December 12, 2018
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Alibaba goes big on Russia with joint venture focused on gaming, shopping and more

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Alibaba is doubling down on Russia after the Chinese e-commerce giant launched a joint venture with one of the country’s leading internet companies.

Russia is said to have over 70 million internet users, around half of its population, with countless more attracted from Russian-speaking neighboring countries. The numbers are projected to rise as, like in many parts of the world, the growth of smartphones brings more people online. Now Alibaba is moving in to ensure it is well placed to take advantage.

Mail.ru, the Russia firm that offers a range of internet services including social media, email and food delivery to 100 million registered users, has teamed up with Alibaba to launch AliExpress Russia, a JV that they hope will function as a “one-stop destination” for communication, social media, shopping and games. Mail.ru backer MegaFon, a telecom firm, and the country’s sovereign wealth fund RDIF (Russian Direct Investment Fund) have also invested undisclosed amounts into the newly-formed organization.

To recap: Alibaba — which launched its AliExpress service in Russia some years ago — will hold 48 percent of the business, with 24 percent for MegaFon, 15 percent for Mail.ru and the remaining 13 percent take by RDIF. In addition, MegaFon has agreed to trade its 10 percent stake in Mail.ru to Alibaba in a transaction that (alone) is likely to be worth north of $500 million.

That figure doesn’t include other investments in the venture.

“The parties will inject capital, strategic assets, leadership, resources and expertise into a joint venture that leverages AliExpress’ existing businesses in Russia,” Alibaba explained on its Alizila blog.

Alibaba looks to have picked its horse in Russia’s internet race: Mail.ru [Image via KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images]

The strategy, it seems, is to pair Mail.ru’s consumer services with AliExpress, Alibaba’s international e-commerce marketplace. That’ll allow Russian consumers to buy from AliExpress merchants in China, but also overseas markets like Southeast Asia, India, Turkey (where Alibaba recently backed an e-commerce firm) and other parts of Europe where it has a presence. Likewise, Russian online sellers will gain access to consumers in those markets. Alibaba’s ‘branded mall’ — TMall — is also a part of the AliExpress Russia offering.

This deal suggests that Alibaba has picked its ‘horse’ in Russia’s internet race, much the same way that it has repeatedly backed Paytm — the company offering payments, e-commerce and digital banking — in India with funding and integrations.

Already, Alibaba said that Russia has been a “vital market for the growth” for its Alipay mobile payment service. It didn’t provide any raw figures to back that up, but you can bet that it will be pushing Alipay hard as it runs AliExpress Russia, alongside Mail.ru’s own offering, which is called Money.Mail.Ru.

“Most Russian consumers are already our users, and this partnership will enable us to significantly increase the access to various segments of the e-commerce offering, including both cross-border and local merchants. The combination of our ecosystems allows us to leverage our distribution through our merchant base and goods as well as product integrations,” said Mail.Ru Group CEO Boris Dobrodeev in a statement.

This is the second strategic alliance that MegaFon has struck this year. It formed a joint venture with Gazprombank in May through a deal that saw it offload five percent of its stake in Mail.ru. MegaFon acquired 15.2 percent of Mail.ru for $740 million in February 2017.

The Russia deal comes a day after Alibaba co-founder and executive chairman Jack Ma — the public face of the company — announced plans to step down over the next year. Current CEO Daniel Zhang will replace him as chairman, meaning that the company will also need to appoint a new CEO.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Russian arms manufacturer Kalashnikov unveils its answer to Tesla

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The Russian weapons manufacturer Kalahsnikov, best known for making the AK-47 machine gun, has unveiled a fleet of electric and hybrid cars, buggies and motorcycles this week — including an electric vehicle that the company says will rival Tesla.

While it’s a noble goal to take competitive aim at the world’s most famous electric vehicle brand, the retro-styled concept car, dubbed the CV-1, bears a closer resemblance to another, more infamous car from the soviet era… the Trabant.

That’s a vehicle, by the way, whose Fahrvergnügen is best illustrated by the Conan O’Brien’s demonstration below.

