Microsoft says it caught hackers from China, Russia and Iran using its AI tools

Microsoft says it caught hackers from China, Russia and Iran using its AI tools
This photograph taken on January 19, 2024 shows a sign of American corporation Microsoft displayed during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos. (AFP/File)
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Updated 14 February 2024
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Microsoft says it caught hackers from China, Russia and Iran using its AI tools

Microsoft says it caught hackers from China, Russia and Iran using its AI tools
  • Company announced the find as it rolled out a blanket ban on state-backed hacking groups using its AI products
  • Allegation underline concerns about rapid proliferation of AI technology, potential for abuse by state-backed hackers

WASHINGTON: State-backed hackers from Russia, China, and Iran have been using tools from Microsoft-backed OpenAI to hone their skills and trick their targets, according to a report published on Wednesday.
Microsoft said in its report it had tracked hacking groups affiliated with Russian military intelligence, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, and the Chinese and North Korean governments as they tried to perfect their hacking campaigns using large language models. Those computer programs, often called artificial intelligence, draw on massive amounts of text to generate human-sounding responses.
The company announced the find as it rolled out a blanket ban on state-backed hacking groups using its AI products.
“Independent of whether there’s any violation of the law or any violation of terms of service, we just don’t want those actors that we’ve identified – that we track and know are threat actors of various kinds – we don’t want them to have access to this technology,” Microsoft Vice President for Customer Security Tom Burt told Reuters in an interview ahead of the report’s release.
Russian, North Korean and Iranian diplomatic officials didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment on the allegations.
China’s US embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu said it opposed “groundless smears and accusations against China” and advocated for the “safe, reliable and controllable” deployment of AI technology to “enhance the common well-being of all mankind.”
The allegation that state-backed hackers have been caught using AI tools to help boost their spying capabilities is likely to underline concerns about the rapid proliferation of the technology and its potential for abuse. Senior cybersecurity officials in the West have been warning since last year that rogue actors were abusing such tools, although specifics have, until now, been thin on the ground.
“This is one of the first, if not the first, instances of a AI company coming out and discussing publicly how cybersecurity threat actors use AI technologies,” said Bob Rotsted, who leads cybersecurity threat intelligence at OpenAI.
OpenAI and Microsoft described the hackers’ use of their AI tools as “early-stage” and “incremental.” Burt said neither had seen cyber spies make any breakthroughs.
“We really saw them just using this technology like any other user,” he said.
The report described hacking groups using the large language models differently.
Hackers alleged to working on behalf of Russia military spy agency, widely known as the GRU, used the models to research “various satellite and radar technologies that may pertain to conventional military operations in Ukraine,” Microsoft said.
Microsoft said North Korean hackers used the models to generate content “that would likely be for use in spear-phishing campaigns” against regional experts. Iranian hackers also leaned on the models to write more convincing emails, Microsoft said, at one point using them to draft a message attempting to lure “prominent feminists” to a booby trapped website.
The software giant said Chinese state-backed hackers were also experimenting with large language models, for example to ask questions about rival intelligence agencies, cybersecurity issues, and “notable individuals.”
Neither Burt nor Rotsted would be drawn on the volume of activity or how many accounts had been suspended. And Burt defended the zero-tolerance ban on hacking groups — which doesn’t extend to Microsoft offerings such as its search engine, Bing — by pointing to the novelty of AI and the concern over its deployment.
“This technology is both new and incredibly powerful,” he said.


Police search the European Parliament over suspected Russian interference, prosecutors say

Police search the European Parliament over suspected Russian interference, prosecutors say
Updated 3 sec ago
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Police search the European Parliament over suspected Russian interference, prosecutors say

Police search the European Parliament over suspected Russian interference, prosecutors say
Just days before European elections, the Belgium’s federal prosecutor’s office said searches took place at the employee’s apartment in Brussels
Belgian and French authorities, in partnership with the EU’s judicial cooperation agency Eurojust, carried out the operation

