Posts with «society & culture» label

Members of ransomware gang Lockbit arrested by law enforcement

International law enforcement, led by the UK’s National Crime Agency, disrupted ransomware gang Lockbit's operation. The group behind notable hacks against aircraft manufacturer Boeing, chip giant Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, sandwich chain Subway and thousands more had its site taken offline on Monday while authorities arrested major players behind the gang. "This site if now under the control of law enforcement," the website reads. According to malware repository Vx-underground, law enforcement took down at least 22 Lockbit-affiliated Tor sites.

"Through our close collaboration, we have hacked the hackers; taken control of their infrastructure, seized their source code, and obtained keys that will help victims decrypt their systems," National Crime Agency Director General, Graeme Biggar, said in a statement. “As of today, LockBit are locked out. We have damaged the capability and most notably, the credibility of a group that depended on secrecy and anonymity."

Lockbit admitted defeat, too. In a statement to Vx-underground, the group said "FBI pwned me." Operation Cronos, the name law enforcement used for their efforts, also resulted in the seizure of source code and other useful data related to Lockbit's operations. At the same time, authorities in Poland, Ukraine and the US arrested key members of the ransomware operation. There are sanctions out for two more Lockbit affiliates in Russia.

There's more good news for Lockbit victims, too: the operation obtained keys from Lockbit to create a decryption tool for victims to get their data back, according to US Attorney General Merrick Garland. The free decryptors can be found via the No More Ransom project

Since 2019 when Lockbit first entered the scene, it's squeezed victims for more than $120 million in ransomware payments, according to acting assistant AG Nicole Argentieri.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Amazon, one of the world's largest employers, has called the National Labor Relations Board 'unconstitutional'

Amazon, a company that employs more than 1.54 million people, has claimed that the National Labor Relations Board Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency responsible for protecting the rights of workers, is unconstitutional. Amazon made the claim in a legal document filed on Thursday as part of a case in which prosecutors from the Board have accused the e-commerce giant of discrimination against workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island who had voted to unionize, according to The New York Times.

Amazon is not the first company to challenge the Board’s constitutionality. Last month, Elon Musk’s SpaceX sued the NLRB after the agency accused the company of unlawfully firing eight employees and called the agency “unconstitutional” in the lawsuit. Weeks later, grocery chain Trader Joe’s, which the NLRB accused of union-busting, said that the NLRB’s structure and organization was “unconstitutional,” Bloomberg reported. And in separate lawsuits, two Starbucks baristas have independently challenged the agency’s structure as they sought to dissolve their unions.

Amazon’s claim is similar to the existing claims filed by SpaceX and Trader Joe’s. In the lawsuit, the company’s lawyers argued that “the structure of the N.L.R.B. violates the separation of powers” by “impeding the executive power provided for in Article II of the United States Constitution.” In addition, Amazon claimed that the NLRB’s hearings “can seek legal remedies beyond what’s allowed without a trial by jury.”

Seth Goldstein, a lawyer who represents unions in the Amazon and Trader Joe’s cases told Reuters that these challenges to the NLRB increase the chances of the issue reaching the Supreme Court. And they might cause employers to stop bargaining with unions in hope that courts will finally strip the federal agency of its powers, Goldstein said. Amazon has a contentious history with the NLRB, which said the company broke federal labor laws last year. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

US officials believe Chinese hackers lurk in critical infrastructure

Chinese hackers have been hiding in US critical infrastructure for at least the last five years, CNN reported on Wednesday. By lurking behind the scenes of transportation, water, electricity and other important systems, the hackers have the opportunity to strike whenever they deem the time is right, US officials say in a 50-page report on the subject. A public version of the full document is set to be released next week. 

Officials from the FBI and the Justice Department previously issued a court order to update software that could succumb to Chinese hacking. The effort aimed to fight Chinese hacking by remotely disabling certain affected systems. According to the department, it was able to remove code from hundreds of internet routers that could have let Chinese hackers in. 

The forthcoming report reveals just how long this has been going on, and how bad a potential cyberattack could be. It's set to detail hackers' techniques, while providing guidance to companies behind critical infrastructure systems on how to find Chinese hackers in their systems. There are no signs in the report that hackers have acted maliciously against US infrastructure yet. 

