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Google says North Korea-backed hackers sought cyber research

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Google says it believes hackers backed by the North Korean government have been posing as computer security bloggers and using fake accounts on social media while attempting to steal information from researchers in the field.Google didn’t specify how successful the hackers were or what kind of information could have been compromised. Experts say the attacks reflect North Korean efforts to improve its cyber skills and be able to breach widely used computer products, such as Google’s Chrome internet browser and Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system.While the country has denied involvement, North Korea has been linked to major cyberattacks, including a 2013 campaign that paralyzed the servers of South Korean financial institutions, the 2014 hacking of Sony Pictures, and the WannaCry malware attack of 2017. The U.N. Security Council in 2019 estimated North Korea earned as much as $2 billion over several years through illicit cyber operations targeting cryptocurrency exchanges and other financial transactions, generating income that is harder to trace and offsets capital lost to U.S.-led economic sanctions over its nuclear weapons program. Adam Weidemann, a researcher from Google’s Threat Analysis Group, said in the online report published late Monday that hackers supposedly backed by North Korea created a fake research blog and multiple Twitter profiles to build credibility and interact with the security researchers they targeted. After connecting with researchers, the hackers would ask them if they wanted to collaborate on cyber-vulnerability research and share a tool that contained a code designed to install malicious software on the targets’ computers, which would then allow the hackers to take control of the device and steal information from it. Several targeted researchers were compromised after following a Twitter link to a blog set up by the hackers, Weidemann said. “At the time of these visits, the victim systems were running fully patched and up-to-date Windows 10 and Chrome browser versions,” Weidemann wrote. “At this time we’re unable to confirm the mechanism of compromise, but we welcome any information others might have.” Google published a list of social media accounts and websites it said were controlled by the hackers, including 10 Twitter profiles and five LinkedIn profiles.Simon Choi, a senior analyst at NSHC, a South Korean computer security firm, said cyberattacks linked to North Korea over the past few years have demonstrated an improving ability in identifying and exploiting vulnerabilities in computer security systems. Before 2016, the North Koreans had mainly relied on methods used by Chinese or Russian hackers, he said. “It’s notable that the computer security experts on Twitter who said they were approached by the hackers had been engaged in vulnerability research for Chrome and Windows 10,” Choi said. “It’s that not easy to successfully penetrate these systems that are built with the latest security technologies. For the North Koreans, it makes more sense to steal the vulnerabilities already discovered by the researchers because developing their own ways to exploit these systems is harder.”In 2018, U.S. federal prosecutors charged a computer programmer working for the North Korean government for his alleged involvement in the cyberattacks that hacked Sony Pictures and unleashed the WannaCry ransomware virus. Park Jin Hyok, who is believed to be in North Korea, conspired to conduct attacks that also stole $81 million from Bangladesh's central bank, according to the charges. The 2014 Sony hack led to the release of tens of thousands of confidential Sony emails and business files. The WannaCry cyberattack in 2017 scrambled data on hundreds of thousands of computers at government agencies, banks and other businesses across the globe and crippled parts of the British health care system.