BRUSSELS: Police searched the offices and residence of an employee of the European Parliament on Wednesday as part of an investigation into whether EU lawmakers were bribed to promote Russian propaganda to undermine support for Ukraine, prosecutors said.
Just days before European elections, the Belgium’s federal prosecutor’s office said searches took place at the employee’s apartment in Brussels. His parliamentary offices in the EU capital city and Strasbourg, where the EU Parliament’s headquarters are located in France, were also checked.
Belgian and French authorities, in partnership with the EU’s judicial cooperation agency Eurojust, carried out the operation.
Europe-wide polls to elect a new EU parliament are set for June 6-9.
An investigation was announced last month by Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, who said his country’s intelligence service has confirmed the existence of a network trying to undermine support for Ukraine.
“The searches are part of a case of interference, passive corruption and membership of a criminal organization and relates to indications of Russian interference, whereby Members of the European Parliament were approached and paid to promote Russian propaganda via the Voice of Europe news website,” prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said they believe the employee played “a significant role in this.”
Several news outlets identified the suspect as Guillaume Pradoura, a staffer for EU lawmaker Marcel de Graaff of the far-right Dutch party Forum for Democracy. A person with knowledge of the investigation confirmed that the reports were accurate. The official was not allowed to speak publicly because the probe is ongoing.
De Graaff said on the social media platform X that he and Pradoura were not contacted by authorities.
“For me, all this comes as a complete surprise,” he said. “By the way, I have no involvement in any so-called Russian disinformation operation whatsoever. I have my own political beliefs and I proclaim them. That is my job as an MEP.”
Pradoura previously worked for Maximilian Krah, the top candidate of Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany in next month’s European election, who was recently banned from campaigning by his party.
Krah had already been under scrutiny after authorities in Brussels searched his offices at the European Parliament in connection with one of his assistants who was arrested last month on suspicion of spying for China.
Krah said in a message posted on X that none of his offices had been searched on Wednesday.
“The ex-employee in question has long been working for another MP,” he said.
The EU this month banned Voice of Europe and three other Russian media from broadcasting in the 27-nation bloc. The EU said they were all under control of the Kremlin and were targeting “European political parties, especially during election periods.” Since the war started in February 2022, the EU had already suspended Russia Today and Sputnik, among several other outlets.
De Croo said last month that the probe showed that members of the European Parliament were approached and offered money to promote Russian propaganda.
“According to our intelligence service, the objectives of Moscow are very clear. The objective is to help elect more pro-Russian candidates to the European Parliament and to reinforce a certain pro-Russian narrative in that institution,” he said.
“The goal is very clear: A weakened European support for Ukraine serves Russia on the battlefield and that is the real aim of what has been uncovered in the last weeks,” he added.
EU nations have poured billions of euros into Ukraine, along with significant amounts of weaponry and ammunition. They’ve also slapped sanctions on top Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, banks, companies and the energy sector since Moscow’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.

Spain hosts meeting with Foreign Ministerial Committee of Arabic and Islamic countries for Gaza

Spain hosts meeting with Foreign Ministerial Committee of Arabic and Islamic countries for Gaza
Updated 40 min 19 sec ago
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Spain hosts meeting with Foreign Ministerial Committee of Arabic and Islamic countries for Gaza

Spain hosts meeting with Foreign Ministerial Committee of Arabic and Islamic countries for Gaza
  • Palestinian PM was joined by Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani
  • More than 140 countries recognize a Palestinian state

BARCELONA, Spain: Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez met with Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Mustafa and leading officials from several Middle Eastern countries in Madrid on Wednesday after Spain, Ireland and Norway recognized a Palestinian state.
The diplomatic move by the three western European nations on Tuesday was slammed by Israel and will have little immediate impact on its grinding war in Gaza, but it was a victory for the Palestinians and could encourage other Western powers to follow suit.
“On behalf of President (Mahmoud) Abbas and the government of Palestine, the people of Palestine, we warmly welcome Spain’s recognition of the state of Palestine,” Mustafa said after their meeting with Spain’s leader and Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares.
Mustafa was joined by Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Organization of Islamic Cooperation chairman Hussain Ibrahim Taha, and the foreign ministers for Turkiye and Jordan, members of the group called the Foreign Ministerial Committee of Arabic and Islamic countries for Gaza.
More than 140 countries recognize a Palestinian state — more than two-thirds of the United Nations.
With Spain and Ireland, there are now nine members of the 27-nation European Union that officially recognize a Palestinian state. Norway is not an EU member but its foreign policy is usually aligned with the bloc.
Slovenia, an EU member, will decide on the recognition of a Palestinian state on Thursday and forward its decision to parliament for final approval.
“We salute Spain, and we salute Norway, Ireland and Slovenia for doing the right thing. We urge other European partners to do the same thing,” said Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi.
The move to recognize a Palestinian state has caused relations between the EU and Israel to nosedive. Madrid and Dublin are pushing for the EU to take measures against Israel for its continued attacks on southern Gaza’s city of Rafah.
The decision by Spain, Ireland and Norway comes more than seven months into an assault waged by Israel following the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack in which militants stormed across the Gaza border into Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking about 250 hostage. Israel’s air and land attacks have since killed 36,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between combatants and civilians.


