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Microsoft seizes domains used by “highly sophisticated” hackers in China

A motherboard has been photoshopped to include a Chinese flag.

Enlarge / Computer chip with Chinese flag, 3d conceptual illustration. (credit: Steve McDowell / Agefotostock)

Microsoft said it has seized control of servers that a China-based hacking group was using to compromise targets that align with that country’s geopolitical interests.

The hacking group, which Microsoft has dubbed Nickel, has been in Microsoft’s sights since at least 2016, and the software company has been tracking the now-disrupted intelligence-gathering campaign since 2019. The attacks—against government agencies, think tanks, and human rights organizations in the US and 28 other countries—were “highly sophisticated,” Microsoft said, and used a variety of techniques, including exploiting vulnerabilities in software that targets had yet to patch

Down but not out

Late last week, Microsoft sought a court order to seize websites Nickel was using to compromise targets. The court, in the US District of Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, granted the motion and unsealed the order on Monday. With control of Nickel’s infrastructure, Microsoft will now “sinkhole” the traffic, meaning it’s diverted away from Nickel’s servers and to Microsoft-operated servers, which can neutralize the threat and obtain intelligence about how the group and its software work.

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Source: https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2021/12/microsoft-seizes-domains-used-by-highly-sophisticated-hackers-in-china/
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Dan Goodin

Walk the Great Wall of China

As the largest man-made structure in the world, the Great Wall of China is one of the most iconic and popular heritage sites anywhere. Over 10 million people visit each year—but not everyone has the opportunity to see the Great Wall first-hand.

Today, in collaboration with renowned Great Wall expert Dong Yaohui and curators from Gubei Water Town, Google Arts & Culture presents a new theme page enabling people to visit the Great Wall virtually. “Walk the Great Wall of China” includes an exclusive 360-degree virtual tour of one of the best-preserved sections, 370 images of the Great Wall in total, and 35 stories that dive into fascinating architectural details. It’s a chance for people to experience parts of the Great Wall that might otherwise be hard to access, learn more about its rich history, and understand how it’s being preserved for future generations.

A section of the Great Wall known as the 'heavenly ladder' with an extremely narrow section of the wall leading up a mountain ridge, shrouded in misty cloud.

The “Heavenly Ladder” leads to the Fairy Tower. Stretching upward along the abrupt mountain ridges, the narrowest part is just half a meter wide. It is not open to the public.

Check out the full exhibit — but as a teaser, here are five things you should know about the Great Wall of China.

1. The complete length is about 20,000 kilometers

The official length of the Great Wall is 21,196.18km, about one and a half times the distance from Los Angeles to Singapore — currently one of the longest flights in the world! Walking the full distance would take you approximately 17 months.

The 'Watching the Capital Tower', a tower on top of a wooded peak high above a sweeping mountain landscape, with the sun setting in the background.

The “Watching-The-Capital Tower”.

2. It took over 2,000 years to construct

The Great Wall as we know it today was built over the course of five dynasties. The first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, took the remnants of ancient fortifications, walls, and earthworks and linked them into a unified wall around 220 BC. Because of climate conditions and human activities, a third of this UNESCO World Heritage site — approximately 2,000km — has already disappeared. Still, many sections of the wall are being restored as we speak — see for yourself by taking a hike now.

3. It’s not just a wall — it’s a whole defense structure.

The Great Wall is not a single-structured wall. It includes beacon towers, barriers, barracks, garrison stations and fortresses along the walls. Together, they form an integrated defense system.

“Walk the Great Wall of China” includes a feature on the western starting point of the Great Wall during the Ming Dynasty. Tragically, all that remains today is a lonely earthen mound.

An earthen mound surrounded by shrubland and lit by intense sun from the back, marking the former western starting point of the Great Wall

The “First Pier of the Great Wall” — its western starting point during the Ming Dynasty.

