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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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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future

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Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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