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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Russia’s Notorious Troll Farm Disbands

When Yevgeny Prighozin, the head of the notorious mercenary army known as the Wagner Group, staged an aborted coup against the Russian government, his brief revolt led to the deaths of 13 Russian fighter pilots and a serious blow to Vladimir Putin's sense of invulnerability. Now the fallout of that strange story has also apparently taken another casualty: the most notorious troll farm in the world, known as the Internet Research Agency.

But we'll get to that. First, Elon Musk is having a tough week. After Twitter’s baffling decision to temporarily limit the number of tweets users can read each day, Mark Zuckerberg sucker-punched the self-sabotaged platform with the launch of Threads. The Instagram-linked microblogging app surged to the top of the app store charts, gaining a staggering 30 million users in 24 hours—a clear sign that many people are willing to ignore Meta’s privacy-invading ways.

If you want to get in on the Threads action but don't want to share all your data with Meta, there's a better way: Don't join. Instead, wait until Threads connects to the broader decentralized social media ecosystem enabled by the ActivityPub protocol, which is also used by Mastodon. It should enable you to interact with Threads without signing up for an account or downloading the app. And if you're still trying to pick which Twitter alternative to jump on—or just want to see what data each platform collects—we've broken down the privacy policies of Threads, Bluesky, Mastodon, and more.

Even if you don't share your data with Meta, the information about you that's already out there is likely up for sale. But it's not just companies buying up your personal details—cops and spies are purchasing that data too. That is, unless the US Congress puts a stop to it. A bipartisan group of lawmakers has submitted an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which Congress must pass each year, that would forbid intelligence agencies from buying sensitive data about Americans. The amendment has to survive a long debate before it can become law, but if Congress keeps it intact, US spies will no longer be able to buy your location data and search histories on the open market.

Finally, our partners at Grist investigated the risks posed by electric vehicle charging stations. Due to a variety of security vulnerabilities and a lack of industry standards for protecting EV chargers from hackers, both drivers and the entire power grid could be at risk.

But that's not all. Each week, we round up the security news we didn't report in depth ourselves. Click on the headlines to read the full stories. And stay safe out there.

Prighozin’s Disinformation Factory Shuts Down in Wake of Wagner Mutiny

For years, the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency embodied many Americans’ worst fears of Russia’s disinformation influences across Western social media. The operation, created by Vladimir Putin ally and oligarch Yevgeny Prighozin, fueled scandals, spewed fake news, and meddled in US elections deeply enough to warrant an indictment from the Justice Department against a group of its staff and even a disruptive hacking operation from US Cyber Command targeting its network.

Now, after the US government's attempts to cripple or kill Prighozin’s troll factory, he’s managed to do it himself. In the wake of the bizarre, brief mutiny of Prighozin’s mercenary Wagner Group, contracted to take part in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Prighozin has been stripped of assets in Russia, including the media group of which the Internet Research Agency was a part. Initially, the troll farm sought a new owner, but Reuters reported ahead of the July 4 holiday that the infamous influence machine will instead be disbanded. Prighozin, meanwhile, was said to have been exiled to Belarus—but has now returned to Russia, according to the Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko.

France Set to Pass Law to Let Police Spy Via Device Cameras and Mics

A highly controversial surveillance bill in France, making its way through the country’s parliament, would allow law enforcement to surreptitiously spy on criminal suspects via their devices’ cameras and microphones. The legislation, which would apply to smartphones, connected cars, laptops, and other devices, was passed by the French National Assembly earlier this week as part of wider changes to the French justice system. In response to criticism, French president Emmanuel Macron’s party made changes to the law that would only allow it to be used “when justified by the nature and seriousness of the crime,” only for an appropriate duration, and only for a maximum of six months, regardless of the suspected criminal conduct. Both the right and left political parties of the country continue to protest the bill.

ATM-Skimming Fraudsters Are Stealing Millions From Welfare Recipients

In recent years, American credit cards have been far harder to defraud, as banks have added security features like authentication chips. But EBT cards, the debit cards provided to many of the poorest Americans in the welfare system, have lagged behind in those protections, instead continuing to store their numbers in a simple magnetic strip. The result has been millions of dollars in irreversible theft from some of the country’s most needy and vulnerable families, as captured in a Bloomberg BusinessWeek feature in this week’s “Heist Issue” of the magazine. California alone, according to the report, saw an average of $10 million a month stolen in the first three months of this year. The fraud scheme is carried out by criminals who plant “skimmer” devices on grocery store point-of-sale systems and ATMs that record credit card numbers, which are then used to drain accounts of funds as soon as they’re refreshed at midnight on the first of the month. BusinessWeek tells the story of a mother of five whose welfare funds were stolen in this way four times in less than a year.

Japan’s Largest Cargo Shipping Port Hit by Ransomware

The Japanese port of Nagoya—the country’s biggest cargo port. handling roughly 10 percent of its total shipping—on Tuesday revealed that it had been the victim of a ransomware attack. The attack, apparently carried out by the prolific Russia-linked ransomware group LockBit, prevented companies like Toyota from loading and unloading manufacturing components from ships and led to a traffic jam of truck drivers picking up and offloading containers at the port. To the Nagoya shipping port’s credit, however, it recovered quickly from the attack, resuming operations just two days later.

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