Thoma Bravo to buy Sophos in £3.1bn deal

By Graeme Burton | News | 14 October 2019
Sophos is part of Thoma Bravo's drive to add security firms to its private equity portfolio

Thoma Bravo offer has been 'unanimously recommended' by the board of Sophos

Thoma Bravo, the acquisitive private equity firm that focuses on technology, has made a £3.1 billion offer for Oxford, UK-based security firm Sophos.

The £5.83 per share offer represents a 37.1 per cent premium on the London Stock Exchange-listed company's closing stock price on Friday. The proposed deal for the FTSE-250 company has been "unanimously recommended" by directors to shareholders.

It comes two-and-a-half years after Thoma Bravo purchased a minority stake in McAfee, one of the world's largest anti-virus software companies, which was divested by Intel in 2016. The private equity firm had been interested in acquiring McAfee outright, but those talks broke down.

Thoma Bravo has set-up a special purpose vehicle, called Surf Buyer Limited, to arrange the acquisition.

"Thoma Bravo believes that the acquisition of Sophos represents an attractive opportunity to increase its exposure to the large and growing cybersecurity market," the company wrote in its offer document.

It continues: "Sophos is a global leader in next-generation cybersecurity solutions spanning endpoint, next-generation firewall, cloud security, server security, managed threat response, and more. Sophos solutions are designed to be highly innovative and effective, and at the same time simple and intuitive for organizations of all sizes."

In the company's last financial year, Sophos posted revenues of $710.6 million (it reports in dollars, rather than pounds), with subscription revenues weighing in at $593.9 million. While the EMEA region remains its biggest market at $363.6 million, accounting for just over half of its revenues, with the Americas the next largest region for the company, at $253.3 million.

As a result, the company posted pre-tax profits of $53.6 million in its full-year 2019 to the end of March 2019.

The Sophos acquisition would not be the first for Thoma Bravo, which has some 230 different deals under its belt since it was founded in 2003.

In the security space, Thoma Bravo also acquired Tripwire in 2011, exiting in 2015; SonicWall in 2010, exiting in 2012 with its sale to Dell; and, LogRhythm in 2018, an investment it still holds. Other recent security acquisitions that the private equity firm has held-on to (for now) include Barracuda and Imperva.

Iran-linked APT 'Charming Kitten' adds new impersonation tactics to trick potential victims

By Dev Kundaliya | News | 14 October 2019
'Charming Kitten' APT is also known as Phosphorus and APT35.

The group, also known as APT35, is thought to have recently targeted the US presidential primary elections

An Iran-linked advanced persistent threat (APT) group dubbed Charming Kitten, which is alleged to have targeted a US primary presidential campaign in recent months, has added new impersonation vectors to its repertoire.

That's according to a report by security researchers at ClearSky, which claims that the group was recently observed intensifying its phishing attempts in an effort to steal sensitive information from potential victims.

This threat group is known by multiple names, including Charming Kitten, Phosphorus, APT35, NewsBeef, and Ajax Security Team.

Its activities were first observed in October 2018, when security specialists observed it attempting to compromise the email accounts of potential targets by circumventing two-factor authentication schemes. A successful attack enabled the hackers to monitor their victim's communications with other parties.

Earlier this month, Microsoft said that the Phosphorus group (aka Charming Kitten) attempted to compromise email accounts associated with US presidential campaign, current and former US government officials, journalists, and some Iranians living outside Iran.

ClearSky researchers say they recently observed a sharp increase in Charming Kitten attacks against researchers in the US, Middle East, and France, specifically focusing on Iranian academic researchers and Iranian dissidents in the US.

Charming Kitten has also added four new sophisticated impersonation tactics to its campaign in a bid to trick users into revealing their sensitive information to the attackers.

The first tactic involves sending an email to a potential victim, with a link to Google sites from a familiar person. The email lures the victim to download a malicious file, enabling the hackers to collect Google credentials of the victim.

The second tactic involves sending an SMS message using a Sender ID of "Live Recover", which alerts the victim to a supposed attempt to compromise their email account. The victim is asked to secure their account by following the accompanying malicious link.

