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Yogurt Heist Reveals a Rampant Form of Online Fraud

The saga of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange continued this week after the UK’s high court ordered a delay in his extradition to the United States. Assange faces 18 charges in the US, including 17 alleged violations of the Espionage Act—charges that have alarmed journalism watchdogs. The two judges who issued the ruling said in a summary of their decision that the US must offer further assurances that Assange’s First Amendment rights will be respected and that he will not face the death penalty if convicted.

The University of Cambridge’s medical school is still recovering from “malicious activity” which the school first detected last month. The incident impacted IT services provided by Cambridge’s Clinical School Computing Service, and several websites were knocked offline. While the university also recently suffered a distributed denial-of-service attack, allegedly carried out by the hacker group Anonymous Sudan, it’s unclear if the two incidents are related, and the university has not yet clarified the nature of the “malicious activity.”

US and UK authorities this week announced sanctions and charges against members of APT31, a Chinese state-sponsored hacker group. Also known as Violet Typhoon or Judgement Panda, APT31 hackers have for the past 14 years targeted critics and political enemies around the world to conduct espionage campaigns, according to the US Department of Justice.

Finally, WIRED discovered a trove of information left online by a location data broker that reveals sensitive details about the visitors to Jeffrey Epstein’s notorious “pedophile island.” The data includes more than 11,000 precise coordinates, as many as 166 of which pinpoint the likely homes and workplaces of visitors who live in the continental United States.

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

Cybercriminal Yogurt Heist Reveals a Rampant Form of Online Fraud

A few rules of thumb can vastly increase your online safety: Don’t click on links or open attachments from strangers. Double-check the sender of emails and other messages to ensure they’re not surreptitious phishing attempts. And be sure a shipping company really is who it claims to be rather than a cybercriminal gang plotting to hijack a truckload of your yogurt and hold it for ransom.

The last of those lessons was highlighted by The Wall Street Journal this week in a story about a troubling form of online fraud: Fraudsters are insinuating themselves into so-called load boards, the online platforms that manufacturers, shipping companies, and the brokers who work with them use to make deals for transporting goods via truck to retailers or other destinations. By spoofing the identity of a carrier—the companies that employ truck drivers to pick up goods—fraudsters can trick brokers who arrange those deals into handing over large amounts of cargo. The criminals can then either complete the deal with a legit carrier at a lower price and pocket the difference, or simply steal the cargo.

In the case of one $50,000 load of Danone yogurt and plant-based milk, the thieves opted for the latter. The broker who had arranged the deal discovered that the fraudsters had spoofed the motor carrier number, a unique identifier, for the broker’s intended trucking company. Then they rerouted their yogurt booty from its intended destination in Florida to a warehouse in Pennsylvania. The brokerage describes receiving emails and even a phone call from an Armenian number demanding a $40,000 ransom. (The brokers refused to pay and collected an insurance payout instead. What happened with the yogurt—and exactly how much yogurt a single gang of Armenian cybercriminals can feasibly consume before it spoils—remains unclear.)

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The Journal’s story reveals that cargo hijacking fraud remains a serious problem—one that cost $500 million in 2023, quadruple the year before. Victims say load board operators need to do more to verify users’ identities, and that law enforcement and regulators also need to do more to address the thefts.

Apple Users Targeted With “MFA Bombing” Hacking Tactic

Multifactor authentication (MFA) has served as a crucial safeguard against hackers for years. In Apple’s case, it can require a user to tap or click “allow” on an iPhone or Apple Watch before their password can be changed, an important protection against fraudulent password resets. But KrebsOnSecurity reports this week that some hackers are weaponizing those MFA push alerts, bombarding users with hundreds of requests to force them to allow a password reset—or at the very least, deal with a very annoying disruption of their device. Even when a user does reject all those password reset alerts, the hackers have, in some cases, called up the user and pretended to be a support person—using identifying information from online databases to fake their legitimacy—to social engineer them into resetting their password. The solution to the problem appears to be “rate-limiting,” a standard security feature that limits the number of times someone can try a password or attempt a sensitive settings change in a certain time period. In fact, the hackers may be exploiting a bug in Apple’s rate limiting to allow their rapid-fire attempts, though the company didn’t respond to Krebs’ request for comment.

Israel Deploys Controversial Facial Recognition Tech in Its Surveillance of Gazans

Israel has long been accused of using Palestinians as subjects of experimental surveillance and security technologies that it then exports to the world. In the case of the country’s months-long response to Hamas’ October 7 massacre—a response that has killed 31,000 Palestinian civilians and displaced millions more from their homes—that surveillance now includes using controversial and arguably unreliable facial recognition tools among the Palestinian population. The New York Times reports that Israel’s military intelligence has adopted a facial recognition tool built by a private tech firm called Corsight, and has used it in its attempts to identify members of Hamas—particularly those involved in the October 7 attack—despite concerns that the tech was sometimes faulty and produced false positives. In one case, for instance, the Palestinian poet Mosab Abu Toha was pulled out of a crowd by soldiers who had somehow identified him by name, before he was beat, accused of being a member of Hamas, and interrogated, before soldiers then told him the interrogation had been a “mistake.”

AI Cameras Trained to Spot Encampments of Unhoused People

In other dystopian AI news, The Guardian this week reported on a government project in San Jose, California, that used AI-enabled computer vision technology to identify encampments and vehicles lived in by unhoused people. In the project, video recorded from a car around the city is given to participating companies including Ash Sensors, Sensen.AI, Xloop Digital, Blue Dome Technologies, and CityRover, which use it as training data to develop a system that can recognize tents or vehicles that people might be living in. While the project has been described as a way to identify and help people in need, advocates for the unhoused in San Jose say they’re concerned the data is likely to instead be given to the police, and thus as just another form of surveillance targeting the most vulnerable inhabitants of the city.

Bellingcat Investigators Find Far-Right Fugitive Ammon Bundy

Radical libertarian Ammon Bundy, a well-known figure on the far right, has been on the run since last year, charged with contempt of court after being ordered to pay $50 million to an Idaho hospital he’d accused of child trafficking and leading a campaign of harassment that targeted its staff. Then last month, he posted a provocative video to YouTube titled, “Want to Know Where Ammon Bundy Is?” The open source detectives at Bellingcat apparently did: They found enough evidence in Bundy’s videos to convincingly reveal his location. Bellingcat was able to use material like a school calendar in the background of one shot, a mountain range in another, and a highway sign in a third to place Bundy in a certain county in southern Utah. When contacted by Bellingcat, Bundy denied hiding and wrote, a little confusingly, that “at any time peace officers could find me if they wish.”

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