Apple removes VPN apps from the App Store in China

The Chinese government’s crackdown on the internet continues with the news that Apple has removed all major VPN apps, which help internet users overcome the country’s censorship system, from the App Store in China.

The move was first noted by ExpressVPN, a provider based outside of China, which said in a blog post “all major VPN apps” including its own had been purged from Apple’s China-based store. The company shared a note from Apple (below) explaining that its app was removed because “it includes content that is illegal in China.”

The app continues to be available for users across the world outside of China, the company said. However, the process to create an App Store account in a different country is unknown to many users, so it is unlikely to fill the void of the missing Chinese app.

Another provide, Star VPN, tweeted that its app had also been removed.

Apple had not replied for comment at the time of writing.

ExpressVPN shared a note from Apple notifying it of the removal of its app in China

The App Store purge is hugely impactful because VPNs represent the only way that a China-based individual can bypass state censorship controls to access the internet without restrictions. The Chinese government effectively illegalized VPNs when new rules issued in January required them to receive government approval in order to operate. That appears to be why Apple was forced to remove ExpressVPN and others like it.

Apple may believe it is best for its business to co-operate with requests from Beijing, but this App Store purge just created one of the biggest setbacks for the free internet in China’s history.

“We’re disappointed in this development, as it represents the most drastic measure the Chinese government has taken to block the use of VPNs to date, and we are troubled to see Apple aiding China’s censorship efforts. ExpressVPN strongly condemns these measures, which threaten free speech and civil liberties,” ExpressVPN wrote on its blog.

Today’s news is the latest in a series of developments against the free internet from China.

Two popular VPN services were forced offline in China earlier this month leaving their users, which included professionals who require access to the global internet for work, without an alternative. Government officials denied a story from Bloomberg that the country’s mobile operators had been told to ban VPN apps by early 2018, but other steps have clearly been taken. Reuters reported earlier this month that the Great Firewall, the term for China’s internet censorship apparatus, had been “upgraded” with new capabilities. VPN services subsequently found that they had been hit by the most sophisticated attacks from China to date. High-end hotels have even ceased offer VPNs to guests.

Those new capability apparently also made it possible for the government to interfere with messaging apps. While now blocked entirely, WhatsApp users found that they were unable to send videos and photos through the chat app and issues seemed to extend to WeChat, China’s most popular messaging service. The censorship seemed to be linked to the response to the death of dissident Liu Xiaobo, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, who lost a battle to liver cancer earlier this month having been denied permission to leave custody to seek medical treatment overseas.

Going direct to Apple is becoming an effective way to enforce censorship since the U.S. firm controls what apps are available in China. The tactic proved successful for China earlier this year when Apple removed the New York Times app from the local Chinese App Store. The Times and Wall Street Journal are among a number of international news sites blocked in China, according to censorship monitoring service Great Fire.

It’s unclear whether similar action has been taken with Android stores in China. The Google Play Store is not present in China, where a handful of third-party app stores are the most influential distributors of Android apps.

Not-for-profit group GreatFire offers ‘censorship-proof’ alternatives like its Android VPN FreeBrowser and other services that include a collaboration with The New York Times, but Apple’s iOS doesn’t permit similar options.

Apple just announced Isabel Ge Mahe as the first managing director for its Chinese business and, beyond battling a sales slump in China, the long-time Apple executive is tasked with the difficult job of managing a relationship with Beijing. The U.S. firm recently announced plans to develop its first China-based data center, a move that is thought to be related to the country’s new cybersecurity laws which went into effect June 1.

tech crunch

Adobe Flash Player to Be Retired in 2020

Adobe Systems’s Flash, a once-ubiquitous technology used to power most of the media content found online, will be retired at the end of 2020, the software company announced Tuesday.

Adobe, along with partners Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet Inc’s Google, Facebook and Mozilla, said support for Flash will ramp down across the Internet in phases over the next three years.

After 2020, Adobe will stop releasing updates for Flash and Web browsers will no longer support it. The companies are encouraging developers to migrate their software onto modern programming standards.

“Few technologies have had such a profound and positive impact in the Internet era,” said Govind Balakrishnan, vice president of product development for Adobe Creative Cloud.

Created more than 20 years ago, Flash was once the preferred software used by developers to create games, video players and applications capable of running on multiple Web browsers. When Adobe acquired Flash in its 2005 purchase of Macromedia, the technology was on more than 98 percent of personal computers connected to the web, Macromedia said at the time.