The third tactic involves presenting "a sham show" about a North Korean hacker who tried to compromise the victim's Yahoo mail. The victim is then asked to tap a malicious button to verify and secure their account.

The fourth involves attackers presenting themselves as the security teams of popular social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram in a bid to try to get  authentication information from their marks.

Last May, threat intelligence specialists warned that Iran had developed a sophisticated 'hierarchy of hackers' and was gearing up to launch a new wave of cyber attacks against Western government organisations and businesses.

In November 2018 Iran accused Israel, a close US ally, of launching a cyber attack targeting vital telecommunications infrastructure in the country.

In June, the US Cyber Command carried out a "secret" cyber attack against Iran in a bid to impair the country's ability to target oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.

The attack was carried out the same day that President Trump called off a retaliatory air strike planned after the shooting down of a US surveillance drone by Iranian forces.

John Sawers: Home-grown technology must be protected from foreign influence

By Tom Allen | News | 14 October 2019
The West needs its own telecoms equipment manufacturers in order to reduce reliance on Huawei and ZTE, said Sawers

With globalism failing, the ex-head of MI6 warned business leaders against giving up control to overseas investors

The rise of populism in the West has diminished the appetite for globalism. This has made many countries more insular, and when those countries are world powers, that can be damaging to historic allies.

Under Donald Trump's leadership the USA - as seen in Syria recently - is less committed to its friends and increasingly adopting a more transactional approach, said Sir John Sawers, the former head of MI6. Speaking at Digital Transformation Expo last week, he told delegates that this increases the need to protect locally developed technologies and home-grown firms.

"Allies like the UK or Germany or Japan or Australia are going to need to hold [on to] their own defence technology - partly because they can rely less on the United States for collective defence, and also because we need some traction over the USA. We need to be able to say [about] firms like Cobham - the British defence manufacturer which is subject to a takeover bid by a US private equity company - ‘Actually, we want to keep this technology in the UK, because the United States relies upon it. And if the United States has complete control it, why should they bother looking after British interests?'"

China is also attempting to buy European technology, in this case to plug holes in its own technological capabilities. Sawers discussed the case of Midea Group's buyout - and subsequent shift of focus to China - of Germany's robot manufacturer KUKA.

If we had 100 per cent Huawei and ZTE equipment in our systems then I think we would be very vulnerable to being exploited

This led to a discussion on Huawei and ZTE, both of which have been criticised for their lack of independence from the Chinese government, but are responsible for supplying hardware for critical telecoms infrastructure worldwide.

The potential espionage threat does need to be managed, but Sawers said "we have a good system [for vetting suppliers] in the UK." GCHQ checks all equipment from Chinese vendors going into our national telecoms infrastructure at a checking station in Banbury, Oxfordshire. "Never, in the 20 years we've used Huawei equipment, have we seen it used for espionage efforts."

Telecoms is vulnerable

A larger issue is the lack of suppliers to the telecoms equipment industry. There are really only four big companies: Huawei and ZTE in China, and Nokia and Ericsson in Europe. LG and Samsung, from South Korea, are in the market a little, but there are no big US suppliers.

"[T]he West needs to be able to have its own telecoms national infrastructure manufacturers, so we can rely on Western-made and Western-designed kit and not be totally controlled by Huawei and ZTE. If we had 100 per cent Huawei and ZTE equipment in our systems then I think we would be very vulnerable to being exploited."

End-to-end control of our own infrastructure would "mean that there are much better defences in place," said Sawers.

Later, in a separate Q&A session, he added, "There's an industrial policy imperative on the Western countries to ensure that companies like Nokia and Ericsson can compete with Huawei and ZTE, both in terms of the quality of the technology and, to some extent, on price."

When a small country cuts off trade relationships and adopts a policy of isolation, it affects its immediate neighbours. When a global power like the United States does so, it has repercussions around the world. One of these is to force other countries to adopt similar stances - as promoted by Sawers, in his urging government and business leaders to reject foreign takeover bids. Is this a solid long-term plan? Could it actually slow the spread of Asian influence? In Europe, perhaps, but there will always be other regions, with their own home-grown firms, that welcome the Chinese yuan.

