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Former IDF intelligence personnel likely tied to UAE spy app

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Former Israeli military intelligence personnel are likely tied to an Emirati messaging app that was secretly spying on its users in a mass surveillance campaign, according to a Sunday report.

The United Arab Emirates government uses the ToTok service to monitor users’ location, conversations, relationships and other information, the New York Times reported, citing its own investigation into the app and American officials with knowledge of a classified US intelligence report.

ToTok has been downloaded by millions of users through the Apple and Google app stores since it debuted several months ago. Most users are in the UAE, but it has been downloaded by people worldwide, and this month was one of the top social apps in the US, according to the App Annie research firm.

The app, which is separate from, but apparently named after the popular Chinese TikTok app, also ranked highly in Saudi Arabia, the UK, India and Sweden.

State-backed publications started advertising ToTok in the UAE in recent months as a “free, fast and secure” messaging tool, in a country where many messaging apps are restricted by the government.

Both Google and Apple have removed the app from their stores, but users who have downloaded it already are still able to use it.

It is the latest in a string of digital weapons that wealthy governments have developed to spy on their adversaries and citizens.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar have in the past used private firms staffed by Israelis and Americans for such operations.

The company operating ToTok, called Breej Holding, was probably tied to the Abu Dhabi cyberintelligence company DarkMatter.

In October, Hebrew media reported that DarkMatter was actively recruiting graduates of Unit 8200, the elite Israel Defense Forces intelligence unit.

According to a Yedioth Ahronoth report, graduates of the vaunted intelligence unit are regularly offered $100,000-plus a month salaries, signing bonuses and luxury homes in Cyprus.

Yedioth said several firms were recruiting the Israelis, but only named DarkMatter. Israel and the UAE do not have formal diplomatic ties, but are said to have close security cooperation largely focused on Iran, their common foe.

A second report published in TheMarker business daily said that DarkMatter maintains an office in Cyprus that employs Israeli software developers.

One defense official identified as ‘Y’ warned the TheMarker about the “de facto smuggling of Israeli intellectual property without any supervision of the Defense Ministry.”

“They’re taking these young people to Cyprus, buying them off with huge salaries,” he said, adding that he knows of researchers who were offered positions at DarkMatter with salaries of close to $1 million a year.

It wasn’t clear if the IDF veterans obtained permission to work on foreign intelligence projects from the Defense Ministry, which declined to comment on both TheMarker and Yedioth reports.

The vaunted 8200 unit — roughly equivalent to the National Security Agency in the US — is highly regarded for its computer prowess and seen as a major incubator of Israel’s high-tech startup culture.

DarkMatter, which bills itself as a private intelligence firm, is being investigated by the FBI for suspected cybercrimes.

The UAE is an ally to the US, with both seeing Iran as a threat, but has in the past stifled dissent with cutting edge technology, targeting journalists, critics and rights activists.

It has handicapped other popular social apps, including WhatsApp and Skype, which bolstered ToTok’s popularity.

It’s unclear whether US intelligence has confronted the UAE about the app, or when it became aware of its use as a spy tool, the New York Times report said.

ToTok is likely based on a Chinese app called YeeCall and operates like other smartphone apps that have access to users’ location, contacts, microphones, cameras and calendars.

While advanced phone hacking tools cost some $2.5 million, the app gives the UAE a way to essentially hack users’ phones for free, with users willingly signing up to divulge their own information.

It was unclear whether the UAE is able to record video or audio from the phones.

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What Really Happened At That BlizzCon Panel, According To The Woman In The Video – Kotaku

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“I didn’t think that much about it, because there’s always been for the longest time a certain amount of sexism in the games industry that is just there and you learn to roll your eyes and do your best to ignore it and just try to appreciate the things that you do like about it,” Xantia said.

“I loved Diablo II back in the day. Did I love the character model for the Amazon? No, not really. Hell, one of my earliest memories of gaming was being excited about the first Tomb Raider game and thinking, ‘That’s so cool it has a female protagonist.’ And then you see the first model of Lara Croft in the game and you’re like, oh, cool, great, great…”

There’s an audible exhaustion in her voice when she recalls this memory. The 2010 BlizzCon panel wasn’t an anomaly. It wasn’t the mask slipping in front of thousands on video. It was what she had come to expect from a space dominated by men with little regard for anyone else, and as California’s lawsuit and new reporting has confirmed, who were at times explicitly dangerous to the women around them.

Afrasiabi is one of the only people named in California’s lawsuit, accused of sexually harassing and groping female Blizzard employees. It also accused him of having a “Cosby Suite” at BlizzCon where he would also prey on women.

Based on images obtained by Kotaku, the “Cosby Suite’’ was an actual booze-filled party room at BlizzCon 2013 in which Afrasiabi and others would pose with a giant portrait of the comedian. Activision Blizzard confirmed to Kotaku that Afrasiabi was terminated last year for “misconduct.” Brack, the only other person named in California’s lawsuit for failing to address sexual harassment compalints against Afrasiabi, is still currently in charge of Blizzard.

