Cyber Week in Review: October 28, 2022
Chinese firm ByteDance planned to use TikTok to monitor location of American citizens
TikTok operator ByteDance could use TikTok to monitor the location of specific American citizens, according to a Forbes investigative report. The report claims that ByteDance’s Internal Audit and Risk Control team planned to use TikTok data to monitor the location of several U.S. citizens who had TikTok installed on their phone. It is unclear why the team was tasked with monitoring the individuals, or what ByteDance planned to do with the surveillance data. ByteDance denied the allegations, stating that Tiktok does not collect precise location data and only uses approximate location data to prevent fraud and inauthentic activity, comply with local laws, and target advertisements, similar to the data other social media apps gather. TikTok has long faced scrutiny in the United States over its data gathering practices, and is currently negotiating with the U.S. Treasury Department over whether it can operate in the United States under its current ownership structure.
Hacktivist group publishes information from Iran’s nuclear program
Hacktivist group “Black Reward” published confidential information and private communications it claimed it stole from Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization. Black Reward had demanded the release of prisoners detained during the ongoing protests following 22-year-old Mahsa Amini’s death in exchange for not releasing the data. Amini’s death in September 2022 set off widespread protests in Iran, and the government has responded harshly, deploying increasingly violent means to control protests and cutting off internet access in most of the country. Iran’s government published a statement on Sunday claiming that “a specific foreign country” was behind the hacktivist group’s actions. Iran has been hit by several highly sophisticated hacktivist attacks in the past year, which some experts have said are too advanced to be carried out by hacktivists and are probably the work of Israel.
Justice Department charges two Chinese intelligence officers
On Monday, the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) charged two Chinese intelligence officers with interfering in an investigation of China-based telecommunications company Huawei Technologies. The two allegedly bribed a U.S. official to acquire sensitive details of the DOJ’s Huawei investigation, but he was working as a double agent. Huawei has been the target of U.S. criminal investigations as well as national security concerns., The Trump administration banned the company from providing telecommunications equipment for U.S. network and levied punishing export controls, which cut the firm off from U.S. technology a. The DOJ also unveiled charges against eleven other individuals on the same day as it charged the two intelligence officers, as part of a coordinated campaign against what the DOJ called a Chinese effort to shape U.S. policy and harass individuals in the United States.
Wide-ranging Chinese influence campaign detected
Cybersecurity firm Mandiant identified a wide-ranging influence operation, dubbed DRAGONBRIDGE, run by the Chinese intelligence services. The campaign coordinated inauthentic behavior on several topics, including magnifying issues related to racial and social injustice in the United States and spreading the rumor that the United States was behind the explosions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The campaign also used accounts masquerading as Intrusion Truth, an anonymous group which has previously exposed Chinese intelligence officers, to spread the false narrative that APT 41 was run the U.S. government. The actor behind DRAGONBRIDGE has been observed operating other influence campaigns before, including disputing the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic on Russian social media platforms and attempts to stir up protests among Asian-American communities in the United States.
Elon Musk set to acquire Twitter
Elon Musk, the billionaire owner of electric car company Tesla, completed his purchase of the social media company Twitter on Friday. Musk had originally agreed to buy Twitter in April 2022 for $44 billion. Musk backed out of the deal months later in July, saying that he had concerns about the number of inauthentic accounts, or bots, on the platform. Twitter then sued Musk to force him to complete the acquisition, which ultimately led Musk to return to the deal on October 3. Musk has signaled that he will be loosen content moderation policies on the platform, and he fired the CEO, CFO, as well as the top policy and legal executives on Thursday. Experts have raised concerns about the potential for harassment and hate speech to increase because of Mr. Musk’s changes. As David Kaye, who worked with the United Nations on issues of free speech, told the New York Times, “to the extent that world leaders see they have this space and it’s unmoderated, they could push to see how far they can go.”