Posts with «society & culture» label

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.

US-Canadian gets 11 years for laundering money for a North Korean hacking group

A dual US-Canadian national has been sentenced to 140 months in prison for laundering tens of millions of dollars, including funds stolen from a bank by a North Korean hacking group. Ghaleb Alaumary from Mississauga, Ontario pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit money laundering. According to the US Department of Justice, Alaumary used spoofed emails to trick a university in Canada in the first case. The emails, which looked like they were from a construction company working on a major building project for the university, asked for payment amounting to US$9.4 million. 

After the university wired the money to accounts controlled by Alaumary and his co-conspirators, he worked with various people across the US and elsewhere to launder the funds through various financial institutions. He also had people impersonating wealthy bankers go to Texas to get personally identifiable information from victims and then use that to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from their accounts. 

The second case is wider in scope and involves receiving funds from cyber-heists and fraud schemes. Those funds include money from a North Korean-perpetrated cyber-heist on a Maltese bank in 2019. He also received funds stolen from banks in India and Pakistan, companies in the United States and the UK, individuals in the US and a professional soccer club in the UK. Alaumary laundered the funds he received via cash withdrawals, wire transfers and cryptocurrency purchases.

Acting US Attorney David H. Estes for the Southern District of Georgia said in a statement:

"This defendant served as an integral conduit in a network of cybercriminals who siphoned tens of millions of dollars from multiple entities and institutions across the globe. He laundered money for a rogue nation and some of the world’s worst cybercriminals, and he managed a team of co-conspirators who helped to line the pockets and digital wallets of thieves."

In addition to being sentenced for more than 11 years in prison, Alaumary was also ordered to pay $30 million in restitution to victims.

California could force Amazon to improve conditions for warehouse workers

A California bill centered around warehouse labor issues is set to go to a State Senate vote this week. Should it become law, the legislation could require Amazon and other warehouse companies to make significant changes. Bill AB-701, which passed the State Assembly in May, would force warehouse operators like Amazon to be transparent about the quotas their workers are expected to meet.

"The bill would provide that an employee shall not be required to meet a quota that prevents compliance with meal or rest periods, use of bathroom facilities or occupational health and safety laws," the legislative counsel's digest for the proposed legislation reads. The bill also seeks to ban employers from punishing employees who don't meet quotas that don't allow them to take breaks or comply with health and safety rules. If workers can't realistically hit Amazon's productivity expectations, the company may have to lower quotas in the state.

Several Amazon workers have spoken of foregoing or minimizing bathroom breaks to ensure they meet quotas. According to reports, the company's expectations lead many delivery drivers to pee in bottles and coffee cups instead of taking time to use a restroom. Warehouse workers have shared similar complaints. Amazon closely monitors worker productivity, including how long each employee spends away from their stations.

An Amazon spokesperson told The New York Times that "terminations for performance issues are rare," but they didn't comment directly on the bill.

Last year, it emerged that Amazon reportedly expects workers to scan 400 items an hour at fulfillment centers that use robots. According to a report from the Center for Investigative Reporting, the rate of serious injuries sustained at those warehouses was 50 percent higher than in Amazon warehouses that aren't automated. 

Warehouse injury researcher Edward Flores, faculty director of the Community and Labor Center at the University of California, Merced, told the NYT that repetitive strain injuries are a problem in automated warehouses. Workers are "responding to the speed at which a machine is moving," which leads to "higher incidence of repetitive motions and thus repetitive injuries," Dr. Flores said.

Amazon announced some measures aimed at reducing warehouse injuries in May. The plans included meditation kiosks and zones where workers can stretch, as well as hourly “mind and body” prompts.

The company has a long history of controversial labor practices. At the start of this year, Amazon shut down a warehouse in Chicago where workers held walkouts and protested for improved working conditions. Some of those employees said they were given a choice between working 10-hour graveyard shifts at other fulfillment centers or finding a new job. At the time, Amazon denied that was the case.

In August, a National Labor Relations Board official recommended that workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama hold another union vote. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union accused Amazon of violating labor laws by interfering with the process. Workers at the fulfillment center voted against unionizing.

Apple Workers say they've collected almost 500 toxic workplace stories

After sending out a call to action on Monday, #AppleToo, a group made up of current and former Apple workers looking to shine a light on the company’s workplace culture, says it has collected nearly 500 stories of incidents involving discrimination, harassment and retaliation “that happened at the hands of a colleague off of campus.” According to the Apple Workers Twitter account, the majority of those who got in touch asked for information on how to file a complaint with an external authority like the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).

