Posts with «crime & justice» label

The Morning After: Pressure on Activision Blizzard CEO to resign grows

We reported on employees calling for Activision Blizzard boss Bobby Kotick’s resignation earlier this week in TMA, but pressure continues to mount. Alongside more than 800 Activision Blizzard employees and contractors that have signed a petition calling for CEO Bobby Kotick to be removed, there have been responses from both the head of PlayStation, Jim Ryan, and Microsoft’s Phil Spencer.

In a memo obtained by Bloomberg, Spencer reportedly said he and other leaders at Xbox are “disturbed and deeply troubled by the horrific events and actions” that reportedly took place at Activision Blizzard and that Microsoft was “evaluating all aspects” of their relationship with the game publisher.

-Mat Smith

Apple’s fully self-driving car ambitions reportedly still exist

The company may be narrowing its focus.

Bloomberg sources claim Apple is now shifting its attention to a fully self-driving car, not just a more conventional vehicle with semi-autonomous features. New project leader Kevin Lynch wants the very first model to drive itself, according to sources.

The company is reportedly speeding up its plans, too. Instead of a targeted launch in five to seven years, the sources said it was now aiming for 2025 — that’s just four years away.

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Canadian police arrest teen for stealing $36.5 million in cryptocurrency

It's one of the biggest crypto thefts involving a single person.

Police in Canada say they recently arrested a teen who allegedly stole $46 million CAD (approximately $36.5 million) worth of cryptocurrency from a single individual in the US.

The owner of the currency was the victim of a SIM swap attack. Their cellphone number was hijacked and used to intercept two-factor authentication requests, thereby allowing access to their protected accounts. Some of the stolen money was used to purchase a “rare” online gaming username, which eventually allowed the Hamilton Police Service, as well as FBI and US Secret Service Electronic Crimes Task Force, to identify the account holder. Police seized approximately $7 million CAD ($5.5 million) in stolen cryptocurrency when they arrested the teen.

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Nike is building its metaverse inside of 'Roblox'

Yes, there’s a product showroom.


Nike announced a partnership with Roblox to offer a free virtual playspace called Nikeland. In its current iteration, Nikeland includes minigames such as tag, dodgeball and the floor is lava that players can check out with their friends. Mobile integration allows you to use your phone to translate real-life movement into the game. In that way, you can do things like long jumps and fast sprints.

Why did Nike team-up with Roblox? Because it’s huge. With more than 200 million estimated monthly active users, it’s one of the most popular games among kids and teenagers.

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Google's second-gen Pixel Stand is available for pre-order

It has a fan?


The new Pixel Stand is both bigger and more powerful than its predecessor — even if it didn’t make it in time for the Pixel 6 launch. It can charge the Pixel 6 Pro at up to 23W (21W for the regular Pixel 6) and has a fan to keep everything cool, but also presumably make noise while you charge. And while it will charge many Qi-compatible devices at up to 15W, Google phone owners receive some extra perks. You can use the Pixel 3 and newer models as makeshift Google Assistant smart speakers, display personal data like calendars while unlocked or turn your phone into a photo frame.

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DOJ charges two Iranian hackers for threatening US voters during 2020 election

The US Department of Justice has charged two Iranian hackers for their involvement in a disinformation campaign that targeted American voters ahead of the 2020 presidential election. In October of last year, Seyyed Kazemi and Sajjad Kashian allegedly sent threatening emails to Democratic voters in Florida in which they threatened to physically hurt them if they did not vote for former President Donald Trump. When the incident first happened, the US Director of National Intelligence held a press conference to warn voters of the emails.

Additionally, Kazemi and Kashian allegedly attempted to break into 11 state voter registration and information websites. In one instance, the DOJ alleges they successfully downloaded the information of more than 100,000 state voters. They may have also carried out a disinformation campaign on Facebook that saw them contact, among other individuals, Republican senators and members of Congress. They claimed they were volunteers with Proud Boys and said they had evidence the Democratic Party planned to exploit security vulnerabilities in election systems to edit mail-in ballots.

Kazemi and Kashian’s efforts to sway the election culminated on November 4th when they allegedly attempted to hack the network of a US media company. They were unsuccessful because the FBI had warned the firm in time.

