Trump, Biden woo voters on TikTok. Will it make a difference?

President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump agree on few things, but a ban of the Beijing-based social network TikTok is one of them. Now with a presidential election at stake, both are joining the platform they previously attempted to take down. Will it make a difference on Election Day? Tina Trinh reports.

US bans Russia’s Kaspersky antivirus software

Washington — U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration on Thursday banned Russia-based cybersecurity firm Kaspersky from providing its popular antivirus products in the United States over national security concerns, the U.S. Commerce Department said.

“Kaspersky will generally no longer be able to, among other activities, sell its software within the United States or provide updates to software already in use,” the agency said in a statement.

The announcement came after a lengthy investigation found Kaspersky’s “continued operations in the United States presented a national security risk due to the Russian Government’s offensive cyber capabilities and capacity to influence or direct Kaspersky’s operations,” it said.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said, “Russia has shown time and again they have the capability and intent to exploit Russian companies, like Kaspersky Lab, to collect and weaponize sensitive U.S. information.”

Kaspersky, in a statement to AFP, said the Commerce Department “made its decision based on the present geopolitical climate and theoretical concerns,” and vowed to “pursue all legally available options to preserve its current operations and relationships.”

“Kaspersky does not engage in activities which threaten U.S. national security and, in fact, has made significant contributions with its reporting and protection from a variety of threat actors that targeted U.S. interests and allies,” the company said.

The move is the first such action taken since an executive order issued under Donald Trump’s presidency gave the Commerce Department the power to investigate whether certain companies pose a national security risk.

Raimondo said the Commerce Department’s actions demonstrated to America’s adversaries that it would not hesitate to act when “their technology poses a risk to the United States and its citizens.”

While Kaspersky is headquartered in Moscow, it has offices in 31 countries around the world, servicing more than 400 million users and 270,000 corporate clients in more than 200 countries, the Commerce Department said.

As well as banning the sale of Kaspersky’s antivirus software, the Commerce Department also added three entities linked to the firm to a list of companies deemed to be a national security concern, “for their cooperation with Russian military and intelligence authorities in support of the Russian government’s cyber intelligence objectives.”

The Commerce Department said it “strongly encouraged” users to switch to new vendors, although its decision does not ban them from using the software should they choose to do so.

Kaspersky is allowed to continue certain operations in the United States, including providing antivirus updates, until September 29, “in order to minimize disruption to US consumers and businesses and to give them time to find suitable alternatives,” it added.  

India, US to strengthen high technology cooperation 

New Delhi — Days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi began his third term in office, India and the United States agreed to strengthen cooperation in high technology areas during a visit by White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan to New Delhi.

Sullivan met Modi, the Indian foreign minister and his Indian counterpart during the visit that reaffirmed both countries will pursue closer ties.

“India is committed to further strengthen the India-US comprehensive global strategic partnership for global good,” Modi wrote on X after meeting Sullivan on Monday.

The main focus of Sullivan’s visit was to hold discussion with Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval on a landmark initiative launched by the two countries in January last year to collaborate more closely in high-technology areas including defense, semiconductors, 5G wireless networks and artificial intelligence.

The initiative, launched with an eye to countering China, marks a significant push in tightening the strategic partnership between the two countries.

“The visit by Sullivan in the early days of Modi’s new administration signals that the U.S. wants to maintain the momentum in the high technology partnership between the two countries,” according to Manoj Joshi, Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.

A joint fact sheet by the two countries following Sullivan’s meeting with Doval said that they launched a new strategic semiconductor partnership between U.S. and Indian companies for precision-guided ammunition and other national security-focused electronics platforms.

They also agreed to co-invest in a lithium resource project in South America and a rare earths deposit in Africa “to diversify critical mineral supply chains” and discussed possible co-production of land warfare systems, according to the fact sheet.

Growing the domestic defense manufacturing sector remains a top focus for the Modi administration as it looks to lower its dependence on imported arms. Although India has diversified its imports of military equipment, it is still heavily reliant on Russia.

For India, the technology initiative is a top priority as it looks to strengthen the country’s security and build its capabilities in high technology areas.

“India wants to become one of the leading countries in cutting edge technologies and it is of great benefit for New Delhi to partner the U.S. which is the leader in these areas,” said Joshi. “The idea is to get into co-production, co-development, innovation and attract American companies to set up bases here.”

Sullivan also met Indian foreign minister Subrahmanyan Jaishankar, who has been retained as the external affairs minister in Modi’s new administration, signaling a continuation in the country’s foreign policy. “Confident that India-US strategic partnership will continue to advance strongly in our new term,” Jaishankar wrote on X.

In Washington, White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby told reporters Monday that India and the U.S. “share a unique bond of friendship and Mr. Sullivan’s trip to India will further deepen the already strong U.S.-India partnership to create a safer and more prosperous Indo-Pacific.”