Hackers started by getting into IT systems and, from there, working their way into more important tech behind US infrastructure. They also broke into security cameras at some of the facilities and, in another case, accessed water treatment plants, the report says. 

Last week, FBI director Christopher Wray warned Congress that Chinese hackers were preparing to wreck havoc on US critical infrastructure systems. "Cyber threats to our critical infrastructure represent real world threats to our physical safety," he said at the hearing.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

The EU wants to criminalize AI-generated porn images and deepfakes

Back in 2022, the European Commission released a proposal for a directive on how to combat domestic violence and violence against women in other forms. Now, the European Council and Parliament have agreed with the proposal to criminalize, among other things, different types of cyber-violence. The proposed rules will criminalize the non-consensual sharing of intimate images, including deepfakes made by AI tools, which could help deter revenge porn. Cyber-stalking, online harassment, misogynous hate speech and "cyber-flashing," or the sending of unsolicited nudes, will also be recognized as criminal offenses.

The commission says that having a directive for the whole European Union that specifically addresses those particular acts will help victims in Member States that haven't criminalized them yet. "This is an urgent issue to address, given the exponential spread and dramatic impact of violence online," it wrote in its announcement. In addition, the directive will require member states to develop measures that can help users more easily identify cyber-violence and to know how to prevent it from happening if possible or how to seek help. It will require them to provide their residents with an online portal where they can send in reports, as well. 

In its reporting, Politico suggested that the recent spread of pornographic deepfake images using Taylor Swift's face urged EU officials to move forward with the proposal. If you'll recall, X even had to temporarily block searches for the musician's name after the images went viral. "The latest disgusting way of humiliating women is by sharing intimate images generated by AI in a couple of minutes by anybody," European Commission Vice President Věra Jourová told the publication. "Such pictures can do huge harm, not only to popstars but to every woman who would have to prove at work or at home that it was a deepfake." At the moment, though, the aforementioned rules are just part of a bill that representatives of EU member states still need to approve. "The final law is also pending adoption in Council and European Parliament," the EU Council said. According to Politico, if all goes well and the bill becomes a law soon, EU states will have until 2027 to enforce the new rules.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Sega of America plans to lay off 61 workers

Sega of America plans to lay off 61 employees in March, according to a California WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) report. Eurogamer and X user @WhatLayoff first reported on the government notice, which lists two separate job cuts classified as “layoff permanent” on March 8. It’s the latest chapter in a year-plus of brutal job cuts in the tech and gaming worlds.

California’s WARN Act, passed in 1988, requires employers to provide 60 days’ notice for upcoming layoffs — allowing the affected workers time to prepare. It applies to companies with at least 75 full-time or part-time workers and covers layoffs of 50 or more people within 30 days. It isn’t clear precisely how many workers Sega of America employs.

The WARN report lists separate layoffs (one of 12 and another of 49 workers) at two Irvine, CA-based Sega of America offices. The job cuts both have a “notice” date of January 8, and the reports were “processed” by California on January 29 with “effective” dates of March 8.

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) filed an unfair labor practice complaint against Sega in November after the publisher allegedly said it would lay off 80 unionized workers. At the time, the organization said Sega presented the proposal in a captive audience meeting, describing the circumstances as “a clear case of bad faith bargaining.”

The Allied Employees Guild Improving SEGA (AEGIS-CWA), the union representing Sega workers in the US, wrote on X Tuesday that the company announced the latest plans “a few months ago,” suggesting the layoffs posted in the WARN notice are part of the same roadmap. The union said Sega plans to outsource quality assurance and some localization work “in a move that would significantly impact our workforce.”

Sega hasn’t publicly confirmed the layoffs. Engadget reached out to a company representative, and we’ll update this article if we hear back.

The layoffs come less than two months after Sega said it would refresh its classics Crazy Taxi, Jet Set Radio, Shinobi, Golden Axe and Streets of Rage. Eurogamer notes the company’s Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth, which launched last week, has been a high mark for the publisher.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Block is reportedly laying off around 1,000 workers

Block is the latest notable tech company to lay off hundreds of workers, according to reports. CEO Jack Dorsey is said to have informed employees that the company is firing a "large number" of them, with Cash App, Square and the foundational (i.e. operations) teams bearing the brunt of the impact. According to a Business Insider source, Block is letting go nearly 1,000 people.