Biden's pick for UN post says US will counter China's agenda

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Linda Thomas-Greenfield says that if confirmed by the U.S. Senate as America's ambassador to the United Nations she will vigorously counter China’s authoritarian agenda and engage in “people-to-people diplomacy.”The veteran foreign service officer, in prepared remarks, speaks of China’s diplomatic inroads during the Trump administration, which pursued an “America First” policy that weakened international alliances. And she makes clear there will be a change under President Joe Biden to reengaging internationally and promoting American values, according to excerpts of her Wednesday testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee obtained by The Associated Press. “When America shows up — when we are consistent and persistent — when we exert our influence in accordance with our values — the United Nations can be an indispensable institution for advancing peace, security, and our collective well-being,” she says.Alluding to the absence of U.S. global leadership during Donald Trump’s four-year presidency, Thomas-Greenfield says: “If instead we walk away from the table, and allow others to fill the void, the global community suffers — and so do American interests.” She then turns to China, which has become a major player on the global stage in recent years and much more outspoken on a range of global issues at the United Nations and elsewhere. Beijing also has come under sharp criticism from the U.S. and many other nations for its treatment of more than 1 million Uighurs and members of other Chinese Muslim minority groups and for its delayed announcement of COVID-19, which was first diagnosed Wuhan.“We know China is working across the U.N. system to drive an authoritarian agenda that stands in opposition to the founding values of the institution — American values,” Thomas-Greenfield says. “Their success depends on our continued withdrawal. That will not happen on my watch.”If confirmed by the Senate, Thomas-Greenfield would be neither the first African American nor the first woman, nor even the first African American woman, to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. But she is a groundbreaking diplomat nonetheless. She joined the State Department more than three decades ago, when Black women were even more of a rarity in the U.S. diplomatic corps than they are today, and she is the most experienced diplomat of the six people named by Biden for top national security positions.“Throughout my career, from Jamaica to Nigeria, Pakistan to Switzerland, I’ve learned that effective diplomacy means more than shaking hands and staging photo ops,” Thomas-Greenfield says in her prepared remarks. “It means developing real, robust relationships,” she says. “It means finding common ground and managing points of differentiation. It means doing genuine, old-fashioned, people-to-people diplomacy.” Thomas-Greenfield stresses that American leadership must be rooted in the country’s core values — “support for democracy, respect for universal human rights, and the promotion of peace and security.” She says she also will back reforms that make the U.N. “efficient and effective” and promises to develop “a strong partnership” with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Asian shares mixed as focus turns to Federal Reserve meeting

Stocks are mixed in Asia as investors focus on the Federal Reserve policy meeting that ends Wednesday. Shares rose in Hong Kong and Tokyo but fell in Seoul and Sydney. Shanghai was little changed. The Fed is expected to keep its extremely supportive policy stance unchanged given the slow progress in vanquishing the pandemic, analysts said. Markets have meandered since last week as investors weighed solid corporate earnings results against renewed worries that troubles with COVID-19 vaccine rollouts and the spread of new variants of coronavirus might delay a recovery from the pandemic. With the virus spreading like “wildfire" in parts of the world, the first half of the year might be “lost," Stephen Innes of Axi said in a commentary. “ Some are even concerned that vaccines may not prove useful enough to eradicate the virus. And these concerns will continue to linger over markets like a dark cloud until vaccine distributions get ironed out, and a definitive drop in contagion levels can thoroughly support the vaccine efficacy results."The reality that President Joe Biden’s $1.9 billion stimulus package won’t be “rubber stamped” by the U.S. Senate is also weighing on sentiment. For now, “ranging is a summation of the state of play in the financial markets at the moment," Jeffrey Halley of Oanda said in a commentary. Tokyo's Nikkei 225 index added 0.3% to 28,635.21, while the Hang Seng in Hong Kong edged 0.1% higher to 29,429.26. The Kospi in South Korea sank 0.6% to 3,122.56, while the Shanghai Composite index was virtually unchanged, at 3,568.90. In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.6% to 6,780.60.Overnight, the S&P 500 lost 0.1% to 3,849.62 but was within 0.2% of the record high it set Monday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 0.1%, to 30,937.04. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite also slid 0.1%, to 13,626.06. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies gave up 0.6%, to 2,149.86. This is the busiest week so far of quarterly earnings reporting season for U.S. companies.More than 100 companies in the S&P 500 are scheduled to tell investors this week how they fared during the last three months of 2020. As a whole, analysts expect S&P 500 companies to say their fourth-quarter profit fell 5% from a year earlier. That’s a milder drop than the 9.4% they were forecasting earlier this month, according to FactSet. General Electric climbed 2.7% after the industrial conglomerate reported a surge in cash flow. GE is attempting a turnaround after shedding unprofitable divisions and focusing more on big industrial products like jet engines and power equipment. Typically, when a company is in turnaround, investors care more about cash flow than quarterly profits because it shows the company is able to pay down debts.Johnson & Johnson rose 2.7% after the company reported fourth-quarter results that cruised past Wall Street's expectations. A big jump in prescription drug sales boosted the company's revenue, but profits dove 57% due to higher research spending and one-time charges totaling $2.4 billion. The company also said it expects to share results from the late-stage study of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine, which requires only one dose, by early next week.The fate of Biden's plan to send $1,400 to most Americans and deliver other support for the economy remains uncertain given the slim majority of the Democrats in the Senate. But on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats are prepared to push ahead with the relief package, even if it means using procedural tools to pass the legislation without Republicans.The yield on the 10-year Treasury edged lower to 1.03% from 1.04% late Tuesday.In other trading, benchmark U.S. crude oil rose 38 cents to $52.99 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It gave up 16 cents to $52.77 per barrel on Tuesday. Brent crude, the international standard, added 36 cents to $56.00 per barrel.The U.S. dollar was trading at 103.67 Japanese yen, up from 103.62 yen late Tuesday. The euro was almost unchanged, at $1.2163. ___AP Business Writers Alex Veiga, Damian J. Troise and Ken Sweet contributed.

