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  1. AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Netherlands launched an inquiry on Tuesday into a nationwide network outage at telecoms company KPN that knocked out emergency service numbers for nearly four hours. “If three fail-safes don’t work then something is seriously wrong,” Socialist Party lawmaker Ronald van Raak said. “If there is such bungling at KPN then we should make sure that a different provider, a different telecommunications company can take it over, right?” Grapperhaus agreed he would look at the possibility. KPN was privatized in the 1990s but is still the country’s largest telecoms group, followed by subsidiaries of Vodafone and T-Mobile. Two people died during an outage of the Dutch emergency services numbers in 2012 and then-Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten said measures had been taken to prevent a recurrence. CEO TO LEAVE The morning after the outage KPN announced that chief executive Maximo Ibarra will leave due to “family reasons” after a little over a year in the job, adding that the Colombian-Italian executive’s decision was not linked to the outage. Ibarra will return to Italy where he will take charge of Comcast’s Sky Italia pay-television business, two sources close to the matter said.. “I regret the timing, but family reasons gave me no choice,” Ibarra said in a statement. “I will dedicate myself in the coming months to securing a seamless transfer to my successor.” Ibarra will stay at KPN, whose shares traded 2.4% lower by 1105 GMT, until the end of September as it seeks a replacement. KPN has sold its international activities and now only serves the Dutch market, selling bundles of telephone, internet and TV services to consumers and businesses. KPN outage caused by 'software bug': report AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch telecom Royal KPN NV believes that a major outage of its network in the Netherlands was caused by a software bug, national broadcaster NOS said, citing the company. The NOS report said KPN believes the bug was located in the part of its systems that routes calls to the correct location. The company could not immediately be reached to confirm the report. Sources : Here & Here
  2. The raids and arrests this week targeting piracy release group SPARKS have caused chaos in The Scene, with members and groups going into hiding and new releases dropping like a stone. The targeting of just one group shouldn't have such a massive effect but it seems probable that in the weeks and months to come, we'll learn that one weak spot can be exploited to undermine a much larger infrastructure. This Tuesday, TorrentFreak received more rapid-fire anonymous tips than we have done in recent memory. Demanding confidentiality is nothing new but tipsters and sources using anonymous mailers, obscured IP addresses, alongside repeat requests that identities aren’t revealed, usually point to something particularly unusual. And indeed, something unusual was definitely underway. Late Tuesday, documents filed under seal in the United States as early as January 2020 were suddenly unsealed, revealing one of the most important piracy-related cases of the past decade. As detailed in our report yesterday, a case brought by the US Government resulted in a Grand Jury charging at least three members of several and related top-tier ‘Scene’ release groups – SPARKS, GECKOS, DRONES, ROVERS and SPLiNTERS – with conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement and other crimes. The US case has been ongoing for many months and the investigation certainly longer. Exactly how long was unknown until yesterday when a Swedish prosecutor revealed that it had been underway “for years”. However, What took us by surprise was the volume of reports on Tuesday, the claims of panic and fear in ‘The Scene’ globally, and what now appears to be a significant reduction of releases of all kinds from what is usually a prolific and cascading ‘Piracy Pyramid’ system. Initial Information Proved Correct People closely involved in The Scene are naturally secretive, or at least that’s the mandate. The truth is that some are prepared to talk but everyone is so scared of being caught by the authorities or labeled by fellow members as insecure, that truly verifiable sources are extremely hard to come by. As a result, reporting the finer details becomes a product of overlapping independent sources, none of whom want to be identified, which isn’t ideal. Nevertheless, during Tuesday we were told by multiple sources that topsites and warez-affiliated members and resources were being targeted by law enforcement, anti-piracy groups, or a combination of both in many regions. What they all had in common was that the entities were affiliated with SPARKS and various topsites. Another recurring theme was the focus on Nordic countries as being at the heart of action. Many countries were mentioned, including the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Poland but, again and again, the reports cited both Norway and Sweden as potentially the main ‘problem’ areas. US Department of Justice Began Talking Yesterday In an official announcement Wednesday, following the initial yet unofficial reports of raids 24 hours earlier and after the unsealing of the indictments, the USDOJ revealed the global scale of the operation against SPARKS and its affiliates. “Thanks to the efforts of HSI, the Postal Inspection Service, Eurojust, Europol, and our law enforcement partners in 18 countries on three continents, key members of this group are in custody, and the servers that were the pipeline for wholesale theft of intellectual property are now out of service,” the announcement read. The US revealed that law