much network and its sister channel, M3.

    Financial terms were not disclosed, and the deal is expected to close in the third quarter of 2016.

    The Much brand is established among generations of Canadian viewers who came to know it under its former name, MuchMusic, but its fortunes have declined as viewing of music videos shifted online. Stingray, which used the former Galaxie music service as a platform to become a leading provider of packaged music channels, plans to rebrand and reprogram its new acquisitions with a view to exporting them south of the border.

    “The major advantage is for us to export these channels with Comcast on the X1 platform,” said Eric Boyko, Stingray’s president and chief executive officer, referring to U.S.-based Comcast Corp.’s newest TV offering. In early May, Stingray expanded a distribution agreement with Comcast.

    In a statement, Bell Media president Mary Ann Turcke said selling the channels “enables us to focus our resources,” and that the deal “helps foster a more competitive broadcast environment and ultimately creates more choice for consumers by capitalizing on both companies’ strengths.”

    The transaction may also prove strategic for both companies, thanks to a new regulatory requirement that has yet to take effect. Starting in September of 2018, Canada’s vertically integrated communications giants, which have both media and distribution arms, will have to offer one independent channel for each of their own channels that they offer.

    The sale of the four channels to Stingray reclassifies them as independent, which Mr. Boyko expects will attract interest from large TV distributors such as Bell, Rogers Communications Inc. and Quebec’s Videotron Ltd., which will need to match independent channels with their own to meet the one-to-one ratio.

    Stingray has been building its portfolio of TV music channels as part of an aggressive international expansion that helped the company more than double its profit for the fiscal year that just ended March 31 – its first as a public company – to $13.9-million.

    Mr. Boyko told analysts last week that Stingray is looking ahead to “a healthy pipeline of acquisitions,” and said in an interview that the company is exploring deals in the United States, Latin America, Europe and Asia.

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    13 May

    Uber software tracks drivers for high speed, sudden stops

    Using smartphone sensors to peek over its drivers’ shoulders, Uber is promising to keep a closer eye on their behaviour – while discouraging speeding or slamming on the brakes.

    The global ride-hailing company on Wednesday announced an extensive test of new software that aims to increase safety by analyzing data from individual drivers and sending them daily reports about things like sudden acceleration, braking and whether they’re holding their phones when they drive.

    Trucking companies and fleet operators collect similar information, while some auto insurers offer a discount to motorists who install a data-collection device in their cars. Uber, which is requiring drivers in several cities to participate, is eager to show that it’s making safety a priority at a time when some jurisdictions are mulling whether to impose stricter oversight on ride-hailing businesses.

    At the same time, Uber is also trying to ease some strains in its relationship with drivers, who work as independent contractors and in some cases have sued Uber over pay and working conditions. Earlier this month, Uber modified its app to give drivers more discretion to reject rides at certain times and to charge passengers who keep them waiting.

    For now, Uber says it isn’t using the new safety program to penalize drivers – or even to reward good driving habits – although the software measures some of the same behaviours that the company says are often cited by passengers when they give drivers a low rating. Repeated low ratings can lead to drivers being suspended from the service.

    One part of the new program uses data from the same gyroscope and motion sensors that let smartphone users play games on their devices. Uber drivers already use a smartphone app to book rides and track their progress via GPS. By adding additional software to the app, Uber says it can measure a car’s movement and gauge how fast the driver accelerates or brakes.

    The software sends a daily summary to each driver, including a count of how often the driver has sped up or hit the brakes too abruptly. But it’s an automated process: Uber says the software’s not intended to trigger human intervention in the case of a driver who’s dangerously erratic. Instead, the company says passengers should use the “help” button on its app.

    San Francisco-based Uber will also use sensors to measure “phone movement,” which may indicate the driver is clutching the phone while steering. Since that can be a distraction, Uber says it will notify drivers if it detects excessive phone movement through the day, with a reminder that it’s safer to leave the phone in a mounting device. As it tests this program, Uber may also send passengers an email or text, asking if their driver was holding the phone.

