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  1. WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department said it had appealed a Pennsylvania judge’s Oct. 30 order that blocked the government from imposing restrictions on Chinese-owned short video sharing app TikTok that were set to take effect on Thursday. The Commerce Department’s August order would have barred transactions with TikTok, which its owner ByteDance had warned would effectively prohibit TikTok’s use in the United States. The White House did not appear to be a in a rush to implement an Aug. 14 divestiture order that directed ByteDance to sell TikTok by Thursday. There were no immediate efforts by the Trump administration to enforce that order, even though it was not clear whether the government would formally grant a request by ByteDance to extend the sale deadline. The Commerce Department said Nov. 1 it would comply with Judge Wendy Beetlestone’s order blocking the ban, but said it would “vigorously defend” its actions. TikTok did not immediately comment on the government’s appeal to the U.S. Third Circuit. Beetlestone enjoined the agency from barring data hosting within the United States for TikTok, content delivery services and other technical transactions. President Donald Trump’s administration contends that TikTok poses national security concerns as personal data collected on 100 million Americans who use the app could be obtained by China’s government. TikTok denies the allegations. Beetlestone wrote the “government’s own descriptions of the national security threat posed by the TikTok app are phrased in the hypothetical.” On Sept. 27, U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols in Washington issued a preliminary injunction in a suit brought by ByteDance that stopped Commerce from ordering Apple Inc AAPL.O and Alphabet Inc's Google app stores to remove TikTok for download by new users. That order had been set to take effect later that day. The U.S. Treasury Department said on Wednesday it wanted a resolution of national security concerns it has raised about TikTok before a Thursday divestiture deadline. A Treasury spokeswoman had no comment on Thursday. ByteDance has been in talks for a deal with Walmart Inc and Oracle Corp to shift TikTok's U.S. assets into a new entity called TikTok Global. It said on Tuesday it had requested a 30-day extension of the divestiture deadline to finalize terms. Trump said in September the deal had his "blessing." ByteDance on Tuesday filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington challenging the Aug. 14 divestiture order, which gave the Justice Department power to enforce the demanded sale. A Justice Department spokeswoman on Thursday declined to comment. ByteDance said a fourth proposal submitted on Friday sought to address U.S. security concerns “by creating a new entity, wholly owned by Oracle, Walmart and existing U.S. investors in ByteDance, that would be responsible for handling TikTok’s U.S. user data and content moderation.” Source
  2. The U.S. Government recently indicted three alleged members of Team-Xecuter, the masterminds behind various Nintendo hacks. A federal court has now ruled that Gary Bowser, the only defendant in custody on US soil, is a flight risk so will remain in prison for now. In a separate civil action, Nintendo also booked a success against Team-Xecuter, by taking over domain names of several piracy hack stores. Hacking group Team-Xecuter has long been a thorn in the side of major gaming companies. The group offers hardware and software solutions that allow people to install and play unofficial games – including pirated copies – on various consoles, including the popular Nintendo Switch. Team-Xecuter often defended its work by pointing out that their products are not necessarily pirate tools. They are supporters of the ‘right to repair’ movement and back people who want to play homebrew games on their devices for personal use. The affected game companies disagree, with Nintendo front and center. The Japanese gaming company has been chasing down Team-Xecuter for years and a few months ago the company took several online stores to court for selling Team-Xecuter products. In October, these enforcement efforts reached a new level when the US Government launched a criminal prosecution of three of the group’s members. Bowser aka ‘GaryOPA’ One of the defendants is Canadian Gary Bowser. He was arrested in the Dominican Republic in September and was deported to the US soon after. Bowser was allegedly responsible for the development of circumvention devices and maintained regular contact with resellers. Bowser is perhaps best known through his nickname GaryOPA, the supposed operator and a frequent writer on the website “MaxConsole,” which regularly reviewed Team-Xecuter hardware and other hacking tools. Flight Risk In a ‘Zoom’ hearing held last week, a federal court in Seattle reviewed a request for pretrial detention, submitted by the US prosecution. It is not uncommon for criminal defendants to be released on bail pending their trial, but the US argues against this in Bowser’s case, as he’s considered a ‘flight risk.’ The court agrees. “Defendant poses a risk of nonappearance due to his lack of ties to this district, ties to Canada and the Dominican Republic, ownership of a Canadian passport, history of international travel, unstable living situation, and an uncorroborated personal history,” US Magistrate Judge Michelle Peterson writes. “Based on these findings, and for the reasons stated on the record, there does not appear to be any condition or combination of conditions that will reasonably assure the Defendant’s appearance at future court hearings,” she adds. Bowser was not interviewed by the court, which currently has no information on his family ties, personal history, or employment. That leaves the door open to reopening the detention hearing at a future date, which may change things. The Other Defendants There is no update on the other defendants at this point. Based on the information in the court dockets, Yuanning Chen from China is still at large. According to the indictment, Chen managed a manufacturing and distribution company where Team-Xecuter’s hardware was made. The third defendant, French national Max Louarn, was arrested in Canada where a U.S. extradition request was launched. The US Government sees Louarn, who’s hacking track record goes back to the early nineties, as the leader of Team-Xecuter. Louarn allegedly made Team-Xecuter’s important business decisions, arranged investors and financing, and oversaw product development and the wholesale distribution chains. Nintendo Takes Over Domains The US criminal prosecution is not the only legal pressure on Team-Xecuter. Nintendo has also seen very active on the legal front. One of the stores it sued earlier this year, Axiogame.com, was allegedly operated by Team-Xecuter. That has been shut down through Nintendo’s lawsuit. The Axiogame.com domain is now owned by Nintendo and over recent days the gaming company took over several other domains of former piracy hack stores, assisted by an updated court order. Flashcarda.com switched to the new Materpl.com domain and both are owned by Nintendo now. The same is true for Txswitch.com that switched to Stxwitch.com, Usachipss.com that moved to Nerged.com, and several other domains. Team-Xecuter Continues Despite the mounting legal pressure, Team-Xecuter is far from defeated. In fact, the site’s main website remains online. The forum remains active as well, with people privately offering help to install or buy mods. Team-Xecuter’s dedicated page for the SX product line is also still intact. This links to a list of authorized resellers. While many of these stores are offline now, a few are still actively selling. — A copy of the detention order issued by US Magistrate Judge Michelle Peterson is available here (pdf). Nintendo’s filing, pointing out the newly targeted shop domains can be found here (pdf) Source: TorrentFreak
  3. The U.S. Government has indicted three members of the infamous group Team-Xecuter, the masterminds behind various Nintendo hacks. Two of the members have been arrested and are in custody., but the group's website remains online. According to the Department of Justice, Team-Xecuter is a criminal enterprise that profits from pirating video game technology. Team-Xecuter is widely known for creating ‘hacks’ that bypass digital restrictions on Nintendo consoles. The group has been chased by Nintendo for years, but today, their operation has become the center of a criminal case prosecuted by the US Government. The US Department of Justice just announced that two members of Team-Xecuter were arrested recently. Max Louarn, a 48-year-old French national, and the 51-year-old Gary Bowser from Canada are in custody and charged in a criminal conspiracy. The indictments also name a third defendant, a Chinese man named Yuanning Chen (35), who remains at large. The three indicted members are just a minority of the total group. According to the US authorities, there are more than a dozen Team-Xecuter members scattered around the world. These members help to code and create the Nintendo hacks, but they are also suspected of being involved in the production and sale of these devices. The indictment portrays Team-Xecuter as a criminal enterprise and notes that its members did their best to evade law enforcement by using a variety of brands, websites, and distribution channels. “These defendants were allegedly leaders of a notorious international criminal group that reaped illegal profits for years by pirating video game technology of U.S. companies,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “These arrests show that the department will hold accountable hackers who seek to commandeer and exploit the intellectual property of American companies for financial