But Flash’s popularity began to wane after Apple’s decision not to support it on the iPhone.

In a public letter in 2010, late Apple CEO Steve Jobs criticized Flash’s reliability, security and performance. Since then, other technologies like HTML5 have emerged as alternatives to Flash.

In the past year, several Web browsers have begun to require users to enable Flash before running it.

On Google’s Chrome, the most popular Web browser, Flash’s usage has already fallen drastically. In 2014, Flash was used each day by 80 percent of desktop users. That number is now at 17 percent “and continues to decline,” Google said in a blog Tuesday.

“This trend reveals that sites are migrating to open Web technologies, which are faster and more power-efficient than Flash,” Google said. “They’re also more secure.”

Flash, however, remains in use among some online gamers. Adobe said it will work with Facebook as well as Unity Technologies and Epic Games to help developers migrate their games.

Adobe said it does not expect Flash’s sunset to have an impact on its bottom line. “In fact, we think the opportunity for Adobe is greater in a post-Flash world,” Balakrishnan said.

Gadgets 360

TNT parcels ‘backed up to ceiling’ in wake of massive cyberattack

Parcels are backing up at TNT depots in their thousands after the company admitted it is still struggling to deal with the aftermath of June’s cyber-attack that crippled IT systems around the world.

Frustrated customers trying to get news of their undelivered parcels have been told by TNT’s UK staff that consignments at its East Midlands hub are “going up to the ceiling” as international shipments are still having to be processed by hand.

TNT was one of thousands of big businesses and other organisations hit by the ransomware attack known as “NotPetya” at the end of June. At least 2,000 individuals and organisations worldwide were affected by the attack, which began in the Ukraine.

Most organisations were up and running again within days and hours. But the full scale of the attack’s impact and resulting losses to some big businesses are only now starting to emerge.

On Monday the consumer group Reckitt Benckiser, the maker of Durex and Nurofen, blamed the same IT attack for a 2% fall in second quarter like-for-like sales. TNT’s parent company, FedEx, has already been forced to warn the New York stock exchange that its earnings would be “materially” down as a result of the attack.

The company said last week the problem has affected TNT operations around the world, pushing down its share more than 3%. It admitted that it did not have insurance to cover the attack.

“Customers are still experiencing widespread service and invoicing delays, and manual processes are being used to facilitate a significant portion of TNT operations and customer service functions,” FedEx said.

“We cannot yet estimate how long it will take to restore the systems that were impacted, and it is reasonably possible that TNT will be unable to fully restore all of the affected systems and recover all of the critical business data that was encrypted by the virus.”

Peter Blohm, an antique dealer from Aberystwyth, is one of those caught up the TNT chaos. He has been trying to find out what happened to a consignment of art that left Switzerland on the 11 July and was due to be delivered a day or so later. “TNT tell me they have had no computer systems since the end of June and there is no estimate for when their systems will be fixed,” he told the Guardian.

“This means there are many thousands of parcels which have like mine been waiting for weeks to be processed by hand with pen and paper. The staff sound harassed, but cannot estimate when my parcel will be delivered, because they simply do not know.”

A TNT spokeswoman said on Monday that there was no update to the statement issued last week. A customer care phone line to TNT’s main UK hub was not working on Monday, adding to the frustration of customers.

Earlier this month the Danish shipping group Maersk said it was too early to predict the financial impact of the cyberattack that hit the shipping giant’s computers and delayed cargoes. Other firms affected include the advertising firm WPP, French construction materials company Saint-Gobain, and Russian steel and oil firms Evraz and Rosneft.

Graham Cluley, an independent cybersecurity expert, said the final bill for the attack could be huge. “There’s no such thing as 100% security, but this malware outbreak has disrupted a number of large multinationals for weeks, hitting their systems, and in some cases financial outlook, for six,” Cluley said.

“I really hope that more companies are recognising the benefits of adopting a layered approach to security, examining closely how they have set up their networks, and taking steps to ensure that they are able to recover quickly should disaster strike.”

The Guardian logo

Mac Computers Hacked With ‘FruitFly’ Surveillance Malware

American Apple Mac computers have been hacked with FruitFly malware, Forbes reports.

The hack is thought to be for surveillance as hackers were able to jump into the webcams of the affected computers and take screenshots, though the FruitFly malware has the ability to take over the entire computer.

