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EU Cyberattacks Perpetuated By Russian Hackers, Microsoft Reveals

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On a blog published by Microsoft, the company revealed Russian hackers responsible for cyber attacking European political research group

Microsoft revealed in a blog post on Tuesday that a group of Russian hackers is responsible for carrying out cyber attacks on European political research groups. Strontium, a Russian government agency-linked group, known as Fancy Bear, has targeted more than 100 accounts of employees based across European countries such as Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, Romania, and Serbia.

A series of cyber attacks targeted German Council on Foreign Relations, the Aspen Institutes in Europe, the German Marshall Fund and other organizations involved in democracy research, electoral integrity, and public policy by the Russian-linked cybercriminals. The workers who are affected by the attack are also in regular contact with government officials. It is believed that the attack is an effort to stir panic and influence the results of the upcoming elections in the European Union parliament.

“The attacks occurred between September and December 2018,” said Tom Burt, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of Customer Security & Trust. “We quickly notified each of these organizations when we discovered they were targeted so they could take steps to secure their systems, and we took a variety of technical measures to protect customers from these attacks.”

Fancy Bear, a Russian government-linked hacker group, rose to infamy after they attacked the Democratic National Committee in 2016, in which 12 hackers have infiltrated the organization’s servers to hijack emails from staffers to influence the presidential elections. In 2018, it infected more than half a million routers with malware and targeted groups in South America and Europe.

As a response to the latest attacks, Microsoft announced that it would make its AccountGuard cybersecurity service available for free to European groups using Office 365 software in 12 new markets as an added protection.

Organizations and research groups are urged to be more vigilant by the German Marshall Fund to protect their democracies as the European elections approach.

“The risk is not just for candidates and campaigns,” Karen Donfried, German Marshall Fund’s president, said in a blog post addressing Microsoft’s. “Organizations and individuals needed to be aware and prepared that malign forces, including sophisticated state actors, seek to exploit them in the digital space.”

The German Council on Foreign Relations confirmed the attack and welcomed Microsoft cybersecurity initiative. “We are, of course, concerned about our digital infrastructure and have therefore been implementing a range of measures to counter further such risks,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “It is also our view as a foreign policy organization and thinks tank that the issue of cyber attacks should receive strong political and public attention.” /apr

A consumer tech and cybersecurity journalist who does content marketing while daydreaming about having unlimited coffee for life and getting a pet llama.

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Cybersecurity

Microsoft Sandbox Update Glitch: Everything You Need To Know

A recent Windows update have caused the security feature, Sandbox, to not launch. The feature provides a layer of security against malicious app installation. Click To Tweet

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A recent Windows update have caused the security feature, Sandbox, to not launch. The feature provides a layer of security against malicious app installation.
A new update broke Windows Sandbox feature. Photo: Mike Mozart | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

As cybersecurity consciousness began to grow among consumers and the competition among tech giants becomes tighter and tighter in today’s tech environment, Microsoft has launched one of its most sophisticated security feature – the Windows Sandbox. However, earlier this week, the company confirmed that a new update might have broken it.

The tech giant admitted in an information release that Sandbox feature failed to launch after some users completed a system update. They wrote: “Windows Sandbox may fail to start with “ERROR_FILE_NOT_FOUND (0x80070002)” on devices in which the operating system language is changed during the update process when installing Windows 10, version 1903.”

What is Windows Sandbox and why it is important?

On May 2019, Windows rolled out the Sandbox feature to premium clients and those who signed up for their beta testing program. The feature is designed to run an application on an isolated environment that is independent of a users installation server. To simply put it, Sandbox allows a computer to run a program or an app in a safe environment that is not connected to the network to prevent malicious programs especially those with malware and other forms of online threats from infecting the central installation.

In a bubble, the Sandbox feature is technically a virtual machine that mirrors an actual computer created on demand using Microsoft’s hypervisor using the same OS image as the one on your device. One key feature of the Sandbox virtual machine is that it is lightweight and only takes up a little more than 100MB, which has been optimized to boot and run faster, its focus is on security, and it works more efficiently using integrated kernel scheduler, virtual graphics, and smart memory management.

While anyone can create or download their own virtual machines, the benefit of having Sandbox is it saves the user the time, effort, and expertise in building their own virtual machines; those who don’t have the technical skills to make one themselves reaps the most benefits.