So far, we've received nearly 500 responses, and hundreds of stories of racism, sexism, discrimination, retaliation, bullying, sexual and other forms of harassment, and sexual assault that happened at the hands of a colleague off of campus.

The main thread? Being ignored by HR.

— Apple Workers #AppleToo (@AppleLaborers) August 27, 2021

What’s more, the group says more than half of the individuals it spoke with asked for information and guidance on how to contact the media about their stories. “Almost everyone consented to having their stories shared respectfully and anonymously,” it said. Apple Workers plans to start sharing those stories publicly next week, but it offered a preview on Friday, noting the throughline in many of the incidents was that workers felt they were ignored by Apple’s HR department.

Apple already faces questions over its handling of sexism in the workplace. In August, the company put Ashley Gjøvik, a senior engineering program manager, on paid administrative leave. In a series of tweets, Gjøvik shared interactions she had with the company's employee relations team. In one episode, a manager referenced her "tone" in presentations and said, "I didn't hear you going up an octave at the end of your statements." Gjøvik said she only resorted to sharing her story publicly because “everything I tried internally has failed."

Palantir glitch allegedly granted some FBI staff unauthorized access to a crypto hacker's data

Peter Thiel's AI company Palantir, whose clients have included the CIA and US immigration agency ICE, is back in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. A new report claims a glitch in its secretive software program used by the FBI allowed unauthorized personnel to access private data for more than a year. According to The New York Post, the mishap was revealed in a letter by prosecutors in the Manhattan federal court case against accused hacker Virgil Griffith. Palantir denied the claims in a statement and said the fault was caused by the FBI's incorrect use of the software.

Griffith was arrested in 2019 for allegedly providing North Korea with information on how cryptocurrency and blockchain tech could help it to evade US sanctions. The incident in question revolves around the alleged hacker's social media data, obtained through a federal search warrant in March 2020. According to the letter, the Twitter and Facebook information was uploaded to Palantir's program through the default settings, effectively allowing unauthorized FBI employees to access it.

Between May 2020 to August 2021, the material was accessed four times by three analysts and an agent. The FBI case agent assigned to Griffith's case was alerted to the issue by a colleague earlier this month, according to the letter. Those who accessed the info reportedly told prosecutors that they did not recall using it in their investigations.

“An FBI analyst, in the course of conducting a separate investigation, had identified communications between the defendant and the subject of that other investigation by means of searches on the Platform that accessed the Search Warrant Returns,” the letter noted.

Palantir is trying to distance itself from the issue. "There was no glitch in the software," it told The New York Post in a statement, adding that the "customer" did not follow the "rigorous protocols established to protect search warrant returns."

Amid increasing growth, the last thing Palantir needs is a major PR crisis involving flaws in its software. Since going public last fall, the company has seen its revenues surge, though it's operational losses are also increasing. Palantir's customers now span government agencies, tech stalwarts like IBM and even mining group Rio Tinto. Plus, it's working with commercial space companies to manage a meta-constellation of 237 satellites.

California expands Activision Blizzard lawsuit to include temporary workers

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has expanded the scope of its sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit against Activision Blizzard to include temporary workers. As first reported by Axios, the watchdog filed an amended complaint on Monday to redefine the group it plans to represent in the suit. The complaint now consistently references “workers” instead of “employees,” noting protections the state of California has in place to protect individuals from harassment and sexual discrimintation “exist for employees and contingent or temporary workers.”

The amended suit also alleges Activision Blizzard has used non-disclosure agreements to directly interfere with DFEH’s ability to investigate, prosecute and remedy the workplace violations that occurred at the company. Additionally, "documents related to investigations and complaints were shredded by human resource personnel," according to the agency.

We’ve reached out to Activision Blizzard for comment.

Following a two-year investigation into the company, DFEH last month accused Activision Blizzard executives of fostering a “frat boy” workplace culture. According to the agency, only 20 percent of all employees at the studio are women, and they’re consistently paid less, overlooked for promotions and fired faster than their male counterparts. Activision executives initially dismissed the lawsuit, claiming it included “distorted, and in many cases false descriptions of Blizzard’s past.”

Employees were quick to condemn the company’s response, calling it “abhorrent,” and they went on to stage a walkout at the end of July. Following the protest, Blizzard studio president J. Allen Brack, one of the executives named in the DFEH suit, stepped down, as did several other senior designers.

When Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick eventually pledged to take “swift action” to create a safe workplace, the company’s decision to bring in WilmerHale, a law firm that has a history of representing management on matters relating to unionizing, made many doubt the sincerity of his statements.

Amazon violated US labor laws in Alabama union vote, labor official rules

A National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) officer has recommended that workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama hold a new election because Amazon broke US labor laws, the New York Times has reported. It's still only a preliminary ruling, but provides hope that workers may still be able to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).