enforcement authorities in many countries assisted in the investigation against SPARKS including those in Canada, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Republic of Korea, Latvia, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. SPARKS member George Bridi, 50, was reportedly arrested on Sunday in Cyprus on an INTERPOL Red Notice. Correa (aka ‘Raid’), 36, was arrested Tuesday in Olathe, Kansas, where he will appear in federal court. Umar Ahmad (aka ‘Artist’), 39, was not arrested and as of Wednesday was reportedly still at large, according to the US Government. The Nordic Connection Several pieces of information received by TF during Tuesday indeed placed someone known as ‘Artist’ as a central and important figure in the action taking place. Umar Ahmad is now officially named as that key person but according to his indictment, the US Government is not seeking to prosecute him for SPARKS-related offenses beyond January 2020. That’s also the case for George Bridi, an indicted co-defendant whose alias is currently unknown. The only SPARKS defendant charged with offenses up to August 2020 is Jonatan Correa, aka ‘Raid’. While there is room for speculation as to what may have happened here, it seems somewhat reasonable to conclude (at least given the charges) that Ahmad and Bridi stopped their alleged offending months ago. However, according to records kept by Scene-watching sites (known as pre-databases), SPARKS-related groups continued releasing content online until fairly recently. That aside, what we can confirm today is that Norway’s National Criminal Investigation Service, commonly known as Kripos, carried out raids at several premises this week and seized computer equipment on what is being described as a “large scale”. In addition, three men – who are yet to be named but are in their 30s and 40s – were arrested and charged for breaches of Norway’s Copyright Act. It is not currently known whether 39-year-old Oslo-resident Umar Ahmad is among them. Danish authorities have also confirmed that four men, aged between 35 and 48, had their homes searched and were subsequently charged with copyright infringement offenses. Servers and other pieces of IT equipment were seized. Source: Some Warning Signs Were Spotted a While Ago It’s certainly possible that SPARKS members were absolutely oblivious to the US Government’s investigation but according to one difficult-to-verify source, who insisted on anonymity but spoke with us at length and in considerable detail, this year and “before COVID”, some Scene members were questioning why a particular SPARKS member had suddenly “retired”. We are not publishing that member’s name here (which we believe was provided to us in advance of the unsealing of the US indictment) but according to the same source, another possibly-connected mystery was still lingering. The source alleges that some months earlier an individual connected to a separate yet prominent release group also “went afk” and suddenly stopped providing content. Again, we aren’t publishing the name of that group or the nickname of the person involved but we can confirm that the alleged group stopped releasing several months before the end of 2019. This led to rumors that one or both may have been compromised and hadn’t just taken a break. The relevance is that, according to the same insider, the pair (coincidentally or not) are believed to have shared the same content sources. Again, this is unconfirmed information but the first group has never returned to action and the second has the US Government on the attack after uncovering where it was obtaining its DVD and Blu-Ray discs from. Significant Legal Action in Sweden After receiving initial information, which was later confirmed by the USDOJ, that significant action had taken place in Sweden. On Tuesday, we spoke with Jon Karlung, the owner of ISP Bahnhof, which we were informed may have been visited by the authorities investigating SPARKS. That turned out not to be the case. Karlung told us that nobody had visited the company nor requested information. However, he said that with 400,000 households and 10,000 companies as clients, plus the company’s sale of bandwidth capacity to other ISPs, he couldn’t rule out that someone way down the chain, even a client of someone else, may have been visited. Whether connected to this specific ISP or not, multiple sources informed us that at least one topsite affiliated with multiple groups utilized a high-bandwidth home link in Sweden, with another topsite connected to multiple groups also seized in the country. What we know from official sources is that there were 14 house searches carried out in Sweden on Tuesday, including in Umeå, Malmö, Gothenburg and Stockholm. No one was arrested during the raids but according to prosecutor Johanna Kolga, more servers were seized in Sweden than anywhere else. Netherlands Action and the Existence of MLATs Finding information about what happened in the Netherlands led us to Tim Kuik of anti-piracy group BREIN. We put it to him that if anyone in the country knows anything about the case, it must be him. Like most other people, Kuik wasn’t budging on detail. But he did offer a plausible explanation for the silence. “It is an interesting case indeed. It is entirely possible for so-called MLATs to be carried out on the request of say US law enforcement and the Dutch authorities carrying it out without informing any private stakeholders,” Kuik told us. “In such cases it may be so that stakeholders abroad, who may have filed a criminal complaint for example, have been made aware and would not be at liberty to say anything about it. So nobody is likely to comment I think. But you can always try. I have no comment.” Later, however, Eurojust – the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation – confirmed that it “helped transmit and facilitate the execution of over 30 Mutual Legal Assistance requests and Letters of Request necessary for taking down the servers and executing searches..” In all, over 60 servers were taken down in North America, Europe and Asia and “several main suspects” were arrested, the agency added. Interesting Allegations, Few New Releases, and Kevin Bacon Over the past 48+ hours, TF has been provided with a list of topsites and related infrastructure that has either been raided or taken down as a precautionary measure. The dozen-plus platforms will therefore remain unnamed, as we simply cannot determine which of the platforms are offline voluntarily, or down because they have been seized. This leads us to why so many sites and other key pieces of infrastructure have disappeared, apparently just because one group was targeted. The reasons, we are told, are complex but can be boiled down to the number of connections SPARKS had in The Scene. One recurring theme is that one of SPARKS’ members is claimed to have become quite influential and as a result may have “extended his tentacles too far”, as one source framed it. These connections, with many other groups and activities, may go some way to explaining why The Scene all but shut down Tuesday. If we take Bacon’s Law and apply it here, the response makes complete sense. Nevertheless, the scale of the shutdown is unusual, to say the least, and only time will tell if The Scene will fully recover. For the average torrent or streaming site user, a period of reduced new content availability might be on the horizon but history shows us that rarely lasts for long and that the cycle will probably begin again, once people have figured out who they can trust. Source: TorrentFreak
  3. PARIS/BERLIN (Reuters) - France and the Netherlands on Thursday called for a European Union authority to regulate large tech companies such as Google GOOGL.O and Facebook FB.O, whose dominance gives them effective internet gatekeeper status. The move increases pressure on Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who is preparing a new Digital Services Act, to set tough rules for data-sharing and ensure that marketplaces are fair and open. The Franco-Dutch proposal, which calls for pre-emptive action to prevent power grabs by Big Tech, overshadowed a gathering of EU ministers that discussed artificial intelligence and cloud computing. In a joint statement, French junior minister Cédric O and his Dutch counterpart Mona Keijzer said such an authority should be able to prevent tech company platforms from blocking access to their services “unless they have an objective justification.” “These platforms can hinder the entry of new companies and limit the freedom of choice for consumers and entrepreneurs,” said Keijzer, the Dutch state secretary for economic affairs and climate policy. “Our common ambition is to design a framework ... to address the economic footprint of such actors on the European economy and to be able to ‘break them open’,” said O, the top digital policy official in the French government. In response, German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, said: “What we are talking about is upholding our European values and the functioning of our single market.” The European Commission is taking a tough line against U.S. tech giants, driven in part by antitrust cases resulting in decisions that subsequently failed to boost competition because these investigations often take several years. Gatekeepers, such as companies with bottleneck power or strategic market status, will not be allowed to use data collected on their platforms to target users unless this data is shared with rivals, according to the draft regulation seen by Reuters last month. The power of digital gatekeepers was one issue discussed on Thursday at an online meeting of EU digital and telecoms ministers hosted by Germany, the current EU president. Twenty-five of the 27 EU members signed a declaration on creating a European cloud federation - a framework for the storage, use and sharing of data within the EU, Altmaier told reporters after the meeting. This would enable the development of Gaia-X, a cloud computing initiative pioneered by Germany and France. The two countries that did not sign - Cyprus and Denmark - are expected to do so soon. “This declaration is promising and shows the depth of the change that we witness,” said Commissioner Thierry Breton. “There is a common understanding that it is vital that any data can be stored and processed in Europe, according to European rules and standards.” Source
  4. A 'large-scale' provider of proxies and mirrors that allow users to access The Pirate Bay despite ISP blocking measures has shut down following action by BREIN. With the platform's domain now under the control of the anti-piracy group, its operator has agreed to pay BREIN $343,000 to settle the case. After numerous lawsuits around the world, The Pirate Bay is perhaps the most-blocked pirate site on the planet. In many regions the site is blocked by local ISPs and, as a result, millions of users have sought to visit the site via alternative means. While these can include VPNs and Tor, for example, the rise of proxy and mirror sites has been notable, since these provide seamless access to the torrent index at zero cost. Prolonged Legal Battle in The Netherlands The fight to block The Pirate Bay and its mirrors and proxies in the Netherlands has been particularly notable. Legal action was initiated by BREIN in 2010 and after a tortuous path, that even involved the EU Court of Justice, local courts eventually sided with the anti-piracy group. However, the battle to have Pirate Bay proxies and mirrors took longer