When you run an application on Windows 10 and launch the feature, Sandbox will create a mirror window where the application will be tested. Once the test is completed and the user found that there are no malicious codes embedded in the new program, the user can run the app in its main installation safely, and Sandbox will delete all the data automatically.

Who is affected by the new update glitch?

One thing to understand about the recent Windows update glitch is that it happened only in the version 1903, the May update, for Windows Pro and Windows Enterprise only. Those who are using Windows home are not affected by the incident since Sandbox was yet to be generally released. Furthermore, the KB4497936 is an update exclusive for those who have signed up with Windows Insider program which allows ordinary users to get a glimpse of the unreleased versions of the update so that the company can test them before releasing it to the general public. The Windows Insider program has three “rings” or groups that are categorized according to the frequency of updates they receive. Microsoft confirmed that fast, slow, and preview rings were all affected by the anomaly.

Microsoft should own up.

It is not new for Microsoft to have problems with their system every after an update, but this case is unique as it only affected those who have signed up with the company’s beta circle. This means that those who have been affected have the understanding that the updates they receive may include some problems as they are yet in the advanced testing phase. This expectation eases the burden on Microsoft’s end as problems are common in beta testing. That being said, it is important for Microsoft to own up to the problem and fix it right away.

According to Davey Windor, consumer tech contributor for Forbes, “given the sheer number of problems that Windows updates cause, I hope that Microsoft can own the issues soon or I fear people will simply find ways to prevent updating at all.”

If that happens, Windor added, unupdated systems will miss out on important security updates that aim to keep their computers safe. Ergo, they can be the target of malicious hackers, email phishing, malware infection, and other cyber threats – and that is what we want to prevent.

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Apple

Privacy-Centered Web Browsers, A Marketing Strategy?

Privacy is a great thing to invest in, but the moment it becomes a selling point rather than an actual tool that helps is just wrong Click To Tweet

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Photo: scyther5/Shutterstock

If we learned anything from conferences and events held by big tech companies, it’s that everyone’s banking in with privacy. Individually, web browsers like Apple’s Safari, Google’s Chrome, and Mozilla’s Firefox are all playing catch-up with who gets to show off their latest privacy features or who has the better software that keeps people’s information safe.

Recently, the Federal government started to crackdown how tech companies collect and distribute people’s personal information. Even though they’re about a decade late, they are trying to implement more laws and regulations with how data are handled in public spaces such as the Internet.

It may be true that the government still needs to learn and understand a lot from the inner workings of the Internet, but that’s not stopping the public from raising their concerns. With increasing awareness, people are demanding tech companies to stop exploiting their data.

As the issue of privacy is continuously tackled both by the law and the public, tech companies understand that confidentiality is today’s hot commodity. So, in different events, companies are announcing innovative measures in securing your data to gain public trust and approval.

Mainly, big tech such as Google, Microsoft, and Apple are all differentiating themselves from Facebook who has constantly been berated in public hearings and by tech experts for consistently breaching ethical privacy standards.

In reaction, Mark Zuckerberg has continuously made big claims of turning Facebook into a more safe and private space for its consumers. At the same time, the social media platform continues to fail to fulfill its promises.

The thing is, tech companies earn their dollars through targeted advertising, which is a lot more expensive than regular advertising. However, targeted ads require a ton of personal information collected through a specified period. Facebook does this well, but web browsers do so too.

In recent events, all the big tech companies have boasted that they’re improving how users experience the Internet through their browsers. One of the most obvious ones are changes in how advertisers find you through cookies.

In simple terms, cookies are tiny bits of information that you leave when visiting a website. Cookies can be used to let the website remember who you are, like save your username and password so you would be able to log in seamlessly on your next visit.

However, cookies can also be used to track actions made while using a particular website, which in essence helps the browser create your profile, including your interests, what you search, websites you visit, etc.

What browsers does next to your established profiles is to hand them off to advertisers. This is how you see certain ads on a page that seemingly aligns with your interests.

Tech companies, however, show off that web browsers now include specific blockers that prohibit the browser in creating your profile. This blockers purpose is to secure your activities, making it harder for advertisers to track you and cater ads.

In a sense, the move is a big leap towards a more secure internet ecosystem. However, these companies introducing a privacy-centric web browser are announcing the feature as if it’s a done deal. The inadequate emphasis on how to enable the blockers by accessing your settings menu is appalling. Users-wise, they hardly customize browsers based on secured privacy settings, instead goes with anything that was handed to them.