4. Some of the bricks contain hidden signatures

Many bricks on the wall bear Chinese characters that are actually signatures. Most of these text bricks are from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), when they were used as a quality-tracking method. The texts contain key information such as the production location, the brick household name and the responsible officials.

5. A Chinese unicorn can be found on the Simatai section

On the ​​Simatai section of the Great Wall, there is a special tower with a hidden gem on its upper floor. A large screen wall made of 15 square bricks is carved with a mysterious, eye-catching animal from Chinese mythology, called Kirin (or Qilin). Over hundreds of years, the tower has been eroded, but you can still admire this auspicious symbol.

Want to learn more? Visit “Walk the Great Wall of China”, or download Google Arts & Culture’s Android or iOS app.

Source: https://blog.google/around-the-globe/google-asia/walk-great-wall-china/
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Russian Space Junk Hit a Chinese Satellite in March, Evidence Suggests

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The mysterious breakdown of the Yunhai 1-02 satellite in March has likely been solved. The discarded remnants of an old Russian rocket appear to have smashed into the Chinese satellite, in what is an ominous sign of things to come in our increasingly cluttered low Earth orbit.

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Source: https://gizmodo.com/russian-space-junk-hit-a-chinese-satellite-in-march-ev-1847511922
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The Article Was Written/Published By: George Dvorsky

China plans to build the first ‘clean’ commercial nuclear reactor

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Are you intrigued by the possibility of using nuclear reactors to curb emissions, but worried about their water use and long-term safety? There might be an impending solution. LiveSciencereports that China has outlined plans to build the first ‘clean’ commercial nuclear reactor using liquid thorium and molten salt.

The first prototype reactor should be ready in August, with the first tests due in September. A full-scale commercial reactor should be ready by 2030.

The technology should not only be kinder to the environment, but mitigate some political controversy. Conventional uranium reactors produce waste that stays extremely radioactive for up to 10,000 years, requiring lead containers and extensive security. The waste also includes plutonium-239, an isotope crucial to nuclear weapons. They also risk spilling dramatic levels of radiation in the event of a leak, as seen in Chernobyl. They also need large volumes of water, ruling out use in arid climates.

Thorium reactors, however, dissolve their key element into fluoride salt that mostly outputs uranium-233 you can recycle through other reactions. Other leftovers in the reaction have a half-life of ‘just’ 500 years — still not spectacular, but much safer. If there is a leak, the molten salt cools enough that it effectively seals in the thorium and prevents significant leaks. The technology doesn’t require water, and can’t easily be used to produce nuclear weapons. You can build reactors in the desert, far away from most cities, and without raising concerns that it will add to nuclear weapon stockpiles.

China is accordingly building the first commercial reactor in Wuwei, a desert city in the country’s Gansu province. Officials also see this as a way to foster China’s international expansion — it plans up to 30 in countries participating in the company’s “Belt and Road” investment initiative. In theory, China can extend its political influence without contributing to nuclear arms proliferation.

That might worry the US and other political rivals that are behind on thorium reactors. The US-based Natrium reactor, for instance, is still in development. Even so, it might go a long way toward fighting climate change and meeting China’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2060. The country is still heavily dependent on coal energy, and there’s no guarantee renewable sources will keep up with demand by themselves. Thorium reactors could help China wean itself off coal relatively quickly, especially small-scale reactors that could be built over shorter periods and fill gaps where larger plants would be excessive.

Source: https://www.engadget.com/china-molten-salt-thorium-clean-nuclear-reactor-214210381.html?src=rss
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Jon Fingas

White House blames China for Microsoft Exchange cyberattacks

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The Biden administration isn’t hesitating to blame China for a string of Microsoft Exchange cyberattacks. The White House has declared “with a high degree of confidence” that hackers linked to China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) were responsible for a digital espionage campaign using the Exchange vulnerabilities. Officials have confronted senior Chinese leadership with this and “broader” hostile online activity, the White House said.