Indonesian volcano unleashes river of lava in new eruption

YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia’s most active volcano erupted Wednesday with a river of lava and searing gas clouds flowing 1,500 meters (4,900 feet) down its slopes.It was the Mount Merapi’s longest lava flow since authorities raised the volatile volcano's danger level in November, said Hanik Humaida, the head of Yogyakarta’s Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation Center.The alert level was being maintained for now at the second-highest level, she said, and people should stay out of the existing 5-kilometer (3-mile) danger zone around the crater as the local administrations in Central Java and Yogyakarta provinces closely monitor the situation.The 2,968-meter (9,737-foot) volcano is on the densely populated island of Java and near the ancient city of Yogyakarta. It is the most active of dozens of Indonesian volcanoes and has repeatedly erupted with lava and gas clouds recently. Merapi's last major eruption in 2010 killed 347 people.Indonesia, an archipelago of 270 million people, is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity because it sits along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a horseshoe-shaped series of seismic fault lines around the ocean.

IOC, Tokyo Olympics to unveil rule book for beating pandemic

TOKYO (AP) — Remember the word: Playbook. This is the rule book that the IOC and Tokyo organizers are set to roll out next week to explain how 15,400 Olympic and Paralympic athletes and tens of thousands of others will try to safely enter Japan when the Olympics open in just under six months.Organizers and the International Olympic Committee are finally going public with their planning, hoping to push back against reports the Olympics will be canceled with Tokyo and much of Japan still under a state of emergency with COVID-19 cases rising.The rollout at Olympic headquarters in Switzerland is planned for Feb. 4, with Tokyo likely to present on Feb. 5.“We created four different scenarios, one that had travel restrictions, clusters — to one where the pandemic was nearly gone,” Lucia Montanarella, head of IOC media operations, explained Tuesday for a panel discussion held by the International Sports Press Association.“The present scenario is very much like one of those that we'd created, with the pandemic still among us, and some countries being able to contain it, some not.”The playbook will be about creating safe bubbles in Tokyo, and will be updated with changing protocols as the July 23 opening gets closer. The Paralympics are schedule to open on Aug. 24.Athletes and those traveling to Japan — coaches, judges, media, broadcasters, VIPS — are likely to face some self-quarantine period before they leave home. This will be followed by tests at the airport, tests arriving in Japan, and frequent testing for those staying in the Athletes Village alongside Tokyo Bay.Montanarella said “we know that we are facing a huge challenge, this is to create a bubble for all athletes. One thing is to create a bubble for 200 athletes in just one sport, and a very different thing is to create a bubble for thousands of athletes of different sports.”Craig Spence, a spokesman for the International Paralympic Committee, said organizers must get the support of the Japanese public amid polls that show 80% of those surveyed think the Olympics should be canceled or postponed.“If you are an athlete or a stakeholder, you will not be able to get on a plane until you provide a negative test,” Spence told Associated Press. “When you see the number of tests we are going to do (on site), that should reassure people.”IOC President Thomas Bach, who has said vaccines are not “obligatory," is still pushing for all participants to be vaccinated. The World Health Organization said earlier this week that Olympic athletes should not be a priority ahead of health care workers, the elderly and the vulnerable.The IOC has had its high-profile members speaking publicly. IOC member Sebastian Coe was on Japanese television on Wednesday, and IOC member Dick Pound suggested last week the “most realistic way of going ahead” was prioritizing athletes. He received strong opposition.The IOC receives almost 75% of its income from selling broadcast rights. Tokyo could be worth $2 billion to $3 billion in rights income, making Japan's games a financial imperative — even if it becomes a primarily television-only event.“It is a difficult project with a number of demands,” IOC executive board member Gerardo Werthein told the Argentine news site Infobae. “Circumstances force us to do these things, and it is a great challenge."Japan has more than 5,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19, but its health care system is under stress with deaths and new cases rising. A vaccine rollout is expected next month, but later in spring for much of the general public.The president of the Japan Medical Association sounded a warning last week when asked about the Olympics and possible patients from abroad. “Many people will come from abroad, and it’s a huge number, even with just the athletes,” Dr. Toshio Nakagawa said. “In this situation, if coronavirus patients appear among them as a collapse of the medical system is happening and is spreading, it will not be possible to accept them. Unless a miracle happens, such as the vaccine rollout suddenly succeeding, or a cure is suddenly found, we are not able to accept more patients.”___More AP sports: and

