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InfoSec News Nuggets 01/07/2021

Watch a Robot Dog Learn How to Deftly Fend Off a Human

STUDY HARD ENOUGH, kids, and maybe one day you’ll grow up to be a professional robot fighter. A few years ago, Boston Dynamics set the standard for the field by having people wielding hockey sticks try to keep Spot the quadrupedal robot from opening a door. Previously, in 2015, the far-out federal research agency Darpa hosted a challenge in which it forced clumsy humanoid robots to embarrass themselves on an obstacle course way outside the machines’ league. (I once asked you, dear readers, to stop laughing at them, but have since changed my mind.) And now, behold: The makers of the Jueying robot dog have taught it a fascinating way to fend off a human antagonizer who kicks it over or pushes it with a stick. A team of researchers from China’s Zhejiang University—where the Jueying’s hardware was also developed—and the University of Edinburgh didn’t teach the Jueying how to recover after an assault, so much as they let the robot figure it out.


US bans major Chinese apps, including AliPay and WeChat Pay

President Trump has signed an executive order arguing that “aggressive action” must be taken against eight notable Chinese applications – Tencent’s QQ, QQ Wallet, CamScanner, SHAREit, VMate, WPS Office, as well as AliPay and WeChat Pay. The order gives the US Commerce Department 45 days to determine which transactions will be banned under the directive. “By accessing personal electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, and computers, Chinese connected software applications can access and capture vast swaths of information from users, including sensitive personally identifiable information and private information,” the executive order reads. 


The Year Ahead: 3 Predictions From the ‘Father of the Internet’ Vint Cerf

In 2011, the movie “Contagion” eerily predicted what a future world fighting a deadly pandemic would look like. In 2020, I, along with hundreds of thousands of people around the world, saw this Hollywood prediction play out by being diagnosed with COVID-19. It was a frightening year by any measure, as every person was impacted in unique ways. Having been involved in the development of the Internet in the 1970s, I’ve seen first-hand the impact of technology on people’s lives. We are now seeing another major milestone in our lifetime—the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. What the “Contagion” didn’t show is what happens after a vaccine is developed. Now, as we enter 2021, and with the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine being administered, a return to normal feels within reach. But what will our return to “normal” look like really? Here are three predictions for 2021.


WhatsApp updates its Terms and Privacy Policy to mandate data-sharing with Facebook

WhatsApp users are receiving an in-app notice today regarding the service’s new terms and privacy policy. The notice, as you can see in the attached screenshot, talks about three key updates that affect how WhatsApp processes your data, how businesses can use Facebook hosted services to store and manage their WhatsApp chats, and how WhatsApp will soon partner with Facebook to offer deeper integrations across all of the latter’s products. It further reveals that these changes will go into effect on February 8th, and users will have no choice but to accept these changes if they wish to continue using WhatsApp. The new terms and privacy policy update builds upon a similar change WhatsApp announced in July last year. However, in the previous update, WhatsApp gave users the option to “not have your WhatsApp account information shared with Facebook.” With the latest update, WhatsApp has done away with this option, and users will have to accept the new terms and privacy policy if they want to continue using the instant messenger.


SolarWinds fallout: DOJ says hackers accessed its Microsoft O365 email server

The US Department of Justice confirmed today that the hackers behind the SolarWinds supply chain attack targeted its IT systems, where they escalated access from the trojanized SolarWinds Orion app to move across its internal network and access the email accounts of some of its employees. “At this point, the number of potentially accessed O365 mailboxes appears limited to around 3-percent and we have no indication that any classified systems were impacted,” DOJ spokesperson Marc Raimondi said in a short press release published earlier today. With DOJ employee numbers estimated at around 100,000 to 115,000, the number of impacted DOJ employees is currently believed to be around 3,000 to 3,450. The DOJ said it has now blocked the attacker’s point of entry. The DOJ now joins a long list of companies and government agencies that publicly admitted to having been impacted in the SolarWinds hack. 

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