Despite the experience at the panel, Xantia said she tried to get a job at Blizzard in its Strategic Initiatives Department around 2012 and was in the running for a while before ultimately being rejected. “I was pretty heartbroken about it at the time, but man, talk about being lucky in your failures,” she said. “I now feel like I dodged a bullet there.”

Following the resurfacing of the BlizzCon 2010 moment, former World of Warcraft lead designer Greg Street, currently at Riot Games, took to Twitter to apologize in a somewhat meandering tweet thread. He first qualified the “shitty answer” by saying it can be hard to see who’s asking the questions. He also mentioned that developers are nervous up there, in front of the crowd, out of fear they will say the wrong thing. Eventually he settled on, “I find the video embarrassing and I apologize to the player who asked the question and all others who were disappointed with our ‘answer.’”

Xantia said part of what’s been so weird about seeing the video brought back up over a decade later is seeing responses like Street’s.

“I guess Greg Street now knows who I am now. Cool. OK. And also that wasn’t really an apology, but sure you do you. Whatever gets you to sleep at night,” she said. “I was joking with a friend when I saw it, when I saw everything he was writing about that, just, you know, ‘Oh, I couldn’t see her react, I couldn’t see her face’ and how he’s disappointed in all of these things. Yeah, but your ears were working just fine. Did you not hear hundreds of people booing me? What would it have taken to say, ‘Hey, guys, come on, that’s not cool’? “Whenever you start explaining yourself to that degree, it stops being an apology.”

Xantia thinks Blizzard needs to be more candid too.

“One of the biggest things that they could do is, actually be honest and have that kind of ‘boys club’ not be above reproach,” she said. “It has to be more than just a show of ‘We did these couple acts of penance and now we’re all better.’ I think there actually has to be a fundamental reevaluation.”

Xantia’s found the recent actions of other developers at Activision Blizzard, including an open letter and walkout, to be cause for optimism. And despite how bizarre it’s been to play such a visible role in the public outcry that’s currently unfolding after all these years, she’s hopeful the negative experience is now making a positive contribution.

“I’ve gotten a moderate amount of attention for all this when I’m only tangentially connected to it,” she said. “I think the important voices are for the women who were actually at Blizzard who have had to endure far, far more than just being dismissed at a convention.”

“There are worse reasons to go viral. And if this helps to actually bring about change then that would be something profoundly good that came out of a pretty small, but still shitty moment.”

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Apple's 512GB M1 Mac Mini falls back to $799 at Amazon – Yahoo News Canada

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If you’ve been eyeing Apple’s latest Mac Mini as your next desktop, now is the time to act. You can currently get the 512GB model for $799 at Amazon, or $100 off the normal $899 price. The deal brings the desktop down to just below the record low we saw in March and April. It also means you’re only paying $100 more for double the storage of the $699 base model.

Buy Mac Mini M1 (512GB) at Amazon – $799

That should come in handy if you plan to take full advantage of the Mac Mini’s M1 chip. As we’ve previously noted, Apple’s in-house silicon is a powerhouse that makes quick work of most tasks, be it browsing bloated websites or opening creative editing software. Inside the desktop, you’ll find an 8-core CPU with four performance cores and four efficiency cores and a 16-core Neural Engine. Unlike with the iMac, you’ll also need your own display and peripherals like a keyboard and mouse. 

There are a few caveats, however. The Mac Mini’s RAM and storage aren’t upgradeable and the two rear Thunderbolt ports won’t please those who need extra monitors and faster connectivity. Apple also offers 16GB unified memory, up to 2TB SSD storage and 10 Gigabit Ethernet support at a cost. In fact, the true top-of-the line Mac Mini will set you back $1,799. Saying that, the specs available on this deal model should please most casual users.

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

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Apex Legends' Emergence battle pass trailer teases emotes, new skins for Volt, 30-30, Flatline, and more – Dot Esports

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Apex Legends: Emergence launches tomorrow with a new battle pass, which was revealed in a trailer this morning.

This season’s max tier rewards are reactive skins for the Volt, “Symbiotic Relationship” at tier 100 and “Fatal Injection” at tier 110. There’s plenty else to grind for throughout the season, though, including looks for Valkyrie and Horizon, among others.

Seer’s “Winged Sun” 30-30 Repeater skin is just one of the other weapon skins in the battle pass, which also includes Valkyrie’s “Temporal Scale” Flatline. There’s also several new emotes, Seer-themed loading screens, music packs, banners, and weapon charms, as players have come to expect.

The updated World’s Edge will be the main stomping grounds for the new season and has received several updates to the landscape and numerous points of interest. A lot of the changes were also focused on quality of life, like adding different flanking routes and pathways that weren’t there before.

Along with Seer and World’s Edge, the third big addition of the season will be the Rampage LMG. The weapon, invented by Rampart, is unique in that it uses thermal grenades as its source of ammunition, so be sure to pick them up while running through the battle royale.

Apex Legends: Emergence begins tomorrow, Aug. 3.

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