Microsoft takes down hacking network with potential to disrupt election

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Microsoft obtained a court order to disrupt the largest botnet in the world.


Angela Lang/CNET

This story is part of Elections 2020, CNET’s coverage of the run-up to voting in November.

A group of tech companies dismantled a powerful hacking tool used by Russian attackers just three weeks before the US presidential election. On Monday, Microsoft announced actions against Trickbot, a Russian botnet that’s infected more than a million computers since 2016 and that’s behind scores of ransomware attacks. 

Cybersecurity experts have raised concerns about ransomware attacks casting doubt on election results. While a ransomware attack wouldn’t change votes and could only lock up machines, the chaos stirred by a cyberattack could create uncertainty about the outcome of the results. 

Election officials in most states have offline backup measures in the event of a ransomware attack, but have a harder time tackling the disinformation that comes with getting hacked. Ransomware attacks are also a concern for counties because they don’t have many cybersecurity resources.

Ransomware attacks have steadily increased over the four years since Trickbot came online, and they’ve targeted municipal institutions like schools, courts and hospitals. Trickbot, the world’s largest botnet, is believed to be behind last month’s ransomware attack on Universal Health Services, which locked up computers in hundreds of hospitals in the US.

Trickbot hasn’t affected any election infrastructure yet, and US officials have noted that there haven’t been significant cyberattacks against the US election, but the takedown announced Monday closes off a powerful tool that Russian hackers could’ve used to interfere with the election. 


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Microsoft Takes Down Massive Botnet Before 2020 Elections

A building on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington in 2014.

A building on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington in 2014.
Photo: Stephen Brashear (Getty Images)

Microsoft has obtained a court order to seize servers the company says are part of the Trickbot botnet ahead of the 2020 elections, the Washington Post reported on Monday.

Microsoft vice president of customer security and trust Tom Burt told the Post the botnet poses a “theoretical but real” threat to election security, as it is known to be run by Russian-speaking criminals and could be used to launch ransomware attacks. Ransomware is a type of malware that hijacks computer networks, and typically holds the data hostage in exchange for some kind of payment—although attackers could just forego the ransom element and permanently lock users out of their own computers. While a ransomware attack on voting machines, election officials, or political campaigns would be unprecedented, gangs of cybercriminals have targeted municipal and state governments, as well as large institutions like hospitals in recent years.

Microsoft wrote in a blog post that observing computers infected by Trickbot allowed it to determine how the compromised devices talked to each other, and attempted to obfuscate those communications. This analysis also netted the company to identify the IP addresses of the command and control servers which distribute and direct Trickbot. 

On Monday, the company obtained a restraining order against eight U.S. service providers, citing Trickbot infringement of Microsoft trademarks. That in turn allowed it to take those IP addresses offline, rendering the estimated 1 million Trickbot-infected devices useless and irrecoverable to those running the botnet. Per the blog post:

As we observed the infected computers connect to and receive instructions from command and control servers, we were able to identify the precise IP addresses of those servers. With this evidence, the court granted approval

Bill Gates Learned at an Early Age This Lesson That Takes Most People a Lifetime. Some People Never Do

You can say what you want about Bill Gates, but it would be hard to argue that he hasn’t experienced success. He’s one of the wealthiest people on earth, having co-founded one of the world’s most valuable companies. He now spends his time giving away all of that money to causes like eradicating polio. His is not a bad resume. 

A lot of that accomplishment comes from a simple lesson Bill Gates learned early on in his life. I think it’s worth looking at, especially since it’s something many people take a lifetime to learn, if they ever do at all.

Most of us assume that it is, which means everything that isn’t success must be failure. But the opposite of success isn’t failure. Or, it doesn’t have to be. And, that’s a distinction that can make all the difference. Unfortunately, it’s one that many people never learn to make.

Most people measure success by whatever the equivalent is in their job of shooting an arrow and hitting the center of the target. There’s very little margin for error: you either hit it or you didn’t. If that’s the case, everything else is a failure. That belief is often what makes us afraid to try, because success is narrowly defined as only the best possible outcome. 

In most cases, though, success is incremental. You try something and it works, you take a step forward. You try something else, and it doesn’t work, so you learn something and look for more things like the first attempt. Eventually, you get to wherever you were headed.

This brings up another reason success isn’t binary: in many cases, it’s impossible to understand the best possible outcome. In fact, there are a lot of things that don’t qualify as a “success,” but shouldn’t be defined

Devialet, the speaker company backed by Jay-Z, takes on Apple with $299 wireless earbuds



a close up of a device: Devialet's Gemini wireless earbuds. Devialet


© Devialet
Devialet’s Gemini wireless earbuds. Devialet

  • Audio company Devialet is branching out from high-end speakers and launching earbuds to rival Apple’s AirPods Pro.
  • Devialet’s Gemini wireless earbuds cost $299 in the US and will be available to pre-order from October 10.
  • CEO Franck Lebouchard talked up Gemini’s active noise cancellation and said the earbuds had been in the works for two years.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

High-end speaker company Devialet is taking on Apple with its first pair of wireless earbuds, the £279/$299 Devialet Gemini.

Devialet is best-known for making pricey speakers targeted at audiophiles, winning plaudits for its classic, $2,000 Phantom speakers. The company’s backers include Chinese manufacturing giant Foxconn, which produces the iPhone, as well as Jay-Z’s Roc Nation.

This is the first time the company is venturing into headphones, with an eye to a broader audience.

The Devialet Gemini earbuds are about $50 pricier than Apple’s AirPods Pro, which come in at £249/$249.

Devialet says Gemini’s features will include:

  • Devialet’s high-quality audio engineering
  • 8 hours of battery life in each charge, or six with active noise cancellation enabled
  • Dust and water resistance
  • Bluetooth support
  • A charge case, with replaceable battery, and wireless Qi charging or via USB-C
  • Active noise cancellation comes with “transparency” mode that allows you to hear more background noise



Devialet


© Devialet
Devialet

The earbuds will be available to pre-order online from October 10. They’ll be available to buy directly in the US from partners like Best Buy and Amazon from November 25. According to Devialet’s site, the company isn’t committing to a shipping time, only guaranteeing it will ship by or before December 15 or else issue a refund. In the UK, Devialet Gemini will also be available through retailers such as Harrods and Selfridges.

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Microsoft takes jab at Apple, Google with new app store principles

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Angela Lang/CNET

Microsoft announced 10 new app store principles in a blog post Thursday, needling Apple’s and Google’s policies in the process. The new guidelines from Microsoft are intended to promote choice, fairness and innovation for software developers on Windows 10.

“Developers will have the freedom to choose whether to distribute their apps for Windows through our app store. We will not block competing app stores on Windows.” the first principle reads.

“Windows 10 is an open platform. Unlike some other popular digital platforms, developers are free to choose how they distribute their apps,” the tech giant wrote, alluding to Apple and Google.

Those companies are embroiled in a legal battle with Fortnite developer Epic over fees they charge in their respective app stores.

Earlier this month, lawmakers from the US House of Representatives accused Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple of “abuses of monopoly power” and called for restructuring of the companies. Politicians also took issue with Apple’s “gatekeeper power” over its App Store.

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