Tiny $2 spy chip can be added to IT hardware, claims security researcher Monta Elkins

By Dev Kundaliya | News | 14 October 2019
Implanting tiny spy chips onto IT hardware motherboards is cheap and easy, claims security researcher

Bloomberg has been widely derided for its Supermicro spy-chip story, but Elkins claims it's feasible and low cost

Implanting tiny spy chips onto server motherboards can be done with a chip costing just $2 - together with tools adding up to around $198. That's according to a security researcher in a new report. 

The research lends weight to a Bloomberg report from last year that claimed that China-backed attackers infiltrated factories making Supermicro motherboards and covertly implanted spy chips the size of grains of rice on them.

These motherboards were later used in servers purchased by Amazon, Apple and many of the US government departments, enabling network traffic to be monitoried and communications modified with the motherboard's baseboard management controller (BMC).

The Bloomberg story was widely debunked at the time, although the newswire didn't retract the report

Indeed, each firm named in the story rejected Bloomberg's report, and the US National Security Agency (NSA) also described the threat as a false alarm. Reviews of SuperMicro boards conducted by some external experts also found no such evidence of spy chips being added in those boards.

Now, security researcher Monta Elkins, who works as the "hacker-in-chief" for cyber security firm Foxguard, claims to have developed a technique to pull off a similar hack with $190 worth of tools and a $2 chip.

Elkins said all he needed was a $150 air-soldering tool, a $40 microscope, and a tiny programmable chip used in personal electronics projects.

"It's not magical. It's not impossible," Elkins told Wired. "I could do this in my basement. And there are lots of people smarter than me, and they can do it for almost nothing."

Elkins selected an ATtiny85 microchip from a Digispark Arduino board. He de-soldered the chip from the board after reprogramming it to conduct an attack. The chip was then soldered on to the motherboard of a Cisco ASA 5505 firewall, giving the chip access to the serial port of the firewall.

The chip was programmed to start attacking once the firewall boots up in a data centre.

Having access to the serial port enabled the chip to "impersonate" a security admin accessing the firewall configuration by connecting their machine directly to that port.

Then the chip initiates the password recovery feature of the firewall, enabling it to create a new admin account with access to the firewall's settings.

Remote access to the server can then be enabled, compromising its security and exposing a firm's data centre to attack.

Elkins will present his proof-of-concept attack at the CS3sthlm security conference later this month in Stockholm, Sweden.

Compulsory Chinese government propaganda app grants authorities 'superuser' access to smartphones

By Dev Kundadliya | News | 14 October 2019
A compulsory app provides China's ruling party access to the data of about 100 million smartphone users

China's ruling party has made it compulsory for members to download and use the app

A propaganda app developed by internet giant Alibaba and the Chinese Communist Party, which is a compulsory download for millions of people, provides superuser access to smartphones for the authorities.  

Called 'Study the Great Nation,' the app enables the authorities to retrieve messages, pictures, internet browsing history and other information from smartphones.

The app contains news and videos about the ideology and activities of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Party members and workers in particular roles are required to download the app, and also monitored in terms of their usage. 

According to the Washington Post, the app has been intensely pushed by the Chinese government in recent months. It 'gamifies' users' knowledge of the Chinese Communist Party through quizzes and allows them to compete for points.

The app was launched in January and has been downloaded more than 100 million times in the past nine months. Downloading the app is compulsory for Communist Party members, while many workplaces have also made it mandatory for employees to download and run the app.

In a latest study, the Open Technology Fund contracted Germany-based cyber security firm Cure53 to analyse the code of 'Study the Great Nation' app and determine its capabilities.

The researchers found that the Android version of the app was, effectively, a back door enabling the app developers to execute arbitrary commands on the device. Such  privileges enable developers to modify data, install software, or even download a programme to record key strokes.

To all intents and purposes, the app ought to be considered malware. 

"It's very, very uncommon for an application to require that level of access to the device, and there's no reason to have these privileges unless you're doing something you're not supposed to be," said Adam Lynn, the Open Technology Fund's research director.