New Delhi’s ties with Washington have expanded in recent years amid mutual concerns in both countries about an assertive China — India’s military standoff with Beijing along their disputed Himalayan borders remains unresolved four years after a clash between their troops.

As Sullivan visited India, an Indian national, Nikhil Gupta, charged with trying to hire a hitman to assassinate a Sikh separatist leader in the U.S., appeared in court in New York Monday following his extradition from the Czech Republic. The alleged plan was foiled.

Allegations by U.S. prosecutors of the involvement of an Indian government official in the plot to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a dual US-Canadian citizen, have raised concerns about a strain in bilateral ties.

The U.S. allegations followed accusations leveled by Canada in September of involvement of Indian nationals in the killing of a Canadian Sikh leader.

India, which views Sikh separatist groups overseas as security threats, has denied its involvement in both the killing in Canada and the alleged plot in the U.S. But it said it has set up an inquiry committee to examine the information provided by Washington.

Analysts in New Delhi say ties are unlikely to be adversely impacted by the alleged murder plot. “The U.S. is quite pragmatic on these matters. They are continuing to stress that ties with India are important, so I don’t think a failed conspiracy will derail ties,” Joshi said.

Smartphone stroke detection breakthrough announced by Australian team

SYDNEY — A new technology that allows smartphones to identify strokes far quicker than existing methods has been developed by researchers in Australia.

The new technology uses artificial intelligence as it scans a patient’s face for symmetry and certain muscle movements, which are called action units. People who have suffered a stroke often have one side of their face looking different from the other.  

The biomedical engineers at Melbourne’s RMIT University say the smartphone technology can detect facial asymmetry, potentially identifying strokes within seconds – much sooner and more precisely than current technologies.

Professor Dinesh Kumar, who led the research team, explained to Australian Broadcasting Corp. how the AI-driven device works.

“It takes a video of a person who is doing a smile, and the model determines whether this particular smile is indicative of (a) person who has had a stroke,” Kumar said. “We then inform the paramedic or the clinician who is aware of the very high risk of this person having a stroke and, thus, can be treated immediately.”

Strokes affect millions of people around the world.  They occur when the supply of blood to part of the brain is interrupted or reduced, which stops brain tissue from receiving oxygen and nutrients.  Experts say that if treatment is delayed by even a few minutes, the brain can suffer permanent damage. 

Symptoms of stroke include confusion, speech impairments and reduced facial expressions.

The RMIT team reports that the smartphone tool has an accuracy rating of 82% for detecting stroke. They stress that it would not replace comprehensive medical diagnostic tests for stroke, but instead would guide initial treatment by first responders by quickly identifying patients who need urgent care.  

The Australian study, which was a collaboration with São Paulo State University in Brazil, is published in the journal, Computer Methods and Programs in Biomedicine.

A year after the Titan’s tragic dive, deep-sea explorers vow to pursue ocean’s mysteries

PORTLAND, Maine — The deadly implosion of an experimental submersible en route to the deep-sea grave of the Titanic last June has not dulled the desire for further ocean exploration, despite lingering questions about the disaster.

Tuesday marks one year since the Titan vanished on its way to the historic wreckage site in the North Atlantic Ocean. After a five-day search that captured attention around the world, authorities said the vessel had been destroyed and all five people on board had died.

Concerns have been raised about whether the Titan was destined for disaster because of its unconventional design and its creator’s refusal to submit to independent checks that are standard in the industry. The U.S. Coast Guard quickly convened a high-level investigation into what happened, but officials said the inquiry is taking longer than the initial 12-month time frame, and a planned public hearing to discuss their findings won’t happen for at least another two months.

Meanwhile, deep-sea exploration continues. The Georgia-based company that owns the salvage rights to the Titanic plans to visit the sunken ocean liner in July using remotely operated vehicles, and a real estate billionaire from Ohio has said he plans a voyage to the shipwreck in a two-person submersible in 2026.

The Titan dove southeast of Newfoundland. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said Monday that there are other submersibles operating within Canadian waters, some of which are not registered with the country or any other.

Numerous ocean explorers told The Associated Press they are confident undersea exploration can continue safely in a post-Titan world.

“It’s been a desire of the scientific community to get down into the ocean,” said Greg Stone, a veteran ocean explorer and friend of Titan operator Stockton Rush, who died in the implosion. “I have not noticed any difference in the desire to go into the ocean, exploring.”

OceanGate, a company co-founded by Rush that owned the submersible, suspended operations in early July following the implosion. A spokesperson for the company declined to comment.

David Concannon, a former adviser to OceanGate, said he will mark the anniversary privately with a group of people who were involved with the company or the submersible’s expeditions over the years, including scientists, volunteers and mission specialists. Many of them, including those who were on the Titan support ship Polar Prince, have not been interviewed by the Coast Guard, he said.

