A 22-year-old was arrested in hacks of Twitter, TikTok and Snapchat.
The suspect, Joseph O’Connor, was found in Spain and faces U.S. charges of hacking, extortion and cyberstalking.
Hackers took over accounts belonging to political figures and celebrities, including President Biden, to conduct a Bitcoin scam.
A 22-year-old man was arrested in Spain on Wednesday in connection with the hack of more than 100 Twitter accounts last July, becoming the fourth person charged in the incident that led to a temporary shutdown of the social media service.
The man, Joseph O’Connor, faces charges in the United States of hacking, extortion and cyberstalking in the Twitter breach and is accused in hacks of the TikTok account of the popular creator Addison Rae Easterling and the Snapchat account of the actor Bella Thorne, the Justice Department said.
The Twitter incident began when the hackers connected last year in an online forum focused on buying and selling rare user names, some of the individuals involved told The New York Times at that time. They then broke into Twitter’s systems by tricking employees into providing login information, according to legal filings. The hackers used an administrative tool to take over accounts belonging to political figures and celebrities, including former President Barack Obama, Kanye West and Elon Musk, using the accounts to conduct a Bitcoin scam, the filings said.
Graham Ivan Clark, an 18-year-old who prosecutors said was the “mastermind” of the Twitter hack, pleaded guilty to fraud charges in March in a Florida court and agreed to serve three years in juvenile prison. Two others, Mason Sheppard and Nima Fazeli, were arrested and accused of serving as middlemen for Mr. Clark to sell the Twitter accounts.
Mr. O’Connor was a well-known figure among hackers dealing in user names, going by the name “PlugWalkJoe.” According to chat logs that the hackers shared with The New York Times last July, Mr. O’Connor interacted with the group briefly, acquiring the Twitter handle @6.
At the time, Mr. O’Connor denied involvement in the Bitcoin scam. “I don’t care,” he said in an interview. “They can come arrest me. I would laugh at them. I haven’t done anything.”
According to an affidavit submitted by an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation who investigated the breach, Twitter’s logs showed that a Twitter account belonging to Mr. O’Connor viewed several accounts, as though shopping, during the hack.
Ms. Thorne’s Snapchat account was compromised in June 2019, according to the affidavit. The hacker threatened to release nude photos found on the account unless Ms. Thorne posted a tweet thanking him for returning her account, the affidavit said.
Instead, Ms. Thorne posted the images on Twitter. “I feel gross, I feel watched, I feel someone has taken something from me,” she wrote in a statement accompanying the photos. “I can sleep tonight better knowing that I took my power back. U can’t control my life u never will.”
In June 2020, Mr. O’Connor made false police reports threatening violence at schools, restaurants, an airport and a residence in Southern California, the affidavit said. The threats were an attempt to cast scrutiny on a youth who lived in the area and had clashed with Mr. O’Connor online, the affidavit said. Mr. O’Connor also sent threatening messages and nude photos to the youth, the affidavit said.
In August, a month after the Twitter breach, hackers took over Ms. Easterling’s TikTok account, which had more than 55 million followers. In an apparent reference to Mr. O’Connor’s online moniker, her page was updated with the message “plugwalkjoe zak n crippin.”
The F.B.I. found that Ms. Easterling’s account was accessed during the hack by internet protocol addresses linked to Mr. O’Connor, the affidavit said. They also found screenshots of her account saved in Mr. O’Connor’s Snapchat, the affidavit said.
Twitter declined to comment. Representatives for Snap, TikTok, Ms. Thorne and Ms. Easterling did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Mr. O’Connor, who is British, faces extradition to the United States and will face charges in Northern California. A lawyer for Mr. O’Connor could not be immediately identified.
Hoan Ton-That, the chief executive of Clearview AI, demonstrating the company’s app in 2019.Credit…Amr Alfiky for The New York Times
Clearview AI is currently the target of multiple class-action lawsuits and a joint investigation by Britain and Australia. That hasn’t kept investors away.
The New York-based start-up, which scraped billions of photos from the public internet to build a facial-recognition tool used by law enforcement, closed a Series B round of $30 million this month.
The investors, though undeterred by the lawsuits, did not want to be identified. Hoan Ton-That, the company’s chief executive, said they “include institutional investors and private family offices.”