A review of the app' terms and conditions revealed that users must provide it access to a variety of device functionalities before they can start using it. This includes enabling the app to dial phone numbers, access and capture videos and photos, access user's contacts list, activate audio recording, transmit users' current location, turn on the flashlight, connect to WiFi, and much more.

However, China's State Council Information Office flatly denied the claims, telling the Washington Post that the app doesn't contain such functions.

Apple said that security features on iOS wouldn't allow such superuser privileges on any of its devices.

China's authoritarian government is accused of intensifying its efforts in recent years to conduct mass surveillance against citizens. The country recently moved its surveillance activities up a notch by making it compulsory for citizens acquiring a new phone number or wanting internet access to provide facial scans, effective from December. 

The new rule, announced by China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), is part of the Chinese government's wider efforts to monitor the activities and behaviour of its citizens ever-more closely.

Earlier this month, the Hong Kong government banned pro-democracy activists from wearing masks - a strategy being used by demonstrators to avoid being recognised by facial recognition systems.

Last year, police in China also started testing Google-Glass-like smart glasses, linked to back-end servers that could identify people and car registration plates.

Ex-MI6 head: Technology is now as important to the world as politics

By Tom Allen | News | 14 October 2019
The populist state of Western politics is curbing nations’ willingness to work together, Sawers warned

Sir John Sawers warned that China is rising as a new global superpower, and the West is not in a position to address it

The rising populism and nationalism that define contemporary geopolitics are just symptoms of the themes shaping the modern world, said Sir John Sawers, former head of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), at Digital Transformation Expo last week.

Sawers suggested that more disruption is on the way, referencing events like the Brexit debate, Hong Kong riots, Extinction Rebellion and the entire presidency of Donald Trump. He explained:

"[There are] three fields that I think are shaping the world. They are the return to what I call ‘Great Power' politics; the change in Western politics; and there is the rise of technology and how that is changing and transforming our lives."

With Great Power...

Great Power politics revolves around the concept of superpowers. The West has dominated, and to an extent dictated, modern history, but China's rise threatens the status quo. "China is now a rival and a competitor approaching parity with the USA, and the USA doesn't like it," Sawers noted. This applies not just to military strength, but also to China's technological prowess and the trade links formed through the Belt and Road Initiative.

Europe looks less relevant [in a Great Power world]

The Great Power world is driven by military might, which favours countries like the USA, Russia and China. It doesn't work for Europe, which has thrived in a rules-based world. "Suddenly," said Sawers, "Europe looks less relevant and less powerful; and certainly when we fail to develop the sort of global tech companies that both the United States and China have developed - well, Europe [including the UK] is in a weaker position."

...comes nationalism

The second theme is the change in Western politics, which is going through a populist period - although Sawers thinks this is past its peak, as shown during the recent European elections. It is only countries that avoided such movements in the 1930s, like the UK and USA, that are now afflicted by a surge of nationalism. This is mostly fuelled by rising inequality, which turns people against elites and scapegoats like immigrants.

"We joke about President Trump, but he has a serious agenda for the United States. He's been successful in promoting the American economy, but he's a very divisive figure, as well as a nationalist, isolationist American president."

The cyber sword

Finally, but just as importantly, is technology. MI6 is a "human intelligence agency," but under Sawers' leadership (2009 - 2014) the organisation increased its spend on tech from a third of the budget to half.

"Because technology was such a big driver of everything we did, the power of data analytics [is huge] in terms of piecing together puzzles about terrorist plots, identifying who was posing a threat to you, where extremism and propaganda was coming from. Data analytics was absolutely vital… We saw the role of cyber develop as both an attack tool and a crucial part of national defences during my years in the role."

Cyber is a two-edged blade, as demonstrated by Stuxnet. This was heralded as a successful Western attack (the USA developed the Stuxnet worm) against Iran's nuclear programme, but Iran later reverse engineered it and launched an attack against a Saudi Arabian oil company in 2012.

Stuxnet opened a Pandora's Box of cyber attacks against physical targets, and the world has been dealing with the fallout ever since.