The US further accused China of running an intelligence operation that relied on “contract hackers” who frequently launched attacks meant solely for profit, such as ransomware schemes and crypto jacking. The Chinese government’s reported unwillingness to tackle these abuses is believed to hurt businesses, governments and infrastructure with “billions of dollars” in damage, the White House said.

Accordingly, the Justice Department has revealed indictments of four MSS-affiliated Chinese men for allegedly conducting an extended hacking campaign meant to steal intellectual property and trade secrets, including health research. The initiative, which ran between 2011 and 2018, reportedly saw Ding Xiaoyang, Cheng Qingmin, Zhu Yunmin and Wu Shurong compromise comptuers worldwide to grab information ranging from autonomous vehicle technology and chemical formulas through to research on Ebola, AIDS and other diseases.

Biden’s administration has already taken multiple actions in response to attacks, including “proactive network defense actions” like deleting backdoors on compromised Exchange servers. It added private companies to its Unified Coordination Group to bolster its security incident response. CISA, the FBI and the NSA also released an advisory outlining China’s strategy for compromising US and ally networks using the Exchange holes and other methods.

This comes on top of stricter security rules for pipeline companies as well as a pilot to tackle vulnerabilities in sectors like electricity and water supply.

China has historically denied involvement in attacks like these, and it’s doubtful the country will have a change of heart after this. The White House effort is more of a warning — the US will not only pin attacks on China, but respond to them in kind.

Source: https://www.engadget.com/white-house-blames-china-for-exchange-cyberattacks-132053693.html?src=rss
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Jon Fingas

TikTok blocked creators from using ‘Black Lives Matter’ in bios

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TikTok has reportedly blocked users of its newly rolled out Creator Marketplace from being able to use words and phrases including “Black” and “Black Lives Matter” in their bios, flagging the words as “inappropriate conte…

Source: https://thehill.com/homenews/media/562146-tiktok-blocked-creators-from-using-black-lives-matter-in-bios
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Cameron Jenkins

The newest MAGA app is tied to a Bannon-allied Chinese billionaire

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On Tuesday, Guo Wengui, an exiled Chinese billionaire who runs a Chinese-language media network with Trump adviser Steve Bannon, posted a video on his site GNEWS reminding viewers to back up their social media posts on GETTR.

“Today I have to post this video on our G-TV to inform everybody that everything is fine, because the GETTR platform is adjusting,” he said in Mandarin, according to an English translation posted on the site. “GETTR is not ours, so we should follow the instructions. Right? GETTR is cleaning up all the data and accounts. Afterwards, everybody has to re-register their accounts.”

The site was then wiped.

Two days later, Donald Trump’s former adviser Jason Miller announced that GETTR — a Chinese-language site for dissidents opposing the Chinese Communist Party — would soon launch as a pro-MAGA free-speech social media platform.

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GETTR was announced as a brand new social media platform for Trump’s fans, a social media outpost where MAGA types could post freely and, through the mere act of signing up, stick it to Big Tech. It was billed as the logical extension of the former president’s monthslong battle with the major social media companies, two of which had booted him in the aftermath of the Capitol riots on Jan. 6. And though Trump himself had not committed to being on it, it seemed like the type of place where he inevitably would end up after having launched a failed professional blog of his own.

There was one major question: Just where did GETTR come from?

A POLITICO review reveals that prior to it being revealed on Thursday, GETTR had existed for nearly a year as a Chinese-language social media network linked to Guo and G-TV Media, and on which anti-CCP content had been promoted on a regular basis.

Miller told The Daily Beast, which first reported the connection, that Guo’s “family foundation” provided GETTR with early funding. In a separate interview with POLITICO, Miller said that Guo had “no formal role,” had not “contributed any money” and was “not part of the business day to day.” Miller added that “his family foundation is part of the international consortium of investors who gave seed money.”