Prior investors include Peter Thiel, a tech billionaire; Kirenaga Partners, a New York-based venture capital firm; and Hal Lambert, the Texas-based creator of MAGA ETF, an investment fund that pitches itself as composed of companies that “align with Republican beliefs.”
The round includes $8.6 million that previously had been disclosed in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission and reported by Buzzfeed. The company, founded in 2017, has now raised over $38 million at a $130 million valuation.
It is not the only facial-recognition start-up to catch investors’ attention. AnyVision, an Israeli competitor, raised $235 million this month in a financing round led by SoftBank.
Clearview AI, which claims a database of three billion photos of people gathered from sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Venmo, charges law enforcement organizations subscription fees to use its product. A search of someone’s face will surface other photos of the same person with links to where they appear on the web, making it possible to identify them. More than 1,800 law enforcement agencies have used Clearview’s product, according to a leaked list of users obtained by Buzzfeed. A recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that Clearview AI had been used by 10 federal agencies, including the Secret Service and the F.B.I.
The company’s product has been deemed illegal in Canada, and it is being investigated by Britain and Australia for its use of citizens’ personal information. Lawsuits that have been filed against the company in the United States include one in Illinois accusing it of violating that state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act, which stipulates that companies must get people’s permission to use their fingerprints or to include them in facial-recognition databases.
“We’ve had some good news in the legal battles,” Mr. Ton-That said, referring to a federal judge’s recent decision to reject a request that the company be prohibited from doing business pending the outcome of the case in Illinois. “Airbnb, Uber, PayPal all had a significant legal component to their operations. People forget about that once the company is a lot larger. Investors can see that it’s just part of doing business.”
“Clearview is here to stay,” he added.
Argo has been testing autonomous vehicles in six American cities as well as in Germany.Credit…Ford
Ford Motor and its autonomous-driving affiliate, Argo AI, have formed an alliance with Lyft in an effort to begin offering rides in self-driving cars.
Ford expects to begin operating self-driving cars tin Miami through Lyft’s ride-hailing service this year. The vehicles will be outfitted with Argo’s self-driving technology but will still have someone at the steering wheel for safety.
“Going from the testing phase to a commercial service, while still using safety operators behind the wheel, is a big step,” Argo’s chief executive, Bryan Salesky, wrote in a blog post about the partnership. “But to go from there to offering driverless vehicles is an even bigger step. It requires validating that the technology is achieving a level of self-driving performance deemed safer than what we see on the streets today.”
The three companies hope to have self-driving cars operating in Austin, Texas, next year. They aim to have a few dozen cars operating in Miami and Austin and hope to have about 1,000 on the road across multiple cities within five years.
Under the partnership, Lyft will take a 2.5 percent equity stake in Argo. In return, Lyft has agreed to share data it has collected about ride-sharing operations with Ford and Argo. Ford and Volkswagen each own about 40 percent of Argo.
Waymo, the autonomous-driving company owned by Google’s parent, Alphabet, has been testing a limited driverless ride-hailing service in Phoenix for several years. Argo has been testing about 150 autonomous vehicles in six American cities as well as in Germany.
Just a few years ago, automakers and technology companies expected to make rapid progress in rolling out self-driving cars. But they have found perfecting the required hardware and software to be more difficult than initially thought.
Two years ago, Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla, predicted that his company would have a million self-driving taxis on the road by 2020. But it is still developing its Full Self-Driving software, and in filings to California regulators it has said that the system cannot pilot a car without a driver and that it may never reach that ability.
A Daimler factory in Germany. The automaker has been trying to cope with chip scarcity by giving priority to its most expensive and most profitable models.Credit…Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters
The global semiconductor shortage is disrupting production in the German car industry just as demand rebounds strongly from the pandemic-induced downturn.
Automakers Daimler and BMW said this week that the lack of chips had forced assembly lines to slow down or stop, cutting output by tens of thousands vehicles and leading to longer wait times for customers.
This week, BMW temporarily stopped production or cut back the number of shifts at three factories in Germany and one in Britain, as well as at factories owned by suppliers in the Netherlands and Austria that assemble vehicles under contract, the company said.
As a result, production fell short by 10,000 vehicles for the week, and there is likely to be a similar shortfall next week, a BMW spokeswoman said Wednesday.
