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U.S. Justice Department lays charges against 2 Chinese citizens in massive data breach

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The U.S. Justice Department has charged two Chinese citizens with carrying out an extensive hacking campaign to steal corporate data and commercial secrets from entities in 12 countries, including Canada.

An indictment was unsealed Thursday against Zhu Hua and Zhang Shillong, who prosecutors said were acting on behalf of China’s main intelligence agency. According to the charges, both were members of the group Advanced Persistent Threat 10 and worked for a company called Huaying Haitai.

Court papers filed in Manhattan Federal Court in New York City allege the hackers were able to breach the computers of more than 45 companies and agencies in a dozen countries. The victims were in a variety of industries — including aviation, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals and natural resources — and involved NASA and the personal information of more than 100,000 U.S. navy personnel.

U.S. and British authorities on Thursday condemned China for violating 2015 agreements to curb cyber espionage for business purposes, slamming Chinese efforts to steal other countries’ trade secrets and technologies and to compromise government computers.

“China’s goal, simply put, is to replace the US as the world’s leading superpower,” said FBI head Christopher Wray. “We’re talking about state-sponsored actors engaged in illegal behaviour.”

“No country poses a broader, more severe long-term threat” to the United States than China, Wray added.

‘Hundreds of gigabytes’ breached

Both men were charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusions, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. Prosecutors said the hackers were able to steal “hundreds of gigabytes” of data.

Court papers say they hacked computer service providers to gain access to the networks of businesses and governments in order to steal intellectual property and business data. U.S. officials said hacking attempts began in 2006 and ran through 2018.

The indictment was announced Thursday by Wray, deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan.

“We want China to cease its illegal cyberactivities and honour its commitment to the international community, but the evidence suggests that China may not intend to abide by its promises,” Rosenstein said.

“There is no free pass to violate American laws merely because they do so under the protection of a foreign state.”

The RCMP had no immediate comment on the U.S. charges or the allegations involving Canadian companies.

Worsening tensions after Meng arrest?

The timing of the court action may worsen tensions between Western governments and Beijing after the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant​ Huawei Technologies, in Canada at the request of the United States.

Not long after Meng’s arrest, Chinese officials confirmed two Canadian men — Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig — were detained in China on national security concerns. 

Michael Spavor and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig were taken into custody in China this month, according to Chinese officials. (Associated Press/ International Crisis Group/Canadian Press)

Sarah McIver, a third Canadian, was also recently taken into custody in China, but her arrest does not appear to be related to the detention of two others, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday.

Britain and New Zealand both condemned the alleged Chinese-backed global hacking campaign after the charges were announced.

“This campaign shows that elements of the Chinese government are not upholding the commitments China made directly to the UK in a 2015 bilateral agreement,” the British government said in a statement.

Severe cyberthreat​

Last week, officials from the U.S. Justice Department, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security testified to the Senate judiciary committee that China is working to steal trade secrets and intellectual property from U.S. companies in order to harm America’s economy and further its own development.

Chinese espionage efforts have become “the most severe counterintelligence threat facing our country today,” Bill Priestap, assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division, told the committee.

In the last several months, the Justice Department has filed charges against several Chinese intelligence officials and hackers. A case filed in October marked the first time that a Chinese Ministry of State Security officer was extradited to the United States to stand trial.

Zhu and Zhang were charged with spying on some of the world’s largest companies by hacking into technology firms to which they outsource email, storage and other computing tasks, starting in 2014.

Over the past several years, as companies around the globe have sought to cut down information technology spending, they have increasingly relied on outside contractors to store and transfer data.

When a managed service provider is hacked, it can provide attackers access to secondary victims who are customers of that company and have their computer systems connected to them, according to experts.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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