China to make it compulsory to provide a facial scan when getting new phone numbers or internet access

By Dev Kundaliya | News | 11 October 2019
China has pioneered the use of advanced technologies, such as facial recognition and AI, for security purposes

The new rule will apply from December and will no doubt be used to support the country's draconian 'social credit' system

China has moved its surveillance activities up a notch by making it compulsory for citizens acquiring a new phone number or wanting internet access to provide facial scans. 

The new rule, announced by China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) will apply from the beginning of December. 

MIIT claimed that it is taking the steps to "safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of citizens in the cyberspace" and to limit fraud on internet. It added that the facial scans will verify applicants against their official IDs. The ministry also claimed that the new rule would help improve internet security and the supposed fight against terrorism in the country.

The Ministry wants telecoms companies to terminate numbers that are not correctly registered under real names

As per new orders, it will be illegal for mobile phone users to share their SIM cards with anyone else. 

Chinese citizens are also being encouraged to verify whether a mobile or landline number is registered under their name without their consent. The Ministry wants telecoms companies to terminate numbers that are not correctly registered under real names.

Anyone blacklisted under the country's 'social credit' system could find themselves barred from getting new numbers of even accessing the internet. 

The new laws are part of the Chinese government's wider efforts to monitor the activities and behaviour of its citizens ever-more closely. Mandating mobile carriers to scan people's faces in exchange for internet access will make it easier for government agencies to track websites and the type of content people post on social media.

The Chinese government has already deployed facial recognition technology in various public places, including airports.

It has also been accused of resorting to widespread surveillance in the Xinjiang province of north-western China, where more than one million people are said to be interned in so-called re-education camps. Mobile phone users are also forced to run monitoring software on their devices. 

Earlier this month, the Hong Kong government banned pro-democracy activists from wearing masks - a strategy being used by demonstrators to avoid being recognised by facial recognition systems.

And last month, state media in China announced that Chinese scientists have developed a new AI-driven 500-megapixel camera, which can recognise a human face in "perfect details" in crowds of thousands of people.

The state media also claimed that the super camera could have military and public security applications.

Last year, police in China started testing Google-Glass-like smart glasses, linked to back-end servers that could identify people and car registration plates.

Bill McDermott quits as CEO of SAP

By Graeme Burton | News | 11 October 2019
Bill McDermott - the now ex-CEO of SAP

Bill McDermott to be replaced by Jennifer Morgan and Christian Klein as co-CEOs

Bill McDermott has quit as CEO of SAP with immediate effect, staying on at the company only until the end of the year in an advisory capacity when his current contract expires.

McDermott became sole CEO in 2013 after Jim Hagemann Snabe stepped down. Snabe and McDermott had been appointed co-CEOs in 2010. 

In response, the company has reshuffled its senior management, promoting not one, but two SAP executives to become co-CEOs of the company

SAP executive board members Jennifer Morgan and Christian Klein will step into McDermott's shoes, a move that the company claims was part of its long-term succession plan. McDermott will remain at SAP in an advisory capacity until the end of the year.

Jennifer Morgan has been at SAP for 15 years. She most recently served as president of SAP's Cloud Business Group, putting her in charge of Qualtrics, SAP SuccessFactors, SAP Ariba, SAP Fieldglass, SAP Customer Experience and SAP Concur. She was elevated to SAP's executive board in 2017.

Christian Klein, meanwhile, joined SAP 20 years ago as a student. He has most recently served as the company's chief operating officer, but has also overseen the development of SAP S/4HANA, the company's flagship enterprise resource planning software.

Previously, he worked as SAP SuccessFactors' chief financial officer and as SAP chief controlling officer. Klein was appointed to the SAP executive board in 2018.

SAP, like Microsoft and (especially) Oracle, has faced criticism in the past over its licensing policies and practices, particularly the notorious software licence audits. Analyst group Forrester indicated that while some customers will be disappointed to see McDermott leave, others will be hoping for change.

"Some customers will view this change as refreshing due to issues they have faced and pin on McDermott at the helm related to value for the money, pricing policies including the indirect access issues, and a culture some deem as overly sales-oriented," said Liz Herbert, Forrester vice president and Principal Analyst.