“This indictment details how two Iran-based actors waged a targeted, coordinated campaign to erode confidence in the integrity of the U.S. electoral system and to sow discord among Americans,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the DOJ’s National Security Division in a statement. “The allegations illustrate how foreign disinformation campaigns operate and seek to influence the American public.”

US officials told The Washington Post they believe the two hackers are currently in Iran, suggesting they may not face authorities anytime soon. The DOJ also didn’t directly link their actions to the Iranian government.

Canadian police arrest teen for stealing $36.5 million in cryptocurrency

Police in Canada say they recently arrested a teen who allegedly stole $46 million CAD (approximately $36.5 million) worth of cryptocurrency from a single individual in the US. According to authorities in Hamilton, Ontario, a city about one hour west of Toronto, the incident is the largest-ever cryptocurrency theft involving one person.

The owner of the currency was the victim of a SIM swap attack. Their cellphone number was hijacked and used to intercept two-factor authentication requests, thereby allowing access to their protected accounts. Some of the stolen money was used to purchase a “rare” online gaming username, which eventually allowed the Hamilton Police Service, as well as FBI and US Secret Service Electronic Crimes Task Force, to identify the account holder. Police seized approximately $7 million CAD ($5.5 million) in stolen cryptocurrency when they arrested the teen.

2021 has been a banner year for crypto thefts. In June, investors in South Africa lost nearly $3.6 billion in Bitcoin when the founders of one of the country’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges disappeared. That same month, police in the UK seized approximately $158 million in various digital currencies. At the time, it was the largest seizure of its kind in the country’s history.

Rittenhouse defense incorrectly claims iPad pinch-to-zoom modifies footage

A lack of technical knowledge may have just influenced an important court case. The New York Timesreports the defense for shooter Kyle Rittenhouse incorrectly claimed that an iPad's pinch-to-zoom function could modify footage of the incident, "creating what it thinks is there, not what necessarily is there." That sparked a debate between lawyers and Judge Schroeder, who maintained the burden was on the prosecution to show the imagery remained in its "virginal state," not on the defense to prove manipulation.

The judge may have accepted the argument. He denied the prosecution's request for an adjournment and instead called for a 15-minute recess, suggesting the team could find an expert to support their claim in that space of time. They didn't, and The Vergenoted that the trial resumed with the jury watching zoom-free video on a Windows PC connected to the courtroom TV.

As you might imagine, the defense's claim played fast and loose with the truth. Pinch-to-zoom on all devices may use algorithms, but only to scale the image — it doesn't change the content itself. This was an attempt to prevent the jury from getting a clearer view of the action, not a genuine challenge to the integrity of the video.

The court scene underscored a recurring problem with technical inexperience in criminal cases. When judges and law enforcement don't understand how technology works, they may set unrealistic expectations or even skew the outcome of a case. Police have repeatedly asked for Alexa recordings on the unfounded assumption that smart speakers are always recording, for instance. While it's not clear if the inaccurate pinch-to-zoom claim will significantly affect Rittenhouse's fate, it certainly didn't help jurors.

DOJ charges alleged Kaseya ransomware hacker tied to REvil group

The Department of Justice has unsealed charges against a Ukrainian national over a ransomware attack against IT company Kaseya in July. Authorities in Poland arrested Yaroslav Vasinskyi last month and proceedings are underway to extradite him to the US. 

He has been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud and related activity in connection with computers, several counts of damage to protected computers and conspiracy to commit money laundering. If convicted on all charges, Vasinskyi faces a maximum sentence of 115 years in prison.

According to the indictment, Vasinskyi used a Kaseya product to distribute ransomware. As many as 1,500 businesses and organizations around the world were affected. REvil, the ransomware group Vasinskyi is linked to, originally demanded $70 million in exchange for unlocking victims' systems. Three weeks after the attack took place, Kaseya deployed a decryption key, which allowed its customers to regain access to their computers.

The DOJ also revealed it has seized $6.1 million in alleged ransom payments obtained by Russian national Yevgeniy Polyanin, another alleged member of REvil. Polyanin, who remains at large, has been accused of carrying out Sodinokibi/REvil ransomware attacks against several targets, including businesses and government departments in Texas, in August 2019. Polyanin faces similar charges to Vasinskyi. If convicted, Polyanin is looking at a maximum prison sentence of 145 years.