World Bank approves $700m to address Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh

World Bank approves $700m to address Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh
Updated 29 May 2024
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World Bank approves $700m to address Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh

World Bank approves $700m to address Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh
  • Humanitarian conditions in Rohingya camps deteriorate as international aid drops
  • Maintaining 1m refugees puts stress on the Bangladeshi economy

DHAKA: The World Bank approved on Wednesday $700 million to help address the protracted humanitarian crisis facing Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh as international aid drops.

Bangladesh hosts more than 1.2 million Rohingya Muslims who over decades escaped death and persecution in neighboring Myanmar, especially during a military crackdown in 2017.

Most of them live in Cox’s Bazar district, a coastal region in eastern Bangladesh, which with their arrival became the world’s largest refugee settlement.

Humanitarian conditions in the camps have been deteriorating over the years and Bangladeshi authorities have warned they were reaching crisis levels as global aid for the oppressed stateless minority has sharply declined.

The World Bank funding is “to provide basic services and build disaster and social resilience for both the host communities and displaced Rohingya population.”

The financing will be partly a loan, Hasan Sarwar, additional secretary at the Bangladeshi Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, told Arab News.

“Around half of the amount, which is approved for the well-being of the Rohingyas, will come here as a grant, and the rest of the amount which is for the host community people will be received as a loan,” he said.

He added: “This grant from the World Bank will be helpful for building and repairing infrastructure like roads, drainage systems, solar electricity systems, etc., inside the Rohingya camps. Besides, this fund will be spent on skill development and livelihood projects.

“The majority of the grants will be spent through the UN system for the Rohingyas’ well-being.”

Although Bangladesh is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, its government supports the Rohingya by providing not only land, but also water, electricity, a huge law-enforcement presence, as well as medical and administrative officials.

Sarwar said the government has spent around $2 billion since the beginning of the crisis on maintaining the infrastructure and managing the community of over 1 million people.

He said part of the World Bank funding could be spent on law enforcement, as security in the camps has been deteriorating amid the continuing civil war in Myanmar, which prevents a UN-backed repatriation process from taking off.

“Repatriation of the Rohingya to Myanmar is the only sustainable solution to this crisis,” Sarwar said. “It has been stalled for months due to the unrestful situation inside Myanmar. We are in touch with the Myanmar military authorities, but the repatriation is almost impossible for now.”


Indian capital records highest temperature of 49.9 Celsius

Indian capital records highest temperature of 49.9 Celsius
Updated 29 May 2024
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Indian capital records highest temperature of 49.9 Celsius

Indian capital records highest temperature of 49.9 Celsius
  • Indian authorities warn there is very ‘high likelihood of developing heat illness,’ necessitating extreme care of vulnerable
  • India’s West Bengal and Mizoram states are also recovering from a cyclone that hit the country on Sunday, killing 65 people