gain, no matter where they may be located.” At the time of writing the official Team-Xecuter website remains online. Various online stores are also still selling the group’s chips, including the latest SX Lite, and the SX Core for the Nintendo Switch. Team-Xecuter has repeatedly stressed the legal uses of its hacks. Speaking with TorrentFreak, Team-Xecuter defended its work just a few weeks ago “We are firm believers of the right to repair legislation, a growing movement to counteract the monopolistic control over hardware which is the property of the consumer who paid for it in the first place,” Team-Xecuter said at the time. According to the Department of Justice and the FBI, this was nothing more than a facade. “The overwhelming demand and use for the enterprise’s devices was to play pirated videogames. To support this illegal activity, Team Xecuter allegedly helped create and support online libraries of pirated videogames for its customers, and several of the enterprise’s devices came preloaded with numerous pirated videogames.” The three defendants are charged with 11 felony counts including conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to circumvent technological measures and to traffic in circumvention devices, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Defendant Bowser resided in the Dominican Republic when he was arrested in September and has since been deported to the US. Louarn is in custody in Canada pending a U.S. extradition request, so he can stand trial in the US. — This is a breaking story, we may amend this article and will report on the exact details of the charges in future reporting. Source: TorrentFreak
  4. Late last year, the U.S. government accidentally revealed that a sealed complaint had been filed against Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. Shortly before this was made public, the FBI reconfirmed its investigation of WikiLeaks was ongoing, and the Wall Street Journal reported that the Department of Justice was optimistic that it would be able to extradite Assange. Soon after, portions of sealed transcripts leaked that implicate WikiLeaks and Assange in directing hackers to target governments and corporations. The charges against Assange have not been officially revealed, though it’s plausible that the offenses are related to Russian hacking and the DNC emails. The alleged offenses in the complaint notwithstanding, the government has an abundance of data to work with: over a dozen WikiLeaks’ computers, hard drives, and email accounts, including those of the organization’s current and former editors-in-chief, along with messages exchanged with alleged Russian hackers about DNC emails. Through a series of search warrants, subpoenas, equipment seizures, and cooperating witnesses, the federal government has collected internal WikiLeaks data covering the majority of the organization’s period of operations, from 2009 at least through 2017. The filing that committed a copy and paste error revealing charges against Assange. In some instances, the seized data has been returned and allegedly destroyed, such as in the case of David House, a technologist and friend of Chelsea Manning when she famously became a source for WikiLeaks. In others, the seized materials include communications between WikiLeaks and their sources. Some of these discussions show WikiLeaks discussing their other sources and specific identifying details about them. A copy of a chat log between Chelsea Manning and a WikiLeaks staff member IDed as Assange by government prosecutors and witnesses. Other seizures gave authorities a deeper view of the internal workings of WikiLeaks, including one of the earliest known seizures of WikiLeaks-related data, executed on December 14, 2010, when the messages and user information of several WikiLeaks-linked Twitter accounts were ordered. This search-and-seizure order included direct messages associated with WikiLeaks and its founder, former Army private first class and WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning, WikiLeaks editor Rop Gongrijp, former WikiLeaks associate Jacob Appelbaum, and former WikiLeaks associate and Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir, between November 1, 2009, and the order’s execution. A couet order for information relating to people associated with WikiLeaks. On January 4, 2011, a sealed order filed in the Eastern District of Virginia requested all emails, address book, subscriber information, and other account information associated with Appelbaum’s email address [email protected], and another order would target his internet traffic. Appelbaum was a friend and confidant of Assange as well as a WikiLeaks volunteer. In 2010, Appelbaum was known as “the American WikiLeaks hacker,” and he was, at that time, referred to as WikiLeaks’ only known American member. In a private chat in 2015, WikiLeaks described Appelbaum as being “sort of” part of the group, though