“Cybercrime is a serious threat to our country: to our personal safety, to the health of our economy, and to our national security,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “Our message today is clear. The United States, together with our allies, will do everything in our power to identify the perpetrators of ransomware attacks, to bring them to justice, and to recover the funds they have stolen from their victims.”

Former Boeing chief technical pilot involved in 737 Max testing charged with fraud

Mark A. Forkner, Boeing's former chief technical pilot involved in the company's 737 Max testing, was indicted for fraud by a grand jury in Texas. Due to his position with the company, he was in charge of coordinating with the Federal Aviation Administration to determine the kind of training a pilot needs to fly a particular plane. The indictment accuses him of deceiving the agency's Aircraft Evaluation Group (FAA AEG) when it evaluated and certified the 737 Max model. If you'll recall, two 737 Max planes crashed within months of each other in 2018 and 2019, killing 346 people.

Forkner allegedly provided the FAA with "materially false, inaccurate, and incomplete information about a new part of the flight controls for the Boeing 737 MAX called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS)." In both crashes, the AEG determined after an investigation that MCAS, a system designed to push the plane's nose down in certain situations, activated during the flight. The planes that crashed — Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 — nosedived almost as soon as they took off.

According to the Department of Justice, Forkner discovered an important change to MCAS in November 2016, but he allegedly withheld that information from the AEG. As a result, the FAA removed all reference to MCAS in the pilot training materials for the 737 Max. Acting US Attorney Chad E. Meacham for the Northern District of Texas said in a statement that the former chief pilot's actions were financially motivated:

“In an attempt to save Boeing money, Forkner allegedly withheld critical information from regulators. His callous choice to mislead the FAA hampered the agency’s ability to protect the flying public and left pilots in the lurch, lacking information about certain 737 MAX flight controls. The Department of Justice will not tolerate fraud — especially in industries where the stakes are so high."

Earlier this year, Boeing agreed to pay $2.5 billion to settle the criminal charge that it had conspired to defraud the FAA. It also agreed to work with the FAA's fraud section for any ongoing and future investigations. As for Forkner, he was charged with two counts of fraud involving aircraft parts and four counts of wire fraud. He's now facing a sentence of up to 100 years in prison. 

US Justice Department forms a cryptocurrency enforcement team

The United States Department of Justice has formed a team of investigators to look into the use of cryptocurrency for criminal purposes. To be specific, the group, called National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team (NCET), will tackle cases committed by virtual currency exchanges and groups and individuals involved in money laundering. Members will also investigate mixing and tumbling services, which charge customers a fee to send cryptocurrency to an address while also concealing the source of the funds. In addition, they'll work on tracing and recovering assets lost to fraud or ransomware extortion demands. 

According to the DOJ's announcement, the team will combine the expertise of its money laundering and asset recovery section with its computer crime and intellectual property section. It will also include experts from US Attorneys' Offices. The group will be under the supervision of Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr., though the Justice Department is still looking for an individual to lead it. DOJ is looking for someone "with experience with complex criminal investigations and prosecutions, as well as the technology underpinning cryptocurrencies and the blockchain," in particular. 

The hope is that NCET can provide the whole department and other government agencies with the expertise in cryptocurrency and blockchain needed to investigate and prosecute the growing number of cases related to the technology today. There's been a rise in cybercrime cases these past years, including ransomware attacks wherein bad actors target companies across industries to hold their networks hostage in exchange for payment via cryptocurrency. 

Some of them have had real-world consequences. The attack on Colonial Pipeline caused fuel shortage in the East Coast, for instance, while the various attacks on hospitals around the world put people's lives in danger. The Biden administration is even hosting a meeting with 30 countries later this month to discuss the threat of ransomware attacks to global economy and national security.

Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco said in a statement:

"Today we are launching the National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team to draw on the Department’s cyber and money laundering expertise to strengthen our capacity to dismantle the financial entities that enable criminal actors to flourish — and quite frankly to profit — from abusing cryptocurrency platforms. As the technology advances, so too must the Department evolve with it so that we’re poised to root out abuse on these platforms and ensure user confidence in these systems."