NEW DELHI: Temperatures in India’s capital have soared to a record-high 49.9 degrees Celsius (121.8 degrees Fahrenheit) as authorities warn of water shortages in the sprawling mega-city.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD), which reported “severe heat-wave conditions,” recorded the temperatures on Tuesday at two Delhi suburb stations in Narela and Mungeshpur.
The weather bureau said the temperatures were nine degrees higher than expected, breaking a previous 2022 record for the city of 49.2C (120.6F).
Forecasters predicted similar temperatures Wednesday for the city, which has an estimated population of more than 30 million people, issuing a red alert health notice.
The alert warns there is a “very high likelihood of developing heat illness and heat stroke in all ages,” with “extreme care needed for vulnerable people.”
India is no stranger to searing summer temperatures but years of scientific research have found climate change is causing heatwaves to become longer, more frequent and more intense.
People on the streets of Delhi said there was little they could do to avoid the heat.
“Everyone wants to stay indoors,” said snack-seller Roop Ram, 57, adding he struggled to sell his savory fritters.
Ram, who lives with his wife and two sons in a cramped house, said they had a small fan but that did little to cool them down.
They were counting down until the rainy season arrives in July.
“I am not sure what else we can do to cope,” he said. “We are just waiting for the monsoon.”
Rani, 60, who uses only one name, travels by bus for two hours each morning to sell jewelry to tourists at a makeshift street stall.
“It is definitely hotter, but there is nothing we can do about it,” she said, gulping water from a bottle she brought from home. “I try to refill the bottle from anyone around.”
Heat remains high even at night, the IMD said, noting that the temperatures were “likely to reduce gradually” from Thursday.
New Delhi authorities have also warned of the risk of water shortages as the capital swelters in headache-inducing heat, cutting supplies to some areas.
Delhi Water Minister Atishi Marlena has called for “collective responsibility” to stop wasteful water use, the Times of India newspaper reported Wednesday.
“To address the problem of water scarcity, we have taken a slew of measures such as reducing water supply from twice a day to once a day in many areas,” Atishi said, according to the Indian Express.
“The water thus saved will be rationed and supplied to the water-deficient areas where supply lasts only 15 to 20 minutes a day,” she said.
The highly polluted Yamuna river, a tributary of the Ganges, runs through Delhi but its flow is hugely reduced during the summer months.
Delhi relies almost entirely on water from neighboring Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, both farming states with huge water demands.
Many blame the soaring temperatures on scorching winds from Rajasthan state, where temperatures on Tuesday were the hottest in the country at 50.5C (122.9F).
Rajasthan’s desert region of Phalodi holds India’s all-time heat record of 51C (123.8F) hit in 2016.
Neighboring Pakistan has also sweltered through a week-long heatwave, which peaked at 53C (127.4F) on Sunday in Mohenjo Daro in rural Sindh province.
Pakistan’s meteorological office said it expected temperatures to subside from Wednesday but warned further heatwaves were coming in June.
It comes as Pakistan hashes out a new deal with the International Monetary Fund that is believed to focus heavily on an energy supply crisis that has left parts of the country facing up to 15 hours of load-shedding a day.
At the same time, India’s West Bengal state and the northeastern state of Mizoram are recovering after a cyclone hit India and Bangladesh on Sunday, killing at least 65 people.
Bangladesh’s Meteorological Department said the cyclone was “one of longest in the country’s history,” blaming climate change for the shift.


China’s Xi meets Egyptian leader El-Sisi in Beijing

China’s Xi meets Egyptian leader El-Sisi in Beijing
Updated 50 min 28 sec ago
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China’s Xi meets Egyptian leader El-Sisi in Beijing

China’s Xi meets Egyptian leader El-Sisi in Beijing
  • Top of the agenda will be the war between Israel and Hamas, which Xi has called for an “international peace conference” to resolve
  • Several Arab leaders are this week visiting Beijing, which is seeking to present a “common voice” on the conflict between Israel and Hamas

Beijing: President Xi Jinping welcomed Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to Beijing on Wednesday, as the Chinese capital hosts a number of Arab dignitaries for a forum it hopes will deepen ties with the region.
Several Arab leaders are this week visiting Beijing, which is seeking to present a “common voice” on the conflict between Israel and Hamas and improve cooperation.
Xi met El-Sisi in a grand ceremony outside Beijing’s Great Hall of People on Wednesday afternoon, state media footage showed, with the national anthems of both countries blaring out.
Cairo has said the two will discuss “regional and international issues of common interest.”
“Discussions will tackle ways to forge closer bilateral relations and to unlock broader prospects for cooperation in an array of fields,” the Egyptian presidency said.
Beijing has sought to build closer ties with Arab states in recent years, and last year brokered a detente between Tehran and its long-time foe Saudi Arabia.
It has also historically been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and supportive of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And Beijing last month hosted rival Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah for “in-depth and candid talks on promoting intra-Palestinian reconciliation.”
United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, as well as a host of other regional leaders and diplomats, is also among the delegates attending the forum.
Xi is set to deliver a keynote speech at the opening ceremony on Thursday, Beijing has said, aimed at building “common consensus” between China and Arab states.
Top of the agenda will be the war between Israel and Hamas, which Xi has called for an “international peace conference” to resolve.
China sees a “strategic opportunity to boost its reputation and standing in the Arab world” by framing its efforts to end that conflict against US inaction, Ahmed Aboudouh, an associate fellow with the Chatham House Middle East and North Africa Programme, told AFP.
“This, in turn, serves Beijing’s focus on undermining the US’s credibility and influence in the region,” he said.
“The longer the war, the easier for China to pursue this objective,” he added.
On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with counterparts from Yemen and Sudan in Beijing, saying he hoped to “strengthen solidarity and coordination” with the Arab world.
He also raised China’s concerns over disruptive attacks on Red Sea shipping by Iran-backed Houthi forces acting in solidarity with Hamas with his Yemeni counterpart Shayea Mohsen Al-Zindani.
“China calls for an end to the harassment of civilian vessels and to ensure the safety of waterways in the Red Sea,” state news agency Xinhua quoted him as saying.