Last April, worker's at the fulfillment center voted against unionization by a margin of more than two to one. Following the vote, however, the RWDSU alleged that Amazon won because it “interfered” with the rights of its employees "to vote in a free and fair election; a right protected under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act."

The RWDSU filed 23 objections in total, including one complaint that Amazon had a ballot collection box installed in an employee parking lot “without authorization” from the NLRB’s regional director. It noted that the box was placed under the view of Amazon security cameras, creating "an impression of surveillance."

The NLRB officer sided with the union, saying Amazon violated US labor laws. "Throughout the NLRB hearing, we heard compelling evidence how Amazon tried to illegally interfere with and intimidate workers as they sought to exercise their right to form a union," said union president Stuart Appelbaum in a statement. "We support the hearing officer’s recommendation that the NLRB set aside the election results and direct a new election."

Amazon, however, said it would dispute the decision and take steps to ensure that the initial vote held. "Our employees had a chance to be heard during a noisy time when all types of voices were weighing into the national debate, and at the end of the day, they voted overwhelmingly in favor of a direct connection with their managers,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement. “Their voice should be heard above all else, and we plan to appeal to ensure that happens.”

The decision doesn't yet have any legal force until a full ruling is made by the NLRB's acting regional director, something that could take up to a month. During that time, parties will be able to file exceptions. 

Since the Bessemer vote, Amazon's situation has caught the attention of the Teamsters union, which created a special division to focus on organizing Amazon's delivery drivers. Amazon has been criticized for the working conditions of drivers and warehouse workers alike, along with its union-busting efforts that were exposed in a New York Times report earlier this year. 

Activision Blizzard employees decry 'abhorrent' company response to harassment lawsuit

Employees at Activision Blizzard are calling on the company to issue a new statement in response to the lawsuit it’s facing from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). If you’ve been following the saga since it broke earlier in the month, you may recall the company brushed off allegations that it had fostered a “frat boy” workplace culture, claiming the lawsuit included “distorted, and in many cases false descriptions of Blizzard’s past.”

Now, in a letter obtained by Polygon, a group of more than 800 Activision Blizzard employees say the statement the company issued was “abhorrent and insulting,” and they’re demanding leadership undertake “immediate” corrective action. “Categorizing the claims that have been made as ‘distorted, and in many cases false’ creates a company atmosphere that disbelieves victims,” the letter states. “Our company executives have claimed that actions will be taken to protect us, but in the face of legal action — and the troubling official responses that followed — we no longer trust that our leaders will place employee safety above their own interests.”

The group specifically calls out the message Frances Townsend, executive vice president of corporate affairs at the publisher, sent to employees after the news broke. In the leaked email, Townsend claims the lawsuit DFEH filed presents “a distorted and untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old and out of context stories — some from more than a decade ago.” According to Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier, the response had some workers “fuming.” The group that signed the letter is calling on Townsend to step down as executive sponsor of the ABK Employee Women’s Network.

The timing of the letter comes after Activision Blizzard reportedly held an ‘all-hands’ meeting with 500 employees. The Zoom call was supposed to include the entire studio, but a scheduling error meant not everyone could join the meeting. Activision executive Joshua Taub allegedly told those in attendance he and CEO Bobby Kotick “have never seen this,” adding that “does not mean this behavior does not happen.” Taub then reportedly said, “we don’t publicize all of these claims, we work with the employee and the person who is accused and try to work on a resolution.” The company has a second meeting planned for tomorrow, according to Uppercut

We’ve reached out to Activision Blizzard for comment.

Las Vegas police solve an old murder case using record-low volume of DNA

Las Vegas police appear to have smashed a record while using ancestry to find cold case suspects. BBC Newsreports that Vegas law enforcement claims to have solved the 1989 murder of 14-year-old Stephanie Isaacson (pictured here) using the smallest known volume of DNA. Investigators sent just 0.12 nanograms of DNA samples, or about 15 cells, to Othram's gene sequencing lab to help find a match. For context, a typical home DNA testing kit collects at least 750 nanograms.

Othram used the sequences to comb through ancestry databases and pinpoint the suspect's cousin and identify Darren Roy Marchand as the culprit. The team confirmed the match by comparing the sample against Marchand's DNA from an arrest for a 1986 murder case. Marchand was never convicted and died in 1995.

Vegas police launched the investigation after resident Justin Woo donated money to help law enforcement solve cases using "minimal" DNA levels. The investigation at Othram started on January 19th, but it wasn't until July 12th that the company identified a suspect.