She continued: "The change presents an opportunity for SAP to start fresh and move to more customer-centric behaviours in their sales approach and customer support. The change also presents an opportunity for SAP to return to the more product- and engineering-centric focus that defined the company for so long."

However, Paul Cooper, chairman of the UK and Ireland SAP User Group, was positive about McDermott's contribution. 

"He took over as co-CEO [alongside Hagemann Snabe] at a very difficult time for SAP, dealing with the contentious issue of Enterprise Support and both worked very closely to regain customer confidence," said Cooper. 

The User Group also welcomed a return to the co-CEO model. "Christian has been a key executive sponsor of the SUGEN [SAP User Group Executive Network] ‘Ease of doing business' and ‘Licensing' charters. 

"He has always made time to listen to product feedback and understand how SAP could work better with customers. We look forward to hearing Christian and Jennifer's vision for SAP as the 2025 maintenance deadline for ECC6 fast approaches."

The reaction to an NBA coach's Hong Kong tweet proves why Huawei, ZTE and Alibaba Cloud can't be trusted

By Backbytes | Opinion | 11 October 2019
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Tencent and TikTok appear to follow the Chinese government's line on censorship at home and abroad. Imagine what could be expected of Huawei, ZTE and Alibaba Cloud in the future

Amid the arguments over whether Huawei and ZTE should be allowed to bid for 5G network contracts there has always been one crucial thing lacking: cold, hard evidence - evidence to back-up US government claims that the two Chinese companies could, and ever have, use their communications hardware to spy on customer network traffic.

Or, at least, nothing that has been publicly disclosed - just plenty of claims, insinuations and references to Article 7 of China's National Intelligence Law, which obliges Chinese citizens and corporates to cooperate with the country's security services on request, no questions asked.

However, events of the past week indicate that not only might Huawei and ZTE not be trustworthy, but that any organisation considering entrusting its systems and data to the Alibaba Cloud should also, perhaps, factor in the cost of political risk insurance, too.

It isn't just one event from the past week that ought to make network operators and companies think twice.

If China's government can throw its toys out of the pram over an NBA coach's tweet or a gamer's post-match outburst, imagine what it could do over something more serious

First, of course, there was the pro-Hong Kong tweet by Daryl Morey, the general manager of the National Basketball Association (NBA) team the Houston Rockets. "Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong," he had tweeted, as protests by pro-democracy demonstrators continued into their seventh month.

Although ordinary Chinese are barred from Twitter and, hence, the tweet wouldn't even have been seen by the average citizen of Shenzhen, the repercussions were swift: national broadcaster CCTV stopped broadcasting NBA basketball games in China, where the game is (for some reason) popular. More intriguingly, perhaps, the NBA's supposedly private online streaming partner in China, Tencent, followed suit.

The move by Tencent is significant. While it is supposedly a private company, in practice Tencent moved every bit as swiftly to stop transmissions of NBA matches as the national broadcaster did. The moved exposed the hollow claim that Chinese companies could not be compelled to do the bidding of China's government.

Tencent has become a global gaming giant, partly on the back of its protected dominance of the Chinese market, but also thanks to the favouritism of China's government in terms of various subsidies, such as cheap land to build its own campuses.

This assistance has helped it to grow fast and to acquire stakes or outright ownership of games publishers and developers across the world, including Riot Games; PUBG Corporation; Epic, the company behind Fortnite; Paradox Interactive; Grinding Gear Games; and, Activision Blizzard.

Tencent also enjoys a protected status within its home market, meaning that it can acquire monopoly rights to popular games for the Chinese market, such as Rocket League, Playerunknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG), and Stardew Valley. This ‘protection' also provided it with the platform to launch its own alternative to Steam, the popular PC gaming portal, as well as a games console purely for the Chinese market, based on its protected rights.

In return, Tencent helpfully censors anything the CCP wants on its WeChat platform, both in China and among users overseas. It no doubt owes the Party a lot in return for its protected status.

But the NBA/Tencent business isn't a one-off. As if to demonstrate that this will be the future, not just of China but the world if China and, hence, the CCP emerges as the dominant world power, two other equally disturbing examples emerged over the past week.

There was also the case of the championship-winning Hearthstone player.

