The Technology 202: Law enforcement cracks down on fake coronavirus cures and vaccines

At least one of the websites, global-pandemic-vaccines.com, offered sales of counterfeit vaccines which it claimed did not need to be stored at subzero temperatures. Last month, criminal investigators went undercover and called a phone number on the website, and an unknown person agreed to sell 50 vials of the counterfeit vaccines for $20 each with a $500 deposit, and the remaining $500 due upon receipt of the vaccine doses, the office said in a news release.

“The danger with these illegitimate sites is that they can appear legitimate to the average viewer — all the more reason to exercise caution when searching for covid-19 pandemic information,” said James Mancuso, Homeland Security Investigations Baltimore special agent in charge in a news release. “As part of our cyber mission, HSI is committed to denying online scammers the ability to deceive and profit from the American people by exploiting the demand for vaccines and treatments.”

The seizures signal how online fraud is evolving as highly in-demand vaccines roll out.

Law enforcement officials are warning Americans desperate to get their shots to be vigilant for potential scams when searching for information about vaccines online. There have been similar scams on prominent social networks, as researchers have found.

Acting U.S. attorney for the district of Maryland Jonathan F. Lenzner warned people not to provide personal details, click on links in unsolicited emails and remember that the vaccine is not for sale to consumers.

“The federal government is providing the vaccine free of charge to people living in the United States,” Lenzner said in a statement. “We will continue to aggressively prosecute fraudsters who seek to prey on unsuspecting residents and their families.”

Maryland law enforcement also removed genobioscience.com and healthbridgescience.com. They said they were tipped off to the presence of these websites by a biotechnology company, which complained that the sites imitated its theme and design as part of an effort to fool people into thinking it was legitimate. The criminals operating the websites took steps to conceal their identities from victims and law enforcement.

Vaccines are increasingly a target for fraud as they become more widely available.

The Federal Trade Commission is also warning that there’s a bogus survey about the coronavirus vaccines, which scammers are using to steal people’s personal information and money.

People across the country are reporting getting emails and texts, asking them to complete a limited-time survey about the vaccines. People are offered a free reward in exchange, but asked to pay shipping fees. The FTC is warning people not to click on any links or attachments in the survey.

The FBI has also warned in recent days of fake coronavirus vaccination cards being sold online. The FBI has found listings for them on social media sites, e-commerce sites and blogs, and warns people may use them to gain entry to places that require proof of vaccination.

“If you did not receive the vaccine, do not buy fake vaccine cards, do not make your own vaccine cards, and do not fill-in blank vaccination record cards with false information,” the FBI warned in a recent statement.

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Facebook doesn’t plan to notify the 500 million people whose data was leaked online.

The social media site isn’t confident that it knows which users would need to be notified, a company spokesman told Reuters’s Elizabeth Culliford. The decision could add growing momentum to efforts in Congress to strengthen data breach notification laws.

The Facebook spokesman said the company took this path after determining that account users could not fix the issue, and that the data is publicly available. In the absence of company action, people can use the Have I Been Pwned online tool to check whether their numbers or emails were affected.

Top European officials, including Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders and Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, were caught up in the leak, Politico’s Laurens Cerulus and Vincent Manancourt reported. Even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was affected by the breach, a cybersecurity researcher said.

Facebook said in a blog post earlier this week that the leak resulted from “malicious actors” scraping its platform before September 2019.

New York’s vaccine passport is complicated to use and easy to fake, The Post’s tech columnist found.

It doesn’t always work, Geoffrey Fowler writes. One Washington Post reporter was not able to use his “Excelsior Pass” to get into a Yankees game this week because his private test provider was slow to upload his results to a database. It’s also remarkably easy to fake, relying on the honor system once people have signed up.

Albert Fox Cahn, the executive director of the nonprofit Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, said he was able to load up an Excelsior Pass in about 11 minutes, using nothing more than a volunteer’s Twitter posts and publicly available information.

“Despite its invasiveness, Excelsior Pass won’t advance the underlying public health goals it claims to support,” Cahn said.

But the app does have some strong privacy protections, Fowler writes. It doesn’t store health information on phones, and uses your camera roll to read a QR code.

The Biden administration placed seven Chinese firms and government labs under U.S. export controls for aiding China’s efforts to develop weapons.

All seven are linked to China’s work to build the world’s first exascale computer, Commerce Department officials said. The supercomputer can handle a million trillion calculations per second, my colleague Ellen Nakashima reports.

The move makes good on an effort that began under the Trump administration, which ran out of time to take action against the companies.

“These are parties that are acting in ways that are contrary to our national security interests,” a senior agency official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity, told Ellen. “This is really about not having U.S. items contribute to China’s advancement of its military capabilities.”

The affected companies include three semiconductor firms: Tianjin Phytium Information Technology (or Phytium), Shanghai High-Performance Integrated Circuit Design Center and Sunway Microelectronics. The trio have links to the People’s Liberation Army.

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