following multiple accusations of sexual abuse, the group publicly distanced itself from him. The emails obtained by the government extended from November 2010 at least through January 2011. The timing of the government’s acknowledgment of the order, along with other similar orders, suggest that the monitoring of the account may have continued through late 2014, when it and several orders were made public. A copy of a court order for information relating to Jacob Appelbaum, a hacker who worked with WikiLeaks (now credibly accused of multiple sexual assaults). Publicly released and leaked documents from Assange and his legal team allege that several laptops and hard drives belonging to the organization were intercepted by an intelligence agency during this time period. According to an affidavit from Assange, “three laptops ... assorted electronics [and] additional encrypted hard drives” were taken along with his suitcase in late September 2010. Assange’s legal team produced several additional affidavits and supporting documents detailing the existence and disappearance of the suitcase. The suitcase contained at least five hard drives, all of which were encrypted, according to Assange. However, the government has had eight years to guess or recover the passwords or break the encryption on the hard drives. Several other drives, numerous emails, and at least one cooperating witness may have aided in the process. Affadavit from Julian Assange. In mid-2011, the FBI had developed a major source who would become at least their second information with an eye into WikiLeaks’ operations. Soon after the arrest and cooperation of Hector Xavier Monsegur, a.k.a. Sabu, his hacking group (LulzSec) made contact with WikiLeaks. Sabu and LulzSec would become some of WikiLeaks’ most significant sources. The Syria files and Global Intelligence files LulzSec provided WikiLeaks increased their number of publications tenfold and still account for roughly half of their total number of publications. Communications between Sabu and WikiLeaks were monitored by the FBI. And some of the group’s communications with others were later seized in their arrest or turned over by Sigurdur Thordarson, a WikiLeaks volunteer who became an informant for the FBI that August. A section from the sentencing document for “Sabu.” It was later ID’d by WikiLeaks as about them. In addition to briefing the FBI in a series of meetings, Thordarson reportedly provided them with thousands of pages of WikiLeaks chat logs. Further, in March 2012, Thordarson allegedly provided the FBI with eight WikiLeaks hard drives containing up to 1020GB of data, according to a purported FBI document. Officials have not confirmed the authenticity of the document, though the amount of data provided is corroborated by additional sources. In an interview with Ars Technica, Thordarson claimed that Icelandic authorities had seized an additional 2 TB of WikiLeaks-related data from him, which he assumed was then shared with the U.S. American and Icelandic authorities had previously cooperated on Thordarson’s case and portions of the WikiLeaks investigation. According to leaked letters from WikiLeaks’ legal team, at least some of the hard drives had belonged to Assange. Thordarson’s debriefings and the hard drives of up to 3 TB of data may have contained the decryption keys or passwords needed to decrypt the hard drives Assange alleged had been seized earlier. A receipt given to Sigurdur Thordarson from the FBI for WikiLeaks hard drives. There are several hints as to the contents of these drives. According to the affidavit from Assange, the information on the hard drives included, in addition to the possible staff emails, “chat communications ... copies of passports [and] video footage taken in secret.” Following an Associated Press article based off of a cache of “WikiLeaks emails, chat logs, financial records, secretly recorded footage and other documents” from within the organization, WikiLeaks alleged that the cache was the same that had been provided to the FBI. In October 2011, amidst Thordarson and Sabu’s tenure as cooperating witnesses, American authorities issued a search warrant for the contents of WikiLeaks volunteer Herbert Snorrason’s Gmail account. The warrant requested all of the account’s information, “including stored or preserved copies of e-mails sent to and from the account, draft e-mails, deleted e-mails, emails preserved pursuant to a request made under 18 U.S.C. § 2703(f), the source and destination addresses associated with each e-mail, the date and time at which each e-mail was sent, and the size and length of each e-mail.” The volunteer had helped WikiLeaks with a minor technical issue. After learning that his account’s contents had been seized by the U.S. government, Snorrason told Mother Jones that he thought “pretty much everyone with both a Google account and a WikiLeaks connection will be getting one of those notices