Daimler has been trying to cope with chip scarcity by giving priority to its most expensive and most profitable models. But even they have been affected, Ola Kallenius, the chief executive, said during a conference call with journalists Wednesday.
Daimler had to briefly stop assembly lines at a plant in Sindelfingen, near Stuttgart, that produces Mercedes-Benz S-Class luxury cars as well as the new EQS electric vehicle, Mr. Kallenius said. One cause was a shutdown at a chip supplier in Malaysia.
“We could certainly have built more cars if we had more chips,” said Harald Wilhelm, the Daimler chief financial officer, adding that he could not predict when the supply of semiconductors will catch up with demand.
“We have to work with uncertainty,” Mr. Kallenius told reporters.
The semiconductor drought does not seem to have hurt profit, however. On Wednesday Daimler reported a profit for the second quarter of 3.6 billion euros, or $4.2 billion, after sales surged 44 percent to 43.5 billion euros. During the same period last year, when many showrooms were closed because of the pandemic, Daimler reported a loss of 2 billion euros.
Kenneth C. Frazier, the former chief executive of the pharmaceutical giant Merck, in 2018. He will join General Catalyst as its chairman of health assurance initiatives.Credit…Mike Cohen for The New York Times
Kenneth C. Frazier stepped down as Merck’s chief executive last month, but he has kept busy since. He remains executive chairman of the pharmaceutical giant and is a leader of OneTen, a start-up that aims to create one million jobs for Black Americans. Now, the DealBook newsletter was the first to report, he’s adding another role: venture capitalist.
Mr. Frazier will join General Catalyst as its chairman of health assurance initiatives, a new position in which he will focus on health care start-ups. It’s an area of focus for General Catalyst’s managing partner, Hemant Taneja, who recently spearheaded a $600 million fund dedicated to the sector.
Mr. Frazier was brought onboard by his friend Kenneth I. Chenault, who joined General Catalyst in 2018 as the venture firm’s chairman after retiring as American Express’s chairman and chief executive. The two first met at Harvard Law School and became among the few Black chief executives of Fortune 500 companies. The two most recently pushed hundreds of corporate leaders to publicly oppose states’ efforts to limit voting rights.
“As you can imagine, he had myriad choices about what he would do,” Mr. Chenault said of Mr. Frazier. “Clearly, our personal relationship was important, but that wouldn’t have been enough if Ken didn’t believe in the vision and what we’re trying to do in health care.”
Mr. Frazier said he had dealt with people at the “intersection between tech and life sciences” throughout his career. “These people are, in my experience, very fluent in digital technology and data science, analytics, machine learning,” he said.
But what is needed is “people who understand empathy,” he said: “We need people who have both data-led approaches as well as more human-centric approaches.”
Jeff Bezos, second from right, with fellow astronauts, from left, Oliver Daemen, Mark Bezos and Wally Funk during a news conference after the flight.Credit…Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Upon descending from his trip to the edge of space on Tuesday, Jeff Bezos, the richest person on the planet, reaffirmed his commitment to fight climate change. “We have to build a road to space so that our kids and their kids can build a future,” he told MSNBC.
Mr. Bezos says space tourism is a first step toward moving people (and heavy industry) into space to avert an energy crisis on Earth. His fellow billionaire space entrepreneurs, like Richard Branson and Elon Musk, have also said their companies are an answer to climate change: Mr. Musk wants to colonize Mars in case we ruin Earth.
Critics argue that space tourism will add to emissions rather than save the planet. But the industry is still low on the list of polluters.
The global space industry uses less than a tenth of a percent of propellant than the aviation industry does. What’s more, the amount used for rockets like those that carried Mr. Branson and Mr. Bezos to space is a tiny portion of that, said Martin Ross, a scientist at the Aerospace Corporation, a federally funded research and development center. In a recent study, Mr. Ross found that space tourism companies could launch as many as 10,000 suborbital flights per year before the effect of their emissions on the atmosphere would begin to approach that of orbital rockets.
It is not yet understood exactly how an increasing number of rocket launches would affect the planet. The space industry is the only direct source of emissions into the stratosphere above 20 kilometers. Particles that rockets leave behind can absorb sunlight or reflect sunlight, potentially changing the climate of the stratosphere or affecting the ozone layer.
“We know it’s not a problem now,” Mr. Ross said, “but we can’t predict how much of that up-and-down you can do before it does become a problem.”
