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Google removes 3,000 China-linked fake YouTube channels

Most of the videos we identify have fewer than 10 views, and most of these views appear to come from related spam accounts rather than actual users, Google said in a statement late on Friday.

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San Francisco: As the US presidential election inches closer, Google said it has terminated more than 3,000 fake YouTube channels in July-September period which were part of a large spam network linked to China that attempted to run an influence operation on YouTube.

As a result, this large China-operated network hasn’t been able to build an audience.

“Most of the videos we identify have fewer than 10 views, and most of these views appear to come from related spam accounts rather than actual users,” Google said in a statement late on Friday.

“While this network posted frequently, the majority of this content was spam. We haven’t seen it effectively reach an actual audience on YouTube,” said Shane Huntley, Google Threat Analysis Group (TAG).

This YouTube network has a presence across multiple platforms, and acts by primarily acquiring or hijacking existing accounts and posting spammy content in Mandarin such as videos of animals, music, food, plants, sports, and games.

“A small fraction of these spam channels will then post videos about current events. Such videos frequently feature clumsy translations and computer-generated voices,” Huntley informed.

Researchers at Graphika and FireEye have detailed how this network behaves — including its shift from posting content in Mandarin about issues related to Hong Kong and China’s response to Covid-19, to including a small subset of content in English and Mandarin about current events in the US (such as protests around racial justice, the wildfires on the West Coast, and the US response to Covid-19).

In June, Google saw phishing attempts against the personal email accounts of staffers on the Joe Biden and Donald Trump campaigns by Chinese and Iranian APTs (Advanced Persistent Threats), respectively.

The Iranian attacker group (APT35) and the Chinese attacker group (APT31) targeted campaign staffers’ personal emails with credential phishing emails and emails containing tracking links.

“As part of our wider tracking of APT31 activity, we’ve also seen them deploy targeted malware campaigns,” Google said.

“Overall, we’ve seen increased attention on the threats posed by APTs in the context of the US election,” the tech giant added.

In September, Google also saw multiple North Korea groups shifting their targeting towards Covid-19 researchers and pharmaceutical companies, including those based in South Korea.

One campaign used URL shorteners and impersonated the target’s webmail portal in an attempt to harvest email credentials.

In a separate campaign, attackers posed as recruiting professionals to lure targets into downloading malware, Google said.

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Twitter acts on inactive accounts, new verification soon

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Micro-blogging platform Twitter has started removing blue verification badges from inactive and incomplete accounts and will begin the new verification process for its users in few weeks.

Twitter, which paused its public verification process or that elusive Blue Badge three years ago, in November announced to relaunch verification, including a new public application process, in early 2021.

“Last call! As part of our new verification policy, we’ll remove verification badges from inactive and incomplete accounts,” Twitter Safety said in a tweet.

The company is reading out directly to users who have issues with their accounts.

“We’ve reached out directly to those who need to take action to stay verified,” it added.

Twitter had said it would relaunch verification, including a new public application process, in early 2021.

Verified accounts on Twitter will have a blue check next to the display name throughout the app.

“When we relaunch the public application process in early 2021, there will be a link to the application in the Twitter apps and on twitter.com”.

Over three years ago, the platform paused the public verification programme after hearing feedback that it felt arbitrary and confusing to many people.

A year later, the company deprioritised this work further to focus on protecting the integrity of the public conversation around critical moments like the 2020 US election.

The company has identified six types of accounts in its draft policy as Notable Accounts — government; companies, brands and non-profit organisations; news; entertainment; sports and activists/organisers and other influential individuals.

According to the proposed policy, “the blue verified badge on Twitter lets people know that an account of public interest is authentic. To receive the blue badge, your account must be notable and active.”

Twitter had admitted that there are many verified accounts on its platform that should not be there.

The new verification policy is a starting point, and “we intend to expand the categories and criteria for verification significantly over the next year”.

The draft verification policy is available in English, Hindi, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, and Japanese.

“We are also working with local non-governmental organisations and our Trust and Safety Council to ensure as many perspectives are represented as possible,” Twitter said.

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Twitter locks account of Chinese Embassy in US over Uyghur tweet

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Twitter has locked the official account of China’s Embassy in the US over a controversial post that referred to Muslim Uyghur women as “baby-making machines” prior to government intervention.

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Microsoft brings Surface Laptop Go to India

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Microsoft on Thursday announced the Surface Laptop Go will be available in India from January 22 via commercial authorised resellers, authorised retail and online partners at a starting price of Rs 63,499.

According to the company, the Surface Laptop Go extends the Surface line-up by delivering standout design along with the features most loved by our Surface Laptop customers at a more affordable price.

“With the new Surface Laptop Go, we want to give every person in the household or organisation a laptop that’s not just something you need to use, but something you want to use. The Surface Laptop Go is our lightest and most affordable Surface laptop yet that offers the perfect balance of performance, battery life and style,” Rajiv Sodhi, Chief Operating Officer, Microsoft said in a statement.

The Surface Laptop Go runs on Windows 10 Home in S mode. It features a 12.45-inch PixelSense Display with 3:2 aspect ratio and 1,536×1,024 pixels resolution.

Under the hood, the Surface Laptop Go is powered by 10th-Gen Intel Core i5-1035G1 processor and comes with Intel UHD graphics.

It can be equipped with 4GB, 8GB, or 16GB of LPDDR4x RAM. The base model carries 64GB of eMMC storage but comes with options for 128GB and 256GB SSDs.

Connectivity options include a USB Type-C port, a USB Type-A port, a 3.5mm headphone hack, Wi-Fi 6: 802.11ax, and Bluetooth 5.0.

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