Othram chief David Mittlemen characterized the effort as a "huge milestone" in a discussion with the BBC. This could theoretically solve cold cases where the samples were previously thought too small to be usable.

The breakthrough won't necessarily thrill everyone, however. There have been concerns that law enforcement might violate privacy when conducting these tests, and the Justice Department has established guidelines precisely to prevent those kinds of abuses. While there's no indication Vegas authorities crossed boundaries in the Richardson case, a much larger range of potentially solvable cases also widens the potential for more privacy violations.

Activision Blizzard sued by California over alleged sexist 'frat boy' culture

Activision Blizzard is facing a lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing for fostering what the agency describes as a "frat boy" workplace. As first reported by Bloomberg Law, the DFEH sued the gaming giant after a two-year investigation wherein it came to the conclusion that the company discriminated against female employees. In addition to receiving smaller salaries than their male counterparts, female employees were also allegedly subjected to constant sexual harassment.

The DFEH enumerated several findings from its investigation in its complaint (PDF). Activision Blizzard's workforce is only about 20 percent women, and very few of them reach top roles in the company, the court document reads. Further, those who do reach higher roles earn less salary and total compensation than their male peers. Other female employees in non-executive roles are also paid less, promoted more slowly and terminated more quickly.

DFEH also said that the defendant's "frat boy" culture is a "breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women." Female employees constantly have to fend off unwanted sexual comments, the agency wrote. They have to endure being groped during "cube crawls," in which male employees would drink alcohol as they make their way around various cubicles, as well. The document mentioned one particularly egregious case, in which a female employee took her own life during a business trip with a male supervisor who brought sex toys with him on the trip. According to Bloomberg, that employee was severely harassed prior to her death, with her nude photos passed around during a company holiday party.

Activision Blizzard's HR department received a lot of harassment, discrimination and retaliation complaints, the DFEH said. However, the defendant allegedly failed to take "effective remedial measures in response" to them. Also, people were apparently discouraged from making complaints, since human resource personnel were known to be close to the alleged harassers.

The state agency has filed the lawsuit to force the video game titan to comply with California's workplace protections. It's also seeking unpaid wages and pay adjustments for female employees.

Activision Blizzard, however, denies DEFH's allegations. In a statement, the company said that the agency's lawsuit "includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard's past." It called the DFEH's complaint "inaccurate" and described the lawsuit as the "type of irresponsible behavior from unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State's best businesses out of California."

The whole statement, courtesy of Kotaku, reads:

"We value diversity and strive to foster a workplace that offers inclusivity for everyone. There is no place in our company or industry, or any industry, for sexual misconduct or harassment of any kind. We take every allegation seriously and investigate all claims. In cases related to misconduct, action was taken to address the issue.

The DFEH includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past. We have been extremely cooperative with the DFEH throughout their investigation, including providing them with extensive data and ample documentation, but they refused to inform us what issues they perceived. They were required by law to adequately investigate and to have good faith discussions with us to better understand and to resolve any claims or concerns before going to litigation, but they failed to do so. Instead, they rushed to file an inaccurate complaint, as we will demonstrate in court. We are sickened by the reprehensible conduct of the DFEH to drag into the complaint the tragic suicide of an employee whose passing has no bearing whatsoever on this case and with no regard for her grieving family. While we find this behavior to be disgraceful and unprofessional, it is unfortunately an example of how they have conducted themselves throughout the course of their investigation. It is this type of irresponsible behavior from unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California.

The picture the DFEH paints is not the Blizzard workplace of today. Over the past several years and continuing since the initial investigation started, we’ve made significant changes to address company culture and reflect more diversity within our leadership teams. We’ve updated our Code of Conduct to emphasize a strict non-retaliation focus, amplified internal programs and channels for employees to report violations, including the “ASK List” with a confidential integrity hotline, and introduced an Employee Relations team dedicated to investigating employee concerns. We have strengthened our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and combined our Employee Networks at a global level, to provide additional support. Employees must also undergo regular anti-harassment training and have done so for many years.

We put tremendous effort in creating fair and rewarding compensation packages and policies that reflect our culture and business, and we strive to pay all employees fairly for equal or substantially similar work. We take a variety of proactive steps to ensure that pay is driven by non-discriminatory factors. For example, we reward and compensate employees based on their performance, and we conduct extensive anti-discrimination trainings including for those who are part of the compensation process.

We are confident in our ability to demonstrate our practices as an equal opportunity employer that fosters a supportive, diverse, and inclusive workplace for our people, and we are committed to continuing this effort in the years to come. It is a shame that the DFEH did not want to engage with us on what they thought they were seeing in their investigation."