Asia Today: South Korea adds 559 cases, highest in 10 days

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea has reported 559 new cases of coronavirus infection, its highest daily increase in 10 days, as health workers scramble to slow transmissions at religious facilities, which have been a major source of infections throughout the pandemic.The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said 112 of the new cases came from the southwestern city of Gwangju, where more than 100 infections have so far been linked to a missionary training school. An affiliated facility in the central city of Daejeon has been tied to more than 170 infections.Nearly 300 of the new cases came from the Seoul metropolitan area, home to half of the country’s 51 million people, where infections have been tied to various places, including churches, restaurants, schools and offices.The country has repeatedly seen huge infection clusters emerge from religious groups, including more than 5,000 infections tied to the secretive Shincheonji Church of Jesus that drove a major outbreak last spring.The figures released by the agency on Wednesday brought the national caseload to 76,429, including 1,378 deaths.

Protesters supporting Indian farmers demonstrate in NYC

NEW YORK (AP) — Demonstrators showing solidarity with protesting farmers in India rallied Tuesday outside the Indian consulate in New York, some honking their car horns while others stood in the snowy weather, yelling slogans and waving flags.The crowd gathered on Manhattan's east side on India's Republic Day, a national holiday that honors the anniversary of India's constitution coming into effect. Indian farmers have been protesting for nearly two months over new laws they say will benefit big corporations and wreak havoc on the earnings of smaller scale farmers. They want the laws withdrawn.Drivers sounded their horns as they went by the blocked-off street where the consulate is located, off Fifth Avenue near Central Park. Those who stood on the street chanted against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with one sign reading: “Someone stop their boy Modi before he eats us too! Save the farmers!”Parminder Singh came from Chicago, saying his family in the Indian state of Punjab was “getting hurt by the law that's made by the Indian government right now."Many of the farmers are Sikhs from the northern state and neighboring Haryana, which are major agricultural producers. Among those at the New York march were protesters calling for the establishment of Khalistan, a separate homeland for members of the religion, and carrying flags emblazoned with the name of the secessionist movement.“We are here today to challenge India, who has carried out the genocide of Sikhs and enacted farm bills to carry out the homicide of the Sikhs and the farmers of Punjab and Haryana," said Bakhshish Singh Sandhu, of Philadelphia, the president of the Council of Khalistan. "And so we are here to challenge India under their constitution. It has attacked the Sikh identity and Sikh religious institutions.”Organizers said other protests were planned at consulates in other parts of the country on Tuesday. Other solidarity protests have been held around the United States in the last two months, in cities including Houston and San Francisco.In India on Republic Day, tens of thousands of farmers stormed the historic Red Fort in New Delhi, breaking through police barricades and shocking onlookers watching as it was broadcast on live television. Indian authorities used tear gas, water cannons and placed large trucks and buses in roads to try to hold back crowd, including rows upon rows of tractors. Police said one protester died after his tractor overturned, but farmers said he was shot. Several bloodied protesters could be seen in television footage.