YouTube removes R. Kelly's official channels

YouTube has taken down R. Kelly's official channels after the singer was convicted of sex trafficking. The RKellyTV and RKellyVevo channels no longer exist and Kelly will not be allowed to create or own any other channel on the platform, YouTube told Reuters. YouTube made the move in line with its creator responsibility guidelines.

However, this isn't a blanket ban. Kelly's music will still be available on YouTube Music. Kelly videos that other users have uploaded will still be available. Engadget has asked YouTube for clarification on why that's the case.

Two women started a campaign in 2017 to have Kelly's music removed from streaming services and radio. Accusations have been made against him for decades. Prosecutors said Kelly used his fame to exploit women and underage girls and a federal jury found him guilty last month of sex trafficking.

Kelly's sentencing hearing will take place in May. The mandatory minimum sentence is 10 years in prison, though he faces up to life behind bars.

Justice Department will reportedly let Huawei exec Meng Wanzhou return to China

The Department of Justice has reportedly reached an agreement with Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou that will let her return home to China. Meng was arrested in Canada in 2018 on behalf of the US for allegedly violating American sanctions against Iran. She's been fighting attempts to extradite her to the US.

Meng, who is in house arrest while on bail, will admit to some improprieties and in return, prosecutors will postpone and eventually drop bank and wire fraud charges, according to The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. Meng is scheduled to remotely appear at a federal court on Friday afternoon, with the agreement expected to be filed today.

Prosecutors claimed that Meng misled banks in 2013 about Huawei's connections to Iran. She denied the charges.

Meng's detainment caused an international incident. Two Canadians were apprehended in China within days of Meng's arrest. The WSJ reports the deal with Meng could prompt China to release Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.

Officials from the Trump administration are said to have offered Meng a similar deal last year, but she reportedly refused to admit to any wrongdoing. Biden admin officials reopened the talks in recent weeks, according to reports, and with Meng seemingly seeking a reunion with her family, she may have been more open to a compromise. A judge in Vancouver was expected to rule on Meng's possible extradition to the US later this year, following almost two years of hearings.

Huawei and its subsidiaries are still facing charges in the US, including conspiracy to steal trade secrets and racketeering conspiracy. The company is not said to be part of Meng's deal and it will reportedly keep fighting the charges.

The US and Huawei have been at loggerheads for several years. American officials have lobbied allies to avoid using the company's 5G telecoms gear due to national security concerns, though Huawei has insisted that its equipment is safe. US sanctions against the company led Google to block Huawei from Android updates, prompting its switch to HarmonyOS 2 (which is a fork of Android) on phones and tablets.

Man who unlocked 1.9 million AT&T phones sentenced to 12 years in prison

A US district court has sentenced a man who unlocked 1.9 million AT&T phones to 12 years in prison. Muhammad Fahd continued the seven-year scheme to defraud the company even after learning of an investigation against him, according to the Department of Justice. At Fahd's sentencing hearing, Judge Robert S. Lasnik said he committed a “terrible cybercrime over an extended period,” with AT&T said to have lost $201.5 million as a result.

Fahd contacted an AT&T employee through Facebook in 2012 and bribed them to help him unlock customers' phones with "significant sums of money," the DOJ said. Fahd, a citizen of Pakistan and Grenada, urged the employee to recruit co-workers at a Bothell, Washington call center for the scheme too.

The DOJ says the employees unlocked phones for "ineligible customers," who paid Fahd a fee. In spring 2013, AT&T rolled out a system that made it more difficult for the employees to unlock IMEIs. Fahd then recruited an engineer to build malware that would be installed on AT&T's systems to help him unlock phones more efficiently and remotely. The DOJ says the employees gave Fahd details about the company's systems and unlocking methods to aid that process. The malware is said to have obtained information about the system and other AT&T employees' access credentials. The developer used those details to modify the malware.

AT&T claims Fahd and his associates unlocked just over 1.9 million phones through the scheme. The company says because of the unlocks, customers didn't complete payments on their devices, leading to the nine-figure loss.

Fahd was arrested in Hong Kong in 2018 following a 2017 indictment. He was extradited to the US and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in September 2020.