“This didn’t look like cybercrime type behaviour, there were no ads, no keyloggers, or ransomware,” said Patrick Wardle, cybersecurity researcher, via Forbes. “Its features had looked like they were actions that would support interactivity: it had the ability to alert the attacker when users were active on the computer, it could simulate mouse clicks and keyboard events.”

This isn’t the first time that FruitFly is making a hacking appearance. Earlier this year, it was used to target biomedical research centers.

“The only reason I can think of that this malware hasn’t been spotted before now is that it is being used in very tightly targeted attacks, limiting its exposure,” wrote Thomas Reed, MalwareBytes researcher. “Although there is no evidence at this point linking this malware to a specific group, the fact that it’s been seen specifically at biomedical research institutions certainly seems like it could be the result of exactly that kind of espionage.”

FruitFly is difficult to detect. Not much is known about the malware.

Microsoft is preparing to kill off Paint after 32 years

Microsoft has revealed that the graphics editing app is no longer “in active development”, and may be removed from Windows altogether.

Paint was introduced back in 1985, and has featured on every version of Microsoft’s computer operating system.

Though it was never the most capable program, it was easy to use and familiar to millions of people, many of whom used it as their main source of digital fun before going online.

The company has published a support document listing a number of Windows features that are set to be killed off.

“The following features and functionalities in the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update are either removed from the product in the current release (“Removed”) or are not in active development and might be removed in future releases (“Deprecated”),” Microsoft says.

“This list is intended to help customers consider these removals and deprecations for their own planning.”

Paint would be the biggest casualty by far, though it might yet survive, as Microsoft says “the list is subject to change and may not include every deprecated feature or functionality”.

Paint 3D, a modern version of the app, was introduced earlier this year, but Microsoft decided to make it available alongside regular Paint, rather than instead if it.

3D Builder app, Apndatabase.xml, Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET), Outlook Express, Reader app, Reading List, Screen saver functionality in Themes, Syskey.exe, TCP Offload Engine, Tile Data Layer and Trusted Platform Module (TPM) Owner Password Management will be removed from Windows 10 when the the Fall Creators Update arrives – most likely in September.

Along with Paint, IIS 6 Management Compatibility, IIS Digest Authentication, RSA/AES Encryption for IIS, Sync Your Settings, System Image Backup (SIB) Solution, TLS RC4 Ciphers, Trusted Platform Module (TPM): TPM.msc and TPM Remote Management, Trusted Platform Module (TPM) Remote Management, Windows Hello for Business deployment that uses System Center Configuration Manager and Windows PowerShell 2.0 have also been marked as Deprecated.


This cheap password-stealing malware just added to your security headaches

A new form of credential-stealing malware — complete with slick marketing and support from its authors — is available for as little as $7, providing wannabes with a worryingly easy entry point into the world of cybercrime.

First appearing a month ago, Ovidiy Stealer is regularly updated by its Russian-speaking authors and the malware has hit targets around the world including the UK, the Netherlands, India, and Russia.

Despite its low price of 450-750 Rubles ($7-13), the malware comes with code designed to avoid analysis and detection.

Uncovered by researchers at Proofpoint, the malware is spread via a number of methods, including malicious email attachments, file-hosting websites, and even within software packages.

It comes with functionality to target multiple applications, but buyers are able to purchase a version of the malware which only focuses on a single browser if they so wish.

If the malware is able to find passwords in its targeted applications, it will send them to the gang using it, putting the victim and their organisation at risk of compromise, especially if the same password is used across multiple accounts.

Ovidiy Stealer is openly sold on a domain which boasts support and features — including the ability to view statistics and logs of infected machines — to potential customers. Payment for the malware is taken by RoboKassa, the Russian equivalent of PayPal.

In order to help drive sales in the competitive criminal world of malware, the developers include statistics and detail plans for future releases of Ovidiy Stealer.

Reviews help Ovidiy Stealer look appealing to potential buyers.Image: Proofpoint

While Ovidiy Stealer isn’t advanced, the marketing and advertising around it, combined with a low price, could make it very attractive to wannabe cybercriminals who might not otherwise have the expertise to get involved.

“Ovidiy Stealer highlights the manner in the cybercrime marketplace drives innovation and new entrants and challenges organizations that must keep pace with the latest threats to their users, their data, and their systems,” said Proofpoint researchers.

While many cybercriminal operations are run by highly sophisticated gangs which do not sell their products to outsiders, there’s a growing market for ‘cybercrime-as-a-service’ schemes which provide low-level criminals with all the tools they need to get started, in return for a cut of the profits.