Starbucks' recovery, solid in China, still slow in US

Starbucks’ recovery slowed at the end of last year as U.S. coronavirus cases mounted, but the coffee titan says it’s confident its U.S. business will fully recover by March.The Seattle-based company said Tuesday that its global sales at stores opened at least a year fell 5% in the October-December period. That was an improvement from the prior quarter, but it was still a bigger decline than the 4% drop Wall Street was expecting, according to analysts polled by FactSet.Starbucks also fell short of revenue forecasts. The company reported sales of $6.75 billion in its fiscal first quarter, below the $6.9 billion than analysts forecast. Without one-time items, Starbucks said it earned 61 cents per share in the October-December period. That was ahead of Wall Street's forecast of 55 cents.Starbucks shares slipped about 1% in after-hours trading.Starbucks said its business in China, its second-largest market after the U.S., has fully recovered, with same-store sales up 5% in the first quarter. Starbucks said it’s seeing fewer customers in China, but they’re spending more when they visit.But in the U.S., same-store sales were down 5% for the quarter despite the holiday drinks that usually draw customers. Store closures and reduced store hours hurt traffic, as did a surge in coronavirus cases.Still, Starbucks said it's confident U.S. same-store sales will rise between 5% and 10% in its fiscal second quarter as the pandemic's impact continues to fade.

Death penalty sought for suspect in Indiana officer's death

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for a man charged in the killing last year of a 24-year-old Indianapolis police officer who was fatally shot as she responded to a domestic violence call.The Marion County Prosecutor's office filed the request Tuesday asking for the death penalty against Elliahs Dorsey, who is charged in the April 9, 2020, killing of Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Officer Breann Leath.Leath and three other officers were responding to a domestic violence call involving Dorsey when she was shot to death through the door of an Indianapolis apartment, police said. Dorsey, 27, faces one count each of murder and criminal confinement, and four counts of attempted murder, one of which stems from his alleged shooting of a woman he had confined inside the apartment, according to a probable cause affidavit.Dorsey's trial is tentatively scheduled to begin Feb. 1.In death penalty requests, prosecutors must show there was an aggravating circumstance. In this instance, they said Dorsey killed Leath while she “was acting in the course of duty as a law enforcement officer.”A telephone message was left Tuesday with the Marion County Public Defender Agency seeking comment from Dorsey's court-appointed attorney.The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said Tuesday in a statement that Leath was a “dedicated public servant, and set an example that we all strive to live up to every day."“She was committed to her community and giving back. She was committed to helping victims of domestic violence. She was committed to running towards danger when others would run away. She was committed to helping her fellow man, woman, and child," it said.Leath's funeral was held April 16, 2020, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in adherence with pandemic social-distancing rules. Relatives, officers, Gov. Eric Holcomb and others who spoke during the service remembered Leath as a dedicated, compassionate officer and the devoted mother of a young son.An estimated 1,000 cars from Indianapolis police and other police agencies lined the speedway’s oval for the service as those officers watched a livestream of the service on cellphones and laptops.

AP PHOTOS: Protesting farmers storm India's Red Fort

Tens of thousands of protesting farmers have marched, rode horses and drove long lines of tractors into India’s capital, breaking through police barricades to storm the historic Red Fort. It was a deeply symbolic act that revealed the scale of their challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. They waved farm union and religious flags from the ramparts of the fort, where prime ministers annually hoist the national flag on the country’s August independence day holiday.Riot police fired tear gas and water cannons and set up barricades in attempt to hold back the protesters Tuesday. The farmers have been demanding the withdrawal of new laws that they say will favor large corporate farms and devastate the earnings of smaller scale farmers.