    A third feature will send drivers a notice immediately if they’re travelling at excessive speed, although for now, the notice will only be triggered if a car is moving more than 15 miles per hour above the posted limit on highways. A fourth program will send generic reminders to drivers about the benefits of taking a rest break.

    Uber says it’s testing the new features in a handful of large cities. About half of its drivers in each test city will get the new software, so the company can compare their behaviour with the half that don’t receive the notifications. After two months, the company says it will evaluate the results and decide whether to expand the programs.

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    13 May

    Facebook warns of risk of fake news ahead of British election

    Facebook has launched a British newspaper advertising campaign to warn users of the dangers of fake news, in the latest drive by the social media giant to tackle malicious information ahead of a national election.

    Facebook has come under intense pressure to tackle the spread of false stories, which came to prominence during the U.S. presidential election last year when many inaccurate posts were widely shared on it and other social media services.

    Ahead of the June 8 parliamentary election in Britain, it urged its users in the country to be sceptical of headlines that look unbelievable and to check other sources before sharing news that may not be credible. It said it would also delete bogus profiles and stop promoting posts that show signs of being implausible.

    “We have developed new ways to identify and remove fake accounts that might be spreading false news so that we get to the root of the problem,” said Simon Milner, Facebook’s director of policy for the UK.

    The effort builds on the company’s recently expanded campaigns to identify fake news and crack down on automated profile pages that post commercial or political spam.

    Facebook suspended 30,000 accounts in France ahead of the first round of its presidential election last month and uses outside fact-checkers in the country. It has also previously taken out full-page ads in German newspapers to educate readers on how to spot fake news.

    With the headline “Tips for spotting false news”, the adverts in Britain listed 10 ways to identify whether a story was genuine or not, including looking closely at a URL, investigating the source, looking for unusual formatting and considering the authenticity of the photo.

    Facebook said it had taken action against tens of thousands of fake accounts in Britain after identifying patterns of activity such as whether the same content is being repeatedly posted.

    “With these changes, we expect we will also reduce the spread of material generated through inauthentic activity, including spam, misinformation, or other deceptive content that is often shared by creators of fake accounts,” Facebook said.

    Social media sites including Twitter and YouTube are also facing pressure in Europe where governments are threatening new laws and fines unless the companies move more quickly to remove extremist content.

    Facebook has hired more staff to speed up the removal of videos showing murder, suicide and other violent acts.

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    13 May

    Uber nabs U of T star as U.S. heavyweights poach Canadian AI talent

    Silicon Valley’s raid of top Canadian artificial intelligence talent continued Monday as Uber Technologies said it had hired University of Toronto associate professor Raquel Urtasun, a leading expert in driverless car technology.

    “She’s a real star in this area, which is why Uber wants her,” said Alan Bernstein, CEO of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.

    Ms. Urtasun is the latest Canadian-trained AI academic to be poached by U.S. heavyweights eager to capitalize on one of the hottest trends in technology – which was largely pioneered by scientists here. Researchers from U of T and the University of British Columbia now hold senior AI posts with Google, Apple, Facebook, Uber Technologies, Microsoft Corp. and Elon Musk’s OpenAI, while Microsoft and Google have snapped up Canadian AI startups.

    “Unfortunately, this kind of thing is happening more and more,” said Yoshua Bengio, a renowned deep-learning scientist at University of Montreal at the heart of his city’s flourishing AI scene. Mr. Bengio said he was concerned that as Silicon Valley drains universities of AI experts, there will be fewer people to train in-demand AI scientists.

    In a blog post, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said Ms. Urtasun, an expert in computer vision programming, will be based in Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District and build a team of researchers drawn from “the region’s impressive talent pool.” Uber will also give $5-million to the new Vector Institute, a Toronto organization aimed at stanching the brain drain of locally trained AI scientists co-founded by Ms. Urtasun and supported by the federal and Ontario governments.

    While Ms. Urtasun’s hiring further validates Toronto’s global standing in AI, it represents “a loss economically for Canada” because profits from the technology she develops “will be taxed in the U.S. rather than in Canada,” Dr. Bengio said. “It would be better for Canada if these kinds of deals were with Canadian companies or if these professors stayed in academia. Companies who can leverage this kind of expertise are going to produce a lot of growth.”