“By not changing the default, by making it optional, Google is relying on people not changing it,” Brendan Eich, co-founder, and CEO of Brave told Recode. “Chrome users may never know this is an option.”

This is where companies like Google and Mozilla veer away from Apple. Apple has been on the lead with this feature for years. Moreover, they have enabled these blockers by default. So from a perspective, paying more is getting more.

Privacy is a great thing to invest in, but the moment it becomes a selling point rather than an actual tool that helps people from getting exploited is the time when people should start realizing how big tech is only parading privacy over than implementing it.

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Gaming

Behold! Minecraft Earth Will Take Over This Summer

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How will the app work in the real world, how today's society will perceive and use it and why it's making a difference in today's generation.
Minecraft Earth. Photo From: Minecraft YouTube

If you have a kid, there’s a possibility that you spent little over an hour scolding him for spending way too much time glued on his phone, tablet, or computer’s screen. There’s an even bigger possibility that it’s because he’s been playing Minecraft.

Minecraft is the younger generation’s version of Pokémon. As a kid myself, I spent hours and hours a day trying to catch little creatures and trying to win badges at gym battles. Today, kids are spending their days in a more creative and constructive way, in my opinion, by building structures forged from their imagination.

Personally, I have played Minecraft for several nights straight, trying to complete my dream fortified mansion-slash-city-slash-world. There’s no limit in what you can do in the game other than yourself. A few hours will fly by quickly as you see your imagination come to life, at least virtually. Think like an architect seeing his designs being built.

Microsoft Today revealed a teaser into how they’re reintroducing Minecraft to the world. From the idea that built the phenomenon of Pokémon Go comes Minecraft Earth.

However, it is quite easy to say, based on reports, that Microsoft is taking an ambitious leap from Pokémon Go.

Comparably, like Pokémon Go, Minecraft Earth is built on the foundation of augmented reality. You will get to experience the world of Minecraft through your mobile phone’s camera. Moreover, users will get to interact and establish relationships with other players.

But where Minecraft Earth stands out is that its a world where multiple players can create along the way. It’s not like Pokémon Go where Pokémon are left conveniently along sidewalks or parks for players to find. Microsoft takes it further by allowing users to define and decide how their own Minecraft Earth will look like in the end.

They can accomplish this by playing the regular Minecraft game whether individually or with friends connected to the same Wi-Fi, or through a server that lets you play with an even larger group of 50 people or more.

Minecraft Earth proposes to completely break the dogma that has lived with us in computing since the beginning: this idea of a single person that holds a single device to create a single experience,” Alex Kipman, Microsoft’s HoloLens and Kinect creator tells The Verge. “With Minecraft Earth, that’s no longer the case. The content is in the real world.”

Microsoft says that the mobile app will be like playing the original game since it’s highly anchored by the basics to easily resemble the game we got so used to. They wanted to preserve the spirit of the game that’s all about creating and collaborating.

Minecraft Earth will not be a player versus player kind of game. You cannot kill other players and claim their resources as that’s not how Microsoft intends the game to be. But you can technically steal from other players when they allowed you to enter their builds, but you won’t be doing it anonymously behind a computer but besides the person that you’re stealing from. A little mischief to spice things up.

Just like the original, you will be spending your time chopping down trees and collecting resources that you can use in Build Mode to create your fortress. But with a real-to-life version of the original, you can scale your builds into actual size reaching to 200ft x 200ft. If you spent hours building it on your phone, I wonder how long Minecraft Earth will take you.

Moreover, you can have your builds stored personally by leaving it at the desired spot. From there, you can decide to share it with other players for them to help or collaborate on your work.

However, don’t expect that every single tree or plot of land can be harvested. This is where the concept of Pokémon Go comes in, in order to collect resources, you will need to walk around the neighborhood or to the park to see ‘tapables’ that you can collect.

“We have covered the entire planet in Minecraft,” Tori Olafsson, Minecraft Earth game director explains “Every lake is a place you can fish, every park is a place you can chop down trees. We’ve actually taken maps of the entire world and converted them to Minecraft.”

There are also adventures in Minecraft Earth that vary from easy to difficult. Easy where it can take you by surprise as you fall into a castle filled by skeletons attacking you or difficult where you are knowingly entering the challenge risking all of your resources.

Definitely, Minecraft Earth is bringing a lot of things in the table, with augmented reality along its side, it will take over the world by storm and start a whole new phenomenon alongside its 91 million active players across the planet.

Minecraft Earth will be available in iOS and Android via beta on summer.

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