Dorsey reportedly wrote in his memo that the company is becoming leaner. It laid off around 40 people from the Tidal team in December. Last year, Block said it planned to limit its headcount to around 12,000 workers, a reduction from the around 13,000 it had in late 2023. Engadget has contacted Block for confirmation of the layoffs.

While it was initially expected that the layoffs would take place over a period of months, executives reportedly opted against that in favor carrying them out at the same time. "Why is so much happening in one single day? All of these teams were confident in the direction they're taking, and were ready to take action within the same 2-3 weeks," Dorsey is said to have written in his memo. "We decided it would be better to do [it] at once rather than arbitrarily space them out, which didn't seem fair to the individuals or to the company. When we know we need to take an action, we want to take it immediately, rather than let things linger on forever."

The tech industry has shed tens of thousands of workers over the last year or so, including thousands this month alone across companies including Unity, Twitch, Amazon, Meta, Microsoft, eBay and Google. It also emerged on Tuesday that PayPal is firing around 2,500 people

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Ring is reportedly walking back its police-friendly stance on data sharing

It looks like Ring is reversing course on its police-friendly stance regarding data sharing, according to reporting from Bloomberg. Amazon told the publication that Ring’s home doorbell unit would stop acquiescing to warrantless police requests for footage from users’ video doorbells and surveillance cameras. This practice has long been derided by privacy advocacy groups, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Senator Ed Markey even launched a probe into the policy back in 2022.

Additionally, Ring will disable its Request For Assistance tool next week, which is a program that allows law enforcement to ask users for footage on a voluntary basis, according to an official blog post. From now on, police and fire departments will have to seek a warrant to request footage from users, though Amazon could provide footage without a warrant if the agency can prove its essential for an ongoing emergency. 

As a matter of fact, the entire Neighbors app, which is where the Request For Assistance feature lives, is undergoing an overhaul to shift its focus from crime and safety to more of a community hub, according to Ring spokesperson Yassi Yarger. To that end, the Neighbors app is getting a new highlight reel feature for users to peruse the most popular video captures of the week. Ring hasn't given a reason given for this sudden shift in priorities. Crime is down nationwide, sure, but it's not like we live in a Star Trek utopia. The company has been diversifying its portfolio lately, adding new products to the lineup, which could be one reason. 

Ring has been cozying up with law enforcement since inception, as the company always stated its primary reason to exist was to improve public safety. “Our mission to reduce crime in neighborhoods has been at the core of everything we do at Ring,” founding chief Jamie Siminoff said when Amazon bought the company for $839 million back in 2018.

Of course, we don’t exactly know if Amazon and Ring will stick by this decision, or if they’ll start quietly allowing law enforcement to nab videos six or eight months down the line. However, this is becoming something of a trend in the tech industry. Google just changed its location history feature on Maps to stop police from nabbing data on everyone in the vicinity of a crime. Law enforcement had been relying on the feature for years.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

eBay will pay $3 million to resolve criminal charges in a bizarre cyberstalking case

The US attorney's office in Massachusetts says eBay will pay a $3 million penalty to resolve criminal charges following a harassment campaign conducted by several former executives. Several ex-employees targeted a couple who wrote a newsletter that was critical of the company.

The Justice Department charged eBay with two counts of stalking through interstate travel, two counts of stalking through electronic communications services, one count of witness tampering and one count of obstruction of justice. The $3 million fine was the statutory maximum for the felonies. As part of a deferred prosecution agreement with authorities, eBay also needs to improve its compliance program and retain an independent corporate compliance monitor for three years.

The US attorney's office says eBay "admitted to a detailed recitation of all the relevant facts about its conduct." In August 2019, the company's former senior director of safety and security Jim Baugh and six others carried out a harassment campaign against Ina and David Steiner of Massachusetts. The couple wrote about litigation involving eBay and higher-ups at the company were said to have been frustrated about the negative coverage.