The CV-1 is based on the retro-IZH-21252 model known as the “Combi” and is a test bed for Kalashnikov’s electric drive train, which the company said was developed in-house. The Combi has a cruising range of 350 kilometers and can go from 0 to 100 kilometers in roughly 6 seconds, so says the company.

Batteries for the new electric vehicle from Kalashnikov have a capacity of 90 kilowatts per hour.

At the same gun show where the new EV was unveiled, Kalashnikov also showed off a hybrid buggy and an electric motorcycle to complete its hattrick.

The four-seat buggy can purportedly achieve speeds of up to 100 kilometers-per-hour and has separate electric engines for its front and rear wheels, along with hydraulic shock absorbers. According to Russian news agency RT, the vehicles are a relatively recent addition to the Russian military’s mobility arsenal.

Kalashnikov’s new electric motorcycle for police units

Kalashnikov may have Tesla in its sights, but the car company likely has more to fear from U.S. regulators than it does from a Russian competitor. At this point, the weapons manufacturer might find more of a market for another machine it debuted at the Russian military trade show — its golden, metal-plated killer robot (!!).

Here’s a selection of images below, courtesy of Kalashnikov, of the new electric vehicle.

With assistance from Jon Russell

News Source = techcrunch.com

Russian hackers slipped up in attempt to hack senator

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Hackers that targeted a Democratic senator up for reelection this year may have left behind clues in their attack that further suggest Russian involvement.

The office of Claire McCaskill, a Missouri senator, was targeted in an apparent targeted phishing attack from a fake Microsoft domain that the software giant later seized pursuant to a court order. The Daily Beast reported that a then-McCaskill staffer was the target of the attack, which was attributed to hackers linked to Russian intelligence — largely because the effort was similar to the phishing attack on Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair John Podesta, whose account was successfully breached and emails were shared with WikiLeaks.

Now, new research suggests that the phishing page used in the McCaskill attack contains language-specific code references that lends further credence that Russian hackers were involved.

When the hackers built the phishing page used to trick the McCaskill staffer, they scraped the code from a legitimate Microsoft login page that staff would use to log into their network. That code included a browser-generated link of the original web page that was scraped, the research said. That link appended a language marker at the end which varies depending on which country the user is located in the world — such as “gb” for the UK, or “fr” for France.

Because the language tag was “ru”, which researchers say shows that the code was likely scraped from a user in Russia.

Yonathan Klijsnma, threat researcher at RiskIQ, said that in many cases hackers won’t build a phishing page from scratch but will simply copy and save the page it’s trying to imitate. In doing so, any saved language tags embedded in the code “can be a crucial clue in connecting operators with their malicious campaigns.”

Klijsnma said these tags are often overlooked by the hackers. That which resulted in a sloppy phishing page that was saved by RiskIQ’s vast internet crawling operation.

Although McCaskill, a vocal Russia critic, confirmed the “unsuccessful” attempted hack in a press release in July that she attributed to Russia, a spokesperson for McCaskill declined to comment further when reached Wednesday prior to publication.

In an additional twist, Klijsnma also found that the same Russian hackers also targeted reporter Serhiy Drachuk, whose work has long criticized of the Russian regime. Code from the page that was used in the McCaskill phishing attempt contained leftover references to the journalist’s work email address, which was previously accessed by the hackers.

We reached out to Serhiy Drachuk for comment, but did not hear back by the time of writing.

It’s the latest in a long string of cyberattacks and phishing efforts to target US political institutions before and during the 2016 presidential election and later. Just this week, Democratic National Committee officials said they thwarted an attempt to access their voter database. It comes hot on the heels of Microsoft’s announcement that it prevented a Russian-backed advanced persistent threat group known as Fancy Bear (or APT28) to steal data from political organizations.

News Source = techcrunch.com

China reaches 800 million internet users

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China’s internet population has now grown beyond 800 million, according to the latest data from the Chinese government.

A new report [in Chinese] issued by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) put the number of people in China with access to the internet at 802 million. The agency — which is a branch of the Ministry of Industry and Information and is responsible for controlling the .cn country code — estimates that 29.68 million people in China came online for the first time in the second half of 2018.