Aside from whether space tourism will contribute to climate change, there’s skepticism over space companies’ claims that they can help address it. Some say Mr. Bezos’ vision for colonizing space isn’t feasible, and Mr. Bezos himself calls it a “long-range problem.” Billionaires going to space should first consider climate disasters on Earth, critics argue.
It’s not quite fair to say Mr. Bezos has ignored these problems. Although Amazon is a major polluter, it says it aims to go carbon neutral by 2040, and Mr. Bezos has pledged $10 billion of his personal wealth to address climate change. But some say there’s a big gap in his approaches: Are moonshots only for space?
What do you think? What role can space tourism play in climate change? Let us know: email@example.com. Include your name and location and we may feature your response in a future newsletter.
Stocks rose on Wednesday, continuing their recovery from a rocky session at the beginning of the week that was propelled by fears of a resurgence coronavirus cases.
The S&P 500 index had its worst decline since May on Monday, falling 1.6 percent, but rebounded with 1.5 percent on Tuesday. The drop on Monday reflected a range of concerns about economic growth and the potential for rising Covid-19 infections to lead to the return of restrictions on travel and tourism.
Shares of the Coca-Cola Company gained 1.3 percent in early trading on Wednesday after reporting better-than-expected second-quarter earnings. Verizon also ticked up 1.4 percent after reporting that an increase in 5G users helped raise the company’s revenue.
The S&P 500 gained 0.6 percent in midday trading on Wednesday, while the Nasdaq composite rose 0.5 percent.
The yield on 10-year Treasury notes rose to 1.29 percent from 1.23 percent.
Markets in Europe were higher. The Stoxx Europe 600 and the FTSE 100 in Britain both jumped 1.7 percent.
Oil prices rose, with the West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, gaining 4.8 percent to $70.39 a barrel.
The White House administration said on Tuesday that it would nominate Jonathan Kanter to be the top antitrust official at the Justice Department, a move that would add another longtime critic of Big Tech and corporate concentration to a powerful regulatory position. President Biden’s plan to appoint Mr. Kanter, an antitrust lawyer who has made a career out of representing rivals of American tech giants like Google and Facebook, signals how strongly the administration is siding with the growing field of lawmakers, researchers and regulators who say Silicon Valley has obtained outsize power over the way Americans speak with one another, buy products online and consume news.
Steve Doocy, the conservative co-host of “Fox & Friends” on Fox News, has intensified his warnings about the coronavirus. “It will save your life,” he said on Tuesday. And he’s not the only one: Sean Hannity urged viewers on Monday to “please take Covid seriously — I can’t say it enough.” Fox News has not changed overnight — other personalities have continued to issue counterpoints. But some leading Republicans have grown alarmed at the deadly toll of the virus in conservative states and districts.
Hacks that were conducted by units of China’s People’s Liberation Army are now carried out by an elite satellite network of contractors.Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock
China has long been one of the biggest digital threats to the United States. But a decade ago, breaches were conducted via sloppily worded spearphishing emails by units of the People’s Liberation Army.
Now they are carried out by an elite satellite network of contractors at front companies and universities that work at the direction of China’s Ministry of State Security, according to U.S. officials.
On Monday, the United States again accused China of cyberattacks. The Biden administration’s indictment for the cyberattacks, along with interviews with dozens of current and former American officials, shows how China has reorganized its hacking operations, Nicole Perlroth reports for The New York Times.
“What we’ve seen over the past two or three years is an upleveling” by China, said George Kurtz, the chief executive of the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike. “They operate more like a professional intelligence service than the smash-and-grab operators we saw in the past.”
China’s new tactics include exploiting “zero-days,” or unknown security holes in widely used software like Microsoft’s Exchange email service and Pulse VPN security devices, which are harder to defend against and allow China’s hackers to operate undetected for longer periods.
China has clamped down on research about vulnerabilities in widely held software and hardware, which could potentially benefit the state’s surveillance, counterintelligence and cyberespionage campaigns. Last week, it announced a new policy requiring Chinese security researchers to notify the state within two days when they found security holes, such as the “zero-days” that the country relied on in the breach of Microsoft Exchange systems.
Today in the On Tech newsletter, Shira Ovide writes that a Catholic official’s resignation shows the real-world consequences of practices by America’s data-harvesting industries.