and was only settled this October. However, BREIN still sees these platforms as a risk and as a result, embarked on a project to target a large provider of both. Piratebay-proxylist.net Targeted By BREIN With several million visitors per month, Piratebay-proxylist.net developed an audience not only with residents of the Netherlands but also those in other regions (such as the UK) where ISPs are required to block The Pirate Bay. Offering a list of domains from where the notorious index can be accessed (and also rating them, ostensibly by speed), the platform was of course a popular haunt for pirates. However, the show is now over following legal action by BREIN. BREIN Announces Domain ‘Seizure’ and Large Settlement In an announcement Friday, BREIN said that while it does what it can to close down proxy and mirror sites, including by filing requests with hosting providers, the existence of ISP blocking doesn’t preclude direct legal action against those who persistently offer proxy and mirror sites. As a result it targeted the people behind Piratebay-proxylist.net, an action that has now resulted in the closure of the platform and an agreement to pay BREIN a sizeable amount in damages and compensation. “[Piratebay-proxylist.net], a large-scale provider of proxies and mirrors to bypass the blocking of The Pirate Bay, has arranged with copyright protection foundation BREIN to pay 250,000 euros as compensation for the damage suffered and more than 30,000 euros in full compensation of costs,” BREIN says. Domain Also ‘Seized By BREIN' BREIN says that as part of the settlement it has taken control of the Piratebay-proxylist.net domain. Indeed, at the time of writing the domain presents a detailed anti-piracy warning, explaining why the domain is no longer functional while issuing a warning to others. “The content of this site has been blocked by order of the court, at the request of Stichting BREIN. This site provided access to the website The Pirate Bay, which offers illegally protected works of the rights holders represented by Stichting BREIN. This is unlawful and causes great damage to the entitled parties to (in particular) films, TV series, music, games and books,” the cautionary message reads, adding: “WARNING : Any site that provides direct or indirect access to The Pirate Bay runs the significant risk of being blocked. The operators of that site risk criminal and / or civil penalties, such as large fines and damages.” Proxies/Mirrors Generate Large Revenues, Receive Large Penalties In common with many similar platforms, Piratebay-proxylist.net generated revenue from advertising and affiliate schemes. According to BREIN, the scale of its business is reflected in the size of the settlement the service is now required to pay the anti-piracy group. “Where we can identify the data subjects [site operators] and hold them accountable, we will do so. That a lot of money is involved in this kind of illegal business is proven by this settlement of more than a quarter of a million euros,” says BREIN director Tim Kuik. BREIN Also Reaches Settlement With eBook Pirate While BREIN expends much effort in dealing with larger infringing platforms, it doesn’t shy away from targeting smaller entities too. The anti-piracy group says that since the beginning of 2019, it has been writing to the administrators of several email groups that were being used to share pirated copies of eBooks, audiobooks, and music. Several administrators agreed to shut down and declare their operations over. It appears, however, that at least one was more stubborn, even after settling with BREIN. “She raised money from members to pay the fine and started a new group on the same day that the statement was signed. In that group, this time with the help of social media, the administrator and the members insisted on anonymity and illegal ebooks were again exchanged,” BREIN explains. When BREIN approached the individual again, she took her group offline. However, she wasn’t interested in paying a fine and ignored BREIN’s letters. That resulted in BREIN going to court where the judge ruled in the anti-piracy group’s favor, ordering the woman to pay 7,500 euros in fines and 19,644 euros in legal costs. Source: TorrentFreak
  5. AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Dutch government on Wednesday ordered a raft of new security regulations for telecommunications providers, including rules on equipment and software suppliers and a requirement that only people with background checks are allowed access to networks. The requirements, which will cover major providers KPN , T-Mobile and Vodafone, are part of a series of moves to strengthen standards after a 2019 assessment of the risks posed by China and other countries identified as having an "offensive cyber strategy". In a ministerial decree, junior Economic Affairs Minister Mona Keijzer also specified that telecoms providers must retain network data for at least three months in case it is needed to analyse “advanced threats and attack vectors”. Britain and France have effectively banned China’s Huawei from helping build their 5G telecoms networks. The Dutch government said last year vendors could be excluded if they have “close ties to foreign governments involved in spying”. It did not name Huawei specifically, despite pressure from parliament to do so. Last month, KPN said it would use Sweden’s Ericsson to build core elements of its 5G mobile network. In May, the upper house of parliament approved a law giving the government power to block “undesirable” takeovers of telecommunications companies. That includes an obligation for any would-be buyer of a more than 30% stake in a Dutch telecom to ask the government first. Source
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