    Former BlackBerry Ltd. co-CEO Jim Balsillie noted that while Uber and the U.S. Treasury would ultimately benefit from Ms. Urtasun’s research, she would continue to draw a taxpayer-subsidized salary from U of T. Ms. Urtasun will continue to work at U of T one day a week. Mr. Balsille further criticized Ottawa for its $125-million AI strategy unveiled in the budget and for championing foreign companies such as Google and Microsoft that invest in the AI ecosystem.

    “It’s disappointing…how hard our government is working to turn Canada into a branch plant economy that aims for pennies [from foreign direct investment into Canada] while ignoring the innovation billions,” Mr. Balsillie said. “At its best the current AI strategy will result in a small handful of startups flipping for cheap to big multinationals the government is courting.” He said Ottawa should instead focus on supporting homegrown companies that stay and scale up globally from Canada.

    Richard Gold, associate dean of McGill University’s faculty of law and a director of the Centre for Intellectual Property Policy, said “a deal that takes taxpayer-supported research to provide a foreign firm with patents does not provide a fair return to us. It may generate a few jobs in the short term, but hinders our ability to create growth and thus jobs in the long term.”

    Uber is coming off a string of public relations disasters, including a lawsuit filed in February by Google’s driverless car division, Waymo, alleging it used documents taken illegally by a former manager whose startup was later bought by the ride-sharing company. The company is also notorious for a testosterone-heavy culture, as highlighted in a recent damning column by an ex-female employee accusing Uber of tolerating systematic sexual harassment and discrimination. “I had a lengthy conversation with Travis” before joining, Ms. Urtasun told Wired. “I am really convinced he is taking all the necessary steps.”

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    13 May

    Snap shares plummet as user growth slows, revenue misses

    Snap Inc shares plunged in after-hours trading on Wednesday after the parent of the popular disappearing-messaging app Snapchat reported slowing user growth and revenue that fell short of analyst estimates amid stiff competition from Facebook Inc.

    Shares of the company fell more than 24 per cent to $17.39 after the first quarterly earnings report since Snap’s red-hot initial public offering in March.

    Snap said its daily active users (DAUs) rose 36.1 per cent to 166 million in the first quarter from a year earlier, down from the 47.7 per cent rise in users for the fourth quarter and 62.8 per cent jump for the third quarter that the company had reported in its IPO filing.

    J.P. Morgan expected Snap’s DAUs to grow to 169 million in the first quarter, while Monness, Crespi, Hardt & Co Inc pegged DAUs at 173 million.

    Still, the growth was faster than larger rival Facebook, which said its daily user base grew 18 per cent year-over-year in the first quarter, as well as Twitter, which reported growth of 14 per cent in daily active users from a year earlier.

    Facebook, which once made a $3-billion bid for Snapchat, has upped the ante by offering features similar to Snap on its platforms, including Instagram and WhatsApp. The company recently said Instagram Stories alone had reached 200 million daily active users.

    Snap said average revenue per user rose 181.3 per cent to 90 cents in the first quarter.

    Revenue jumped nearly four-fold to $149.6-million but fell short of the average analyst forecast for revenue of $158-million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

    The company’s net loss widened to $2.21-billion, or $2.31 per share, in the first quarter, from $104.6-million, or 14 cents per share, due to stock-based compensation around the IPO.

    Snapchat launched in 2012 as a mobile app that allows users to send photos that vanish within seconds.

    The company rebranded as Snap Inc last year, and its $3.4-billion public listing was the hottest technology offering in three years.

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    13 May

    Facebook to play down links to websites with deceptive ads

    Facebook is planning to intensify its crackdown on so-called clickbait websites, saying it will begin giving lower prominence to links that lead to pages full of deceptive or annoying advertisements.

    The downgrade of the links was expected to take effect beginning on Wednesday on News Feed, the home page of Facebook where people go to see posts from friends and family.