eventually.” Snorrason was correct in that other WikiLeaks-associated Google accounts had their information seized by the government. Six months after the order for Snorrason’s emails was issued, a trio of search orders were issued for the email accounts of senior WikiLeaks personnel. On April 5, 2012, sealed warrants were executed for the Google accounts of WikiLeaks editors Sarah Harrison and Joseph Farrell, as well as then-spokesman and future editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson on suspicion of espionage and violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as conspiracy and theft of government property. The warrants appear to have covered the entirety of the accounts and were disclosed by Google at the close of 2014. A court order for information relating to Kristinn Hrafnsson, current editor in chief of WikiLeaks, on suspicion if charges including but not limited to espionage. In late October 2017, a new government request was issued for portions of WikiLeaks’ communications. A letter from Sen. Diane Feinstein requested that Twitter provide copies of all direct messages that were over 180 days to or from the accounts belonging to WikiLeaks, the WikiLeaks Task Force, “Guccifer 2.0,” Assange, and Margaret Ratner Kunstler. As written, the request would include some of my communications with WikiLeaks and “Guccifer 2.0.” Ultimately, at least some messages between WikiLeaks and the “Guccifer 2.0” were obtained by the U.S. government, although the method of communication for those messages remains unconfirmed. In late October 2017, a new government request was issued for portions of WikiLeaks’ communications. A letter from Sen. Diane Feinstein requested that Twitter provide copies of all direct messages that were over 180 days to or from the accounts belonging to WikiLeaks, the WikiLeaks Task Force, “Guccifer 2.0,” Assange, and Margaret Ratner Kunstler. As written, the request would include some of my communications with WikiLeaks and “Guccifer 2.0.” Ultimately, at least some messages between WikiLeaks and the “Guccifer 2.0” were obtained by the U.S. government, although the method of communication for those messages remains unconfirmed. According to what’s informally known as “the GRU indictment,” WikiLeaks sent Guccifer 2.0 a message on June 22, 2016. The message instructed Guccifer 2.0, a persona the U.S. government believes was used by Russian operatives, to send new material to them so it would “have a much higher impact.” On approximately July 6, the organization sent another message encouraging Guccifer 2.0 to send “anything [H]illary related” in time for the Democratic National Convention, which WikiLeaks thought Clinton would use to solidify support. The quoted portion of the exchange ends with WikiLeaks saying they thought conflict between Sen. Bernie Sanders and Clinton would be “interesting.” These exchanges, about maximizing impact and damage, are relevant to one of the theories of Assange’s potential prosecution outlined by noted national security journalist Marcy Wheeler. An excerpt from a Mueller indictment. If the charges against Assange are related to Russian hacking and the Democratic National Committee email leak, this exchange could be one of the most likely pieces of evidence to be directly relevant to the initial charges against him. However, the entirety of the government’s evidence, including materials seized from alleged Vault 7 leaker Joshua Schulte and the alleged recordings of him transferring additional files to WikiLeaks regarding the organization, may be used to help make the case. Past statements and communications may be used to help establish a modus operandi, a pattern or an intent. As noted by the AP, some of the materials may point to the early beginnings of Assange’s reported relationship with Russia. Leaked copies of sealed files, statements by people familiar with the grand juries, and documents released through FOIA by independent journalist Alexa O’Brien—who also identified a number of sealed search orders—all indicate that the investigations converged and pooled evidence at times. The government’s information could be further augmented by recent surveillance of Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he has lived under asylum since 2012, the fruits of which may have reportedly been shared with the United States. Regardless of what the charges against Assange are, the government has terabytes of data with which to try to make its case, data that’s come from WikiLeaks supporters, sources, key personnel, and Assange himself. The full depth of the government’s sources, however, have yet to be revealed. Emma Best is a national security reporter and transparency activist. She has published millions of pages of government documents and is a member of the leak collective Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDoSecrets). Source
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