Baugh and his co-conspirators harassed the couple by, among other things, sending them a fetal pig, a funeral wreath and live spiders and cockroaches. According to prosecutors, three of the former eBay employees traveled to the Steiners' home in the aim of planting a GPS tracking device on their car. The campaign also involved sending harassing messages via Twitter (now X).

Baugh and several others were convicted and sent to prison. One other has admitted to their part in the campaign but has yet to be sentenced.

In a victim impact statement published on their website, the Steiners wrote that "eBay's actions against us had a damaging and permanent impact on us — emotionally, psychologically, physically, reputationally, and financially — and we strongly pushed federal prosecutors for further indictments to deter corporate executives and board members from creating a culture where stalking and harassment is tolerated or encouraged."

The pair and Steiner Associates, the publisher of their EcommerceBytes newsletter, have filed a civil lawsuit against eBay and the former employees. A trial has been scheduled for March next year.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Meta reportedly laid off 60 technical program managers at Instagram

When Mark Zuckerberg announced last year that Meta was laying off 10,000 workers, he described 2023 as a "year of efficiency" defined by removing layers of middle management to create a "leaner org." Turns out the company still isn't done restructuring its organization. According to Business Insider, Meta recently told at least 60 of its employees at Instagram that it's eliminating their position altogether. The affected employees are technical program managers, the people who go in between Meta's tech workers, including its engineers, and the higher level product managers.

Based on posts on Blind, an app for tech employees, and on LinkedIn seen by the publication, the workers losing their jobs are given the chance to be interviewed to be considered for a position as product manager. By March, those who chose to leave or weren't given a new role will no longer have a job with Meta. The company slashed 11,000 jobs in the fall of 2022 in addition to the 10,000 workers it laid off last year in an effort to cut costs. It also issued a hiring freeze and closed thousands of open roles it was originally hiring for. 

"A leaner org will execute its highest priorities faster. People will be more productive, and their work will be more fun and fulfilling," Zuckerberg said last year. It's unclear if Meta has already lifted its hiring freeze, but it's expected to do so only after it's done with restructuring. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

NLRB accuses SpaceX of illegally firing workers for criticizing Elon Musk

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has filed a complaint against SpaceX, accusing it of unlawfully firing eight employees involved in writing a letter that called Elon Musk's behavior on social media "a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment." According to the filing, the company committed an unfair labor practice when it fired the workers for "engaging in protected concerted activity at work." It also accused SpaceX of interrogating at least one employee about the letter, as well as about the identities of their colleagues and the nature of their "concerted protected activity."

In addition, the complaint said SpaceX created an "impression of surveillance" by showing an employee screenshots of a Signal group chat several employees were a part of. The open letter at the center of this case was calling out Musk's "harmful Twitter behavior" before he acquired the website now known as X. In particular, the employees raised concerns about the crude jokes he made on X about the sexual misconduct accusations against him, which SpaceX settled for $250,000. The letter asked the company to hold leadership accountable for their actions and to condemn harmful behavior.

The employees involved in writing the letter circulated it within the company in mid-2022. According to The New York Times, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell reprimanded them within a few hours of sending it out and told them to "stop flooding employee communication channels immediately." Five employees were reportedly fired the next day, and four others were fired over July and August. Only one of them didn't take part in filing the unfair labor practice complaint. "At SpaceX the rockets may be reusable, but the people who build them are treated as expendable," Paige Holland-Thielen, one of the fired employees, told The Times. "I am hopeful these charges will hold SpaceX and its leadership accountable for their long history of mistreating workers and stifling discourse."

The case is slated to go before an administrative judge on March 5, though the company could settle before it takes place. If the NLRB decides that the company has violated labor laws, it can order SpaceX to reinstate workers and to give them appropriate backpay. SpaceX could appeal the decision to the board and then to a federal court, though, so it could be a long journey for the employees involved. 

Musk has been at odds with the NLRB for years through his other companies. The board previously accused X of illegally firing an employee who pushed back against his return-to-office policy. Meanwhile, Tesla has dealt with several NLRB complaints, including one accusing the automaker of illegally terminating employees in retaliation for union activity.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at