    Facebook said it wanted to downplay links that people post to websites that have a disproportionate volume of ads relative to content, or that have deceptive or sexually suggestive ads along the lines of “5 Tips to be Amazing in Bed” or “1 Crazy Tip to Lose Weight Overnight!”

    Links to websites with pop-up ads or full-screen ads also would be downplayed, it said.

    People scrolling through their News Feed are often disappointed when they click on such links and do not find valuable information, Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s vice president of ads and business platform, said in an interview.

    “People don’t want to see this stuff,” he said. “We’re just trying to figure out how to find it and rank it further down News Feed when possible.”

    Facebook uses a computer algorithm to determine which posts people see first from friends and family, and it frequently refines the algorithm to keep up with spam or other concerns.

    The company said in August it was adjusting the algorithm to downplay news stories with clickbait-style headlines, a style of headline that intentionally withholds information or misleads people to get them to click on them.

    In December, facing criticism that hoaxes and fake news stories spread too easily on Facebook in the run-up to the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 8, the company made it easier for people to report those kinds of posts.

    Facebook, the world’s largest social media network with 1.9 billion monthly users, has enormous power with its algorithms to potentially drive traffic to media publishers or stymie it.

    The company said it reviewed hundreds of thousands of websites linked to from Facebook to identify those with little substance but lots of disruptive or shocking ads.

    Bosworth declined to name any websites Facebook wants to target. He said only publishers of spam needed to worry about seeing less traffic, and other publishers could see their traffic go up.

    “This is a small number of the worst of the worst,” he said.

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    13 May

    Snap shares drop on weak user growth

    Snap Inc shares plunged as much as 23.5 per cent on Thursday after the owner of the wildly popular Snapchat app’s user growth and revenue numbers failed to show that it was adequately dealing with rising competition from Facebook.

    Snap, which calls itself a camera company, posted its debut quarterly scorecard following its hugely successful IPO in March, reporting slowing user growth and widely missing Wall Street’s revenue expectations.

    Snap shares crater at market open after dismal earnings report (Reuters)

    Snap shares plunged to $17.59, their lowest since the initial public offering on March 2, wiping off more than $6-billion of its market value. The stock had debuted at $17.

    “The 7 million daily active users net-adds were not strong enough to disprove the ‘Facebook is crushing Snapchat’ thesis,” which we think will persist for a while,” Barclays analyst Ross Sandler wrote in a client note.

    Analysts, including Sandler, on Thursday revised their expectations for the stock with at least nine brokerages lowering their price targets. The median price target on the stock is $24.

    Currently, 12 of the 35 brokerages covering the stock rate it “buy” or higher. Sixteen have “hold” ratings and seven rate it “sell” or lower.

    Facebook Inc had also plunged after posting results for the first time in 2012, but has since ensconced itself as a Wall Street darling by transforming the company into an advertising giant.

    Shares of Twitter Inc, which competes with Snap and had 328 million average monthly active users in the latest quarter, had also tumbled 24 per cent after its first quarterly report.


    Snapchat is battling Facebook for users on multiple fronts.

    Instagram, owned by Facebook, has more than 200 million people a day using its Stories while WhatsApp Status, launched in February, has more than 175 million daily active users.

    Both applications mimic Snapchat, allowing users to post a string of photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours.

    Facebook also allows users to tweak photos on their smartphones with visual details like a rainbow or a beard of glitter, also similar to Snapchat.

    Facebook itself had some 1.94 billion people using its service monthly as of March 31.

    Snap’s daily active users (DAUs), on the other hand, rose 36.1 per cent to 166 million in the first quarter from a year earlier, marking a slowdown from the 47.7 per cent rise for the fourth quarter and 62.8 per cent jump for the third quarter.

    Questions about Snap’s ability to monetize its product – a hit with millennials – remained as well.

    Average revenue per user (ARPU) was 90 cents in the first quarter, up from 33 cents the same quarter a year earlier, but below the $1.05 per user in the fourth quarter of 2016.

    “Snap came to the public markets just as its user and monetization growth were both starting to meaningfully slow. It now faces incrementally fierce competition from deeper-pocketed rivals including Facebook,” Instinet LLC analyst Anthony DiClemente said.

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