Here is a quick round-up of this week’s technology headlines and related stories you may have missed:
1. That meeting in Helsinki will sure be something. The Justice Department announced the indictment of twelve Russian intelligence officers for their role in Russia's interference in the 2016 election. The indictment alleges that the officers, who were members of two GRU units, successfully spearfished persons associated with the Clinton campaign, the DNC and DCCC. They used their access to collect internal campaign correspondence and, using online personas they created like Guccifer 2.0 and DCleaks.com, fed that information to journalists, Wikileaks (which the indictment calls Organization 1), and one candidate for U.S. Congress who requested information about their opponent. The accused were also allegedly behind the theft of voter information from a U.S. state election board. The GRU officials paid for the hosting, VPN, and other services necessary to pull off the operation by using a mix of pre-paid cards and cryptocurrency. Although the accused are unlikely to ever see the inside of a U.S. court, the indictment serves at least two purposes, both of which the United States hopes will have a deterrent effect on future cyber activity directed at it. First, it provides incredible detail on the U.S. ability to attribute cyber operations. Second, it limits ability of the named GRU officers to travel or stash money in the 110 countries that have extradition treaties with the United States.
2. In more Russian cyber-related news. A senior Russian foreign ministry official has said that cyber issues, and cybercrime in particular, will likely be a topic of discussion at next week's summit between President Trump and Putin in Helsinki. The official made the remarks to Russian state media prior to the U.S. Department of Justice's indictment of the GRU officers. Cybercrime cooperation is largely non-existent between both countries, something Russia would like to change. Russian media also reports that the country plans to introduce two resolutions on cyber issues this fall at the United Nations. The first would seek the General Assembly's endorsement for a combination of norms developed though the UN GGE process and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization's code of conduct. The second calls for the negotiation of a new cybercrime treaty. Both resolutions are likely to encounter fierce Western resistance given its distaste for the SCO code of conduct and concerns that a new cybercrime treaty will undermine efforts to promote the 2001 Budapest Convention on Cybercrime.
3. What happened to all my followers? Twitter announced that it suspended more than 70 million fake accounts during May and June. The suspensions aim to diminish the role that bot accounts play in spreading misinformation, spam, and abuse on the platform. For years, critics had argued that Twitter was reluctant to remove automated accounts from its platform given that social media companies are partially valued according to their number of average monthly users (AMU), and that removing bots would lower Twitter's AMU and affect its stock price. Given the fall out from the 2016 U.S. election, that position may no longer be tenable, which may explain the recent action. The move is also expected to reinstate user and advertiser confidence in the platform.
4. Access denied. Apple released iOS 11.4.1 this week to update iPhones and iPads. While a relatively minor update, it ships with USB Restricted Mode, a significant security update that will make it more difficult for law enforcement or criminals with physical access to an iOS device to break into it. This feature comes amid the ongoing battle between tech companies in their attempts to protect user privacy. Law enforcement have previously used devices such as GrayKey to unlock an iPhone through its lighting port, exploiting a bug in previous iOS releases. The new iOS update fixes the bug by disabling the lightning port if the device has been locked for more than an hour.
5. What do Jack Ma, Melinda Gates, and Vint Cerf have in common? UN Secretary-General António Guterres announced the creation of a High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation. Though details on the panel are relatively sparse, it is expected to "identify policy, research and information gaps, and make proposals to strengthen international cooperation in the digital space." Jack Ma and Melinda Gates will co-chair the panel, which will include Vint Cerf, Fadi Chehadé, Marina Kaljurand, and others. The panel will meet for the first time in September 2018 and is expected to release a report by May 2019.