“The fact is, they are isolated and in a liminal space,” he said in an email last week. “Stockton Rush has been vilified and so has everyone associated with OceanGate. I wasn’t even there and I have gotten death threats. We support each other and just wait to be interviewed. The world has moved on … but the families and those most affected are still living with this tragedy every day.”

The Titan had been chronicling the Titanic’s decay and the underwater ecosystem around the sunken ocean liner in yearly voyages since 2021.

The craft made its last dive on June 18, 2023, a Sunday morning, and lost contact with its support vessel about two hours later. When it was reported overdue that afternoon, rescuers rushed ships, planes and other equipment to the area, about 700 kilometers south of St. John’s, Newfoundland.

The U.S. Navy notified the Coast Guard that day of an anomaly in its acoustic data that was “consistent with an implosion or explosion” at the time communications between the Polar Prince and the Titan were lost, a senior Navy official later told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive technology.

Any sliver of hope that remained for finding the crew alive was wiped away on June 22, when the Coast Guard announced that debris had been found near the Titanic on the ocean floor. Authorities have since recovered the submersible’s intact endcap, debris and presumed human remains from the site.

In addition to Rush, the implosion killed two members of a prominent Pakistani family, Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman Dawood; British adventurer Hamish Harding; and Titanic expert Paul-Henri Nargeolet.

Harding and Nargeolet were members of The Explorers Club, a professional society dedicated to research, exploration and resource conservation.

“Then, as now, it hit us on a personal level very deeply,” the group’s president, Richard Garriott, said in an interview last week. “We knew not only all the people involved, but even all the previous divers, support teams, people working on all these vessels — those were all either members of this club or well within our network.”

Garriott believes even if the Titan hadn’t imploded, the correct rescue equipment didn’t get to the site fast enough. The tragedy caught everyone from the Coast Guard to the ships on-site off guard, underscoring the importance of developing detailed search and rescue plans ahead of any expedition, he said. His organization has since created a task force to help others do just that.

“That’s what we’ve been trying to really correct, to make sure that we know exactly who to call and exactly what materials need to be mustered,” he said.

Myanmar cracks down on flow of information by blocking VPNs

BANGKOK — Myanmar’s military government has launched a major effort to block free communication on the internet, shutting off access to virtual private networks — known as VPNs — which can be used to circumvent blockages of banned websites and services. 

The attempt to restrict access to information began at the end of May, according to mobile phone operators, internet service providers, a major opposition group, and media reports. 

The military government that took power in February 2021 after ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi has made several attempts to throttle traffic on the internet, especially in the months immediately after their takeover. 

Reports in local media say the attack on internet usage includes random street searches of people’s mobile phones to check for VPN applications, with a fine if any are found. It is unclear if payments are an official measure. 

25 arrested for having VPNs

On Friday, the Burmese-language service of U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia reported about 25 people from Myanmar’s central coastal Ayeyarwady region were arrested and fined by security forces this week after VPN apps were found on their mobile phones. Radio Free Asia is a sister news outlet to Voice of America. 

As the army faces strong challenges from pro-democracy guerrillas across the country in what amounts to a civil war, it has also made a regular practice of shutting down civilian communications in areas where fighting is taking place. While this may serve tactical purposes, it also makes it hard for evidence of alleged human rights abuses to become public. 

According to a report released last month by Athan, a freedom of expression advocacy group in Myanmar, nearly 90 of 330 townships across the country have had internet access or phone service — or both — cut off by authorities. 

Resistance that arose to the 2021 army takeover relied heavily on social media, especially Facebook, to organize street protests. As nonviolent resistance escalated into armed struggle and other independent media were shut down or forced underground, the need for online information increased. 

The resistance scored a victory in cybersphere when Facebook and other major social media platforms banned members of the Myanmar military because of their alleged violations of human and civil rights, and blocked ads from most military-linked commercial entities. 

Users unable to connect

This year, widely used free VPN services started failing at the end of May, with users getting messages that they could not be connected, keeping them from social media such as Facebook, WhatsApp and some websites.

VPNs connect users to their desired sites through third-party computers, making it almost impossible for internet service providers and snooping governments to see what the users are actually connecting to. 

Internet users, including online retail sellers, have been complaining for the past two weeks about slowdowns, saying they were not able to watch or upload videos and posts or send messages easily. 

Operators of Myanmar’s top telecom companies MPT, Ooredoo, Atom and the military-backed Mytel, as well as fiber internet services, told The Associated Press on Friday that access to Facebook, Instagram, X, WhatsApp and VPN services was banned nationwide at the end of May on the order of the Transport and Communications Ministry. 

The AP tried to contact a spokesperson for the Transport and Communications Ministry for comment but received no response. 

The operators said VPNs are not currently authorized for use, but suggested users try rotating through different services to see if any work. 

A test by the AP of more than two dozen VPN apps found that only one could hold a connection, and it was slow. 

The military government has not yet publicly announced the ban on VPNs.