For some context, the U.S is estimated to have around 300 million internet users. The number of internet users in China is now more than the combined populations of Japan, Russia, Mexico and the U.S., as Bloomberg noted.

The new statistic takes internet adoption in the country to 57.7 percent, with 788 million people reportedly mobile internet users. That’s a staggering 98 percent and it underlines just how crucial mobile is in the country.

Other notable data points from the report include:

  • 21 percent of China’s internet users are also online banking users
  • 71 percent used online payments or e-commerce services
  • 74.1 percent used short video applications, which include ByteDance’s Douyin app (known as TikTok outside of China)
  • 30.6 percent used bike sharing apps
  • 43.2 percent used taxi-booking apps
  • 37.3 percent used the internet to reserve buses and trains

The growth of China’s internet also puts pressure on the government to maintain its policy of control over information that appears online.

It is common knowledge that Western services such as Twitter and Facebook are inaccessible in Mainland China, but the government has also cracked down on local services that include Toutiao, which is run by new media firm ByteDance, which is currently talking to investors to raise $2.5-$3.5 billion. ByteDance was ordered to shutter a parody app it operated in China while four news and content apps were suspended from the App Store and Google Play for offending authorities. ByteDance responded by doubling its content moderation team and developing stronger systems for checking content.

Apple has also been caught in the crosshairs. The company reported purged thousands of apps from the App Store in China recently. Last year it removed more than 50 VPN apps, which can be used to circumvent China’s internet censorship system, because they are deemed to be illegal in China.

News Source = techcrunch.com

DHS launches a new cyber hub to coordinate against threats to US infrastructure

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Among the many things the current administration has been criticized for is its lack of a unified strategy to combat cyber threats, especially in light of ongoing election interference and psy ops perpetrated by Russia. The Department of Homeland Security is advancing the ball with the creation of the National Risk Management Center, intended on protecting critical infrastructure from attacks and subversion by online adversaries.

The NRMC was announced today at a cyber summit in New York held by the agency, where DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen explained the purpose and justification for this new entity. Remarkably, she directly contradicted the ongoing soft-pedaling by the Executive of Russian operations targeting the country.

“Let me be clear: Our intelligence community had it right. It was the Russians. It was directed from the highest levels. And we cannot and will not allow it to happen again,” she said.

DHS Secretary Nielsen in 2017.

Thus the creation of the NRMC, which will work directly with various entities and federal agencies to protect infrastructure like banking systems and the power grid (not to mention election systems). These are such obvious targets for foreign intelligence to attack, either for destructive or informative purposes, that they merit special attention from our side as well, and DHS is in fact the one to provide it.

The new center will be online and staffed tomorrow, though it will take some time to spin up completely as DHS allocates space, personnel and resources. Its exact duties, jurisdictions and connections with other units will no doubt be made clear as well.

Vice President Pence spoke at the event too, but naturally chose to lash out at the Obama administration, which he said “often chose silence and paralysis over strength and action.”

This is a strange thing to say when several prominent cybersecurity-related posts and offices have been abandoned and a report by the Office of Management and Budget found agencies around the country are utterly unprepared for even elementary cyberattacks.

One of the major moves to improve cybersecurity, elevating CyberCom to Unified Combatant Command level, was an Obama-era plan, and the president’s overall cyber strategy, announced last year, also cribbed liberally from the previous administration.

That said, the vice president was realistic on other points.

“The fact is Russia meddled in our 2016 elections,” he concurred. “This administration will not tolerate threats from Russia, China, Iran, North Korea or anyone else.”

The other countries on the list, it bears mentioning, have not been found to have interfered with American elections, though admittedly they might if they had the chance.

Pence also acknowledged states’ prerogative in running their elections how they like, but also said the federal government would be providing additional funding and technology for election security. He mentioned the “Albert sensors” being deployed to help monitor online systems, and a “virtual situation room” many states are already using that connects DHS with state authorities.

“I want to urge, with great respect, every state to take renewed action. Take advantage of the assistance offered by our administration,” Pence said.

That seems like a good idea, as Russian operations have already begun ahead of the 2018 midterms. Perhaps that joint Russo-American cybersecurity group proposed by Putin will help.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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