Hearthstone is a globally popular game made by Activision Blizzard, in which Tencent holds a five per cent stake and the usual rights in China. In a post-match outburst in Taiwan, pro-Hearthstone player Ng Wai "blitzchung" Chung ripped off his mask and shouted, "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!"

The response was swift. The Hearthstone live stream was abruptly halted, on-demand footage was pulled and, perhaps most ominous of all, Chung was banned for 12-months and fined a sum by Activision Blizzard equal to the amount he had just earned.

In the ensuing furore, the company issued two different statements - one for Western audiences and a grovellingly submissive apology intended for consumption in China.

Finally, of course, there's the case of South Park's ‘Band in China' episode that made fun of the Chinese government's enthusiastic love of censorship. That saw all traces of South Park completely expunged from Chinese social networks almost overnight.

While what goes on in China is between the people of China and its government, it appears as if even outside China the censorship continues, with the popular TikTok social media platform even joining in on a global basis when it comes to matters such as the Tiananmen Square massacre.

"These Chinese-owned apps are increasingly being used to censor content and silence open discussion on topics deemed sensitive by the Chinese government and Communist Party," wrote US Senator Marco Rubio in a letter to the Treasury Department's Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, calling for a national security review into TikTok's proposed acquisition of Muscial.ly. It continued: "These topics include Tiananmen Square, Tibet, Hong Kong, Taiwan and other issues".

With censorship extending to social media networks outside of China, how would you feel now about making use of the Alibaba cloud to run your organisation's most sensitive applications? Do you trust Huawei's protestations that it could never be compelled use its communications equipment to eavesdrop on network traffic?

The point is this: If China's government can throw its toys out of the pram over such trivial perceived slights as an NBA coach's tweet or a gamer's post-match outburst, imagine what it could do over something more serious.

And if the actions of the CCP today look faintly absurd, imagine how menacing it will seem when it is even more powerful - and the sanctions it could bring to bear even greater.

Dozens of Amazon workers watch footage recorded by Cloud Cams home security cameras

By Dev Kundaliya | News | 11 October 2019
Amazons' Cloud Cam can stream video whenever it detects motion

Some clips also show intimate moments of Cloud Cam users

Dozens of people working for Amazon review video clips recorded by the company's Cloud Cam home security camera inside people's homes.

That's according to Bloomberg, which claims that the reviewers process hundreds of clips in a day, sometimes also seeing the intimate acts of Cloud Cam users as a result.

Only customers can view their clips, and they can delete them at any time by visiting the Manage My Content and Devices page

Amazons' Cloud Cam is currently available in the US only and costs less than $120. The device can stream video whenever it detects motion, thus enabling people to keep an eye on all activities inside their home 24/7. Because Amazon Cloud Cams come with the Alexa voice assistant, customers can also access their recordings via voice commands.

But according to Bloomberg's anonymous sources, some of those clips are sent to workers in India and Romania. Their job is to review the footage and annotate it to help train the Cloud Cam's artificial intelligence system to better spot the difference between a real threat and a normal activity in the house, such as a cat jumping on the sofa.

According to Bloomberg, most human reviewers watch nearly 150 clips in a single day. These clips come from Amazon testers as well as from customers who submit their clips to Amazon to troubleshoot a problem with their device.

"Only customers can view their clips, and they can delete them at any time by visiting the Manage My Content and Devices page," an Amazon spokesperson told Bloomberg.

"Using the 'feedback' option in the Cloud Cam app, customers are able to share a specific clip with Amazon to improve the service."

But, clips showing intimate moments of customers also prompt questions over whether those people had actually wished to submit them to the company.

Moreover, customers are never warned about the fact (in company's terms and conditions) that their clips might be seen by human reviewers, Bloomberg reported.

The news comes just months after earlier reports in April that hundreds of Amazon employees were listening to audios from Echo devices, to help make Alexa more accurate.

Other reports in the same month also claimed that Amazon employees responsible for monitoring Alexa user commands also had access to users' location data and home address details.

All those claims later prompted similar disclosures from Apple and Google, who admitted that they also had teams to manually review voice recordings, although their programmes were stopped amid privacy concerns.