This Week in CyberNews: September 19-25 [Cybersecurity & Tech Roundup]

It's time again for another look back at the latest breaking news in cybersecurity and tech.This week we’re talking about the TikTok Neverending Story, the international consequences of Trump’s cyber-protectionism, Facebook again again, Twitter and Zoom’s people of color problem, and other big cybersecurity and tech news.

You can read the full roundup in the article, or watch the video below:

CyberNews E6: TikTok, Trump’s cyber-protectionism, Facebook, Twitter & Zoom
video screenshot

The never-ending TikTok saga

The TikTok saga is playing out like a high school drama where two sides are talking about each other, but not really talking to each other.

In the past week, the US Department of Commerce said that WeChat and TikTok would be banned unless Trump approved a last-minute deal that would give some of TikTok to Oracle and Walmart. US President Donald Trump then approved the deal, and he said it’s great. He mentioned that Oracle will totally control TikTok.

But then ByteDance, TikTok’s biological father, said they will still own 80% of TikTok Global, and also that China isn’t going to let ByteDance give up TikTok’s algorithm. But then Oracle stated that ByteDance would lose its ownership stake when the deal is completed, and now China is saying that they probably won’t even approve the deal anyways.

What about WeChat? Luckily for them, a judge blocked the WeChat transaction ban, while TikTok’s ban was delayed by a week. We’ll continue to check in on this drama over the next few weeks.

Trump’s spree spurs similar EU and China power grabs

Now let’s talk about consequences. Trump’s actions against Chinese companies that supposedly threaten US national security or business interests are setting a precedent for countries to impose sanctions or regulations against...companies that threaten national security or business interests in one way or another.

So first up is China itself, which the New York Times reported was creating a blacklist of foreign companies that threaten their national security or Chinese business interests. The list isn’t detailed or finalized anyways, but really when it comes to the US-Chinese Tech Cold War, it all does seem pretty fair. After all, there’s no Facebook or Twitter or Google in China either. 

But now Europe is getting in on the action too. The EU is considering legislation that would give it powers to break up big tech companies or force them to sell their European operations if these companies threaten the interests of customers and smaller rivals. 

But the question is: at the end, is this better or worse for the user? If we follow the Chinese model, where online services are just banned, then that’s bad. If we look at the US version, which is slightly different, where optimistically the services are transferred to local ownership, it probably doesn’t make a big difference and could work out for the user.

The EU model might follow the US example, and in that sense it’s probably better for the end user to have more options with smaller tech companies, rather than fewer options with the current tech monopolies that we have. So we’ll see how that develops. 

Facebook is at it again

In Episode 4 of our weekly CyberNews recap video, we mentioned how the EU is asking Facebook to keep data locally, since the EU-US Privacy Shield has been shot down.

It’s a logical request, by the way, since the US doesn’t have the same data protection as the EU does. So when EU user data goes to the US, it loses that protection. But now, in a predictably villainous move, Facebook is threatening to stop operating in Europe if Europe keeps attacking them with common sense.

This would leave 410 million users without Facebook, which in all reality may not be that bad for the users. There is a lot that is bad about that for Facebook, since they will lose all that ad revenue – which totaled $4.4 billion in Q2 for 2020. 

In another little piece of news, New Jersey Instagram user Brittany Conditi is suing Facebook for allegedly spying on Instagram users through the unauthorized use of their mobile phone cameras. Conditi claims that Facebook, through Instagram, is “obtaining extremely private and intimate personal data on their users” for its market research purposes. Facebook of course is denying this – and really, this could just be that bug where cameras were turning on accidentally.

But on the other hand, Facebook is the same company that offered users a free VPN so that it could obtain data on its users for its marketing research purposes.

But to end on a good note, more than 3 million US voters have already registered on social media, with 2.5 million of those users coming from Facebook’s suite of products.

Twitter and Zoom’s algorithmic bias

We talked before about Amazon’s new Halo, which we said probably wouldn’t be good for people, especially people of color, due to the fact that Amazon’s algorithm has bad successes with non-white people. 

Now we can add Zoom and Twitter in that bucket as well.

PhD student Colin Madland tweeted about a problem with Zoom’s background replacement feature. Well, the problem wasn’t with Madland, who is white, but with a Black faculty member. You see, when Madland used Zoom’s virtual background, everything went fine. But with the Black faculty member, the virtual background would remove his head.

Colin Madland tweet screenshot

Zoom said it’s looking into the issue. And you know what that means – they’ll probably try to sweep it under the rug. Remember, Google also had an issue as well with its algorithm and people of color, when its algorithm misidentified two African Americans as gorillas. Its workaround was not to fix its algorithm, but instead to just ban it from recognizing gorillas altogether

Twitter’s algorithm and people of color problem comes from the fact that its automatic cropping tool, that will automatically crop pictures too big for the screen, would crop out black faces and leave the white faces. One researcher tried this with a picture of US Senator Mitch McConnell and former US President Barack Obama, and both times the tool cut out Obama and kept McConnell.

Tony Arcieri tweet screenshot

Twitter of course says that they’re looking into this issue, but by the time the tool was shipped it had already been checked for biases. 

Other important cybersecurity and tech news

  1. The Nation reported that Homeland Security was probably tapping Portland protesters’ phone calls. A DHS official said that experts in electronic surveillance were deployed to Portland. Another interagency task force also used a sophisticated cell phone cloning attack to intercept protesters’ phone communications. But these are all still unofficial reports, so we’ll wait on that.
  2. Russia is working on updating its tech laws so that it can ban modern internet protocols that could stop it from surveilling and censoring people. They won’t ban HTTPS and encrypted communications in total, but would ban the protocols that hide the name of a web page inside HTTPS traffic.
  3. Microsoft is getting its game on. It is paying $7.5 billion for Bethesda games, which now gives Microsoft 23 game studies under its belt. This acquisition means titles such as the Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Wolfenstein, Quake, Doom, Skyrim, The Evil Within, and Starfield would now be available in its Xbox Game Pass subscription service.
  4. The US government's cyber-security agency CISA has issued a warning for federal agencies and privacy businesses to watch out for the LokiBot malware. According to the cybersecurity agency, LokiBot, which is one of the most dangerous and widespread malware strains today, has seen a spike in interest over the past three months. This malware can steal credentials from users’ browsers, email clients, cryptocurrency wallets and FTP apps.

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