Previous advertising for GETTR had been posted online before news broke of Miller’s venture. And it included logos for several entities in the G-TV Media Group, a media company owned by both Bannon and Guo. One poster includes the logos for their subsidiaries, G-TV and GNEWS, two sites that have been flagged as vectors of coronavirus and anti-CCP disinformation. An account for GETTR on G-TV, which has the same torch logo as Miller’s GETTR, has been uploading content for more than a year, though much of it is content from G-TV.

Even before its announcement, the GETTR app on Apple had more than 1,200 reviews dating back months, primarily from users praising its anti-CCP stance. “Finally there is a platform for freely disseminating the truth. Thanks to Mr. Wengui who broke the news that the revolution has created such a free-sounding platform,” one user wrote in a review on June 17th.

In the months leading up to GETTR’s reveal, plans for Trump returning to social media frequently hinged on the idea of owning his own Twitter or Facebook-like platform. Trump associates previously told POLITICO that the quickest way to bring him back, and keep him there, would necessitate his owning a majority of the company, if not the entire enterprise. But given the steep cost of building a viable Big Tech competitor from scratch — Twitter, Trump’s biggest competition, burned through hundreds of millions of dollars from launch to profitability over nine years — people involved in Trump’s building of a network had aimed to buy a pre-existing network outright and rebrand it for a MAGA audience.

At face value, GETTR could have been that service. But the choice of Guo’s entity brought with it particularly thorny issues.

G-TV Media has had a rocky history, and was the subject of a federal probe into its fundraising, with the FBI and SEC investigating the company’s $300 million private fundraising round. The links between Guo and Bannon go back years. Famously, Bannon was arrested aboard Guo’s yacht in 2020 over fraud charges related to a separate crowdfunding project to help build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. In 2019, it was reported that Guo was a member of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club.

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Guo himself was an active promoter of GETTR, frequently posting daily video blogs onto the site over the past two months, titled “Miles Guo’s Getter” to share his views on China, the coronavirus pandemic and the Biden administration. Those GETTR videos were then cross-posted to GNews and translated into both English and French, according to the site.

In the days leading up to Miller announcing the launch of a MAGA-version of GETTR, several videos appeared on GNEWS and G-TV showing GETTR users how to save their data and eventually upload it to the new platform.

A Twitter user named Dicky Zhang, whose account identifies him as connected to G-TV and GNEWS, also reminded his followers that they needed to back up their GETTR accounts.

“Gettr will officially be launched on July 4th,” he tweeted in English on June 29th. “In order to build it into a multilingual & international platform, we will clear all the data on the platform on June 29th, Eastern US Time, including posts, photos & accounts. Sorry for the inconvenience. Save important information pls.”

Meridith McGraw contributed to this report.

Source: https://www.politico.com/news/2021/07/01/maga-app-bannon-chinese-billionaire-497767
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Tina Nguyen

Bitcoin Plunges as China’s Sichuan Province Pulls Plug on Crypto Mining

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Bitcoin continued its dramatic plunge to $32,281 Monday morning, down 17.65% from a week earlier as some of China’s largest bitcoin mining farms were shut down over the weekend. The bitcoin mining facilities of Sichuan Province received an order on Friday to stop doing business by Sunday, according to Chinese state…

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Source: https://gizmodo.com/bitcoin-plunges-as-chinas-sichuan-province-pulls-plug-o-1847139438
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Matt Novak

China is about to attempt a highly ambitious landing on Mars

Photo taken on Dec. 4, 2020, shows the model of China's first Mars probe Tianwen-1 lander and Zhurong rover at the Zhejiang International Intelligent Transportation Industry Expo 2020.

Enlarge / Photo taken on Dec. 4, 2020, shows the model of China’s first Mars probe Tianwen-1 lander and Zhurong rover at the Zhejiang International Intelligent Transportation Industry Expo 2020. (credit: Costfoto/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

As early as Friday evening in the United States, China will attempt to set its Tianwen-1 lander down on the surface of Mars. After weeks of speculation, the China National Space Administration confirmed that the country will seek to land the mission, including its “Zhurong” rover, sometime between 23:00 UTC on Friday, May 14 and May 19.

Named after an ancient fire god in Chinese mythology, the Zhurong rover has a mass of about 240 kg. This means the Chinese rover is comparable in size to the Spirit and Opportunity rovers that NASA landed on Mars in January 2004.

There is a lot of intrigue surrounding the high-risk mission. Before this mission, China had never sent a spacecraft to Mars. In this single spacecraft, the country packed both an orbiter and a modest-sized lander with a rover. Moreover, no country other than the United States has successfully soft-landed a spacecraft on Mars or deployed a rover. Other countries have tried and failed multiple times.

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Source: https://arstechnica.com/science/2021/05/china-is-about-to-attempt-a-highly-ambitious-landing-on-mars/
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Eric Berger

China leads the world with new state-backed digital currency

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In a push to dominate global financial technology, the Chinese government is aiming to roll out the world’s first state-backed digital currency.

Why it matters: China’s new currency could set global standards for the use of national digital currencies — and give Beijing unprecedented visibility and control over domestic financial transactions.


  • At least 60 countries are exploring the use of an official digital currency, but China is furthest along in making those plans a reality, while the U.S. has largely sat on the sidelines.

What’s happening: The Chinese government has started pilot programs in Beijing, Shanghai, and other cities that give small amounts of the currency, known as the Digital Currency Electronic Payment (DCEP), to residents on a lottery system, with a limited number of retailers participating.

  • Chinese officials have stated they hope DCEP is ready for wider use in time for the Beijing Olympics in February 2022.
  • Some officials also hope DCEP could help internationalize China’s currency, though China’s tight capital controls have made the renminbi less attractive for international transactions.

The big picture: Rolling out a national digital currency offers several advantages.

  • Improving efficiency in the financial system. Cash and coins are inefficient and expensive to store.
  • Reducing systemic risk. “The existing system is owned by private companies. Should Alipay or WeChat pay [go] bankrupt, which is extremely unlikely, it creates systematic risk,” Trivium China analyst Linghao Bao told CNBC. A government alternative would provide a layer of security.
  • Spurring innovation. A state-backed digital currency could potentially provide a host of new opportunities for businesses, tech companies, and trade.

But it isn’t just about efficiency and innovation. Chinese officials have made it clear that they view the digital currency as a key staging ground for global geopolitical competition, according to a January report by Yaya Fanusie and Emily Jin of the Center for a New American Security.

  • “Fintech is the commanding heights of future global financial competition,” Chinese central bank vice-governor Fan Yifei said in November 2019. “Whoever grasps this advanced productive capability will possess the strongest core competitiveness in finance.”

Background: Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum exist on a decentralized ledger and are intended to skirt controls by governments or companies. But DCEP would be managed directly by China’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC).

  • Chinese officials have said DCEP offers “controllable anonymity” — meaning payments could be anonymous to companies and other users but not to the government.

In the hands of an authoritarian government, a digital currency also offers unprecedented surveillance and control. “Never before has a government ever had access to individual user transactions directly. Technology hasn’t allowed that,” Fanusie told Axios.

  • “DCEP offers a direct route for the government to cut a person off from payments, from their funds, from their accounts. Right now, the government has to go through a private company or a bank to do that.”
  • This capability could be used to reduce criminal abuse of the financial system, but also in theory to monitor and shut down the accounts of dissidents, human rights activists, persecuted groups such as Uyghurs, and others engaging in non-criminal behavior that the Chinese Communist Party may want to suppress.

What to watch: Though DCEP could help internationalize the renminbi to a moderate degree, it’s unlikely to challenge the U.S. dollar any time soon.

  • But international DCEP transactions could bypass SWIFT, the most widely used international payments system, making it easier for people and governments to evade U.S. financial sanctions.

Go deeper: What central bank digital currencies mean for crypto

Source: https://www.axios.com/china-digital-currency-dd20ff05-7562-4e10-966e-43caf00e629e.html
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian

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